Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria Summary and Analysis of Section 3: The First Dream


This section deals with a recurring dream that Dora has had. In her dream, Dora’s father wakes her up because the house is on fire. Dora gets dressed quickly to leave the house, but her mother wants to look for her jewel-case before going. Dora’s father exclaims that he will not let himself and his two children die to save his wife’s jewel case. Dora does not remember the first time that she had dream, but she remembers having it three times in a row while at "L—" (the lake where she had the incident with Herr K.)

Dora tells Freud of a recent event that may be related to her dream. Her father has been arguing with her mother because she has been locking the dining room door at night. The only way to get to her brother’s room is through the dining room door, and her father is worried that he may be locked in during an emergency. After telling Freud about this, Dora remembers that upon arriving at L—, her father said he was afraid that the wood house they were staying in would catch on fire.

Freud is certain that the dream is related to her incident with Herr K., but he wants to know why Dora did not have the dream each night at L—. There were four nights after the incident with Herr K., but Dora can only remember having the dream three times. Dora ignores Freud’s question and tells him about another thing that happened to her while at L—. One day when Dora was napping, she awoke to see Herr K. standing beside her. She asked what he was doing there, and he replied that he would not be stopped from coming into his bedroom when he wanted. Dora was alarmed by Herr K.’s behavior and asked Frau K. for the key to the room so that she could lock the door when she was dressing. She locked the room once the next morning, but when she wanted to lock it again in the afternoon, she discovered that key was missing. Dora was convinced that Herr K. had taken it.

Freud interrupts his analysis of Dora’s case to discuss his theory of dreams. According to Freud, dreams are the realization of unconscious wishes. Because of repression, the content of the dream is disguised and must be interpreted to gain its meaning. Freud acknowledges that there are exceptions to the wish-fulfillment theory of dreams. In Dora’s case, her dreams appear to be a continuation of thoughts formed during the day.

After taking broadly about dreams, Freud examines the significance of the jewel-case. There are two notable pieces of information concerning the jewel-case. First, Dora tells Freud that her mother is very fond of jewelry and on one occasion, she wanted to receive pearl earrings as a present. Instead of giving his wife pearl earrings, Dora’s father bought her a bracelet. Dora’s mother became angry that Dora’s father had ignored her wishes and refused to accept the gift. Second, Herr K. had given Dora a jewel-case as a present. When Dora tells Freud about the gift, he asserts that a return present would have been appropriate. He also points out that the word “jewel-case” is slang for female genitals. Dora acknowledges that she has heard of this term, saying that she knew Freud would refer to its sexual meaning.

At this point, the significance of Dora’s dream becomes clear to Freud. Dora was worried that her “jewel-case” was in danger because of Herr K. and that if anything happened, it would be her father’s fault. In the dream, she expressed all of her feelings in their opposite. She created a situation in which her father was saving her from danger. Her father standing beside her bed mimics Herr K. Freud believes that the dream is really about her attraction to Herr K. Whereas her mother refused to accept her father’s gift of jewelry, Dora was repressing the feeling that she needed to give Herr K a return present for the “jewel-case.” In other words, Dora was repressing her sexual attraction to Herr K.

Freud next focuses on Dora’s statement that “an accident might happen” in her brother’s room and it would be necessary to leave. Freud asserts that a dream often sets up a connection between a momentous event in childhood and the events of the present. He believes that Dora’s statement about an accident reveals something important about her past. After he questions her, Dora reveals that she used to wet the bed at an older age than usual.

Freud is content with his interpretation of Dora’s dream, but she unexpectedly adds a new piece of information that complicates his analysis. Dora tells Freud that upon waking from the dream, she smelt smoke. This leads Freud to conclude that the dream has a special connection to himself. Freud, Herr K. and Dora’s father are all “passionate smokers,” a point which Dora concedes. She had also smoked while at L— and Herr K. rolled a cigarette for her before making his advance. Freud believes that the smoke represents Dora’s longing to kiss a man, which in the case of a smoker would involve the smell of smoke. Freud believes that Dora has thought about kissing him and during her psychotherapy, she has begun to develop feelings for him. He refers to the concept of transference, the unconscious redirection of feelings held for one person to another, in this case the therapist.

Freud returns to Dora’s bed-wetting and her relationship with her father. He asserts that the most common cause of bedwetting is masturbation and Dora admits that she masturbated as a child. Dora also admits that she knows that her father’s affliction is a sexual transmitted disease and suspects that he may have infected her mother and possibly herself by inheritance. Freud notes that Dora may have confused gonorrhea, which is contagious, with syphilis, which is hereditary. In any respect, he learns from Dora that she is afflicted with a catarrh, a discharge of pus and mucus, caused by swelling of the mucous membranes. Freud believes that there is a self-accusation behind Dora’s accusation that her father infected her with a disease. In Freud’s opinion, she believes that the cause of her catarrh is her masturbation.


Freud believes that dream interpretation is crucial to understanding and curing hysteria. In Freud’s view, most dreams try to fulfill a wish. This is easily seen in daydreams, in which a person might think of realizing a long-term goal or of changing his or her economic situation. In some dreams, the wish is transparent. For example, a person who goes to sleep hungry might dream about an enticing buffet of food. However, in dreams that delve deeper into the unconscious, the wish is concealed.

Freud believes that only way to find out the wish that motivates a dream is to let the patient associate freely to the dream elements. During free association, the patient says whatever comes to mind as it occurs to her. By getting Dora to talk about her dream and then about the events that the dream reminds her of, Freud aims to create a chain of associations that will lead to the unconscious wish.

In Freud’s theory of the dreams, the remembered events of the dream form its manifest content. The hidden wish is its latent content. A mental agent that Freud calls the censor converts the latent content into the manifest. The censor is responsible for prohibiting desires that may be harmful to the person who has them (i.e. desires that go against social expectation or are perceived as immoral).

The censor distorts the latent content of a dream by condensation and displacement. By condensation, an entire chain of events may be compressed into a single image or symbol. In Dora’s dream, the jewel case brings up stories that concern her mother, her father and Herr K. By displacement, one symbol or person in the dream stands in for another. Freud believes that Dora’s father standing next her bed really represents Herr K.

Dora’s first dream also brings up the concept of dream symbolism. In his studies on dreams, Freud finds that certain symbols, particularly sexual symbols, could be reliably interpreted and thus could elucidate the latent content of the dream. Long, protruding objects represented the penis while hollow, receptive ones represented the vagina.

In Dora’s dream, Freud thinks that the jewel-case stands for the female sexual organ. From this association, he concludes that Dora felt that she should have given a return present for the jewel-case that Herr K. gave her, namely that she should have had a sexual encounter with Herr K.

Although Freud acknowledged the power of symbols in dream interpretation, he also realized the danger of the psychoanalyst putting his own fantasies on the dreamer. There is a suggestion of this happening as Dora clearly does not agree with Freud's analysis of her dream. Interestingly, Dora seems to be aware of the conclusions that Freud is likely to propose and tells him that she knew he would refer to the jewel-case’s sexual meaning.

This section of the case study also gives the reader the first look at the psychological process that Freud calls transference. Transference occurs when the patient redirects strong emotional or sexual feelings from others to the therapist during the course of psychoanalysis. Although transference appears to inhibit the work of the psychoanalyst, Freud finds that it can also help in treating neurosis. Patients could come to understand their emotional reactions toward their therapist and later re-attach them to people who originally provoked those feelings.

The fact that Dora smelt smoke after waking up from her dream leads Freud to believe that Dora has developed feelings for him. The smoke connects Dora’s father, Herr K. and Freud because they all smoke frequently. Freud concludes that if smoke represents her longing to kiss a man, Dora must have thought of kissing him at one time.