Sigmund Freud: Dora, a Case of Hysteria

dora sigmund freud

Very recently, in my German class – which is focusing on the works of Freud, Nietzsche, and Kafka – we read Freud’s case study on Dora and her hysteric symptoms. Here is my analysis:


“I am walking in a town I don’t know, and I see streets and squares that are strange to me. Then I reach a house where I am living, I go to my room and find a letter from Mama there. As I have left home without my parents’ knowledge, says her letter, she did not want to write and tell me that Papa was ill. Now he has died, and, she writes, if you like you can come home. I start out for the station and ask about 100 times: where is the station? I am always told: another five minutes’ walk away. Then I see a dense forest ahead of me, I go into it, and there I ask a man whom I meet. He tells me: the station is another 2 1/2 hours’ walk away. He offers to accompany me. I decline the offer, and go alone. I see the station ahead of me, but I cannot reach it. And I have the usual feeling of anxiety you get in a dream when you are making no progress. Then I am at home; I must have traveled by train in between, but I don’t know anything about that.—I go into the porter’s lodge and ask the porter where our apartment is. The maid opens the door to me, and says: Your Mama and the others have already gone to the cemetery.” —The Second Dream

Just like Freud, I found some difficulty in interpreting Dora’s second dream. Unlike Freud though, I did not relate everything in her dream to some sort of unfulfilled sexual desire. Take, for example, his interpretation of the first half of Dora’s dream. He assumes that Dora is identifying with a young man, possibly the engineer who fancies her: “He is wandering around in a strange place, trying to reach a destination, but he is held up, he needs patience, he must wait. If she was thinking of the engineer, it would have meant that his aim was to get possession of a woman, herself. Instead, however, he is looking for a station. However, judging by the relation between the question in the dream and the question really asked, we may substitute a box. A box and a woman go better together”. My reading of this dream went a little differently. In the beginning of the dream, when Dora says “I am walking in a strange town I don’t know, and I see streets and squares that are strange to me. Then I reach a house where I am living,” I took that to mean that she has never had a place she could call “home”.  With the back and forth between Vienna and B., it could be that she never had the time to adjust to the location.

Continuing with the first half of the dream, there is a part that goes: “I go to my room and find a letter from Mama there…she writes, if you like you can come home”. Freud deduces that it leads back to the lakeside resort and with whatever exactly happened between Herr K. and Dora. I, on the other hand, see it as reunification in the event of Papa’s death. With Papa gone, there is no more friction caused by him and his love for Frau K. Herr K. can go back to being with his wife, and Dora can live in peace.

After getting the letter from Mama that she can come home if she likes, Dora heads for the train station. Before reaching the station though, she approaches a dense forest. Of course we know that Freud is going to interpret this as some sort of sexual undertone. If fact, here is what he has to say about the forest: “We were looking at symbolic sexual geography! … So if my interpretation was correct, the façade of the dream concealed a defloration fantasy of a man trying to penetrate the female genitalia”. Even though I can see Freud’s reasoning behind the interpretation, I think this part of the dream is deeper than a sexual exploit. I interpret it as meaning that Dora isn’t “out of the woods” just yet, so to speak. There are still going to be obstacles along the way; just because Papa is gone, doesn’t mean Herr K. is.

Even though Freud doesn’t have a concrete answer for Dora not knowing her travels between the train station and home, I see it relating to her therapy sessions; whenever Freud were to bring something sexual up, she shook it off by either saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know”. After reading Dora’s case study, though, I am starting to believe that she purposefully answered like that.  After all, why would she spend her time divulging to Freud when, in the back of her head, she already made the decision to forgo treatment.

“Your Mama and the others have already gone to the cemetery,” is the last part of the dream I have decided to decipher.  Even though – if I am remembering correctly – Freud did not decide to interpret this part of the dream either, I still found it very important in trying to understand Dora’s character.  You see, without Papa what is Dora’s worth? She is worthless. Papa would use her as barter with Herr K. in order to do as he pleased with Frau K. With Papa dead, of what use is she to her family?


For those of you who have also read Dora’s case, what do you think of my interpretation?

Edited By: Lizzie Watson

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