Freud claims that hysterical symptoms can usually be traced back to problems in the patient's sexual life. In Dora's case, he often connects her physical ailments to her sexual desires and experiences. Do you agree that Dora's hysteria can be explained by her sexual life? Do you think that Freud makes a convincing case in using sex to explain her symptoms?
There are forceful arguments for both the affirmative and the negative. On one hand, Freud recognizes some convincing parallels between Dora's sexual desires and her hysterical symptoms. Her appendicitis, which happened exactly nine months after her incident with Herr K., might indeed be an unconscious realization of a fantasy of childbirth. Her loss of voice might likewise express her longing to talk to Herr K. On the other hand, Freud's interpretations often appear forced. For example, he concludes that Dora felt the pressure of Herr K.'s penis against her when there is no evidence to support this conclusion.
Many scholars have considered Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria to be a key feminist text. Throughout the case study, Dora struggles against the male authority figures of her father, Herr K. and Freud and attempts to assert her own voice. Which feminist ideas or concepts do you see in Dora's case? How does Freud's psychoanalysis reflect nineteenth century attitudes towards women? How does Dora identify with the struggles of the nineteenth century woman (both as a hysteric and as someone who defies male authority)?
Freud's analysis suggests that women are fundamentally passive. He argues that Dora must be hysterical if she turned down Herr K. and insists that she must be unconsciously in love with him throughout the case study. He never considers that Dora has the power to reject Herr K or that her rejection of him may be justified. Throughout the case study, Dora must deal with frustrating male authority figures. He father refuses to believe that Herr K. made advances to her and carries her to treatment to convince her that he is not having an affair with Frau K. Herr K. is a womanizer who treats her in the same fashion as his governess. Finally, Freud appears not to listen to her at times and claims to know her better than she knows herself.
Freud highlights examples of transference, moments in which Dora redirects emotions from one person to him as her therapist. Along with transference, there is also the concept of counter-transference, in which the therapist places his own unconscious feelings on the patient. Do you see moments of counter-transference in Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria? Do you agree with Freud that if he had better managed her feelings of transference, Dora might have stayed on as his patient?
Although it is hard to argue that there are definitive moments of counter-transference, Freud takes Dora's decision to leave treatment more personally than a therapist should. He argues that Dora's decision was a calculated act of revenge and appears deeply hurt that he is not able to finish the case study. Interestingly, Freud chose the name Dora after his daughter Rosa's maid. He later learned that his daughter's maid was actually named Rosa and used the name Dora to avoid confusion. Freud's choice of name suggests that he may harbor feelings of counter-transference.
Whether Freud could have prevented Dora from leaving by better managing her feelings of transference is up to debate. Dora's story about the governess indicates that she had placed Freud in the role of Herr K. However, Dora and Freud's relationship was tenuous from the start. She may have left from a building sense of frustration over his treatment.
At the end of the nineteenth century, hysteria was a very popular topic of research. Jean Martin-Charcot believed that hysteria was a hereditary, neurological disorder and used hypnosis as a cure. Others believed that hysterics were simply faking their symptoms. How did Dora: Analysis of a Case of Hysteria add to previous knowledge of hysteria? How was Freud's psychoanalytic method a novel approach to curing the disorder?
Freud added to the understanding of her hysteria by showing the importance of repressed desires to its symptoms. Unlike psychoanalysts who used hypnosis and other forced methods, Freud believed that the only way repressed desires could be resolved was to let the patient talk freely about her past.
Today, hysteria is no longer diagnosed as a mental disorder. In what ways were hysteria as a disorder and its treatment particular to the Victorian era? How does Dora: Analysis of a Case of Hysteria demonstrate Victorian social attitudes, especially those concerning sex and women?
During the Victorian era, it was estimated that one fourth of the female population suffered from hysteria. The incredible number of female hysterics suggests that the disorder was widely misdiagnosed. In many ways, Victorian ideas of hysteria reflected the social misunderstanding of women. Behind the medical research into the disorder, there was a general sense that women acted in strange and irrational ways and that this behavior made them hysteric.
In the case study, Freud adopts some Victorian stereotypes. He assumes that women are fundamentally passive in their sexuality. He argues that Dora is hysteric because she rejects Herr K's advances.
Freud states that all dreams are about wish fulfillment. What wishes are concealed in Dora's first dream? What does this dream aim to achieve?
While the first dream is full of symbolism,the jewel-case is arguably its most significant element. It brings up the fact that Herr K. gave Dora a jewel-case as a present. Given the slang usage of jewel-case as symbol for the vagina, Freud concludes that Dora wanted to give Freud a return present, namely to have sexual relations with Herr K.
What wishes are concealed in Dora's second dream? What does this dream aim to achieve?
The second dream, like the first, is rich in symbolism. There are thus many unconscious desires that can be discussed. Freud concludes that one desire is Dora's aim of getting revenge on her father. In the dream, Dora leaves home and her father dies from grief. The dream is reminiscent of the letter Dora wrote home after leaving suddenly. That letter was also intended to hurt her father.
What is the technique of free association? How is different from previous psychoanalytic techniques?
In free association, the patient is allowed to say whatever comes to mind as it occurs to them. The aim of free association is to let the patient's unconscious guide conversation. The therapist can then discover repressed desires by interpreting a person's statements and emotions. Free association is a more flexible technique than those employed by other researchers into hysteria or those previously used by Freud. Charcot used hypnosis as method for clearing up hysterical symptoms. Previously, Freud focused therapy on a patient's symptoms, addressing each one until he thought it was resolved.
"When I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden with him,...I thought the task was a harder one than it really is. He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore." As the quote indicates, Freud believes that people are unable of concealing unconscious desires. Are there examples in the case study of Dora revealing her unconscious desires without being questioned by Freud?
There are many examples of unconscious desires finding their way to the surface by unexpected means. Freud believes that Dora's playing with her handbag represents her desire to masturbate. Similarly, Dora's statement that "an accident might happen" reveals that she used to wet the bed as a child.
Freud decides to leave out a thorough discussion of psychoanalytic technique because he believes that it would be too difficult to address technique and the nature of hysteria in the same work. Does the case study suffer or benefit from this decision?
Although discussing technique and the nature of hysteria would be a difficult task, the case study could have benefited from more explanation of technique. At times, following Freud's conclusions requires a leap of faith. For example, he argues that Dora's throat irritation stems from her imagining her father and Frau K. engaged in oral sex. Because Freud does not show how he comes to this conclusion or why this interpretation is better than others, this conclusion may appear far-fetched to an untrained reader.