In the dream, as in the cartoon, you survey a picture whose elements do not lie in the same plane of focus. It is drawn, as it were, in three dimensions, and the meaning of some of its features does not lie on the surface, but in the background. One of the methods by which you get into the background, and gain the proper perspective, is the method of association. The farther back the true perspective lies, the more condensed and latent is the meaning in the symbol that lies on the surface. The meaning of a symbol may lie, like a sunken vessel, with only the point of its mast at the surface and its bulk in the deep ; or it may lie close under the surface, like a tangle of seaweed. .
The intellect, which can only deal with meaning on one plane at a time, has as its task the adjustment of all these elements, lying in so many different planes, and the welding together of them into a reasonably comprehensible form on one plane of focus. This is the task of interpretation, for it is the interpretation of the dream, and not the dream itself, that is valuable. But when the symbolism of dreams is studied, a great difference from the symbolism of cartoons is encountered. The difference makes the interpretation of the dream a very much more difficult task than the interpretation of the cartoon. For the sources of the dream lie very much deeper, and its symbolism is not always drawn from the passing fashion of the age, but from the foundations of the human mind. Thus, in the dream, symbolisms are sometimes found that link up with what is most archaic in human history. To find parallels to them the pages of human development must be turned back, and the fantasies of the primitive mind examined. By reason of this some have thought that the study of unconscious activity, from the symbolism of dream, is only regressive in trend, and implicates the spirit of the past alone. It is not only in dreams that symbolisms of an archaic nature are found, but also in the neuroses. These intrusions of the primitive past into consciousness occur beyond dispute. But it is possible to take up the view that the activities of the unconscious, while constantly revealing elementary and primitive forms, do not necessarily point to a theory that sees in them nothing but tendencies that have been overcome and suppressed in the history of human development and have no prospective value.
It is necessary to look at one aspect of common speech in order to find a parallel to the apparently fantastic imagery that the dream sometimes shows.
Dreams are said to be nonsensical. Does not the same criticism apply to slang, if slang 'is taken literally, or if it be drawn ? Slang is full of imagery. The medium in which the unconscious works in dreams is essentially a profound one, and we have seen how in drawing an idea, symbolism becomes more and more necessary as the idea becomes more complex. Now the following fragment has been constructed from a paragraph out of a novel, the idea being that it is an account of certain images seen : "I saw a man, convulsed with laughter, lying on the floor. Somebody was tickling him. He seemed to die. I found myself taking a kick at him. He was quite dead. Then the scene changed. I was in a large theatre in the wings, about to go on the stage. I had no part and could not think what I had to say. Some people were at a card-table near by and I joined in. I picked out a card. It was the king of hearts and the others drew lower cards. They began to play and left me out." This is something like a chaotic dream. A number of fleeting, half-constructed scenes are grouped together in rapid succession. Now this is merely a record of the imagery contained in a conversation, full of American slang, in a novel. " Sir, he's tickled to death and that's a fact. I'm the only one to make a kick. I kind of reckoned on being allowed to play a walking-on part in this drama, but I look like being cut out in the new shuffle." It is inevitable that a great deal of scenery and incident should be used if the slang of ordinary speech is to be recorded in graphic form. The result is a symbolism, but it is not always a very deep symbolism. The tendency that exists for common speech to express meaning in the form of concrete illustration rather than in the abstract is similar to the tendency of the unconscious to clothe its activities in graphic form. In the former, the result is a language of imagery; this is seen particularly in proverbs. Suppose the meaning it is desired to express is that it is better to make sure of one thing than to be uncertain of two. It is an idea that finds expression in numberless proverbs amongst most nations. It is the idea behind the saying that a bird, in the hand is worth two in the bush (English); or that a thousand cranes in the air are not worth one sparrow in the fist (Arabic); or that he who hunts two hares leaves one and loses the other (Japanese). There are many other forms, but the meaning remains central, and is extracted from the symbolism by the intellect. Proverbs of this concrete type are capable of graphic representation. A man might say that he dreamt he saw a lot of birds in the sky and that he had one in his hand. The dream would not be in any way unusual. If he had never heard of any proverbs that resembled it, he would mention it merely as something absurd and fantastic, particularly if he rarely dreamt. He would not see in it a resemblance to that activity in the human mind that is prone to cast human experience into allegory or symbolism or myth.
Turning aside for the moment from the symbolism of proverbs, there is another form of symbolism that accompanies imagination. The imaginative man sees relationships and correspondences which are hidden from others. Now the imagination deals in metaphor. An imaginative bit of prose or verse is full of metaphor and allusion. This is a kind of symbolism, in that, while the reality is circumscribed by a wealth of approximations, in itself it remains out of the picture. The focal point of meaning is never visible as a primary experience to the spectator, but it becomes visible as a secondary experience through the spectator's own mind. In other words, he interprets, and this perhaps is the beginning of art. If the intellect were the only quality of the human mind, the whole of symbolism would not exist. Imagery, allusion, metaphor, allegory, myth, rhythm, music, fantasy and poetry, would be impossible. Literature would contain focussed meaning only. Painting would be photography. But such a speculation is idle, for the intellect rests on that part of the human psyche that contains the activities responsible for those qualities, is fed by it, and out of it weaves its special pattern.