Freud Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams employed dream analysis to introduce his influential theory that unconscious motives, molded from relationships in childhood, are basic to adult personality.

Summary of Event

Die Traumdeutung (1900; The Interpretation of Dreams, 1913) is widely considered to be among the greatest works of Sigmund Freud. It is certainly one that Freud himself considered most important, as evidenced by the fact that it is the only one of Freud’s early works that he repeatedly revised throughout his career as new information and clinical experience caused him to modify his theories. This work is important because it introduced the core ideas of psychoanalysis, the still influential theory that hidden, unconscious feelings and motives determine both the symptoms of mental patients and the normal thoughts and deeds of everyday life. Freud, Sigmund Interpretation of Dreams, The (Freud) Psychology;and Freudian analysis[Freudian analysis] [kw]Freud Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) [kw]Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud (1900) [kw]Interpretation of Dreams, Freud Publishes The (1900) [kw]Dreams, Freud Publishes The Interpretation of (1900) Freud, Sigmund Interpretation of Dreams, The (Freud) Psychology;and Freudian analysis[Freudian analysis] [g]Austria;1900: Freud Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams[6430] [c]Psychology and psychiatry;1900: Freud Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams[6430] [c]Philosophy;1900: Freud Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams[6430] [c]Literature;1900: Freud Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams[6430] Breuer, Josef Erikson, Erik H.

Even before he began his study of dreams, Freud, an Austrian neurologist, had already proved himself a capable medical researcher and produced several significant papers on neurological conditions. About 1885, Freud was introduced to the study of hypnotism, and during the 1890’s he worked with Josef Breuer Breuer, Josef to develop a theory of hysteria. Breuer had called to the attention of Freud the case of a young girl who suffered from apparent paralysis and psychic confusion. He noticed that if the girl were allowed to give verbal expression to her fantasies, the symptoms tended to disappear. This would prove to be an important factor in the development of psychoanalysis, which is sometimes referred to as the “talking cure.”

Breuer also observed that, whereas the girl could not account for her symptoms in a conscious state, under hypnosis she well understood the connection between her symptoms and past experiences. From this case, Breuer and Freud developed their theory that hysteria is a condition that imitates a physical or neurological disorder but for which no physical or neurological causes can be discovered. According to the theory, hysteria springs from the repression of desired acts and can be cured only by a kind of catharsis in which unconscious desires are rendered conscious and meaningful.

Sigmund Freud.

(Library of Congress)

These studies in hysteria contained one basic idea that Freud was later to develop in his theory of psychoanalysis: that a significant aspect of mental life was “unconscious.” Inexpressible in rational language, the unconscious had indirect and sometimes perverse effects upon daily activity. During the 1890’s, Freud began to appreciate the general significance of his discovery. He began to analyze his own dreams and unintentional behavior. The unconscious, he realized, could be revealed in many ways other than hypnosis, and its significance was not limited to mental patients. Indeed, Freud came to call dreams the “royal road” to the unconscious, the privileged arena for finding evidence of unconscious impulses. The Interpretation of Dreams was significant, then, in that it introduced psychoanalysis not only as a treatment for hysteria but also as a comprehensive theory of human motivation and development.

The Interpretation of Dreams is distinguished both by the methodology with which it intends to investigate dreams and by the meaning that it assigns to dreams. Freud argues that the meaning of a dream is not to be discovered by some hidden logic, but rather through a process of free association, by getting the dreamer to uncover its meaning. What is the nature of a dream? Basically, Freud sees it as a protector of sleep that simultaneously expresses and censors the unconscious desires that are allowed free play once conscious mental activity is suspended. Thus, the manifest dream (the dream that is remembered in a conscious state) is not the same as the latent dream thought or desire, because this desire is often of such a nature (usually sexual) that it conflicts with the requirements of society and the moral code that the individual imposes upon him- or herself. The manifest dream partly censors this unconscious desire and at the same time expresses it in symbolic form. The decoding of such symbolism is the entrance into the complexes that, if not understood and rationally dealt with, lead to mental disorder.

The Interpretation of Dreams was far from Freud’s final word; in his attempts to chart the mechanism of the unconscious, he constantly revised his theories. Nevertheless, it contained the basis of his subsequent work on the psychology of the individual and his attempts to apply the insights of psychoanalysis to cultural anthropology Anthropology;and psychoanalysis[Psychoanalysis] . Certainly, it expressed that ambiguity which Freud discovered at the heart of human existence, the conflict inherent in what he describes as the pleasure principle, and it explains that spirit of pessimism which was so strong a characteristic of Freud’s thought.

Several core themes of Freud’s “dream book” became further elaborated in his later writings. The centrality of forbidden wishes modified and deflected by a “censor” remained one such continuing theme. “The censor” was in later work subdivided into the realistic controls of the conscious self, the “ego,” and less rational, moralistic restraints and demands of an internalized parental image, the “superego.” One core theme, the eroticized love for one’s parent of the opposite sex and jealousy of one’s same-sex parental rival, recurred in many dreams. This, later labeled the Oedipus complex, was considered by Freud as basic to adult sexual identity and to neurosis. The mechanism of displaced symbolization that disguises forbidden dream wishes was later elaborated into Freud’s many “mechanisms of defense.”

Not all of Freud’s assumptions in 1900 have withstood the test of time. Freud’s theory of motivation rested upon a hydraulic, tension-reducing analogy in which such motives as sex and aggression would build up a sort of pressure that would demand some sort of release. The thrust of more recent psychology gives far more attention than did Freud to the joys of seeking out self-enhancing activities that often involve increased tension and excitement. Major twentieth century psychoanalysts such as Erik H. Erikson Erikson, Erik H. give more emphasis than did Freud to the social interactions between parent and child quite apart from the sexual overtones of such relationships.

Freud’s writings suffer in several ways from male biases characteristic of views of women prevalent in his time. Freud’s account of little girls’ family affections and jealousies was heavily flavored by an assumption of the biologically rooted inadequacy of women, an assumption that finds few defenders a century later. It has been charged that Freud too readily dismissed as fantasies reports by female patients of sexual abuse by trusted men. This may or may not be true, but it tends to overlook the fact that Freud, throughout his career, agonized over the relationship between external reality and fantasy in mental life and spent considerable energy attempting to ascertain whether such reports were in fact based in fantasy or in external experience.


Many of the ideas found in The Interpretation of Dreams retain the vitality of having endured a century of research. Freud’s thesis that dreams are meaningful clues to motives important in waking life is still treated with respect by many students of personality and biopsychology. With the discovery by twentieth century neuropsychologists that dreaming episodes in sleep are accompanied by such distinctive neurophysiological signs as rapid eye movements, it became possible to study the nature of dreams with an objectivity greater than was possible for Freud. It appears that dreams are the result of random firing by neurons deep within the brain stem. Such dream episodes occur several times a night, and most are immediately forgotten. However, the few dreams that are remembered may be precisely those that have personal significance.

Fundamentals of Freud’s thought survive in psychoanalysis and in scientific psychology. In 1993, some 8,197 members of the International Psychoanalytic Association practiced their healing art. More important, basic Freudian ideas have become a vital, often unrecognized, part of mainstream psychology. Relationships between the quality of childhood-caretaker attachments and adult styles of relating to others is a popular research topic in developmental psychology. The importance of implicit (“unconscious”) adaptive styles, to cite another example, has become an important concern of cognitive psychology.

Post-Freudian art, literature, films, and television, no less than psychology, treat human emotions as subtle, complex, and often paradoxical, a view more consistent with Freud’s portrayal of human nature than of prior nineteenth century conceptions of human rationality. Most of all, the study of the mind, which was the domain of magic, religion, and speculative philosophy in 1900, has forever become the province of science. Without the stimulus of Freud’s ideas, human understanding of life itself would not be at all the same.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cohen, Josh. How to Read Freud. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Useful analysis of key concepts in Freud’s writings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Erikson, Erik. Childhood and Society. New York: W. W. Norton, 1950. This work incorporates major post-Freudian developments in psychoanalysis, especially the importance of social factors in childhood.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. This biography of Freud is comprehensive, thoroughly researched, balanced, and fair, taking into account the criticisms of Freud and also respecting his magnificent achievements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Ernest. The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books, 1957. An exhaustive work that benefits from the author’s long personal association with Freud, but possibly suffers from the positive biases of an admiring disciple.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacIntyre, Alasdair. The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis. Rev. ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. A philosophical analysis of Freud’s concept of the unconscious, by the foremost moral philosopher of the late twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Masson, Jeffrey M. The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984. This author calls into question Freud’s fairness toward women and argues that Freud dismissed as Oedipal fantasies some accounts of real seduction of children.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Neu, Jerome, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Freud. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. This work contains evaluative essays on such classic Freudian concepts as the interpretation of dreams and on more general topics such as Freud’s ideas on women.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nye, Robert D. Three Psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers. Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks-Cole, 1992. This short work contains a clear, succinct, and accurate overview of Freud and psychoanalysis for the introductory student.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Perelberg, Rosine Jozef, ed. Freud: A Modern Reader. Philadelphia: Whurr, 2005. Anthology of essays interpreting Freud from the point of view of early twenty-first century scholarship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sulloway, Frank J. Freud: Biologist of the Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1979. This author seeks to dispel the myth of Freud as a “psychoanalytic hero” alone facing a hostile world.

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