who dreams what

Husband: “I dreamed my father had slaves on board his ship, we struggled in the water and I killed him.”

7-yr-old son: “I dreamed I got a giant box with every single Kung Zhu battle arena and accessory in it.”

If each dream is the fulfillment of a wish on the part of the dreamer, my family certainly fits Freud’s theory that the wishes get more complicated as we age. Also that Oedipal parricide continues to hold pride of place. . .

ask Dr. Freud: dreams

Dear Dr. Freud,

I heard that you believe every dream is the fulfillment of a wish on the part of the dreamer. I have a recurrent dream of toadstools growing all over the skirt and train of my wedding dress. I defy you to find a wish in this dream! I am getting married next month and toadstools would be my worst nightmare.


Worried Bride To Be

Dear WBTB,

I am afraid I’m unable to interpret your dream via the post. I need to converse at length with the dreamer to establish context and unearth what is latent under the dream’s manifest content.

For example: you might suddenly recall, during your own extended musings on your dream, that as a child on a family picnic you saw your father chase your laughing mother with a toad. Your dream’s narrative has simply transcoded the central object of the memory into the word “toadstool.” In this case the dream could dramatize your wish for a marriage as happy as your parents’.

Or say, for instance, that your mother has insisted on a fancier wedding dress than you desired, or that the lace has not come up to your expectations. Your dream might be playing out your dissatisfaction with the wish: “I’d rather be covered with toadstools than with these gaudy trimmings,” or even “This will teach mother to interfere!”

Dream interpretation is even more complex than this, however. If a dream stirs up a repressed wish, it will simultaneously generate accompanying material that obscures or denies it. Strong feelings of fondness or disgust in dreams are often indicators of such denial and can typically be taken as confirmation that, deep down, the dreamer feels quite the opposite.

Again, you would need to visit my office to unpack your toadstool dream properly.

My best wishes for your marriage,

Sigmund Freud.

Ask Dr. Freud: Oedipus and vampires

Dear Dr. Freud,

I read recently that your theory of the Oedipus Complex can account for the popularity of vampire stories in contemporary literature and film. Can you explain the connection?





Dear Vampfan,

As you know, the myth of Oedipus, like so many of the stories through which a civilization defines itself, launches with the murder of the father. Vampires, because they are both immortal and virile, thwart this basic mythical premise right from the start. Thus the figure of the vampire erects a powerful counter-myth to our notions of progress, inheritance and enlightenment.

Take Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example.  Dracula is said to be the most frequently adapted book of all time (films, radio dramas, operas, graphic novels, breakfast cereals–you name it).  In this ultimate nightmare of the castrating father, the Count’s sin is not just that he refuses to pass away and make room for the next generation; it’s also that he is actively buying up downtown London real estate and seducing its young women.  So a diverse group of young men must put aside their own competitive quarrels and band together to rout Dracula.  Only when this fantastical parricide is complete can they carry on with their own procreative activities.

How this applies to the current generation of conscientious-yet-sexy young vamps is a different question altogether. Our fear of aging is stronger today than ever before, thanks to multibillion-dollar cosmetic, fitness and diet industries. Could be when it comes to today’s vampires we’re not nervous, we’re jealous.

Cordially yours,


ask Dr. Freud: archetypes

Dear Dr. Freud,

The theory of archetypes—the argument that a relatively small stock of characters and themes recur in endless but recognizable variations in our stories—has been hugely exciting and useful to scholars for a century now.  So who really came up the idea of archetypes first: you or Dr. Jung?                Sincerely,

Split Psychoanalytic Loyalties

Dear SPL,

Permit me to quote myself:

“I recognized the presence of symbolism in dreams from the very beginning. . . .This symbolism is not peculiar to dreams, but is characteristic of unconscious ideation, in particular among the people, and it is to be found in folklore, and in popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms, proverbial wisdom and current jokes, to a more complete extent than in dreams.” (The Interpretation of Dreams, Trans. James Stratchey, Standard Edition, V, pp. 350-51).

In other words, SPL, Jung says he got the term “archetype” from classical sources.  Well, the term is neither here nor there, because he got the idea from me.


Sigmund Freud

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Ask Dr. Freud: the trouble with the tooth fairy

Dear Dr. Freud,

I’ve heard you disapprove of childhood myths like Santa and the Easter Bunny.  Why are you such a wet blanket?

Sincerely,  An Earnest Parent

Dear EP,

Over the course of my long and illustrious career listening to people complain about their parents, one thing I’ve noticed is that children resent being lied to.  You think you’re telling them pretty stories that prolong the innocence and enchantment of childhood, but as an adult, EP, you understand the symbolism of those stories and your children don’t, so what you’re effectively doing is keeping them locked out of a whole set of important, shared knowledge.

When you say to Johnny that his little sister was brought by the stork, his natural curiosity about the deep mysteries of pregnancy and birth is thwarted.  Later, he’ll remember the thwarting, not the cuteness of the fable.

In fact, this is why a lot of people stop going to church.  We don’t understand what’s behind the symbols and myths of religious doctrine, and we begin to resent what feels like obfuscation.  If religious systems can’t share a sense of the overwhelming, awe-inspiring mystery of the creative eternal, they won’t keep us interested past childhood.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big fan of myths in general, especially Greek ones.  But when myths stop pointing at deeper truths–when they stymie questions rather than lead to more–then we need to set them aside and find better ones.

Wishing you all the best, EP (although you do realize your kids will hate you no matter what, right?),

Dr. Freud