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Explain Freud’s theory of the dream work and examine the criticisms made of it

Explain Freud’s theory of the dream work and examine the criticisms made of it.

Are dreams just dreams and meaningless? In his work, Freud examines the ideology of dreams, their inception and interpretation. Dreams are vital for the stability of the unconscious mind because they are the key representation of the operations by the unconscious mind. Freud argument emanates from his own dream that he found to have had a meaning of what was in his unconscious mind. His feelings of guilt and self-blame were reflected on the dream. Following his experience in ‘Irma’s Injection’, Freud therefore felt that dreams have more into it than people assume or think (Freud, 1900). As a result, Freud attempted to give a deeper explanation of what dreams are in his theory of “Dream work”. In that regard, this thesis therefore aims at examining Freud’s theory of the dream work. It will further examine the criticisms that this theory faces after all.

According to Sigmund Freud, dreams are classified into two. Firstly, there are dreams which are influence by the past or present experiences, occurrences or interaction (Jones, 2015). The second class is of those dreams which were based on the future, either as a direct prophecy, foretelling of the future occurrences and probable events as well as the symbolic dream which as a result required interpretation. The interpretation of these dreams is majorly perceived as a difficult task and often people face major challenges in the process. The interpretation is normally a challenge since people fail to understand that not all dreams have their meaning as direct and literal as the dream, and hence can’t be immediately understood (Jones, 2015). The dreams however have a role in people’s lives since they are expected to give a solution.

The mystery and nature of dreams is one that has been well and further emphasized in this psychological analogy (Jones, 2015). It expresses well the ideology of dreams being wish fulfillment, an expression of the unconscious desire and puerile desires especially in the case where the puerile desires are associated to the death of the parent of similar sex to the dreamer. Consequently, it has stressed the overall necessity and significance dreams. The Oedipus complex is also mentioned and expounded well on the writing where more emphasis, weight and value is placed over the psychoanalysis process (Freud, 1900).

Freud, the man termed to be behind the whole concept of psychoanalysis or rather the father of psychoanalysis, presents a work that is inspiring in many dimensions (Jones, 2015). However, he basis his whole idea on a far-fetched theory by generalizing the case on the drives of the unconscious. According him, every dormant wish is charged as having a sexual object and criticism against him arise on the proposition that dreams can be explained and termed as complex universal symbols like boxes (Jones, 2015).

Freud, previously generalizes on the ideology that every repressed desire disguised tends to channel itself from childhoods unfulfilled sexual cravings (Freud, 1900). He also allows and gives a platform for dream satisfaction for the already frustrated wishes too. He essentially presented the vitality of dreams in that they involve themselves with critical issues that otherwise the conscious deliberation and activeness of an individual cannot resolve. The strong want for existence of loved ones who have passed along, desire for sleep as a scheme to escape reality, a longing to get back to once childhood and the zeal for vices like revenge when it’s unavailable portrays a large scope of these kind of frustrated wishes that encompasses mostly in the subconscious.

Freud relate broadly on dream interpretation through the use of dream symbols. It’s only through a careful analysis of interactions that it becomes yet possible for one to relate a particular symbol on an individual’s dream since dreamers utilize materials of their own experience in their own way. Freud’s regards therefore on the association of every dream with a complexes symbol can be criticized and is for not warranted for. He acknowledge that only the context that can give the correct meaning of a dream symbol (Freud, 1900). Moreover, he rejects fully the limited use of simple key as to having a dream book for symbol. He however, admits and conquers with the fact that many dreams symbols reappears in dreams of many individuals with much the same intent. The use of symbols is entirely dependent on the limitation of one’s imagination imposed by the material itself.

One may not conclude that Freud only bases his dream interpretation is entirely based on the wish fulfillment of a repressed sexual desire, but it is evident that the larger hemisphere of his theory or ideology intertwines dreams with a sexual view. This explains much on why it’s not astonishing as to how every symbol used in his cases is sex significant. In dream interpretation, one shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the sex complexes and in the same way they should not be exaggerated in exclusion of other factors which also proves to be relevant (Freud, 1900).

Dream interpretation requires more than just study of symbols as previously depicted by Freud but involves condensation of material and displacement of the conventional processes (Jones, 2015). Symbol interpretation technique certainly doesn’t satisfy or fully consume the analogy of dream interpretation as in accordance to Freud. They involve more than just symbols interpretation. Dreams seems to entail bother the images of dreams dreamt and the content manifest as a channel of unveiling the unconscious dream thoughts (Freud, 1900). The general and fair interpretation of a dream can only be revealed in the event that one understands the symbolism of the dream itself.


Criticizers in the contemporary world have much to agree with Freud’s ideology despite his various fails in the dream work theory. Freud feels that dreams are a major way to preserve sleep. Dreams are necessarily a good thing which is agreed upon by most philosophers. However, it has been stated that in the present world, the philosophers view sleep to be away to avert the individuals from falling into deep sleep where they are totally unconscious and defenseless. The analogy is passed on to help the dreamers feel in control of their fate even when asleep. This ideology is contrary to what Freud felt since he saw dreams to be a way to preserve sleep by creating a narrative in the mind of the dreamer to engage their mind and hence preserving the sleep (McLeod, 2013).

Manifest content of the dream carries far much more weight that it is expressed by Freud. Clearly, the Manifest content is not just a direct answer to the wishes of an individual because they have more meaning than understood by Freud (McLeod, 2013).. Dreamers hence should not just dream and take it literal for the depth goes a long way than the message portrayed. Feud’s dream theory majorly emphasizes on the fact that dreams are normally manifested to fulfill the wish or desires of a person (Freud, 1900). Many philosophers therefore, have criticized this statement on the notion that some dreams never portray any sighs of fulfilling a person’s wish. Clearly, the dreams which are a prophecy for the future are mostly a revelation of things that an individual has never thought of at any point in their lives. All the dreams are clearly not premeditated hence they are not a fulfillment in any way. In that regard, the critics pinpointed some dreams to be punishment oriented as well as anxiety ones. To this attack, Freud justified that the anxiety dreams were the dreams which were cut short prematurely, hence not accomplishing their purpose of fulfillment of a wish (Domhoff, n.d). According to his argument, the dreamer is normally waken up ahead of time. The punishment dreams on the other hand were said to be those whose wish fell under super ego category. Therefore, the personality structure was characterized by ideals and conscience.

Additionally, the dreams always take a narrative structure in in its manifestation. However, Freud’s theory of dream work has been criticized to lack the recognition of this structure (Domhoff, n.d). Freud does not account for it which lenders the Theory to be seen as an ineffective notion since it doesn’t exclusively show all the aspects and characteristics of a dream. The critics find him to have assumed that the structure of the dream as obvious. These critics mention that the obvious is boring and monotonous hence the dream structure should have been analyzed in a manner to make the dreams unique and hence always being interesting (Domhoff, n.d).

Freud’s theory further absconds the considerations of the relationship between the elements of the manifest content. According to his perception, the dream can either have a concealed connotation or a direct representation of what the dreamer longs for or desires. Manifest content of the dream falls under the latter class of dreams where the dreamer has a direct connection of his desires to the dream (Domhoff, n.d). Apart from mentioning this critics feel that Freud lacks solid validation to this effect and hence the relationship between the elements is left hanging and clarification to that effect is ignored. Additional explanations would have seen Freud fall in the safe sides of his critics at all cost.

According to Freud, dreams are formed through an unconscious conflict of the mind and individual’s feelings. Freud’s explains the perspectives of distortion and suppression of the dreams as well as his notion of insentient conflict, a part of dream realization (Freud, 1900). Conferring to some critic philosophers, the reality proves of the existence of blatantly sensual materials in the dreams which mostly result to the ‘wet dreams’ incidence especially among the male species, the occurrence is not included perspective. In that regard, philosophers find it questionable and with partiality in is development. Sex can be said to be a metaphor at times which may exist in the unconscious mind of the dreamer. Therefore, the criticizers feels its abstractness should be an inclusion in the dream formation and representation, which Freud doesn’t consider at all in his theory (McLeod, 2013).

Freud validates to two indications the fact that dreams emanate from ideas in the unconscious mind. Firstly, thematic affinity is where the dream and the unconscious idea essentially correspond to one another. Then he talks of the free association between the dreamer’s mind and the ideas that arise from this association (Freud, 1900). This association results to motivating ideas. Freud explains this two evidences to assert that dreams are initiated from the unconscious ideas that an individual incepts from their unconscious mind. Critics feel that these two indicators have intellectual drawbacks where they are not entirely beneficial in the explanation of the dreams and the ideas behind the dreams. Grünbaum feels that these two indicators by Freud are crippled in their functionality since they lack meaning in some instances where the unconscious ideas are concerned.

As discussed earlier, most dreams require interpretation because their representation is latent and hence containing a hidden meaning that has to be critically analyzed for the right decision to be made after words. The process of interpretation is difficult and hence it may take experts and philosophers in the field to crack some of this dreams. Therefore, Freud being one of the interpreters of that time, he justifies that what the interpreter says is true and he or she can never go wrong in making this discoveries (Domhoff, n.d). This statement angered the critics, who felt that he was being insensitive. Freud mentioned that where the patient for example, who did not conform to the interpretation were in resistance or denial which meant that the interpreter was right but the patient resisted (Freud, 1900). The one who complied with the interpretation, would therefore grow stronger, meaning the interpreter was never wrong after all.

On another note, Freud acknowledges that reams may mean different things even when similar symbols are used. He feels that a single symbol may have a number of meanings depending on the context. According to the theory, he argues that the dream elements should not have a symbolic equivalence since each element may have a private meaning in regards to the individual dreamer and the dream context (Freud, 1900). The symbols should therefore, be served with freedom where a single symbol is interpreted according to the individual and not according to the common norm of interpretation. Criticizers of the theory allude that the symbolic equivalence give a significant sequence of what a symbol means without considering the context and the individual. The friction is real between the two parties which hold strongly into the fact that symbols may have different literal and deeper meaning than perceived (McLeod, 2013).


Domhoff, W n.d, Classroom Lecture Notes: Freud on Dreaming. Retrieved from:

Freud, S 1900, The interpretation of dreams. S.E., 4-5. Retrieved from:

Jones, J 2015, Dream Interpretation and Psychoanalysis. Retrieved from:

McLeod, S. A 2013, Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from