Two varieties of these dreams are recognized. In one form the relative appears as living, and then it is realized that the person is dead. Some wonder is created, but not marked. In the second class, there is a dream that a relative has died, causing pronounced unrest which often lasts into the waking state. In most dreams of this nature the dreamt-of person is actually dead, but in some instances living.
This dream is explained by Ellis1 as the flowing together of two groups of reminiscences which create a confusion. "Thus two streams of images flow into sleeping consciousness, the one representing the friend as alive, the other as dead. The first stream comes from older and richer sources; the second is more poignant, but also more recent and more easily exhausted. The two streams break against each other in restless conflict, both, from the inevitable conditions of dream life, being accepted as true, and they eventually mix to form an absurd harmony, in which the older and stronger images (in accordance with that recognized tendency for old psychic impressions generally to be the most stable) predominate over those that are more recent. . . . The dreamer, in the cases I am here concerned with, sees an image of the dead person as alive, and is therefore compelled to invent a theory to account for this image; the theories that most easily suggest themselves are either that the dead person has never really died, or that he has come back from the dead for a brief space. The mental and emotional conflict which such dreams involve renders them very vivid. They make a profound impression even after awakening, and for some sensitive persons are almost too sacred to speak of,"
1 Op. cit., pp. 204-205.
The Freudians1 give a rather startling interpretation of such dreams of the death of relatives as cause anxiety. Their interpretation is that such dreams indicate a wish for the death of the relative dreamt of. We may hastily state that it is not implied that the dreamer wishes the death of the relative now, but that such a wish has once been entertained, usually during childhood. Some thought of the relative during the day preceding the dream has occasioned the dream, and the dream has awakened an old wish. The anxiety is caused because the sleeping consciousness recognizes that the wish was once entertained; the wish, conflicting with the adult personality, .produces mental pain.
Whether or not we are willing to accept this explanation, we must concede that it is not as absurd as it appears on first thought. Our dreams have at their disposal our every thought, word, and act. Frequently they are concerned with incidents of childhood, and that a childhood wish should be awakened is nothing remarkable. And, we must admit, many of the wishes of childhood are such as would be foreign to the standards of an adult.
One who observes children will notice that they are often very selfish. The first born is usually surrounded by every comfort; its parents are its slaves. Once there comes a brother or a sister, the first born receives less attention, and is likely to show its jealousy of the new arrival. The new baby has no teeth, no hair, it cannot talk, etc. Children have been known to be so jealous of a new baby as to attempt to kill it. At any rate, a certain amount of jealousy is present in every child. And not only is the first child jealous of the succeeding children, but brothers and sisters are often jealous of one another. They believe that the parents unduly favour a certain one, and, for that matter, probably every parent has a favourite child.
1 Interpretation of Dream*, by Dr. Freud, 1013, p. 210 et seq.; authorized English translation of 3rd edition by Dr. A. A. Brill. London, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.; New York, The Macmillan Company.
Children often display a jealousy of their parents. As is well known, the mother's favourite is the boy; the father's the girl. This favouritism is reciprocated; the boy favours the mother, the girl the father. Often the attraction leads to extremes; the boy wishes to be first in his mother's affections; he is jealous of the place his father holds. The same is true of the girl; she wishes to usurp her mother's place in the father's affections. Not infrequently children ask the father or mother which is liked best, the other parent or the questioner. And we may hear children say to their brothers and sisters something like: "When mamma dies I'm going to marry papa and be your mother." The meaning of marriage and sex relations is not, of course, understood ; the expression simply indicates a wish, if unconscious, to usurp the place one parent holds in the affections of the other.
To children death has little meaning. They do not realize that it entails suffering of any kind. Rarely do they see a person die, nor do they see the body entombed. It is a mystery to them. When they ask what has become of some one who has died they are usually told that the absent one has gone away, or gone to
Heaven. Going away, being absent, becomes to children synonymous with death, and the expression, "I wish you were dead," when uttered by a child really means, "I wish you weren't here any more." No wish for suffering is intended.
According to the Freudian view, children who have been jealous of their relatives make a wish that the latter be dead (away). In adult life a thought of the relative in question causes a dream in which the relative appears dead. Then comes the realization that this wish was once actually made, and, of course, it causes mental disquiet since it is a wish that conflicts with adult standards. If the relative dreamt of happens to be living, the dream often leads to a greater love for the relative, as an atonement for the wish. If the dream causes no unrest it is because no "death wish" has been entertained.
As with many other of Freud's conceptions, his explanation of the dream we are considering will be found applicable in some cases. However, it is questionable if it can be ascribed to all these dreams, For example, a certain young man, after a day filled with rather melancholy thoughts, especially of his home, from which he was at the time absent, had a dream in which it seemed that his mother was dead. The dream caused great distress, amounting almost to nightmare; the dreamer felt as if he were crying, and he endeavoured to call out, but futilely. Yet, even in the dream, he was conscious of the fact that his distress was caused by the thought that, since his parent, for whom he had a great affection, was now dead, he would be unable to repay her for all he owed her, and would be unable to show the appreciation he intended to show once he had made his way.
Freudians would trace even anxiety dreams, no matter the nature, to some wish, but it seems to the writer that, if one keeps prying as the cause of any thought, he will eventually arrive at a point where his own views will be apparently proved.
In these dreams the dreamer feels as if some one were extracting his teeth, or he may seem to extract them himself. Usually the extraction finishes the dream. There are several explanations of this type of dream, the most popular being that it is occasioned by an alteration in the blood supply of the teeth, or by dental decay, which brings to mind thoughts of a dentist. In some instances, erotic stimuli appear to be involved.