Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria Summary and Analysis of Section 4: The Second Dream


This part of the case study deals with another dream that Dora had a couple of weeks after her first. In the dream, Dora was walking in a strange town when she suddenly arrived at place where she lived. She went to her room and found a letter from her mother. Her mother wrote telling her that her father was dead and that she could come to the funeral if she liked. Dora then went looking for the train station, asking people on the way for its location. She asked a hundred times and received the same answer that the station was five minutes away. She then walked into a forest and asked a man she saw there. The man tells her that the station was two and half hours more. Dora continues and can see the station in front of her but cannot reach it. Suddenly, Dora is at home and she cannot remember traveling from the station to her house. When she arrives, the maid tells her that her mother has already left for the cemetery.

Freud attempts to break down the dream and starts with Dora’s wandering through a strange town. He concludes that Dora probably saw the place in photographs and his suspicion is confirmed. As a Christmas present, Dora received an album from a German health resort, which contained pictures of the town. The present had been given to her by a young engineer who intended to court Dora after becoming self-sufficient. The wandering through a strange town can thus be traced back to the picture album.

Freud moves on to the content of the letter in Dora’s dream and remembers a previous letter that Dora wrote, telling her parents that she was leaving home. That letter was intended to scare her father, so that he would end his relationship with Frau K. Freud argues that Dora’s dream also sprang from a fantasy of revenge, directed against her father. In her fantasy, Dora had left home and in her absence, her father had died from grief.

After some prodding by Freud, Dora realizes that the wording of the letter in her dream resembles another letter, the invitation that Frau K sent to her to visit L—. This confirms to Freud that the incident with Herr K. left quite an impression on Dora, and he asks her to describe the event in detail. She tells him that as soon as she realized that Herr K was trying to seduce her, she slapped him across the face. She then attempted to walk alone back to L—. On the way, she asked man how far the town was and he replied “two and half hours.”

Dora adds on another piece of information to the dream. She tells him that in the dream she went calmly to her room and started to read a big book that was on the table. At this point, Freud asks if the book was an encyclopedia. This leads Dora to remember a time when a cousin of hers had appendicitis, and she looked up the symptoms in the encyclopedia. Freud then remembers that shortly after this event, Dora experienced the symptoms of an appendicitis. He asks Dora when the attack of appendicitis had taken place, and she tells him that it started nine months after the incident at the lake. He concludes that Dora used the condition to realize a fantasy of childbirth.

As Freud wishes to analyze Dora’s case of hysteria in more depth, she unexpectedly decides to end her treatment. Freud asks her when she came to the decision, and she replies that she made up her mind about two weeks ago. Freud tells Dora that that sounds like a two-weeks warning that governess or maid would give her employer. This comment prompts Dora to tell him about a governess who gave a two-weeks warning to Herr K.

The governess had also run into trouble with the overly flirtatious Herr K. He had made advances to her, which she firmly rebuked. The governess told her parents what had happened, and they told her to return home at once. After Dora tells Freud about the governess, it suddenly becomes clear to him why Dora slapped Herr K. after he tried to seduce her by the lake. She felt insulted that Herr K. would use the same tactics and even the same words that he had used on the governess. Freud points out how much Dora identified with the governess. She wrote a letter to her parents after the incident with Herr K, just like the governess had done. Dora also gave Freud a two-weeks warning before ending her therapy sessions.

Freud suspects that Dora took the incident with Herr K more seriously than she let on. She was overcome by feelings of jealousy and embarrassment when he made advances to her, but deep down she had hoped his affection for her was true. Freud conjectures that Dora was waiting for Herr K to get a divorce and to marry her when she was a little older. He thinks that she felt heartbroken when Herr K. denied the event at the lake and gave up on his romantic intentions.

Dora listens to Freud’s theory, but she still leaves and does not come back for treatment. Freud regrets that just as he thought he would successfully resolve her case, she decided to end her therapy. He asserts that Dora’s decision was an act of vengeance on her part and wonders if he could not have persuaded her to stay on, had he exaggerated the importance of her therapy to him.


The struggle between Freud as analyst and Dora as analysand comes to an end as Dora gives up on her treatment. Throughout the case study, Dora questions Freud’s assessments of her feelings and motivations. She denies that she was ever in love with Herr K. even though Freud insists that she must have been. The case study thus presents a complex power dynamic between Freud and Dora. As the psychoanalyst, Freud possesses the power of interpretation. If Dora disagrees with one of his conclusions, he can attribute her protests to repression and still confirm his point. Freud’s claim of being able to read the unconscious thus leaves Dora with little power to assert herself. Dora’s decision to end her treatment may be her attempt to regain control over her own life.

Freud may be right in claiming that Dora’s decision was an act of vengeance. She denies Freud the opportunity to complete his study and reverses the power dynamic that has existed from the beginning of his treatment. In the end, it is Freud who is left powerless — unsatisfied with his research and regretful of not continuing his analysis.

Dora has received much attention from feminist scholars. Many have accused Freud’s assessment of Dora’s case as being sexist. Freud’s claim that Dora must have been hysterical to resist Herr K.’s advances rejects the possibility of active female sexuality. From the beginning, Freud does not consider Dora able of turning down Herr K. For Freud, the fact that she does so in reality only hides the fact that she still desires him in her unconscious.

Dora’s fight against male authority figures goes beyond Freud. Her father takes her to be psychoanalyzed against her own inclinations. Herr K. makes repeated advances even though she refuses him. Even hysteria itself may be reaction against male-dominated society. Several scholars have seen hysteria as passive form of resistance to the nineteenth century expectations of womanhood.

Another factor in Dora and Freud's relationship is transference. Although transference can have positive effects, Freud believes that this was a case, in which feelings of transference were not properly managed. Freud admits that he did not realize that Dora had identified him with Herr K. and was intent upon acting out her unconscious thoughts of revenge on him. After Dora's treatment ends, Freud wonders if perhaps he could have taken advantage of transference to have Dora continue her treatment. He believes that he could have gotten her to stick with it, had he disingenuously emphasized the importance of her treatment to him. This raises the question of whether Freud wanted to continue Dora's treatment to help Dora work through her hysterical symptoms or to finish the case study. The two aims are not mutually exclusive, but Freud seems to take Dora's decision to leave harder than he should.