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The Interpretation of Dreams Summary

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The Interpretation of Dreams PDF Summary

The name is Sigmund Freud.

The book: The Interpretation of Dreams.

The summary: a must-read.

Who Should Read “The Interpretation of Dreams”? And Why?

Love him or hate him, together with Marx and Nietzsche, Freud is widely considered one of the three people (all of them Germans) which revolutionized how we think about the world and paved the way for modernity, the age in which man is much more than the sum of his parts.

The Interpretation of Dreams is his magnum opus.

Do we need to say more?

About Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist, widely considered the father of psychoanalysis and one of the most important intellectuals of the modern age.

Born to Jewish parents in present-day Czech Republic (then part of the Austrian Empire), Freud became a professor of neuropathology in 1902 at the University of Vienna, the city in which he spent all, but the last year of his life.

In 1938, he left Austria to escape the Nazis and died the next year in the United Kingdom at the age of 83.

Even though widely criticized today, Freud was one of the first people to explore the unconscious and to develop a more complex model of being, which scorned the idea of humans as rational beings and introduced the concept of a divided self: id, ego, and super-ego.

Freud won the Goethe Prize in 1930 and was a towering influence over a whole new generation of psychologists even while alive.

“The Interpretation of Dreams PDF Summary”

“In the following pages” – thus begins Sigmund Freud’s masterwork, The Interpretation of Dreams I shall prove that there exists a psychological technique by which dreams may be interpreted and that upon the application of this method every dream will show itself to be a senseful psychological structure which may be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state.”

And he goes on:

I shall furthermore endeavor to explain the processes which give rise to the strangeness and obscurity of the dream, and to discover through them the nature of the psychic forces which operate, whether in combination or in opposition, to produce the dream. This accomplished, my investigation will terminate, as it will have reached the point where the problem of the dream meets with broader problems, the solution of which must be attempted through other material.

So, put simply, Freud unabashedly claims that in The Interpretation of Dreams he uncovers to the world the skeleton key to all dreams; moreover, he also claims that he has discovered the precise stuff dreams are made of. Literally.

Freud died four decades after having written the chapter above and even on his deathbed he still believed that his most significant contribution to the history of ideas is the theories presented in The Interpretation of Dreams.

In fact, in a 1931 preface to a later edition of this book – Freud revised his magnum opus eight times during his life – he explicitly stated that “Insight[s] such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”

The Interpretation of Dreams consists of seven chapters and is the book where some of Freud’s most famous ideas – dreams as wish-fulfilments and “royal roads to the unconscious,” psychoanalysis, the Oedipus complex – are first proposed and examined.

Chapter I: The Scientific Literature on the Problems of the Dreams

Since The Interpretation of Dreams is a scientific work – at least it was when first published – it is only natural that it begins with a review of the scientific literature on dreams written before Freud.

The father of psychoanalysis also reviews some philosophical notions about dreams, as well as ancient religious and folk beliefs.

Interestingly enough, he sides with the latter much more than with the former.


Because, as mysterious as it is, the object of dreams has usually been treated by folk and religious beliefs as something mysterious but also as something which has some meaning.

In other words, something which can be interpreted.

Contrary to this, “stern science, as it confesses itself, has contributed nothing beyond attempting, in entire opposition to popular sentiment, to deny the substance and significance of the object.”

Freud is very much aware of how his ideas differ from everybody else’s. “My presumption that dreams can be interpreted at once,” he states loud and clear, “puts me in opposition to the ruling theory of dreams and in fact to every theory of dreams.”

So, in other words, unlike all scientists, Freud believes dreams can be interpreted; unlike popular and religious thought, he believes that dreams should be interpreted in relation to a man’s past, and not in relation to his/her future.

You’ll understand the meaning of this in a bit.

Chapter II: Method of Dream Interpretation: The Analysis of a Sample Dream

This chapter contains one of the most famous dreams ever dreamt: the dream of Irma’s injection. Freud uses it as a sample dream, i.e., the dream to show how all dreams must be interpreted.

Now Irma – which is, of course, a pseudonym – was a patient of Freud. He treated her during the summer of 1895. The treatment went well for the most part, but, due to the unwillingness of Irma, it had to end before it was completed.

On July 23, 1895, Freud visited a colleague who knew Irma and asked him about her condition. His colleague responded: “better, but not quite well.”

And that very night, Freud dreamt the dream he narrates in this chapter.

In his dream, he and his wife receive numerous guests in a large hall. Irma is among the guests. Freud immediately confronts her and berates her for not having accepted his solution to her problems.

He says to her: “If you still get pains, it’s really only your fault.” She replies: “If you only knew what pains I’ve got now in my throat and stomach and abdomen – it’s choking me.”

Freud reexamines Irma by looking at her throat where he notices a white scab. Interestingly enough, while he does this, Irma starts looking much more like one of her friends and much less like Irma.

Surprised by the scab, Freud calls Dr. M. for a second opinion. Upon investigation, Dr. M. says: “There’s no doubt it’s an infection, but no matter; dysentery will supervene, and the toxin will be eliminated.”

The meaning of it all?

Freud’s dream releases him from the guilt he feels over not helping Irma as well as he could.

And that’s only one of the wishes fulfilled by his dream.

Could it be that all dreams are wish-fulfilments?

Chapter III: The Dream Is the Fulfilment of a Wish

Yes – and that’s Freud’s great discovery!

For example, in the dream of Irma’s injection, the very idea that Irma’s disease is the cause of an infection which should be cured by itself suggests that Freud has nothing to fret about, since Irma’s disease is actually her own fault, and not his.

Moreover, the fact that he substitutes Irma with a friend of hers suggests that Freud didn’t even want to have Irma as a patient; her friend, being a more rational and intelligent person, would have probably agreed to Freud’s solution.

The appearance of Dr. M. is also a wish-fulfilling event related to Freud’s past guilt. Long before Irma, Freud had prescribed toxic medicine to one of his patients; eventually, this led to the worsening of his symptoms.

Dr. M. saves the day in the dream – as it should have happened in reality.

This is the case with all dreams, says Freud in the third chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams: they fulfill a wish unfulfilled in reality.

And there’s a reason for that, perhaps best illustrated by a dream Freud claims to be able to dream as often as he likes.

Namely, if in the evening he eats “anchovies, olives, or other strongly salted foods,” he becomes thirsty at night and awakes to quench his thirst.

However, before waking up, he dreams that he drinks a drink as sweet as nectar.

The reason why he dreams this is simple: his body doesn’t want him to wake up and fulfills his wish in a simulated manner:

If I succeed in assuaging my thirst by means of the dream that I am drinking, I need not wake up in order to satisfy it. It is thus a dream of convenience. The dream substitutes itself for action, as elsewhere in life.

Chapter IV: Distortion in Dreams

Now, dreaming of a sweet drink when thirsty is a pretty straightforward dream. As is Freud dreaming of getting revenge over some of the acquaintances he has actual problems with in real life.

Unfortunately, in the former case, the body remains thirsty, and he needs to awake to change that; in the second, the simulated action in his dream appeases him and makes him calmer in real life as well.

However, these dreams are straightforward – i.e., they are pretty easily interpretable – because their manifest form mimics pretty closely their hidden meaning.

This is not the case with all dreams, some of which hide content at a deeper level.

Why aren’t they as clear as the others?

Well, because dreams are not always –a 1:1 simulation of a wish fulfilled; they are also often restructured – i.e., distorted – by an internal psychological censor.

To better understand this, think of politically active authors writing novels in totalitarian regimes. Their wish is almost always to ridicule the ruling parties; however, if they do it in an explicit manner, they risk being prosecuted; in addition, their novels may never get published.

However, if they write books which, on the surface – explicitly and manifestly – say one thing, but deep down – implicitly and latently – another, they may get their message across.

This is how Freud explains all unpleasant dreams; even though on the surface they appear to not fulfill any wishes, on a hidden level – they do.

And these are, usually, our most forbidden desires.

Speaking of –

Chapter V: The Material and Sources of Dreams

According to Freud, all dreams have four possible sources:

• Recent and significant experiences and memories;
• Important childhood events;
• Physical sensations during sleep (e.g., thirst or alarm clocks);
• Trivial experiences.

In this chapter Freud also analyzes some dreams which are universal, such as those of appearing naked in public, flying or hovering, failing a test, missing a train, witnessing the death of a relative…

He shows that all of them are fulfilments of a wish as well; however, since they are dreamt by almost everybody, they must reveal something profound about the human nature.

And this is where Freud first proposes his idea of the Oedipus complex, the underlying reason for all repressed desires.

Since the Oedipus complex concerns one’s wish to kill his father and sleep with his mother – the biggest no-noes of all – these are wishes which will never become a reality.

That’s why they are such an authoritative source for dreams in all people.

Chapter VI: The Dream-Work

In the unnecessarily long and pretty dull sixth chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud introduces the idea of the dream-work.

By “dream-work” Freud refers to all of the censorship-processes which transform the latent content of your dreams (aka, your thoughts and wishes) into their actual content (the narrative of your dream) when the dreams are not readily interpretable.

The most important two are the following ones:

• Condensation is a process by which many images are condensed within one; for example, some of the people you dream about are actually a combination of at least two real-life individuals;
• Displacement works by substituting abstract thoughts with more concrete representations; this is why you sometimes dream bizarre and unusual things;

In this chapter, Freud also explains how dreams find a connection between ideas and introduces the concept of secondary revision.

This is when the conscious intrudes in the spheres of the unconscious, aka the reason why your dream changes when you start talking about it.

More importantly, this is where Freud gets the idea that if we want to analyze unconscious thoughts more clearly, we have to create an environment in which the patient feels as relaxed as when in bed.

Wait… did I say “as when in bed”?


Chapter VII: The Psychology of the Dream Activities

In the seventh chapter, Freud explains his quasi-scientific theory of how the mind must work based on his still unproven theory of how dreams are created.

Consequently, you can skip this chapter and lose nothing of the book – many of the things Freud says in here are not merely speculative, but outright wrong.

Appendix A

In an “Appendix,” Freud examines a dream which seems to question his theory: one which supposedly foretells the future.

Naturally, if this is the case – if it can be proven that some dreams refer to the future and not to the past – then his theory that all dreams are wish-fulfilments must be wrong.

However, Freud successfully demonstrates that the ostensibly supernatural dream he examines is really a bizarre embodiment of – well, that was expected – a repressed sexual wish.

In other words, the dream “carries us to the future, but this future is a copy and reproduction of the past.”

Key Lessons from “The Interpretation of Dreams”

1.      All Dreams Are Wish Fulfilments
2.      Nightmares Are Your Mind’s Way of Telling You “Don’t Go There”
3.      You Love Your Mother and Want to Kill Your Father

All Dreams Are Wish Fulfilments

This is the main idea of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.

In a nutshell, when you’re asleep, your whole body is at equilibrium and will do anything to keep you in that condition.

Enter your dreams.

They are not an obstacle, but your brain’s way of telling you “keep sleeping, everything’s OK.” That’s the reason why your brain incorporates even external stimuli in your dreams – such as the alarm clock or the doorbell.

More importantly, that’s why you dream of drinking water when you’re actually thirsty and need to get out of bed to drink water in real life.

Put simply, each and every one of your dreams are wish-fulfilments.

Nightmares Are Your Mind’s Way of Telling You “Don’t Go There”

Yes – that goes for nightmares as well!

Even unpleasant dreams are wish-fulfilments, argues Freud; however, they look the way they do because the wishes they embody are forbidden and not exactly friendly.

That’s why your brain distorts them in a way which hides their meaning behind seemingly incongruous images. Because when your wishes are cruel, your brain censors them and turns them into something less harsh.

You Love Your Mother and Want to Kill Your Father

Which brings us to the Oedipus complex.

You know its meaning: every child wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother. And since this is a wish which, unlike your thirst, cannot be satisfied in reality, it’s so deeply repressed that it reappears over and over in many dreams.

Sometimes, it also leads to neurotic conditions and diseases.

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“The Interpretation of Dreams Quotes”

The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life. Click To Tweet Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious. Click To Tweet The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter. Click To Tweet Our memory has no guarantees at all, and yet we bow more often than is objectively justified to the compulsion to believe what it says. Click To Tweet Nothing that is mentally our own can ever be lost. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

The Interpretation of Dreams is widely considered Sigmund Freud’s masterpiece – and the father of psychoanalysis shared the same belief.

Considered “epochal” by none other than Joseph Campbell, undoubtedly this is one of the greatest books of the modern age.

In a way, it doesn’t matter whether Freud was right or wrong; because even in the case of the latter – which is probably closer to the truth – this is the book which paved the way for many scientific analyses of dreams and the unconscious, none of which would have even existed without Freud.That’s why, The Interpretation of Dreams is – in one word – essential.

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