The Interpretation of Dreams

The Complete and Definitive Text


By Sigmund Freud

Edited and translated by James Strachey

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The standard edition of Sigmund Freud’s classic work on the psychology and significance of dreams

What are the most common dreams and why do we have them? What does a dream about death mean? What do dreams of swimming, failing, or flying symbolize?

First published in 1899, Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking book, The Interpretation of Dreams, explores why we dream and why dreams matter in our psychological lives. Delving into theories of manifest and latent dream content, the special language of dreams, dreams as wish fulfillments, the significance of childhood experiences, and much more, Freud offers an incisive and enduringly relevant examination of dream psychology. Encompassing dozens of case histories and detailed analyses of actual dreams, this landmark work grants us unique insight into our sleeping experiences.

Renowned for translating Freud’s German writings into English, James Strachey–with the assistance of Freud’s daughter Anna–first published this edition in 1953. Incorporating all textual alterations made by Freud over a period of thirty years, it remains the most complete translation of the work in print





Note copyright © 2015 by Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Bibliographical Note

This Dover edition, first published by Dover Publications, Inc., in 2015, is an unabridged republication of the third edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, published by Macmillan and Company, New York, in 1913.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Freud, Sigmund, 1856–1939.

  [Traumdeutung. English]

  The interpretation of dreams / Sigmund Freud ; translated by A. A. Brill.

        p. cm. — (Dover thrift editions)

        eISBN-13: 978-0-486-80327-2

  1. Dream interpretation. 2. Psychoanalysis. I. Title.

  BF1078.F72 2015



Manufactured in the United States by Courier Corporation

78942X01     2015


SIGMUND FREUD. one of the most brilliant and influential, as well as divisive and controversial, figures of modern times. With influences such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Darwin and Shakespeare, and a peer group that included Otto Rank and Carl Jung, Freud developed his theories amidst a veritable “think tank” of late nineteenth and early twentieth century thought.

Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in Freiberg (then part of the Austrian empire and now a part of the Czech Republic) on May 6, 1856, he grew up in Vienna, where his family had moved during his early childhood. He earned his medical degree in 1881 and joined with colleague Josef Breuer to write Studies in Hysteria (1895), based on their clinical experiences. A key methodology arising from their work came to be known as “talk therapy,” an interaction between therapist and patient through which the patient appeared to gain some relief from neurotic disorders. Breuer eventually disagreed with Freud’s emphasis on the sexual nature of neurosis, however, and the partnership ended.

In fact, many of Freud’s contemporaries rejected his insistence on the major role played by sexuality in behavioral disturbances. Concepts such as infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex were not well received. Nevertheless, Freud’s renown began to grow, especially during the convening of the International Psychoanalytical Congress at Salzburg in 1908. The following year, when Freud was invited to present a series of lectures in the United States, brought an even greater recognition of his genius (he drew upon these lectures when he wrote Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, published in 1916). Freud continued to publish full-length works, papers, and case histories through the 1920s and ‘30s, among them The Ego and the Id (1923), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and Moses and Monotheism (1939).

Freud and his wife, Martha Bernays, whom he married in 1886, were living in Vienna when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. In spite of the growing threat of anti-Semitism and the oppression of the Jewish population, Freud chose to stay on. But after his youngest daughter, Anna, was interrogated by the Gestapo, Freud arranged to leave Vienna, with the assistance of various friends and influential contacts. On June 4, 1938, Freud, Martha, and Anna boarded the Orient Express, traveled to Paris, and arrived at their destination, London, on June 6. Four of Freud’s sisters (he was the eldest of eight) were unable to leave Vienna, and they died in Nazi concentration camps. After settling in London, Freud continued to see patients, despite a worsening, inoperable cancer of the jaw (originally diagnosed years earlier). Sigmund Freud died on September 23, 1939.

The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in 1900, remains a masterwork of the “father of psychoanalysis.” First translated into English in 1913, this compendium of dreams recollected by Freud himself and including those of his patients, as well as those reported by colleagues and literary figures, opened the door to the ground-breaking study. In fact, dreams had not yet been the subject of a lengthy, serious study, as they were not considered worthy of examination. Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams is a highly personal work; in his Introductory Remarks, Freud comments: “I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like…. This was painful, but unavoidable.”

In the book’s first section, Freud cites various writings on dreams, including the first work to treat the dream as an “object of psychology,” Aristotle’s Concerning Dreams and their Interpretation. The subsequent sections present an analysis of a sample dream; the dream’s purpose, in part, as a means of wish fulfillment; dream distortion, or “disfigurement”; the material and sources that form the content and structure of the dream (the “manifest,” or superficial content, as well as the “latent,” or deeper, content, stemming from repressed wishes and desires); “dream-work”—the puzzle-like construction of dreams; and elements such as the “psychic sensor,” a repressive mechanism that enables us to forget out dreams, and the transformation of infantile reminiscences into adult dreams (“the dream is a fragment of the abandoned psychic life of the child.”). More than one hundred years have passed since the first publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, but the book remains a thought-provoking, absorbing, and even entertaining, excursion into the deeper recesses of the human mind.


IN ATTEMPTING A DISCUSSION of the Interpretation of Dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, on psychological investigation, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links, the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion must, for practical reasons, claim the interest of the physician. The dream (as will appear) can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; its theoretical value as a paradigm is, however, all the greater, and one who cannot explain the origin of the dream pictures will strive in vain to understand the phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

But this relation, to which our subject owes its importance, is responsible also for the deficiencies in the work before us. The surfaces of fracture which will be found so frequently in this discussion correspond to so many points of contact at which the problem of the dream formation touches more comprehensive problems of psychopathology, which cannot be discussed here, and which will be subjected to future elaboration if there should be sufficient time and energy, and if further material should be forthcoming.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. From the work itself it will appear why all dreams related in the literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose; for examples I had to choose between my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilising the latter material by the fact that in it the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication on account of the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, inseparably connected with my own dreams was the circumstance that I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like and than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order not to be obliged to forego altogether the demonstration of the truth of my psychological results. To be sure, I could not at best resist the temptation of disguising some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, and as often as this happened it detracted materially from the value of the examples which I employed. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show forbearance, and also that all persons who are inclined to take offence at any of the dreams reported will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.


IF THERE HAS arisen a demand for a second edition of this rather difficult book before the end of the first decade, I owe no gratitude to the interest of the professional circles to whom I appealed in the preceding sentences. My colleagues in psychiatry, apparently, have made no effort to shake off the first surprise which my new conception of the dream evoked, and the professional philosophers, who are accustomed to treat the problem of dream life as a part of the states of consciousness, devoting to it a few—for the most part identical—sentences, have apparently failed to observe that in this field could be found all kinds of things which would inevitably lead to a thorough transformation of our psychological theories. The behaviour of the scientific critics could only justify the expectation that this work of mine was destined to be buried in oblivion; and the small troop of brave pupils who follow my leadership in the medical application of psychoanalysis, and also follow my example in analysing dreams in order to utilise these analyses in the treatment of neurotics, would not have exhausted the first edition of the book. I therefore feel indebted to that wider circle of intelligent seekers after truth whose co-operation has procured for me the invitation to take up anew, after nine years, the difficult and in so many respects fundamental work.

I am glad to be able to say that I have found little to change. Here and there I have inserted new material, added new views from my wider experience, and attempted to revise certain points; but everything essential concerning the dream and its interpretation, as well as the psychological propositions derived from it, has remained unchanged: at least, subjectively, it has stood the test of time. Those who are acquainted with my other works on the Etiology and Mechanism of the psychoneuroses, know that I have never offered anything unfinished as finished, and that I have always striven to change my assertions in accordance with my advancing views; but in the realm of the dream life I have been able to stand by my first declarations. During the long years of my work on the problems of the neuroses, I have been repeatedly confronted with doubts, and have often made mistakes; but it was always in the “interpretation of dreams” that I found my bearings. My numerous scientific opponents, therefore, show an especially sure instinct when they refuse to follow me into this territory of dream investigation.

Likewise, the material used in this book to illustrate the rules of dream interpretation, drawn chiefly from dreams of my own which have been depreciated and outstripped by events, have in the revision shown a persistence which resisted substantial changes. For me, indeed, the book has still another subjective meaning which I could comprehend only after it had been completed. It proved to be for me a part of my self-analysis, a reaction to the death of my father— that is, to the most significant event, the deepest loss, in the life of a man. After I recognised this I felt powerless to efface the traces of this influence. For the reader, however, it makes no difference from what material he learns to value and interpret dreams.

BERCHTESGADEN, Summer of 1908.


WHEREAS A PERIOD of nine years elapsed between the first and second editions of this book, the need for a third edition has appeared after little more than a year. I have reason to be pleased with this change; but, just as I have not considered the earlier neglect of my work on the part of the reader as a proof of its unworthiness, I am unable to find in the interest manifested at present a proof of its excellence.

The progress in scientific knowledge has shown its influence on the Interpretation of Dreams. When I wrote it in 1899 the “Sexual Theories” was not yet in existence, and the analysis of complicated forms of psychoneuroses was still in its infancy. The interpretation of dreams was destined to aid in the psychological analysis of the neuroses, but since then the deeper understanding of the neuroses has reacted on our conception of the dream. The study of dream interpretation itself has continued to develop in a direction upon which not enough stress was laid in the first edition of this book. From my own experience, as well as from the works of W. Stekel and others, I have since learned to attach a greater value to the extent and the significance of symbolism in dreams (or rather in the unconscious thinking). Thus much has accumulated in the course of this year which requires consideration. I have endeavoured to do justice to this new material by numerous insertions in the text and by the addition of footnotes. If these supplements occasionally threaten to warp the original discussion, or if, even with their aid, we have been unsuccessful in raising the original text to the niveau of our present views, I must beg indulgence for the gaps in the book, as they are only consequences and indications of the present rapid development of our knowledge. I also venture to foretell in what other directions later editions of the Interpretation of Dreams—in case any should be demanded—will differ from the present one. They will have, on the one hand, to include selections from the rich material of poetry, myth, usage of language, and folklore, and, on the other hand, to treat more profoundly the relations of the dream to the neuroses and to mental diseases.

Mr. Otto Rank has rendered me valuable service in the selection of the addenda and in reading the proof sheets. I am gratefully indebted to him and to many others for their contributions and corrections.

VIENNA, Spring of 1911.


SINCE THE APPEARANCE of the author’s Selected Papers on Hysteria and other Psychoneuroses, and Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory,* much has been said and written about Freud’s works. Some of our readers have made an honest endeavour to test and utilise the author’s theories, but they have been handicapped by their inability to read fluently very difficult German, for only two of Freud’s works have hitherto been accessible to English readers. For them this work will be of invaluable assistance. To be sure, numerous articles on the Freudian psychology have of late made their appearance in our literature; but these scattered papers, read by those unacquainted with the original work, often serve to confuse rather than enlighten. For Freud cannot be mastered from the reading of a few pamphlets, or even one or two of his original works. Let me repeat what I have so often said: No one is really qualified to use or to judge Freud’s psychoanalytic method who has not thoroughly mastered his theory of the neuroses—The Interpretation of Dreams, Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, and Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious, and who has not had considerable experience in analysing the dreams and psychopathological actions of himself and others. That there is required also a thorough training in normal and abnormal psychology goes without saying.

The Interpretation of Dreams is the author’s greatest and most important work; it is here that he develops his psychoanalytic technique, a thorough knowledge of which is absolutely indispensable for every worker in this field. The difficult task of making a translation of this work has, therefore, been undertaken primarily for the purpose of assisting those who are actively engaged in treating patients by Freud’s psychoanalytic method. Considered apart from its practical aim, the book presents much that is of interest to the psychologist and the general reader. For, notwithstanding the fact that dreams have of late years been the subject of investigation at the hands of many competent observers, only few have contributed anything tangible towards their solution; it was Freud who divested the dream of its mystery, and solved its riddles. He not only showed us that the dream is full of meaning, but amply demonstrated that it is intimately connected with normal and abnormal mental life. It is in the treatment of the abnormal mental states that we must recognise the most important value of dream interpretation. The dream does not only reveal to us the cryptic mechanisms of hallucinations, delusions, phobias, obsessions, and other psychopathological conditions, but it is also the most potent instrument in the removal of these.*

I take this opportunity of expressing my indebtedness to Professor F. C. Prescott for reading the manuscript and for helping me overcome the almost insurmountable difficulties in the translation.



* Translated by A. A. Brill (Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company).

Cf. the works of Ernest Jones, James J. Putnam, the present writer, and others.

* For examples demonstrating these facts, cf. my work, Psychoanalysis; its Theories and Practical Application, W. B. Saunders’ Publishing Company, Philadelphia & London.




IN THE FOLLOWING pages I shall prove that there exists a psychological technique by which dreams may be interpreted, and that upon the application of this method every dream will show itself to be a senseful psychological structure which may be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state. I shall furthermore endeavour to explain the processes which give rise to the strangeness and obscurity of the dream, and to discover through them the nature of the psychic forces which operate, whether in combination or in opposition, to produce the dream. This accomplished, my investigation will terminate, as it will have reached the point where the problem of the dream meets with broader problems, the solution of which must be attempted through other material.

I must presuppose that the reader is acquainted with the work done by earlier authors as well as with the present status of the dream problem in science, since in the course of this treatise I shall not often have occasion to return to them. For, notwithstanding the effort of several thousand years, little progress has been made in the scientific understanding of dreams. This has been so universally acknowledged by the authors that it seems unnecessary to quote individual opinions. One will find in the writings indexed at the end of this book many stimulating observations and plenty of interesting material for our subject, but little or nothing that concerns the true nature of the dream or that solves definitively any of its enigmas. Still less of course has been transmitted to the knowledge of the educated laity.

The first book in which the dream is treated as an object of psychology seems to be that of Aristotle1 (Concerning Dreams and their Interpretation). Aristotle asserts that the dream is of demoniacal, though not of divine nature, which indeed contains deep meaning, if it be correctly interpreted. He was also acquainted with some of the characteristics of dream life, e.g., he knew that the dream turns slight sensations perceived during sleep into great ones (“one imagines that one walks through fire and feels hot, if this or that part of the body becomes slightly warmed”), which led him to conclude that dreams might easily betray to the physician the first indications of an incipient change in the body passing unnoticed during the day. I have been unable to go more deeply into the Aristotelian treatise, because of insufficient preparation and lack of skilled assistance.

As every one knows, the ancients before Aristotle did not consider the dream a product of the dreaming mind, but a divine inspiration, and in ancient times the two antagonistic streams, which one finds throughout in the estimates of dream life, were already noticeable. They distinguished between true and valuable dreams, sent to the dreamer to warn him or to foretell the future, and vain, fraudulent, and empty dreams, the object of which was to misguide or lead him to destruction.* This pre-scientific conception of the dream among the ancients was certainly in perfect keeping with their general view of life, which was wont to project as reality in the outer world that which possessed reality only within the mind. It, moreover, accounted for the main impression made upon the waking life by the memory left from the dream in the morning, for in this memory the dream, as compared with the rest of the psychic content, seems something strange, coming, as it were, from another world. It would likewise be wrong to suppose that the theory of the supernatural origin of dreams lacks followers in our own day; for leaving out of consideration all bigoted and mystical authors—who are perfectly justified in adhering to the remnants of the once extensive realm of the supernatural until they have been swept away by scientific explanation one meets even sagacious men averse to anything adventurous, who go so far as to base their religious belief in the existence and cooperation of superhuman forces on the inexplicableness of the dream manifestations (Haffner32). The validity ascribed to the dream life by some schools of philosophy, e.g. the school of Schelling, is a distinct echo of the undisputed divinity of dreams in antiquity, nor is discussion closed on the subject of the mantic or prophetic power of dreams. This is due to the fact that the attempted psychological explanations are too inadequate to overcome the accumulated material, however strongly all those who devote themselves to a scientific mode of thought may feel that such assertions should be repudiated.

To write a history of our scientific knowledge of dream problems is so difficult because, however valuable some parts of this knowledge may have been, no progress in definite directions has been discernible. There has been no construction of a foundation of assured results upon which future investigators could continue to build, but every new author takes up the same problems afresh and from the very beginning. Were I to follow the authors in chronological order, and give a review of the opinions each has held concerning the problems of the dream, I should be prevented from drawing a clear and complete picture of the present state of knowledge on the subject. I have therefore preferred to base the treatment upon themes rather than upon the authors, and I shall cite for each problem of the dream the material found in the literature for its solution.

But as I have not succeeded in mastering the entire literature, which is widely disseminated and interwoven with that on other subjects, I must ask my readers to rest content provided no fundamental fact or important viewpoint be lost in my description.

Until recently most authors have been led to treat the subjects of sleep and dream in the same connection, and with them they have also regularly treated analogous states of psychopathology, and other dreamlike states like hallucinations, visions, &c. In the more recent works, on the other hand, there has been a tendency to keep more closely to the theme, and to take as the subject one single question of the dream life. This change, I believe, is an expression of the conviction that enlightenment and agreement in such obscure matters can only be brought about by a series of detailed investigations. It is such a detailed investigation and one of a special psychological nature, that I would offer here. I have little occasion to study the problem of sleep, as it is essentially a psychological problem, although the change of functional determinations for the mental apparatus must be included in the character of sleep. The literature of sleep will therefore not be considered here.

A scientific interest in the phenomena of dreams as such leads to the following in part interdependent inquiries:

(a) The Relation of the Dream to the Waking State.—The naïve judgment of a person on awakening assumes that the dream—if indeed it does not originate in another world—at any rate has taken the dreamer into another world. The old physiologist, Burdach,8 to whom we are indebted for a careful and discriminating description of the phenomena of dreams, expressed this conviction in an often-quoted passage, p. 474: “The waking life never repeats itself with its trials and joys, its pleasures and pains, but, on the contrary, the dream aims to relieve us of these. Even when our whole mind is filled with one subject, when profound sorrow has torn our hearts or when a task has claimed the whole power of our mentality, the dream either gives us something entirely strange, or it takes for its combinations only a few elements from reality, or it only enters into the strain of our mood and symbolises reality.”

L. Strümpell66 expresses himself to the same effect in his Nature and Origin of Dreams (p. 16), a study which is everywhere justly held in high respect: “He who dreams turns his back upon the world of waking consciousness” (p. 17). “In the dream the memory of the orderly content of the waking consciousness and its normal behaviour is as good as entirely lost” (p. 19). “The almost complete isolation of the mind in the dream from the regular normal content and course of the waking state…”


  • "The groundbreaking work that launched psychoanalysis."—Time
  • "A century after the book's publication, Freud's ideas have seeped so deeply into the culture that most people invoke them daily without being aware of it."—New York Times
  • "It is impossible to read The Interpretation of Dreams without coming away wiser."—Globe & Mail
  • "Freud's classic. Freud has been a dominant force in Western thinking and here's the book that started it all."—Psychology Today
  • "[An] epoch-making book."— Economist

On Sale
Feb 23, 2010
Page Count
688 pages
Basic Books

Sigmund Freud

About the Author

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a clinical neurologist living and practicing in Vienna. His ground breaking theories of the id, ego, and super-ego of the mind continue to be studied throughout the world.

James Strachey (1887–1967) was a British academic and psychoanalyst. The Interpretation of Dreams is considered a major foundational text of the field and one of Strachey’s preeminent translations.

Learn more about this author