The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

Intention: Freud’s intention was to explain his theory that dreams are actually the fulfillment of the dreamer’s wishes that they themselves don’t even understand sometimes when they are awake. Freud wishes to persuade the audience to understand that dreams are real and important and should be taken seriously.

Freud’s argument is dominated by numerous examples of dreams in which wish fulfillment is the root cause. These examples are dreams from Freud’s close friends and relatives, his patients, and even from Freud himself. By including this array of sources with an array of different types of dreams, Freud’s data seems vast and credible, establishing his ethos while supporting his claim with logos.

Throughout the piece, Freud mentions “the authorities,” referring to scientists and intellectuals who have discounted dreams as insubstantial nonsense. When telling the story of his daughter’s dream, Freud mentions that his sons, “who have evidently not inherited a faculty for understanding dreams,” follow the lead of the authorities and discount dreams as nonsense as well. By relating his sons to the authorities, Freud indirectly makes the claim that the authorities, like his sons, do not possess the ability to understand dreams. In doing this, Freud presents the authorities as lacking in ability whereas Freud himself possess that ability and is therefore able to see dreams for what they really are: wish-fulfillment. He discounts the authorities and promotes his own way of thinking to get the audience to align themselves with his theory.

In the final sentence of his essay, Freud mentions the usage of the dream as wish fulfillment in ordinary language. He points out that people say, “I should never have imagined such a thing even in my wildest dreams,” when their expectations are surpassed. By pointing this out, Freud presents his theory as universal. This is a common phrase that many people use. And by mentioning it, Freud displays an understanding of his audience, who is presumably the general public. Freud knows that his audience has probably used that phrase in their lives before and by using it, Freud creates a connection with the audience. By ending with this quote, the audience is inclined to reflect upon their use of language and find more instances where dreams are presented as wish-fulfillment.

— Olivia Hatch

Freud begins his essay with a descriptive sentence that describes the path in which his research followed; “after passing through a narrow defile, we suddenly emerge upon a piece of high ground, where the path divides and the finest prospects open up on every side.” He shows that initially his research was confined, but then through many twists and turns it lead him towards the conclusion that dreams are fulfillments of wishes. The imagery Freud uses causes the reader to use his or her imagination in order to understand the path he took in discovering his knowledge of dreams. This is an effective way to arrange his piece because throughout the essay, Freud explains that we have to study the details present in our lives and connect them to one another using our imagination, in order to understand the true reason for our dreams.

Freud uses many different types of examples within his writing, but the very first example he uses in the essay is an example of how he can make himself dream of drinking water because he is thirsty, but then he wakes up because he truly is thirsty. Reading this example allows the reader to recall a particular dream they have had, and it may even be the same type of dream Freud describes, a dream of convenience. This example creates pathos because it allows the reader to connect with Freud and with the similarities between the dreams of one another. As a result, the reader is intrigued and continues to think about a personal dream of theirs throughout the entire essay.

“Child psychology, in my opinion, is destined to perform the same useful services for adult psychology that the investigation of the structure or development of the lower animals has performed for research into the structure of the higher classes of animals.” Although the quote illustrates a difference between the complexity of the individuals, by linking the species together Freud shows that each individual no matter the level of complexity, has something that can be learned from others. Therefore, a commonality is produced between the dreams of children and adults, but also the reader is left wondering what types of dreams animals and other types of species may have.

–Sarah Biehl

Freud begins the essay describing what dreams are to him.  From there, he asks several rhetorical questions.  By doing this, he forces the reader to ponder these questions.  This gets the reader involved with the essay, only for Freud to tell the readers that he will only focus on wish-fulfilment.  By introducing the readers to the broad topic and then narrowing his point of view, Freud is able he engage the readers with his work.

Towards the end of the essay, Freud brings up that children’s dreams are almost always wish-fulfilment.  He considers them innocent since they are free of sexual desires.  Later in life, Freud would study sexuality and write many papers on the topic.  Within one of his works, he claims that children do have sexual urges, directly contradicting his previous work.  In his “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality”, he claims that children slowly develop their sexuality after birth.  While Freud had much to say about psychosexual development, his work in understanding childhood sexuality is widely debated.

Though this essay is presented as Freud’s research and findings about dreams, he is also attempting to make the readers taking dream interpretation seriously.  By showing people examples of times when wish-fulfilment dreams were the roots of dreams, Freud is convincing us that this is theory is correct.  The problem with this evidence is that there is no way to record dreams.   Freud can give us examples of when his theory held true, but there is no way to prove any of this.  He is relying purely on ethos to make the readers trust his word.

-Steph Lohbeck


This essay marks some of the first inklings of Freudian psychoanalysis, which focuses on the subconscious as an extension of the conscious. It’s important to read it as such– we know that Freud’s ideas are for the most part considered obsolete, but we have to read this as a beginning rather than a fully fleshed-out theory. It’s similar to reading the Communist Manifesto or Declaration of Independence– these documents are the seeds of theory, not the fruits of action.

That said, we can still laugh at Freud’s sexual theory. It’s funny to see him conclusion that a woman’s dream must mean she wants children– what else would a baby-factory dream of? This practice of reducing all humans to a gaggle of sexual organs and urges is hilarious, but it also disturbs me a bit to know how this ideation was so well-respected and once had so much ethos. Maybe I’m just hysterical, though. It could be my womb wondering up to my head.

However, there’s a fair amount of confirmation bias, so much so that I’d say it’s fair to call this piece Gladwellian. Freud selects very simple and logical dreams that fit his wish-fulfillment structure as “proof”– for example, he cites a friend feeling thirsty in a dream and waking to quench this thirst in the conscious world. It’s logical, it’s empirical, and it fits the model– but only because Freud chose it to do so. He neglects to discuss how the model might be applied to more abstract dreams with less of a clear objective. Such further explanation or refutation would strengthen the essay and perhaps help to sway skeptics.



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