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The Interpretations of Dreams

Posted on: December 13th, 2015 by Jason Jacobs
Carl Jung

Carl Jung

The meaning of dreams is a recurring theme in The Humans. Brigid’s father Erik and boyfriend Richard each reveal images from their “weird dreams,” and since Richard  has studied psychology, he is curious about their meaning. Richard would likely have learned about the “founding father” of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) as well his colleague, Carl Jung (1875-1961). Both Freud and Jung analyzed their own dreams in addition to those of their patients. Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, calling them “the royal road to the unconscious.”

According to Freud, during sleep, the ego’s defenses are lowered, allowing subconscious impulses to come into awareness. Freud described two different aspects of dreams. The “manifest content,” often based on recent events, is what the dreamer remembers. But beneath this lies the hidden wish or “symbolic meaning” of the dream, which is too forbidden or threatening for the dreamer to express consciously. Through a process called “dream-work,” the dreamer translates the underlying wish into manifest content.

Freud identified three parts of dream-work. “Condensation” is the combining of two or more objects into one. For example, a man could dream about a woman who represents both his mother and his wife or lover. “Displacement” is the process of transferring feelings about someone onto a different person or object. In one case, Freud’s patient dreamt of strangling a small dog, which Freud traced back to unconscious rage towards a sister-in-law. “Secondary elaboration” is the mental process of stringing together images in a logical order, making the manifest content seem more believable, while hiding the underlying wish. Freud also considered the possibility of universal symbols that held the same meaning for everyone. A key example is seeing all towers, poles, trees, guns, and swords as phallic symbols.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Jung was initially Freud’s follower, but over time he diverged from Freud on several key ideas, including the approach to dream interpretation. Freud believed in the universality of dreams and the process of free association. In talking about their dreams, patients would speak freely, allowing thoughts to flow without a specific topic and with no intervention from the analyst. Jung disagreed, believing that instead of free associating, one should look closely to the actual content of the dream. In Jung’s view, symbols held very specific meanings for each individual.So if Erik came to Jung with a dream about a tunnel, Jung would analyze what associations Erik might have with tunnels. Despite different interpretative processes, Jung, Freud, and many psychologists today still agree that dreams offer valuable insight to understanding the unconscious.


The Humans has been extended to play until January 3 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.



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2015-2016 Season, The Humans


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