The Interpretation of Dreams


''The Interpretation of Dreams'' (german: Die Traumdeutung) is an 1899 book by
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian and the founder of , a clinical method for treating through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud was born to (from ) parents ...

Sigmund Freud
, the founder of
psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis (from Greek language, Greek: + ) is a set of Theory, theories and Therapy, therapeutic techniques"What is psychoanalysis? Of course, one is supposed to answer that it is many things — a theory, a research method, a therapy, a bod ...

, in which the author introduces his theory of the
unconscious Unconscious may refer to: Physiology * Unconsciousness, the lack of consciousness or responsiveness to people and other environmental stimuli Psychology * Unconscious mind, the mind operating well outside the attention of the conscious mind as ...
with respect to
dream interpretation Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to dream A dream is a succession of images, idea In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphys ...
, and discusses what would later become the theory of the
Oedipus complex describes the riddle of the Sphinx'', by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, (ca. 1805) The Oedipus complex (also spelled Œdipus complex) is a concept of psychoanalytic theory. Sigmund Freud introduced the concept in his ''The Interpretation of Dream ...
. Freud revised the book at least eight times and, in the third edition, added an extensive section which treated dream symbolism very literally, following the influence of
Wilhelm Stekel Wilhelm Stekel (; 18 March 1868 – 25 June 1940) was an Austrian physician and psychologist A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by exper ...
. Freud said of this work, "Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime." Dated 1900, the book was first published in an edition of 600 copies, which did not sell out for eight years. ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' later gained in popularity, and seven more editions were published in Freud's lifetime. Because of the book's length and complexity, Freud also wrote an abridged version called ''On Dreams''. The original text is widely regarded as one of Freud's most significant works.


Freud spent the summer of 1895 at Schloss BelleVue near
Grinzing Grinzing () was an independent municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division having Municipal corporation, corporate status and powers of self-government or jurisdiction as granted by national and regional laws to wh ...

Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a landlocked A landlocked country is a country that does not have territory connected to an ocean or whose coastli ...

, where he began the inception of ''The Interpretation of Dreams''. In a 1900 letter to
Wilhelm Fliess Wilhelm Fliess (german: Wilhelm Fließ; 24 October 1858 – 13 October 1928) was a German otolaryngologist who practised in Berlin. He developed the pseudoscientific theory of human biorhythms and a possible nasogenital connection that have no ...
, he wrote in commemoration of the place: While staying at Schloss Bellevue, Freud dreamed his famous dream of 'Irma's injection'. His reading and analysis of the dream allowed him to be exonerated from his mishandling of the treatment of a patient in 1895. In 1963, Belle Vue manor was demolished, but today a memorial plaque with just that inscription has been erected at the site by the Austrian ''Sigmund Freud Society''.


Dreams, in Freud's view, are formed as the result of two mental processes. The first process involves unconscious forces that construct a wish that is expressed by the dream, and the second is the process of censorship that forcibly distorts the expression of the wish. In Freud's view, all dreams are forms of "wish fulfillment" (later in ''Beyond the Pleasure Principle'', Freud would discuss dreams which do not appear to be wish-fulfillment). Freud states: "My presumption that dreams can be interpreted at once puts me in opposition to the ruling theory of dreams and in fact to every theory of dreams..." Freud advanced the idea that an analyst can differentiate between the manifest content and latent content of a dream. The manifest content refers to the remembered narrative that plays out in the dream itself. The latent content refers to the underlying meaning of the dream. During sleep, the unconscious condenses, displaces, and forms representations of the dream content, the latent content of which is often unrecognizable to the individual upon waking. Critics have argued that Freud's theory of dreams requires sexual interpretation. Freud, however, contested this criticism, noting that "the assertion that all dreams require a sexual interpretation, against which critics rage so incessantly, occurs nowhere in my ''Interpretation of Dreams.'' It is not to be found in any of the numerous editions of this book and is in obvious contradiction to other views expressed in it." Freud stated that “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."

Sources of dream content

Freud claimed that every dream has a connection point with an experience of the previous day. Though, the connection may be minor, as the dream content can be selected from any part of the dreamer's life. He described four possible sources of dreams: a) mentally significant experiences represented directly, b) several recent and significant experiences combined into a single unity by the dream, c) one or more recent and significant experiences which are represented in the content by the mention of a contemporary but indifferent experience, and d) an internal significant experience, such as a memory or train of thought, that is invariably represented in the dream by a mention of a recent but indifferent impression. Oftentimes people experience external stimuli, such as an alarm clock or music, being distorted and incorporated into their dreams. Freud explained that this is because "the mind is withdrawn from the external world during sleep, and it is unable to give it a correct interpretation ..." He further explained that our mind ''wishes'' to continue sleeping, and therefore will try to suppress external stimuli, weave the stimuli into the dream, compel a person to wake up, or encourage him or her to overcome it. Freud believed that dreams were picture-puzzles, and though they may appear nonsensical and worthless on the surface, through the process of interpretation they can form a "poetical phrase of the greatest beauty and significance."

Condensation, displacement, and representation in dreams

Dreams are brief compared to the range and abundance of dream thoughts. Through condensation or compression, dream content can be presented in one dream. Oftentimes, people may recall having more than one dream in a night. Freud explained that the content of all dreams occurring on the same night represents part of the same whole. He believed that separate dreams have the same meaning. Often the first dream is more distorted and the latter is more distinct. Displacement of dream content has occurred when manifest content does not resemble the actual meaning of the dream. Displacement comes through the influence of a censorship agent. Representation in dreams is the causal relation between two things. Freud argues that two persons or objects can be combined into a single representation in a dream (see Freud's dream of his uncle and Friend R).

''On Dreams''

An abridged version called ''On Dreams'' was published in 1901 as part of Lowenfeld and Kurella's ''Grenzfragen des Nerven und Seelenlebens''. It was re-published in 1911 in slightly larger form as a book. ''On Dreams'' is also included in the 1953 edition and the second part of Freud's work on dreams, Volume Five, ''The Interpretation of Dreams II and On Dreams''. It follows chapter seven in ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' and in this edition, is fifty-three pages in length. There are thirteen chapters in total and Freud directs the reader to ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' for further reading throughout ''On Dreams,'' in particular, in the final chapter. Immediately after its publication, Freud considered ''On Dreams'' as a shortened version of ''The Interpretation of Dreams''. The English translation of ''On Dreams'' was first published in 1914 and the second English publication in the James Strachey translation from 1952. Freud investigates the subject of ''displacement'' and our inability to recognize our dreams. In chapter VI, page 659, he states: "It is the process of displacement which is chiefly responsible for our being unable to discover or recognize them in the dream-content" and he considers the issue of displacement in chapter VIII, page 671 as: "the most striking of the dream-work."


The first edition begins: Freud begins his book in the first chapter titled "The Scientific Literature on the Problems of the Dream" by reviewing different scientific views on dream interpretation, which he finds interesting but not adequate. He then makes his argument by describing a number of dreams which he claims illustrate his theory. Freud describes three main types of dreams: 1. Direct prophecies received in the dream (chrematismos, oraculum); 2. The foretelling of a future event (orama, visio) 3. The symbolic dream, which requires interpretation (Interpretation of Dreams 5). Much of Freud's sources for analysis are in literature. Many of his most important dreams are his own — his method is inaugurated with an analysis of his dream "Irma's injection" — but many also come from patient case studies.

Influence and reception

''The Interpretation of Dreams'' was first published in an edition of only 600 copies, and these took eight years to sell. The work subsequently gained popularity, and seven more editions were printed in Freud's lifetime, the last in 1929. The classicist Norman O. Brown described ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' as one of the great applications and extensions of the Socratic maxim "know thyself" in ''Life Against Death'' (1959). The philosopher Paul Ricœur described ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' as Freud's "first great book" in ''Freud and Philosophy'' (1965). He argued that like Freud's other works it posits a "semantics of desire". The mythologist Joseph Campbell described the book as an "epochal work", noting in ''The Masks of God: Creative Mythology'' (1968) that it was "based on insights derived from years devoted to the fantasies of neurotics". Max Schur, Freud's physician and friend, provided evidence in ''Freud: Living and Dying'' (1972) that the first dream that Freud analyzed, his so-called "Irma dream" was not very disguised, but actually closely portrayed a medical disaster of Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's patients. The psychologist Hans Eysenck argued in ''Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire'' (1985) that the dreams Freud cites actually disprove Freud's dream theory. The philosopher John Forrester (historian), John Forrester described ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' as Freud's "masterpiece" in ''Dispatches from the Freud Wars'' (1997). He suggested that the book could be considered a form of autobiographical writing and compared it to the naturalist Charles Darwin's ''On the Origin of Species'' (1859). The philosopher Dermot Moran compared the influence that ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' exerted on psychoanalysis to that which the philosopher Edmund Husserl's ''Logical Investigations (Husserl), Logical Investigations'' (1900–1901) exerted on 20th-century European philosophy in his introduction to the latter work. The philosopher Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and the psychologist Sonu Shamdasani noted in ''The Freud Files'' (2012) that the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler wrote to Freud in October 1905 that he was convinced of the correctness of ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' as soon as he read it. They argued, however, that Freud's analysis of the dream of Irma's injection was partly based on Belgian psychologist Joseph Delboeuf's analysis of a dream in ''Sleep and Dreams''. In their view, ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' should be placed in the context of the "introspective hypnotism" practiced by figures such as Auguste Forel, Eugen Bleuler, and Oskar Vogt. They charged Freud with selectively citing some authors on dreams (including Marie-Jean-Léon, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys and Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury), ignoring others (including Jean-Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, and Richard von Krafft-Ebing), and systematically avoiding "citing the passages in the works of his predecessors which came closest to his own theories." E. James Lieberman and Robert Kramer wrote in an introduction to a collection of letters between Freud and the psychoanalyst Otto Rank that Rank was impressed by ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' when he read it in 1905, and was moved to write a critical reanalysis of one of Freud's own dreams. They suggested that it may have been partly this reanalysis that brought Rank to Freud's attention. They noted that it was with Rank's help that Freud published the second edition of ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' in 1909. The neuropsychoanalyst Mark Blechner argued in ''Contemporary Psychoanalysis'' that even if one does not agree with Freud's theories, ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' remains a valuable record of dream texts and an analysis of the mental operations that dreams demonstrate. Art historian and filmmaker Joseph Koerner drew the title of his 2019 film ''The Burning Child'' from a dream of that title, which opens Chapter 7 of ''Interpretation of Dreams.''


The first translation from German into English was completed by A. A. Brill, a Freudian psychoanalyst. Years later, an authorized translation by James Strachey was published. The most recent English translation is by Joyce Crick.

Online editions

''The Interpretation of Dreams''
at Project Gutenberg, Abraham Arden Brill's 1913 English translation * , a faithful copy of the third edition translated in English by Abraham Arden Brill and published in 1913 by Macmillan Publishers, The Macmillan Company.
''The Interpretation of Dreams''
at Bartebly, derived from the same edition as above.

at Psych Web, derived from the same edition as above. *
''Die Traumdeutung''
at Project Gutenberg, derived from the original text in German
''Die Traumdeutung''
at the Internet Archive, scans of the original text in German.


Further reading

* Lydia Marinelli, Marinelli, Lydia and Andreas Mayer A. (2003) ''Dreaming by the Book: Freud's 'The Interpretation of Dreams' and the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement'', New York: Other Press. (Mayer and Marinelli explore textual changes in different versions of ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' and offer an historical account of how the book became the founding text of the psychoanalytic movement). * ''The Language of Psycho-Analysis'' by Jean Laplanche and :fr:Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis; trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith W. W. Norton & Company, 1974, {{DEFAULTSORT:Interpretation of Dreams, The 1899 non-fiction books 1900 non-fiction books Books by Sigmund Freud Books about dream interpretation Books about psychoanalysis German-language books History of psychology Stage theories