Wishfulfillment and Symbolism in Fairy Tales/Chapter II

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Wish Structures and their Forms

I must refrain here from a statement of the Freudian investigations into the dream life and the significance of dreams as wish fulfilling and refer to Freud's "Traumdeutung"[1] itself. I cannot enter into a discussion of the results although it is now the order of the day in psychiatry. I rely upon numerous works of others who have successfully handled[2] Freud's methods, and on my own previous studies. Examples of well analyzed wish dreams are to be found nearly everywhere.

I cannot refrain, however, from taking an example from life.

A young man had seen, for the first time, the young lady who later was to become his wife. Soon thereafter on falling asleep he had the following optic, extraordinarily plastic, symbolic dream. He stood before a large portal hung with thick, blooming garlands. Two garlands were fastened to a button at the upper part of the door and hung down separated one from one another. While the portal was at first about the size of a mouth it became a church portal into which he as a very small man entered. It appeared to him as though he was leading someone.[3]

Naturally here we are dealing with an erotic wish dream which is prophetic of a happy future while indeed only too often the wish fulfillment in the dream is a surrogate for reality which refuses the fulfillment of the wish.

The single elements of this symbolic marriage in which coitus as well as the marriage ceremony are contained in strong condensation, in flowery, colored dramatization, spring from the events of the preceding day. The young man had called upon an acquaintance and stumbled unexpectedly upon the preparations for the arrival of an heir: the child's bed was embellished with the usual curtains, these gave the garlands in the dream their form, which on the other hand showed a great similarity with the external formation of the female genitals; his own person as a small man, that entered under this wreathed portal, is a very ingenious dramatization of masculinity. The festive green was co-determined by the sight of the little daughter of another acquaintance whom he had visited on the same day, who had smeared her mouth, in eating, with greens and so looked very funny.

These details suggest how many single elements, all springing from the same ideational sphere, but dispersed, are brought together in the structure of the symbolic dream picture.

The fairy tale also, since it appears as a wish-fulfilling structure, may also often gather its material from widely separate sources, from other fairy tales, from myths, which in their essentials have a different content, in order to arrange the parts into a new whole, with a new content.

"Freud maintains, that our psyche has the tendency to so work over the world picture that it corresponds to our wishes and efforts. This tendency comes to light unhindered in all situations where thoughts, as moulded by external circumstances, are disturbed in their logical relations to reality. That is the case in the dream, then, however, also in all psychic activities of waking, which are not guided by attention."

Proceeding from this position Bleuler[4] shows the occurrence of Freud's mechanisms in the different psychoses.

In order now to show the fairy tale in its relationship with other wish structures I give the following example.

We take Bleuler's own example in his last cited work, which shows the proneness of poetic phantasy to roam into the wish territory.

The poet, whose longings reality can not still, creates for himself, quite unconsciously, in phantasy, what life has denied to him. Many of the most beautiful love songs have been written by those who were unhappy in love. Gottfried Keller had no luck precisely with those women who corresponded to his high ideals; therefore he had the need to commit "the sweetest of poetic sins, to invent lovely women such as are not found on this sad earth." This busying himself with pictures of women is for him the substitute for love. One of the greatest of writers for children of all time, Johanna Spyri, began first to write when she had to give up longed-for grandchildren; she has made grandchildren for herself in her poetry.[5]

Walter von der Vogelweide, who often mourned over his poverty, tells in his poems frequently of unveiled wish dreams which his chivalry-loving ideals let come to pass.

I wot it came to be
All lands were serving me;
My soul was light and free,
No care to burden me;
The body, at its ease,
Was moving as it pleased;
Nought there was to trouble me.
May God decree what is to be—
A fairer dream I ne'er shall see.

In still more detail he relates a wish dream in the following poem:

<poem>Lady, take this wreath,— I said to a beauteous maiden;— And you will grace the dance With the flowers, fair to see. Had I but precious stones, You should be decked therewith; Believe my promises, Behold my faithfulness!

She took what I held out, Like a joyous child, And her cheeks flushed Like roses among the lilies. Graciously she bowed her head, But dropped her beauteous eyes— And this was my reward, None greater did I crave!

Through what she did to me I must at this summer time Search the eyes of all maidens, My anxious quest to end— Will she come to this dance? Lady, by your graciousness, Raise the veil—let me peep Underneath the garland.

So fair and sweet are you, That gladly will I give The best of all I have. I know of flowers, red and white, Growing many in the meadow, Where they unfold in beauty, And where the birds are singing— Then together let us pluck them!

Greater happiness I never felt Than had now fallen to my lot! From the blossoming trees Petals dropped on us and o'er the grass, Then I laughed with joy. As I was so happy, And so rich in my dream, The dawn came, and I must waken! </poem>

In "Kokoro" by Lafcadio Hearn there is a charming Japanese tale "The Nun in the Temple of Armida." It describes very effectively the formation and activity of a psychic wish and substitution formation that follows in some measure Bleuler's example of Johanna Spyri. There the poetess creates in phantasy the wished-for grandchildren, here the mother her lost child, going to the point of formal indentification.

In the original it is related, in wonderful language, how O-Toyo during the long absence of her husband in the service of the liege lord, performed, with her little son, the daily duties and attended piously to all the good, religious customs that were observed on such occasions. Daily she spread for her husband who was afar off, a miniature meal on a small table, as if the manes and gods offered it. If there is moisture on the inner side of this little dish cover, she is peaceful, because she is then certain, according to the prevailing belief, that her absent sweetheart still lives. Her small boy is her constant joy and she busies herself with him in various intimate ways. They wander together through the wonderful country to the far-off mountain Dakeyama, seen in the distance, where all those go, who wait anxiously for dear ones far away. On the peak of this mountain stands a stone of the same height and similar in appearance to a man, about which pebbles lay and are heaped up. A nearby Shinto sanctuary is dedicated to the spirit of a princess, who looked out from the mountain after her distant beloved one until she was consumed by sorrow and turned into stone. In going away one prays and takes one of the piled up pebbles along. If the beloved one returns the stone must be taken back and offered as a gift of thanks and in remembrance, with a number of other pebbles.

O-Toyo's husband died while away and shortly afterwards the little son died too. All this only came to her consciousness in sudden flashes. Between these flashes of knowledge reigned that deep darkness which the gods in their pity have given to man.

Now comes the fulfilling wish structure. As the darkness begins to recede and O-Toyo is left alone with her memories she orders small playthings, spreads out children's garments on the grass, fondles and chats with smiles that often, indeed, change to loud, convulsive sobs.

She has recourse to magic rites. The wise priest strikes, after a suggestive ceremonial, upon a curved instrument and repeats "Hitazo-jo!" "I have come." In calling he gradually changes his voice, until it takes on the sound of that of the wished-for deceased, whose spirit has now entered into him.

In this manner O-Toyo receives the following consoling knowledge: "O mother, cry no more on my account, it is not right to moan for the dead;[6] their mute way leads over a stream of tears, and when mothers cry, the flood rises so the soul can not get over but must wander restlessly here and there."

From this hour on she was no longer seen crying. But she will not marry again and has commenced to manifest a strange love for every thing little. Her bed, the house, the room, the flower vases, the cooking vessels are too large for her. She eats only out of tiny dishes with small, children's knives and forks, and spoons. She is permitted to do as she wishes for she has no other caprices.

Her parents, with whom she lived, were old and advised O-Toyo to become a nun in a little, wee temple with a little altar and small pictures of Buddha so that she would not be among strangers. She agreed gladly and a little temple with all its little parts was built for her in the court of the former temple of Armida. She made garments on a little loom that were much too small for use, but which were bought by certain store keepers who knew her story.

Her greatest joy is the society of children who pass most of their time with her. The children play with her as their equal and she is like a sister to the small ones. And after her death they set up a wee little grave stone.

The tendency to identification with the wish object, which reaches, in this story, a very intensive grade of the wish-fulfilling activities, has been observed by others in the psychoses, namely dementia præcox.

I take the following example from Jung: a woman in the climacterium suffered a condition in which she felt her arms and legs becoming always smaller; she wished to be carried in the arms and felt how she would let herself go. Such patients also coin expressions—"I am" instead of "I would like to have" with relation to the wish object. Compare Jung,[7] "I am the main key," "I am the crown," etc., instead of "the main key belongs to me," etc.

Bleuler, Jung and the author have published in recent times a great number of examples of wish dreams, wish deliria, and permanent symptoms, namely ideas of grandeur in the psychoses, which are conceived as pathological compensation products of unfulfilled and unfulfillable wishes.

The ideas of grandeur of a patient who is Queen Regent, God of Love Semele, Mary, Venus, Ida von Toggenburg, Princess Thorn-Rose, Cinderella, Bundesgerichtsdame Helvetia, von Jung Elfenlieb, Simmenthaler Rassenkalb and many other titles of high social position or great fertility, as well as the mistakes of the persons united in her and of her desired husband Zeus, Helveticus, Märchenprinz, Muneli von Steiermark (a blue ribbon bull), etc., suggest not only the relationship of these wish titles with the wish structure of the fairy tale but also the deeper understanding of the fairy tales by the patient in the sense in which they should be I understood in this work.

Social weakness, intellectual and other defectiveness, defeat in the sexual competition. Lack of sexual satisfaction is often bound up[8] with the disposition to psychoses, so that it must not surprise us, if the psychoses produce, in like frequency, wish structures, and that the patients, in these structures, are rich, fruitful, strong, of princely descent, marry princes and princesses, and that the rivals and adversaries are killed and avenged.

Indeed the clinical forms of these wish structures and the diseases belonging to them are very varied.

A poor maiden wanted to marry a shoemaker and did not get him. We are poorly informed of the exact processes at the beginning of the psychosis. But a peculiar motor stereotypy which lasted over thirty years could still be traced back to its origin. During the whole day, tireless as a pendulum, she stroked the back of the left hand with the back of the right fist, so that the skin over the joints of the fingers of the right hand was thickened and horny and the joints themselves, as was demonstrated at autopsy, had suffered a wearing away of the articular cartilages (so-called arthritis deformans). It turned out that the stereotypy had followed from, what in the first years was a quite clearly recognizable movement of shoe polishing, which points us to the relation with the unhappy love for the shoemaker.

Another form is that of the wish delirium.

A young woman with a very good literary and musical education, wished nothing better than to marry a young and excellent artist. Her wishes were without prospect of fulfillment; an acute illness set in. She was committed to the asylum and conceived of the commitment of herself and everything that happened about her as a descent into the underworld. The determiner of these thoughts was the artist's last work "Charon." The further happenings in her environment she interpreted by the occurrence of a whole mass of reminiscences brought together out of her life, as difficulties or objections, which opposed her union with her beloved, but finally everything was overcome. Finally she saw in a fellow patient her beloved and slept with her several nights. After this she believed herself pregnant, felt and heard twins in her womb, later believed herself later to have been delivered of them and hallucinated a child by her in her bed. With this the wish delirium, of nearly three months standing came to a close. She had found—unfortunately not definitely—a curative surrogate for reality.

Among the so-called prison psychoses, mental diseases which are produced through confinement, and either belong to the known clinical disease groups or perhaps occur as independent diseases, are found certain cases of outspoken wish type. The voices announce freedom, beloved relations rescue the prisoner or similar things. Moritz von Schwind has represented in an exceedingly convincing manner in his "Dream of the Prisoner" the wish dream of one in confinement (original in the Schack gallery in Munich).

The wish structure can, as already said, take on any number of clinical forms, ecstasy, cataleptic states, transitory sensory falsifications, hysteriform attacks, mimic automatisms, the progressive development extending over years of a wish-fulfilling delusional system with otherwise correct behavior, and so forth.

Naturally it is not meant to say that all that we see in the mental diseases are only wish structures, however these stand to the remaining appearances of the pathological complex in a quite special relation which we will not follow further here.

I hope through narration and observed examples taken from literature, more than through such a clinical and theoretical exposition, to have shown the significance of wish structures in our psychology and so to have prepared the understanding for similar structures in the fairy tales.


  1. "Die Traumdeutung," 1900.
  2. For example, Bleuler and Jung in Zürich.
  3. Compare the picture "Triumphal Procession of Priapus" by Salvisti u. Fuchs, "Das erotische Element in der Karikatur," 1904.
  4. Bleuler, "Freudsche Mechanismen in der Symptomatologie von Psychosen," Psychiatr.-neurol. Wochenschrift, 1906, No. 35 and 36.
  5. Since then the wonderful analysis of Freud has appeared: "Der Wahn und die Träume," in W. Jensen's "Gradiva," as the first volume of these "Schriften." Unfortunately we know too little of the psychological relation in which the poet of this Pompeyan phantasy stood to it. Probably in a very intimate relation; it is one of the "living" poems.
  6. The same idea is at the bottom of the fairy tale of the "Little Tear Jug"; see following.
  7. Jung, "Ueber die Psychologie der Dementia praecox," Halle a. S., C. Marhold, 1907. See Monograph Series, No. 3, for translation.
  8. The question of the causality of these factors will here be left open; certainly there exists a tension between the attainable and the wished for.