Unlocking the Meaning: What Do Dreams Symbolize in Literature?

What do dreams symbolize in literature? It’s a question that has puzzled readers for centuries. For some, dreams are seen as a reflection of our subconscious thoughts and desires, while others believe they have a more prophetic quality. Whatever your beliefs, it’s impossible to deny the significance of dreams in literature. From the vivid and surreal landscapes of Alice in Wonderland to the chilling foreshadowing of Macbeth’s nightmare, the power of dreams to shape narrative and evoke emotion is undeniable. In this article, we’ll explore the symbolism of dreams in literature and what they can tell us about the human psyche.

Since the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated by the mysteries of dreams. In ancient civilizations, dreams were often seen as divine messages, with interpretations given by priests or seers. In literature, dreams are often used as a way to explore the inner workings of the human mind. Dreams can reveal our deepest desires and fears, allowing readers to connect with characters on a more profound level. From the romantic yearnings of Jane Eyre to the existential musings of Samuel Beckett’s characters, dreams have the power to reveal hidden truths and provide insight into the human condition.

However, dreams in literature are not always straightforward and easy to decipher. In fact, the use of dreams in literature often serves to heighten the tension and create a sense of ambiguity. Dreams can be surreal, confusing, and even terrifying, leaving the reader to wonder what is real and what is merely a figment of the imagination. By exploring the symbolic meaning of dreams in literature, we can gain a better understanding of how they are used to create meaning and enhance the narrative. Ultimately, dreams in literature allow us to glimpse the inner workings of the human psyche, revealing the hopes, fears, and desires that drive us all.

Freudian interpretation of dream symbolism

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that dreams were a reflection of a person’s unconscious desires and fears. According to Freud, the symbolic language used in dreams served as a way for the mind to express these repressed thoughts in a disguised form.

In Freud’s theory, there are three main components of dream interpretation: manifest content, latent content, and the process of condensation. The manifest content refers to the literal content of the dream that is remembered upon waking. The latent content, on the other hand, refers to the hidden, unconscious meaning behind the dream. Finally, the process of condensation refers to the way that multiple, related ideas or concepts are combined into a single dream image.

Freud believed that every dream had a sexual or aggressive undertone and that the symbols in the dream represented these underlying desires. For example, Freud thought that phallic symbols such as knives or snakes represented male sexual energy, while symbols of penetration such as caves or tunnels represented the female sexual experience.

  • Freud’s interpretation of dreams has been criticized for being too focused on sexual and aggressive impulses, and for ignoring the social and cultural influences on dreams. However, his work has been highly influential in the field of dream interpretation.
  • Many contemporary therapists still use Freud’s techniques, but they have largely moved away from his specific interpretations of dream symbols.
  • While Freud’s theories may not be universally accepted, they have had a lasting impact on the way that we think about dreams and the unconscious mind.

Overall, Freud’s interpretation of dream symbolism emphasizes the importance of exploring the unconscious mind and understanding the deeper meaning behind our dreams. Whether or not you believe in his specific theories, there is no denying the power of dreams to reveal hidden truths about ourselves and our innermost thoughts.

Jungian interpretation of dream symbolism

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, developed a theory of dream interpretation that focused on the symbolism present in dreams. He believed that dreams were a reflection of the unconscious mind and that the symbolism within dreams was a representation of the individual’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Jungian interpretation of dream symbolism can be broken down into two main categories: personal and collective symbolism.

  • Personal symbolism: This type of symbolism is unique to each individual and is based on their personal experiences, memories, and emotions. For example, dreaming about being chased by a dog may symbolize fear if the individual had a traumatic experience with a dog in their past.
  • Collective symbolism: This type of symbolism is shared among all individuals and is based on archetypes, or universal symbols and themes. Examples of collective symbolism include the hero’s journey, the mother figure, and the trickster.

Jung believed that dreams were a way for individuals to connect with their unconscious mind and gain a deeper understanding of themselves. By analyzing the symbolism present in their dreams, individuals could uncover repressed emotions and desires and work towards resolving inner conflicts.

To better understand Jung’s approach to dream interpretation, consider the following example:

Dream SymbolJungian Interpretation
An eagleThe eagle is a common symbol of power and freedom in many cultures. In Jungian interpretation, the eagle may represent the individual’s desire for independence and freedom.
A roseThe rose is often associated with love and passion. In Jungian interpretation, the rose may represent the individual’s desire for intimacy or love.

Overall, Jungian interpretation of dream symbolism emphasizes the importance of exploring one’s unconscious thoughts and desires through the analysis of dream symbolism. By gaining a deeper understanding of these symbols, individuals can work towards personal growth and self-discovery.

Mythological symbols in dreams

Mythological symbols have been used in literature for centuries, and dreams are no exception. These symbols can be seen as a way of connecting with our subconscious and the collective unconscious. The use of these symbols in dreams can often reveal deeper truths and themes about the human condition.

One common mythological symbol in dreams is the number 3. This number has been used in various mythologies and religions worldwide, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Norse mythology.

  • In Christianity, the number 3 represents the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • In Hinduism, the number 3 represents the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
  • In Norse mythology, the number 3 represents the three Norns, who were the goddesses of fate and destiny.

When the number 3 appears in dreams, it can be interpreted in various ways, depending on the context. Generally, the number 3 symbolizes completion, balance, and harmony. It is often seen as a representation of the past, present, and future or the body, mind, and soul.

For example, if a character in a novel dreams of three birds flying together, it could represent a sense of completion or balance in their life. Alternatively, if a character dreams of being stuck in a room with three doors, it could symbolize a difficult decision they must make involving three options.

Mythology/ReligionSymbolism of 3
ChristianityTrinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
HinduismTrimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
Norse mythologyThree Norns, goddesses of fate and destiny

Overall, the use of mythological symbols in dreams adds depth and meaning to literature. The number 3 is just one example of a symbol that can reveal deeper truths about the human experience.

Symbolism of animals in dreams

Dreams are often seen as a reflection of our subconscious mind, which is why animals can feature so prominently in them. Animals represent various aspects of our psyche, metaphors for our emotions and situations in our waking life. Here are some of the common animals and what they can symbolize in dreams:

  • Birds: birds are often thought to symbolize freedom, as they can fly wherever they want without limits. They can also represent higher states of consciousness, as they often soar above us in the sky.
  • Cats: cats can be both nurturing and enigmatic, symbolizing both feminine power and mystery. They often represent independence and self-reliance, as they often do things on their own terms.
  • Dogs: dogs are commonly associated with loyalty, obedience, and companionship. In dreams, they may represent a trustworthy friend or guide.
  • Elephants: elephants are known for being strong and wise. In dreams, they can represent our own inner strength and power, as well as our connection to ancestral wisdom.

The significance of number 4 in animal symbolism

Numbers play an important role in animal symbolism, and the number 4 often represents stability, balance, and materiality. In dreams, four animals can signify the need for a grounded and practical approach to a situation. It can also represent the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – and the integration of all these elements may be necessary for harmonious living.

Four horsesStrength, stability, and power
Four birdsFreedom and balance
Four catsIntuition and connection to the earth
Four dogsLoyalty and companionship

In summary, animals can add depth and meaning to our dreams, symbolizing various aspects of our psyche and the world around us. By understanding the symbolism of animals in dreams, we can gain insight into our own emotions, behaviors, and beliefs.

Water symbolism in dreams

Water is a powerful element that can be interpreted in various ways when it comes to dream symbolism. In literature, water is often used to represent life, purification, and cleansing. Here are some meanings of water symbolism in dreams:

  • Calmness: calm and still water usually represents peacefulness and tranquility in your life. It suggests that you are in a state of relaxation and that everything is going smooth.
  • Turbulence: If you dream of rough waters or turbulent seas, it could mean that you have some emotional turmoil in your life. You may feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.
  • Cleansing: Water can also symbolize cleansing and purification. If you dream of taking a bath or swimming in the ocean, it might indicate that you are trying to wash away negative energy or emotions in your life.

Water can also be interpreted differently depending on its color, temperature, and other specific details. For example:

If you dream of muddy water, it can represent confusion or unresolved issues in your life. If you dream of warm and soothing water, it could indicate that you are feeling comfortable and content with your current situation.

Water Symbolism in Literature

In literature, water symbolism has been used extensively to convey different themes and emotions. Here are some examples:

In Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” water represents the vastness and unpredictability of life. The sea is both beautiful and dangerous, and the protagonist must navigate through its challenges to achieve his ultimate goal.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the green light across the water represents Gatsby’s hopes and aspirations. It is a symbol of his desire to have a better life and win the love of his life.

In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” water is a symbol of transformation and rebirth. The characters are stranded on an island, and through their struggles, they discover new perspectives and opportunities.


Water symbolism in dreams and literature can have various meanings, but it often represents life, cleansing, and transformation. By understanding the different interpretations of water symbolism, we can gain insights into our dreams and the emotions that drive them.

Ultimately, water is a versatile symbol that can be interpreted in various ways depending on the context and specific details surrounding it.

Death Symbolism in Dreams

One of the most common themes in literature is the symbolism of death in dreams. Dreams about death are often interpreted as a reflection of the dreamer’s fears and anxieties about mortality. They can also be seen as a representation of changes and transitions in a person’s life.

  • The Grim Reaper: The image of the Grim Reaper is a universal symbol of death and is often featured in dreams. This image can represent an impending death or the fear of death.
  • Funerals: Dreams about funerals can be a reflection of the dreamer’s grief or anxiety about losing someone close to them. They can also represent the end of a phase in the dreamer’s life.
  • Burial: Dreams about burial can represent the idea of letting go of the past or burying negative emotions. They can also be a reflection of the dreamer’s desire to start over.

It is important to note that the symbolism of death in dreams can vary depending on cultural and personal beliefs. For example, in some cultures, death is seen as a natural part of life, while in others, it is viewed as a taboo subject.

Furthermore, the interpretation of death symbolism in dreams can be subjective and should be considered in the context of the dreamer’s personal experiences and emotions. It is essential to pay attention to the details of the dream, such as the setting, characters, and emotions, to gain a deeper understanding of the dream’s symbolism.

Grim ReaperImpending death, fear of death
FuneralsGrief, anxiety about loss, end of a phase
BurialLetting go of the past, burying negative emotions, desire to start over

In conclusion, the symbolism of death in dreams can provide insight into a person’s fears, anxieties, and desires. By paying attention to the details of the dream and considering cultural and personal beliefs, the interpretation of death symbolism in dreams can be a valuable tool for self-reflection and personal growth.

Symbolism of Flying in Dreams

One of the most common and intriguing dreams for many people is the experience of flying. While dreams of flying can have many different interpretations depending on the context and details of the dream, they often carry significant symbolism in literature.

The Number 7

In many literary works that involve flying dreams, the number 7 appears frequently. This can be seen in many myths and legends from around the world, where flying is often associated with spiritual or transcendental experiences. The number 7 is considered a sacred number in many cultures and has been associated with mystical or magical powers throughout history.

  • In the Bible, the number 7 is mentioned over 700 times and is often associated with completion, perfection, and divine completion or perfection.
  • In Hinduism, there are seven chakras or energy centers in the body.
  • In Islam, there are seven heavens and seven levels of hell.

Overall, the number 7 is often associated with completeness, wholeness, and a sense of harmony in many cultures and traditions. When it appears in dreams about flying, it may suggest that the dreamer is striving for a sense of completeness or transcendence in their life.

Flying as a Symbol of Freedom

Flying is often seen as a symbol of freedom in literature and can be interpreted as a desire to escape the constraints of everyday life. When characters in literature dream of flying, it often represents their desire to break free from the limitations of social norms, expectations, or restrictions.

For example, in Toni Morrison’s novel, “Song of Solomon,” protagonist Milkman Dead dreams of flying after feeling oppressed by his family and community. His dream represents his desire to break free from the constraints of his upbringing and forge his own path in life.

The Meaning of Flight

Overall, the symbolism of flying in literature can represent many different things, depending on the context and details of the dream. It can symbolize a desire for freedom, transcendence, or a sense of completeness and perfection.

Symbolism of Flying in DreamsInterpretation
Feeling of freedom and weightlessnessThe desire to escape from constraints or limitations in life.
Feeling of controlThe desire to take charge of one’s life and feel empowered.
Feeling of danger or riskThe fear of taking risks or the fear of failure.
Feeling of transcendence or spiritual awakeningThe desire to reach a higher level of consciousness or transcendence.

Ultimately, the symbolism of flying in literature can offer insight into the unconscious desires and aspirations of characters. Whether it represents a desire for freedom, a search for meaning, or a journey toward transcendence, the metaphor of flying adds depth and richness to many literary works.

Religious symbolism in dreams

Religion has played a significant role in shaping our understanding of dreams and their symbolic meanings. Many religious texts, including the Bible and Quran, contain references to dreams that hold great significance. Dreams are often seen as messages from a higher power or signifiers of spiritual experiences.

  • Number 8: In biblical and religious symbolism, the number 8 often represents resurrection or rebirth. This symbolism comes from the story of Noah’s Ark, in which only eight people were saved from the flood that wiped out the rest of humanity. Thus, the number 8 signifies the start of a new beginning after a great tragedy or catastrophe.
  • Animals: Many religious texts feature animals as symbols in dreams. For example, a lamb may be a symbol of innocence and purity, while a snake could represent temptation and sin.
  • Angels: Angels are often seen as messengers from God in dreams. They may appear to provide guidance or comfort during times of distress.

In addition to these specific symbols, dreams in religious contexts may also have a general sense of otherworldliness or transcendence. They may seem to take place outside of normal time and space, and could include supernatural or miraculous elements.

With the rich history of religious symbolism in dreams, it’s no wonder that many people still turn to their dreams for spiritual guidance and insight into their lives.

Number 8Resurrection or rebirth
LambInnocence and purity
SnakeTemptation and sin
AngelMessenger from God

Overall, religious symbols in dreams can provide powerful insights into our spiritual lives and guide us towards a deeper understanding of our place in the world.

Symbolism of Colors in Dreams

In literature, dreams have been utilized as a powerful symbolism tool to represent various thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Similarly, colors are also used to portray various meanings and ideas in literature, making them an important element to consider in dreams. The color depicted in a dream can unveil much about the personality traits, emotions, and general life experiences of the dreamer. Let’s take a closer look at the symbolism of the number 9 in dreams.

  • Completion: The symbolism of number 9 in dreams often represents the completion of a cycle or a project in one’s life. It indicates that the dreamer has achieved a certain level of success and has accomplished their goals.
  • Closure: In literature, the number 9 is often associated with closure, as it means that something is ending or concluding. In dreams, this symbolism can represent letting go of past experiences or relationships, which could be holding them back.
  • Harmony: Number 9 is also referred to as the number of harmony, as it is considered to be a spiritual number. In dreams, it may represent a sense of peace and balance in one’s life, indicating that the dreamer has found their true purpose and is living in harmony with themselves and others.

Overall, the symbolism of number 9 in dreams opens up a deeper understanding of one’s current life situation, aspirations, and future possibilities. By identifying and interpreting the symbolism of numbers in dreams, individuals can gain a better understanding of themselves and their spiritual journey.

Symbolism of numbers in dreams

Numbers can have deep symbolic meanings in dreams. They can represent concepts, themes, or events that have significance to the dreamer. One number that holds significant meaning in literature and dreams is the number 10.

The number 10 is often associated with completeness and perfection. This may be because humans have 10 fingers and toes, making it an easy number to visualize and count. In literature and mythology, the number 10 is often used to represent a complete cycle or a final stage of transformation.

  • In the Bible, there are 10 commandments that represent the complete set of moral laws given to humanity by God.
  • The ten plagues of Egypt in Exodus symbolize the complete cycle of punishment that God inflicted upon the Egyptians.
  • In Hinduism, the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu represent the complete cycle of incarnations in which he took different forms to restore balance to the universe.

In dreams, the number 10 can represent the completion of a cycle or the achievement of a goal. It can also symbolize a final stage of transformation or a sense of wholeness and completeness. If you frequently see the number 10 in your dreams, it may indicate that you are approaching a significant milestone or that you are on the cusp of achieving something great.

However, the context of the dream is crucial in determining the specific meaning of the number 10. If the dream is ominous or negative, the number 10 may indicate a sense of finality, loss, or failure.

Completion of a projectFailure or loss
Manifestation of a goalThe end of a relationship or career
Achievement of a milestoneFinal stage of illness or disease

Overall, the number 10 can hold powerful symbolic meaning in dreams and literature. Whether it represents completion, perfection, or a final stage of transformation, it can offer insight into the dreamer’s current state of mind and any significant events or milestones on the horizon.

Frequently Asked Questions: What do dreams symbolize in Literature

1. What are some common themes associated with dreams in literature?

Dreams in literature often symbolize a sense of mystery, confusion, or ambiguity. Dreams are frequently used as a metaphor for the subconscious that provides the reader with insight into the character’s psyche.

2. What is the importance of dreams in literature?

The use of dreams in literature allows authors to add depth and complexity to their characters. Dreams also provide insight into what the characters are thinking and feeling, which can help readers connect emotionally to the story.

3. How do authors incorporate dreams into their writing?

Authors can incorporate dreams into their writing in a variety of ways. Some authors use dreams as stand-alone scenes, while others may use them as a motif or symbol throughout the story.

4. Do all dreams in literature have a symbolic meaning?

Not all dreams in literature have a symbolic meaning. Some dreams may simply be a representation of a character’s thoughts or fears, while others may serve as a bridge between scenes or plot points in the story.

5. Can dreams in literature be interpreted differently by different readers?

Yes, dreams in literature can be interpreted differently by different readers. The interpretation of a dream can vary depending on the reader’s personal experiences and cultural background.

6. Are there any famous examples of dreams in literature?

Yes, there are many famous examples of dreams in literature, including the dream sequence in “Macbeth” and the surrealistic dreamscapes in the works of Franz Kafka.

7. How do dreams in literature compare to dreams in real life?

Dreams in literature are often more symbolic and nuanced than dreams in real life. While dreams in literature may reflect real-life experiences, they are designed to have multiple layers of meaning that are not always present in the average dream.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to learn about what dreams symbolize in literature. Dreams are a powerful literary tool that can add depth and complexity to a story. Whether you are a reader or a writer, understanding the symbolism of dreams can help you connect more deeply with the characters and themes of a story. Keep exploring literature and its many mysteries, and don’t forget to visit us again for more insights and information.