Freud's Theory of Dreams and the Unconscious

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 literary works.

In order to understand the full value of Freud’s theories in relation to literature you first need to have knowledge of what Freud termed the unconscious and how it influences dreams. A major part of the unconscious is the id part of a human’s personality structure. The id is the part of the structure that deals with needs and desires. Louis Tyson defines the id in his book Literary Theory Today by saying:

“The id is devoted solely to the gratification of prohibited desires of all kinds – desires for power, for sex, for amusement, for food – without an eye to consequences...desires regulated or forbidden by social conventions” (Tyson 2006. P. 25)

With these desires often being forbidden they become repressed in the unconscious mind. This is what influences dreams. Dreams are a product of the unconscious mind and often reveal a person’s deepest, darkest desires and memories that the mind would have been repressed, these are seen as taboo so would not be revealed while the person is awake. During his study of dreams, Freud analysed the dreams of his patients and found that although the unconscious mind produced the dreams it also edited them whilst the subject was asleep and edited what a person remembered of a dream. Whist asleep the unconscious mind alters...