IT has been shown in a previous chapter that a dream is a realization or fulfillment of repressed desires or wishes. In adults, this wish is concealed or symbolized in the manifest content of the dream, and the true wish can be discovered only through a psycho-analysis of the underlying thoughts which give rise to the dream - namely, the latent content. Even in adults, however, the dream may contain fragments of the life of childhood; in reality, it is the child slumbering in the adult's unconscious. Thus the study of children's dreams becomes of paramount importance, not only in showing the infantile elements which are always present in the dreams of adults, but also as offering the best proof of the wish theory of dreams.
In children the wish is clear, and with few exceptions the latent and manifest content are one. The child's wishes during the day become literally fulfilled in the dream at night.
Dreams of little children, in fact, according to my experience, even the dreams of children up to ten years of age, are simple fulfillments of wishes.1 While children's dreams present no specific problem to be solved, yet because of their simple structure they are of value in affording an easy solution to an important question of dream mechanisms, namely: why does the unconscious furnish the motive power for the wish-fulfillment only during sleep? In answer to this it may be stated that the conscious wish is the dream instigator in children, as it is unfulfilled during the day; but at night it arouses or activates an unconscious wish of a similar nature, each reinforcing the other. Since the child cannot completely assert its wishes during the day, the fulfilled wishes appear at night in dreams, as the only function of the unconscious is wishing. The censorship of consciousness also plays a part in the simple wish dreams of children. In the sleep of children, the censor is either very lax or does not exist; if existent, and the child's unconscious or conscious desires are such that they are impossible of fulfillment, a compromise takes place between the demands of the child and the activity of the censor.
1 See my paper on "Some Hysterical Mechanisms in Children," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. IX, Nos. 2 and 3, 1914. where a number of examples of children's dreams are given and analyzed.
Thus the most simple dreams are those of children, because the mental activities and desires of children are far less complicated and less difficult to fulfill than those of adults. Savages are also very childlike in their mental activities, and therefore the dreams of savages, in the few fortunate cases in which it has been possible to collect and study them, strongly resemble the dreams of children. It is only in children and primitive races that the dream on the surface says what it means without disguise and symbolization. In the civilized adult, too, because of his childhood fantasies and infantile history, we find either many dreams of the same simple type as those of children, or, in the more complex dreams, an analysis can demonstrate the desires of childhood in addition. So we can readily see from this that no matter how much culture and mental growth and social conventionalities have helped to develop us and drag us away from childhood with the advancing years, there is always within us, within our unconscious mental life, condensed and slumbering, our whole childhood history. A wish can awaken our sleeping childhood, can activate it, and it bursts out in our dreams. As Stevenson has so beautifully described it in "Virgin-ibus Puerisque":
"For as the race of man, after centuries of civilization, still keeps some traits of their barbarian fathers, so man the individual is not altogether quit of youth, when he is already old and honored, and Lord Chancellor of England. We advance in years somewhat in the manner of an invading army in a barren land; the age that we have reached, as the phrase goes, we but hold with an outpost, and still keep open our communications with the extreme rear and first beginnings of the march. There is our true base; that is not only the beginning, but the perennial spring of our faculties; and grandfather William can retire upon occasion into the green enchanted forest of his boyhood."
Both children and adults are so attracted to fairy stories or to romantic, imaginative tales like the "Arabian Nights," because these seem to realize their childhood wishes and day-dreams. Children's dreams, therefore, because elementary, unsymbolized, and undisguised, are interesting and valuable as illustrating and proving two most important dream mechanisms, viz.: that the only function of the unconscious is wishing, and secondly, that all dreams are fulfillments of these unconscious motives. Concerning children's dreams, Freud states as follows: 1
"The wish manifest in the dream must be an infantile one. In the adult, it (the wish) originates in the unconscious, while in the child, where no separation and censor yet exist between the foreconscious and the unconscious, or where these are only in the process of formation, it is an unfulfilled and unrepressed wish from the waking state."
From the standpoint of psycho-analysis, therefore, and particularly in clearing up the important problem of hysteria in children, with the consequent prevention of adult hysteria, children's dreams are of value as showing the simplest type of imaginary wish fulfillment. They serve to prove, more clearly than adult dreams, the theory that all dreams represent unfulfilled wishes. In children's dreams also, the dream instigators (such as the play activities of the day or the reading of fairy or hero tales) may be harmless enough, but the content of each dream, even though activated by such a trifling instigator, represents the fulfilling of important repressed childhood wishes. Thus children's dreams, like those of adults, in spite of their simple character, of the child's elementary desires, and of the apparently harmless instigators, do not deal with trifles, but with very important mental conflicts of the child. For instance, in the case of hysteria in a little girl, which was instigated through jealousy of an older brother because of the maternal over-exuberant attentions to this brother, the following dreams occurred: