Carl Jung Man and His Symbols

A Narrative Essay

Dreams are one of the most intriguing phenomena we experience. We all have them, and at some point we may have all questioned if they have a deeper meaning.  Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, had revolutionary ideas for his time because he was convinced that our dreams, including daydreams, directly conveyed our deepest desires of the unconscious. But how can a person provide proof of this? Our dreams are complex and often hard to explain not to mention difficult to recall details. This belief led him to write his final book called Man and His Symbols, which represented a lifetime of work, which he hoped would help convince others of his theory of the importance of symbolism in dreams. By the end of this essay you may begin to question your own unconscious thoughts, and ask yourself, are the symbols in your dreams telling you something?

Let’s begin by differentiating between what Jung hoped to prove with his work, and what the majority of readers might believe about dream analysis. Some of the most common dream analysis has generic interpretations of the unconscious. For example, dreams where people experience their teeth falling out, which many people believe indicates that the dreamer is suffering from anxiety and concerns. But Jung would have believed differently because his thoughts on symbolism are complex and not so well defined. Jung explains that “ Our conscious impressions, in fact, quickly assume an element of unconscious meaning that is psychically significant for us, though we are not consciously aware of the existence of the subliminal meaning or of the way in which both extends and confuses the conventional meaning”(Jung 40) The function of dreams, says Jung, becomes more imprecise the more closely we examine them. In addition, all of the information we gather in our daily lives can become subliminal and into the unconscious. He claims that each word can represent something different to each of us. A string of thoughts might occur differently for each individual, so the word “money” could mean something different to each of us. In that case feelings for a word reflect the deep emotions associated to it from the unconscious. It’s important to note that while this concept essentially describes Jung’s impressions on the subject, simply using words doesn’t necessarily reflect true unconscious thoughts, and Jung elaborates that,  “ Man uses spoken and written words to express the meaning of what he wants to convey. His language is full of symbols…and they have acquired a recognizable meaning though common uses, these are not symbols they are signs” (Jung 20).

What then is a symbol? If a symbol is not a word according to that statement, then what is? He explains further that, “ a word or and image is symbolic when it implies something more then it’s obvious and immediate meaning” (Jung 20). So, money by definition only means a form of currency, but A person who is having financial troubles might be the one who feels negative about the money, and a wealthy person might associate it with security or power. Jung states that there is an immeasurable amount of information in the universe, so mankind developed symbols to represent concepts that we are unable to comprehend.  Jung went into great lengths to explain that “Certain events of which we have not consciously taken note; they have remained, so to speak, below the threshold of consciousness. They have happened, but they have been absorbed subliminally, without our conscious knowledge” (Jung 23). It’s clear that our understanding of the unconscious was tested by Jung, he redefined the idea in a way that challenged existing schools of thought such as Freud’s analysis on dreams, that is he refers to our ability to experience psychic events. He claims that, “Our psyche is part of nature and its enigma limitless” (Jung 23). His words suggest that though we are limited to our physical bodies, our psyche has gathered information from the dawn of time and stored in the unconscious, and later expressed in dreams.

How does Jung associate the unconscious and dreams? He describes how complex it is to analyze dreams, “sometimes dreams have a definite, evidently purposeful structure, indicating and underlying idea or intention, and as a rule the latter is not immediately comprehensible” (Jung 28). A popular dream analysis developed by Freud incorporated free association, but Jung decided to pay more attention to the actual form and content of a dream, in effect he had gave up following associations that had little to do with the actual content of the dream, and this was a turning point in his school of psychology. A dream, he explains, had a beginning, middle and end that a conscious mind can recall. His new method excluded irrelevant information and meaningless associations. The best way to understand his method is by using the popular idea of sexual images symbolized in dreams, or as Jung refers allergory (Jung 29). He believed that allergory could be something other than unconscious sexual desires, and he illustrates the point.

“A man may dream of inserting a key in a lock, of wielding a heavy stick, or of a breaking down a door with a battering ram. Each of these can be regarded as a sexual allergory. But the fact that his unconscious for its own purposes has chosen these specific images, it may be the key, the stick or battering ram, is also a major significance. The real task is to understand is why the key has been preferred to the stick, or the stick to the ram. And sometimes this might even lead one to discover that it is not the sexual act at all that is represented, but some quite different psychological point” (Jung 29).

Unlike Freud, Jung discovered that only specific symbols of a dream should be used to analyze deeper thoughts.  He kept record of his dreams and analysis for nearly his entire lifetime

To aid in his dream analysis he did extensive research into ancient myths to decipher patterns of symbols. One example Joseph Henderson clarifies as “Beauty and the Beast” he says that, “ Girls in our society share in the masculine hero myths because, like boys, they must develop a reliable ego-identity and acquire an education”(Henderson 137).  However, he also describes that there is a deeper meaning that comes to the surface in those feelings that, encourage them to become women, and not an imitation of men. This can cause “young women to repress” it because it is a threat to her “emancipated equality of friendship” and “competitive drive” with men that have become modern privileges. That above all a women must learn to discover her “sexual response” to the “biological” purpose of motherhood. Henderson refers to the myth “Beauty and the Beast”, which is a fairy tale about a beautiful girl falling in love with a beast despite his outside appearance. Upon beauty agreeing to marry the beast, it is revealed that the he has been a handsome prince under a curse which broke when a “beautiful girl would love him for goodness alone”. The symbolism claimed is, “ By learning to love Beast she awakens to the power of human love concealed in, it’s animal form, and therefore imperfect, but genuinely erotic form” (Henderson 138). She has “redeemed” herself by bringing to consciousness the ability to trust and love something that combines “spirit” and “nature” in the form of the beast. After dreams analysis with similar stories Henderson describes that their subconscious desired to relate to men with a more “confidently feminine” way, not only sexually, but erotically in the bigger picture of understanding on a level of “conscious identity”. This is just one example of the many Jung’s interpretations of symbols in dreams, and Henderson describes several interpretations of  “Beauty and Beast” symbols, some concern menopause while others deal with adolescence to name a few.

In closing, Jung’s development of dream analysis paved the way for innovative mental health and addiction treatments. Jung’s final words,“Contemporary man” has yet to face the fact that with all his logic and efficiency, he is still at the mercy of his own psyche and his inability to control the world around, and Man’s “gods and demons” are still around, but have new identities. These symbols can result from numerous circumstances “restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food and above all an impressive array of neuroses”(Jung 321). He was known as, “The first modern psychologist who believed dreams were creative relevant to understanding events in our real lives”(Wisdom of the Dream). He pioneered these collective ideas into an organized school of psychology that lead to the “conviction into the wisdom of dreams”. The most profound notion he claimed was that our “psyche” itself was experiencing psychic events in our dreams, and using symbols to communicate between the conscious and subconscious. His ability to mix psychology and paranormal with philosophy has forever changed the way we examine our subconscious. So, pay more attention to your dreams, they could be telling you something.

Works Cited

"Carl Jung - The Wisdom of the Dream - A Life of Dreams Part 1 of 3." YouTube. YouTube, 25 July 2012. Web. 05 July 2013.

Jung, Carl, M.-L Franz, Joseph Henderson, Jolande Jacobi, and Aniela Jaffe. Man and his Symbols. Garden City, New York: Double day & Company Inc, 1964. Print.

Jung, C. G. The undiscovered self. Signet, 2008. Print.


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    August 2013