Freud's Theory Of Dreams And The Unconscious

2630 words - 11 pages

The general idea of psychoanalytic criticism, especially the study of the unconscious, has been used throughout history although it was not defined by a name until the studies of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). As a result of Freud’s works such as ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and ‘The Ego and the Id’ some notable literary theorists have produced psychoanalytical readings of many classical pieces of literature. This essay will look mainly at how Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of dreams’ and his studies of the unconscious are significantly valuable to the study of literature. It will look at psychoanalysts such as Marie Bonaparte and Ernest Jones and show examples of psychoanalytic criticism of ...view middle of the document...

Whist asleep the unconscious mind alters the latent content of a dream through distortion and condensation. Things such as the identities of people, feelings towards oneself or others and events that have happened, the dreams become distorted in order to protect the dreamer from frightening visions of their repressed self. This is known as primary revision. In Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams he refers to the unconscious repressed desires as the first system and to the distortion and condensation (the primary revision) as the second instance, he says:

“Nothing can reach the consciousness from the first system which has not previously passed the second instance; and the second instance lets nothing pass without exercising its rights, and forcing such modifications as are pleasing to itself upon the candidates for the admission to consciousness.” (Freud 1997. P. 53)

This is the minds need to ‘dress up’ the repressed desires to keep them palatable for the conscious mind to deal with. The secondary revision of a dream happens when the dreamer wakes and remembers a dream. What is remembered is the manifest content of the dream, the actual images seen by the dreamer which have become a distortion of the latent content. In the secondary revision, although in a conscious state, the dreamer is:

“very liable to unconsciously change the dream in order to further protect ourselves from knowing what is too painful to know.” (Tyson 2006. P. 19)

This means the dreamer only remembers good parts, omits or forgets parts or changes some details of a dream. Both the primary and secondary revisions produce the final manifest content and in order to discover the latent content one must interpret the symbols to understand the true meaning of the dream. This is where the dream theory relates to literature. A piece of literary work is subject to similar primary and secondary revisions meaning you must interpret the manifest content, the words on the page, to get to the latent content, the meaning behind the words. The unconscious influence in a literary work may be that of the author or of a character in the text, for example what is written in the text may be the influence of the author themselves and their repressed memories or it could be of the ‘made up’ past of a character that causes them to behave in a certain way. For instance, Edgar Allen Poe’s works have been said to be influenced by repressed memories, feelings toward his mother and other personal experiences. This would mean that in order to understand the manifest content of his literature one would have to use a biographical knowledge of him to decode it and understand the latent content. A good example of the unconscious of a character would be Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The fictional character of Hamlet is influenced by his own unconscious as opposed to that of the author Shakespeare. Therefore we would have to study Hamlet’s repressed feelings for his mother in order to interpret the manifest...

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