Analysis of Sample Dreamsby@sigmundfreud

Analysis of Sample Dreams

by Sigmund FreudFebruary 28th, 2023
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

I hope you will not be disappointed if I again lay before you excerpts from dream analyses instead of inviting you to participate in the interpretation of a beautiful long dream. You will say that after so much preparation you ought to have this right, and that after the successful interpretation of so many thousands of dreams it should long ago have become possible to assemble a collection of excellent dream samples with which we could demonstrate all our assertions concerning dream-work and dream thoughts. Yes, but the difficulties which stand in the way of the fulfillment of your wish are too many.
featured image - Analysis of Sample Dreams
Sigmund Freud HackerNoon profile picture

A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Analysis of Sample Dreams

Analysis of Sample Dreams

I hope you will not be disappointed if I again lay before you excerpts from dream analyses instead of inviting you to participate in the interpretation of a beautiful long dream. You will say that after so much preparation you ought to have this right, and that after the successful interpretation of so many thousands of dreams it should long ago have become possible to assemble a collection of excellent dream samples with which we could demonstrate all our assertions concerning dream-work and dream thoughts. Yes, but the difficulties which stand in the way of the fulfillment of your wish are too many.

First of all, I must confess to you that no one practices dream interpretation as his main occupation. When does one interpret dreams? Occasionally one can occupy himself with the dream of some friend, without any special purpose, or else he may work with his own dreams for a time in order to school himself in psychoanalytic method; most often, however, one deals with the dreams of nervous individuals who are undergoing analytic treatment. These latter dreams are excellent material, and in no way inferior to those of normal persons, but one is forced by the technique of the treatment to subordinate dream analysis to therapeutic aims and to pass over a large number of dreams after having derived something from them that is of use in the treatment. Many dreams we meet with during the treatment are, as a matter of fact, impossible of complete analysis. Since they spring from the total mass of psychic material which is still unknown to us, their understanding becomes possible only after the completion of the cure. Besides, to tell you such dreams would necessitate the disclosure of all the secrets concerning a neurosis. That will not do for us, since we have taken the dream as preparation for the study of the neuroses.

I know you would gladly leave this material, and would prefer to hear the dreams of healthy persons, or your own dreams explained. But that is impossible because of the content of these dreams. One can expose neither himself, nor another whose confidence he has won, so inconsiderately as would result from a thorough interpretation of his dreams—which, as you already know, refer to the most intimate things of his personality. In addition to this difficulty, caused by the nature of the material, there is another that must be considered when communicating a dream. You know the dream seems strange even to the dreamer himself, let alone to one who does not know the dreamer. Our literature is not poor in good and detailed dream analyses. I myself have published some in connection with case histories. Perhaps the best example of a dream interpretation is the one published by O. Rank, being two related dreams of a young girl, covering about two pages of print, the analysis covering seventy-six pages. I would need about a whole semester in order to take you through such a task. If we select a longer or more markedly distorted dream, we have to make so many explanations, we must make use of so many free associations and recollections, must go into so many bypaths, that a lecture on the subject would be entirely unsatisfactory and inconclusive. So I must ask you to be content with what is more easily obtained, with the recital of small bits of dreams of neurotic persons, in which we may be able to recognize this or that isolated fact. Dream symbols are the most easily demonstrable, and after them, certain peculiarities of regressive dream representations.[34] I shall tell you why I considered each of the following dreams worthy of communication.

1. A dream, consisting of only two brief pictures: "The dreamer's uncle is smoking a cigarette, although it is Saturday. A woman caresses him as though he were her child."

In commenting on the first picture, the dreamer (a Jew) remarks that his uncle is a pious man who never did, and never would do, anything so sinful as smoking on the Sabbath. As to the woman of the second picture, he has no free associations other than his mother. These two pictures or thoughts should obviously be brought into connection with each other, but how? Since he expressly rules out the reality of his uncle's action, then it is natural to interpolate an "if." "If my uncle, that pious man, should smoke a cigarette on Saturday, then I could also permit my mother's caresses." This obviously means that the mother's caresses are prohibited, in the same manner as is smoking on Saturday, to a pious Jew. You will recall, I told you that all relations between the dream thoughts disappear in the dream-work, that these relations are broken up into their raw material, and that it is the task of interpretation to re-interpolate the omitted connections.

2. Through my publications on dreams I have become, in certain respects, the public consultant on matters pertaining to dreams, and for many years I have been receiving communications from the most varied sources, in which dreams are related to me or presented to me for my judgment. I am of course grateful to all those persons who include with the story of the dream, enough material to make an interpretation possible, or who give such an interpretation themselves. It is in this category that the following dream belongs, the dream of a Munich physician in the year 1910. I select it because it goes to show how impossible of understanding a dream generally is before the dreamer has given us what information he has about it. I suspect that at bottom you consider the ideal dream interpretation that in which one simply inserts the meaning of the symbols, and would like to lay aside the technique of free association to the dream elements. I wish to disabuse your minds of this harmful error.

"On July 13, 1910, toward morning, I dreamed that I was bicycling down a street in Tübingen, when a brown Dachshund tore after me and caught me by the heel. A bit further on I get off, seat myself on a step, and begin to beat the beast, which has clenched its teeth tight. (I feel no discomfort from the biting or the whole scene.) Two elderly ladies are sitting opposite me and watching me with grins on their faces. Then I wake up and, as so often happens to me, the whole dream becomes perfectly clear to me in this moment of transition to the waking state."

Symbols are of little use in this case. The dreamer, however, informs us, "I lately fell in love with a girl, just from seeing her on the street, but had no means of becoming acquainted with her. The most pleasant means might have been the Dachshund, since I am a great lover of animals, and also felt that the girl was in sympathy with this characteristic." He also adds that he repeatedly interfered in the fights of scuffling dogs with great dexterity and frequently to the great amazement of the spectators. Thus we learn that the girl, who pleased him, was always accompanied by this particular dog. This girl, however, was disregarded in the manifest dream, and there remained only the dog which he associates with her. Perhaps the elderly ladies who simpered at him took the place of the girl. The remainder of what he tells us is not enough to explain this point. Riding a bicycle in the dream is a direct repetition of the remembered situation. He had never met the girl with the dog except when he was on his bicycle.

3. When anyone has lost a loved one, he produces dreams of a special sort for a long time afterward, dreams in which the knowledge of death enters into the most remarkable compromises with the desire to have the deceased alive again. At one time the deceased is dead and yet continues to live on because he does not know that he is dead, and would die completely only if he knew it; at another time he is half dead and half alive, and each of these conditions has its particular signs. One cannot simply label these dreams nonsense, for to come to life again is no more impossible in the dream than, for example, it is in the fairy story, in which it occurs as a very frequent fate. As far as I have been able to analyze such dreams, I have always found them to be capable of a sensible solution, but that the pious wish to recall the deceased to life goes about expressing itself by the oddest methods. Let me tell you such a dream, which seems queer and senseless enough, and analysis of which will show you many of the points for which you have been prepared by our theoretical discussions. The dream is that of a man who had lost his father many years previously.

"Father is dead, but has been exhumed and looks badly. He goes on living, and the dreamer does everything to prevent him from noticing that fact." Then the dream goes on to other things, apparently irrelevant.

The father is dead, that we know. That he was exhumed is not really true, nor is the truth of the rest of the dream important. But the dreamer tells us that when he came back from his father's funeral, one of his teeth began to ache. He wanted to treat this tooth according to the Jewish precept, "If thy tooth offend thee, pluck it out," and betook himself to the dentist. But the latter said, "One does not simply pull a tooth out, one must have patience with it. I shall inject something to kill the nerve. Come again in three days and then I will take it out."

"This 'taking it out'," says the dreamer suddenly, "is the exhuming."

Is the dreamer right? It does not correspond exactly, only approximately, for the tooth is not taken out, but something that has died off is taken out of it. But after our other experiences we are probably safe in believing that the dream work is capable of such inaccuracies. It appears that the dreamer condensed, fused into one, his dead father and the tooth that was killed but retained. No wonder then, that in the manifest dream something senseless results, for it is impossible for everything that is said of the tooth to fit the father. What is it that serves as something intermediate between tooth and father and makes this condensation possible?

This interpretation must be correct, however, for the dreamer says that he is acquainted with the saying that when one dreams of losing a tooth it means that one is going to lose a member of his family.

We know that this popular interpretation is incorrect, or at least is correct only in a scurrilous sense. For that reason it is all the more surprising to find this theme thus touched upon in the background of other portions of the dream content.

Without any further urging, the dreamer now begins to tell of his father's illness and death as well as of his relations with him. The father was sick a long time, and his care and treatment cost him, the son, much money. And yet it was never too much for him, he never grew impatient, never wished it might end soon. He boasts of his true Jewish piety toward his father, of rigid adherence to the Jewish precepts. But are you not struck by a contradiction in the thoughts of the dream? He had identified tooth with father. As to the tooth he wanted to follow the Jewish precept that carries out its own judgment, "pull it out if it causes pain and annoyance." He had also been anxious to follow the precept of the law with regard to his father, which in this case, however, tells him to disregard trouble and expense, to take all the burdens upon himself and to let no hostile intent arise toward the object which causes the pain. Would not the agreement be far more compelling if he had really developed feelings toward his father similar to those about his sick tooth; that is, had he wished that a speedy death should put an end to that superfluous, painful and expensive existence?

I do not doubt that this was really his attitude toward his father during the latter's extended illness, and that his boastful assurances of filial piety were intended to distract his attention from these recollections. Under such circumstances, the death-wish directed toward the parent generally becomes active, and disguises itself in phrases of sympathetic consideration such as, "It would really be a blessed release for him." But note well that we have here overcome an obstacle in the latent dream thoughts themselves. The first part of these thoughts was surely unconscious only temporarily, that is to say, during the dream-work, while the inimical feelings toward the father might have been permanently unconscious, dating perhaps from childhood, occasionally slipping into consciousness, shyly and in disguise, during his father's illness. We can assert this with even greater certainty of other latent thoughts which have made unmistakable contributions to the dream content. To be sure, none of these inimical feelings toward the father can be discovered in the dream. But when we search a childhood history for the root of such enmity toward the father, we recollect that fear of the father arises because the latter, even in the earliest years, opposes the boy's sex activities, just as he is ordinarily forced to oppose them again, after puberty, for social motives. This relation to the father applies also to our dreamer; there had been mixed with his love for him much respect and fear, having its source in early sex intimidation.

From the onanism complex we can now explain the other parts of the manifest dream. "He looks badly" does, to be sure, allude to another remark of the dentist, that it looks badly to have a tooth missing in that place; but at the same time it refers to the "looking badly" by which the young man betrayed, or feared to betray, his excessive sexual activity during puberty. It was not without lightening his own heart that the dreamer transposed the bad looks from himself to his father in the manifest content, an inversion of the dream work with which you are familiar. "He goes on living since then," disguises itself with the wish to have him alive again as well as with the promise of the dentist that the tooth will be preserved. A very subtle phrase, however, is the following: "The dreamer does everything to prevent him (the father) from noticing the fact," a phrase calculated to lead us to conclude that he is dead. Yet the only meaningful conclusion is again drawn from the onanism complex, where it is a matter of course for the young man to do everything in order to hide his sex life from his father. Remember, in conclusion, that we were constantly forced to interpret the so-called tooth-ache dreams as dreams dealing with the subject of onanism and the punishment that is feared.

You now see how this incomprehensible dream came into being, by the creation of a remarkable and misleading condensation, by the fact that all the ideas emerge from the midst of the latent thought process, and by the creation of ambiguous substitute formations for the most hidden and, at the time, most remote of these thoughts.

4. We have tried repeatedly to understand those prosaic and banal dreams which have nothing foolish or repulsive about them, but which cause us to ask: "Why do we dream such unimportant stuff?" So I shall give you a new example of this kind, three dreams belonging together, all of which were dreamed in the same night by a young woman.

(a). "She it going through the hall of her house and strikes her head against the low-hanging chandelier, so that her head bleeds."

She has no reminiscence to contribute, nothing that really happened. The information she gives leads in quite another direction. "You know how badly my hair is falling out. Mother said to me yesterday, 'My child, if it goes on like this, you will have a head like the cheek of a buttock.'" Thus the head here stands for the other part of the body. We can understand the chandelier symbolically without other help; all objects that can be lengthened are symbols of the male organ. Thus the dream deals with a bleeding at the lower end of the body, which results from its collision with the male organ. This might still be ambiguous; her further associations show that it has to do with her belief that menstrual bleeding results from sexual intercourse with a man, a bit of sexual theory believed by many immature girls.

(b). "She sees a deep hole in the vineyard which she knows was made by pulling out a tree." Herewith her remark that "she misses the tree." She means that she did not see the tree in the dream, but the same phrase serves to express another thought which symbolic interpretation makes completely certain. The dream deals with another bit of the infantile sex theory, namely, with the belief that girls originally had the same genitals as boys and that the later conformation resulted from castration (pulling out of a tree).

(c). "She is standing in front of the drawer of her writing table, with which she is so familiar that she knows immediately if anybody has been through it." The writing-table drawer, like every drawer, chest, or box, stands for the female genital. She knows that one can recognize from the genital the signs of sexual intercourse (and, as she thinks, even of any contact at all) and she has long been afraid of such a conviction. I believe that the accent in all these dreams is to be laid upon the idea of knowing. She is reminded of the time of her childish sexual investigations, the results of which made her quite proud at the time.

5. Again a little bit of symbolism. But this time I must first describe the psychic situation in a short preface. A man who spent the night with a woman describes his partner as one of those motherly natures whose desire for a child irresistibly breaks through during intercourse. The circumstances of their meeting, however, necessitated a precaution whereby the fertilizing discharge of semen is kept away from the womb. Upon awaking after this night, the woman tells the following dream:

"An officer with a red cap follows her on the street. She flees from him, runs up the staircase, and he follows after her. Breathlessly she reaches her apartment and slams and locks the door behind her. He remains outside and as she looks through a peephole she sees him sitting outside on a bench and weeping."

You undoubtedly recognize in the pursuit by an officer with a red cap, and the breathless stair climbing, the representation of the sexual act. The fact that the dreamer locks herself in against the pursuer may serve as an example of that inversion which is so frequently used in dreams, for in reality it was the man who withdrew before the completion of the act. In the same way her grief has been transposed to the partner, it is he who weeps in the dream, whereby the discharge of the semen is also indicated.

You must surely have heard that in psychoanalysis it is always maintained that all dreams have a sexual meaning. Now you yourselves are in a position to form a judgment as to the incorrectness of this reproach. You have become acquainted with the wish-fulfillment dreams, which deal with the satisfying of the plainest needs, of hunger, of thirst, of longing for freedom, the dreams of convenience and of impatience and likewise the purely covetous and egoistic dreams. But that the markedly distorted dreams preponderantly—though again not exclusively—give expression to sex wishes, is a fact you may certainly keep in mind as one of the results of psychoanalytical research.

6. I have a special motive for piling up examples of the use of symbols in dreams. At our first meeting I complained of how hard it is, when lecturing on psychoanalysis, to demonstrate the facts in order to awaken conviction; and you very probably have come to agree with me since then. But the various assertions of psychoanalysis are so closely linked that one's conviction can easily extend from one point to a larger part of the whole. We might say of psychoanalysis that if we give it our little finger it promptly demands the whole hand. Anyone who was convinced by the explanation of errors can no longer logically disbelieve in all the rest of psychoanalysis. A second equally accessible point of approach is furnished by dream symbolism. I shall give you a dream, already published, of a peasant woman, whose husband is a watchman and who has certainly never heard anything about dream symbolism and psychoanalysis. You may then judge for yourselves whether its explanation with the help of sex symbols can be called arbitrary and forced.

"Then someone broke into her house and she called in fright for a watchman. But the latter had gone companionably into a church together with two 'beauties.' A number of steps led up to the church. Behind the church was a hill, and on its crest a thick forest. The watchman was fitted out with a helmet, gorget and a cloak. He had a full brown beard. The two were going along peacefully with the watchman, had sack-like aprons bound around their hips. There was a path from the church to the hill. This was overgrown on both sides with grass and underbrush that kept getting thicker and that became a regular forest on the crest of the hill."

You will recognize the symbols without any difficulty. The male genital is represented by a trinity of persons, the female by a landscape with a chapel, hill and forest. Again you encounter steps as the symbol of the sexual act. That which is called a hill in the dream has the same name in anatomy, namely, mons veneris, the mount of Venus.

7. I have another dream which can be solved by means of inserting symbols, a dream that is remarkable and convincing because the dreamer himself translated all the symbols, even though he had had no preliminary knowledge of dream interpretation. This situation is very unusual and the conditions essential to its occurrence are not clearly known.

"He is going for a walk with his father in some place which must be the Prater,[35] for one can see the rotunda and before it a smaller building to which is anchored a captive balloon, which, however, seems fairly slack. His father asks him what all that is for; he wonders at it himself but explains it to his father. Then they come to a courtyard in which there lies spread out a big sheet of metal. His father wants to break off a big piece of it for himself but first looks about him to see if anyone might see him. He says to him that all he needs to do is to tell the inspector and then he can take some without more ado. There are steps leading from this courtyard down into a pit, the walls of which are upholstered with some soft material rather like a leather arm chair. At the end of this pit is a longish platform and then a new pit begins...."

The dreamer himself interprets as follows: "The rotunda is my genital, the balloon in front of it is my penis, of whose slackness I have been complaining." Thus one may translate in more detail, that the rotunda is the posterior—a part of the body which the child regularly considers as part of the genital—while the smaller building before it is the scrotum. In the dream his father asks him what all that is for; that is to say, he asks the object and function of the genitals. It is easy to turn this situation around so that the dreamer is the one who does the asking. Since no such questioning of the father ever took place in real life, we must think of the thought of this dream as a wish or consider it in the light of a supposition, "If I had asked father for sexual enlightenment." We will find the continuation of this idea in another place shortly.

The courtyard, in which the sheet metal lies spread out, is not to be considered primarily as symbolical but refers to the father's place of business. For reasons of discretion I have substituted the "sheet metal" for another material with which the father deals, without changing anything in the literal wording of the dream. The dreamer entered his father's business and took great offense at the rather dubious practices upon which the profits depended to a large extent. For this reason the continuation of the above idea of the dream might be expressed as "if I had asked him, he would only have deceived me as he deceives his customers." The dreamer himself gives us the second meaning of "breaking off the metal," which serves to represent the commercial dishonesty. He says it means masturbation. Not only have we long since become familiar with this symbol, but the fact also is in agreement. The secrecy of masturbation is expressed by means of its opposite—"It can be safely done openly." Again our expectations are fulfilled by the fact that masturbatory activity is referred to as the father's, just as the questioning was in the first scene of the dream. Upon being questioned he immediately gives the interpretation of the pit as the vagina on account of the soft upholstering of its walls. I will add arbitrarily that the "going down" like the more usual "going up" is meant to describe the sexual intercourse in the vagina.

Such details as the fact that the first pit ends in a platform and then a new one begins, he explains himself as having been taken from his own history. He practiced intercourse for a while, then gave it up on account of inhibitions, and now hopes to be able to resume it as a result of the treatment.

8. The two following dreams are those of a foreigner, of very polygamous tendencies, and I give them to you as proof for the claim that one's ego appears in every dream, even in those in which it is disguised in the manifest content. The trunks in the dream are a symbol for woman.

(a). "He is to take a trip, his luggage is placed on a carriage to be taken to the station, and there are many trunks piled up, among which are two big black ones like sample trunks. He says, consolingly, to someone, 'Well, they are only going as far as the station with us.'"

In reality he does travel with a great deal of luggage, but he also brings many tales of women with him when he comes for treatment. The two black trunks stand for two dark women who play the chief part in his life at present. One of them wanted to travel to Vienna after him, but he telegraphed her not to, upon my advice.

(b). A scene at the customs house: "A fellow traveler opens his trunk and says indifferently while puffing a cigarette, 'There's nothing in here.' The customs official seems to believe him but delves into the trunk once more and finds something particularly forbidden. The traveler then says resignedly, 'Well, there's no help for it.'"

He himself is the traveler, I the customs official. Though otherwise very frank in his confessions, he has on this occasion tried to conceal from me a new relationship which he had struck up with a lady whom he was justified in believing that I knew. The painful situation of being convicted of this is transposed into a strange person so that he himself apparently is not present in the dream.

9. The following is an example of a symbol which I have not yet mentioned:

"He meets his sister in company with two friends who are themselves sisters. He extends his hand to both of them but not to his sister."

This is no allusion to a real occurrence. His thoughts instead lead him back to a time when his observations made him wonder why a girl's breasts develop so late. The two sisters, therefore, are the breasts. He would have liked to touch them if only it had not been his sister.

10. Let me add an example of a symbol of death in a dream:

"He is walking with two persons whose name he knows but has forgotten. By the time he is awake, over a very high, steep iron bridge. Suddenly the two people are gone and he sees a ghostly man with a cap, and clad in white. He asks this man whether he is the telegraph messenger.... No. Or is he a coachman? No. Then he goes on," and even in the dream he is in great fear. After waking he continues the dream by a phantasy in which the iron bridge suddenly breaks, and he plunges into the abyss.

When the dreamer emphasizes the fact that certain individuals in a dream are unknown, that he has forgotten their names, they are generally persons standing in very close relationship to the dreamer. This dreamer has two sisters; if it be true, as his dream indicates, that he wished these two dead, then it would only be justice if the fear of death fell upon him for so doing. In connection with the telegraph messenger he remarks that such people always bring bad news. Judged by his uniform he might also have been the lamp-lighter, who, however, also extinguishes the lamps—in other words, as the spirit of death extinguishes the flame of life. The coachman reminds him of Uhland's poem of King Karl's ocean voyage and also of a dangerous lake trip with two companions in which he played the role of the king in the poem. In connection with the iron bridge he remembers a recent accident and the stupid saying "Life is a suspension bridge."

11. The following may serve as another example of the representation of death in a dream: "An unknown man leaves a black bordered visiting card for him."

12. The following dream will interest you for several reasons, though it is one arising from a neurotic condition among other things:

"He is traveling in a train. The train stops in an open field. He thinks it means that there is going to be an accident, that he must save himself, and he goes through all the compartments of the train and strikes dead everyone whom he meets, conductors, engine drivers, etc."

In connection with this he tells a story that one of his friends told him. An insane man was being transported in a private compartment in a certain place in Italy, but through some mistake another traveler was put in the same compartment. The insane man murdered his fellow passenger. Thus he identifies himself with this insane person and bases his right so to do upon a compulsive idea which was then torturing him, namely, he must "do away with all persons who knew of his failings." But then he himself finds a better motivation which gave rise to the dream. The day before, in the theatre, he again saw the girl whom he had expected to marry but whom he had left because she had given him cause for jealousy. With a capacity for intense jealousy such as he has, he would really be insane if he married. In other words, he considers her so untrustworthy that out of jealousy he would have to strike dead all the persons who stood in his way. Going through a series of rooms, of compartments in this case, we have already learned to recognize as the symbol of marriage (the opposite of monogamy).

In connection with the train stopping in the open country and his fear of an accident, he tells the following: Once, when he was traveling in a train and it came to a sudden stop outside of a station, a young lady in the compartment remarked that perhaps there was going to be a collision, and that in that case the best precaution would be to pull one's legs up. But this "legs up" had also played a role in the many walks and excursions into the open which he had taken with the girl in that happy period in their first love. Thus it is a new argument for the idea that he would have to be crazy in order to marry her now. But from my knowledge of the situation I can assume with certainty that the wish to be as crazy as that nevertheless exists in him.

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books.

This book is part of the public domain. Sigmund Freud (2011). A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at, located at