Freud’s next step is that a dream is the disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish.

“My theory is not based on a consideration of the manifest content of dreams, but refers to the thoughts which are shown by the work of interpretation to lie behind dreams.”Sigmund Freud

The claim that dreams fulfil wishes is easy to criticise at a glance:

  • What about dreams where things go wrong?
  • What about nightmares?

Freud’s response is: dreams should not be taken at face value!

It is at the level of the thoughts behind dreams that wish fulfilments can be found.

Manifest and latent content

The method of free association led Freud to make a crucial distinction between two levels of the dream:

  • The manifest content: the dream as we remember it
  • The latent content: the underlying ‘dream thoughts’ that make up the dream

The wishes expressed in dreams are found at the level of the latent content, which can be brought out through free association.

They are represented in the manifest content, but in a disguised form.

“The stricter the censorship, the more extensive will be the disguise.”Sigmund Freud


If the latent wish has been disguised, Freud argues there must be something in the mind defending against the wish, working to stop it from entering the manifest content where we would become conscious of it.

Dreams of the death of a loved one, or of unacceptable sexual desires, show clearly the existence of wishes which are normally repressed.

The wish has in some way been ‘forbidden’ by the conscious part of the mind, and remains in a state of repression.

We saw earlier that a wish involves a prohibition. Freud now adds that prohibitions don’t always come from the outside world: there must be internal prohibitions in the mind itself.

Freud calls these internal prohibitions censorship, and he likens it it to the censorship of political newspapers and works of art.

This gives us a picture of two opposing forces in the mind

  • One that constructs the dream wish
  • One that censors the dream wish

In order to appear in the dream, the dream-wish must undergo distortion to get past the censorship.

The dream is produced as a kind of compromise between these two forces.

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