In this chapter, Freud discusses memories which function in a manner similar to the word substitutions in earlier chapters: one thing stands in for another; one idea is repressed and another fills the space to cover up the repression. He is in particular interested in childhood memories which “frequently seem to be of trivial and unimportant matters”.
Why don’t we remember more of our childhood? When we consider the matter, it seems strange. A child does have a “high intellectual achievements and complex emotions”. The events of earliest years have a profound effect upon the entire rest of our lives; and yet we remember a few, often innocuous, seemingly random events.
Freud proposes that similar to his theory of words there is the “construction of a substitute” through “displacement by way of some superficial association”. Yet, these differ from word substitutions, because when we get words wrong, we typically realize the error. Moreover, the word substitution does not persist; whereas the “screen memory” is not recognized as false (indeed, it may very well be a real event) and it does not fade like a misspoken word.
Why this is important,
It is perfectly possible that the forgetting of events in childhood can give us the keys to understanding the amnesia of the king which, according to the latest findings, lies at the heart of the construction of all neurotic symptoms.
He gives an example of a young man who had the memory of his aunt teaching him that a M was like an N except for the “extra part” — which of course relates to the boy realizing that boy were like girls except for “an extra part” (this is Freud, after all).
In a line which helps show the line from from Freud to Jung, he writes, “Childhood memories in general thus take on the significance of ‘screen memories’ and in this are remarkably analogous to early racial or national memories as recorded in myths and legends.”