Dora Summary & Study Guide

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Dora Summary & Study Guide Description

Dora Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Dora by Sigmund Freud.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963.

Published in 1905 by Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, is an essay in the form of a case history that outlines the psychoanalytic treatment of “Dora,” a pseudonym for an eighteen-year-old girl he treated in Vienna for three months in late 1899. Freud omits precise biographical details in order to protect his patient’s identity; however, he reveals to the reader that Dora comes from a provincial Austrian town, and was brought to him by her father, a wealthy local manufacturer. Though Dora abruptly cuts off her therapy sessions with Freud before he settles on a treatment, Freud claims that the purpose of the presentation of the case study is to provide a real-life example of the underlying symptoms behind hysteria.

The case study is divided into five sections. Freud begins the essay by anticipating certain criticisms he believes he will receive for publishing the case history. Namely, he acknowledges that in revealing Dora’s personal thoughts and feelings, he is breaking doctor-patient confidentiality, but that he must do so if he is to study the causes of hysteria. Freud also emphasizes the importance of dream interpretation in psychoanalytic treatment, but warns against taking on the assumption that dreams will occupy such a central position in all modes of treatment as they do in Dora’s case. Further, he acknowledges the flaws of his case study, the main one being that the brevity of Dora’s treatment, combined with its abrupt termination, creates an incomplete study. Freud adds that Dora’s case history should not be taken as a standard for all cases of hysteria.

The next section, entitled “The Clinical Picture,” provides pertinent facts about Dora’s life and the history of her symptoms. Freud begins with a brief summary of Dora’s family, whose dynamic, Freud implies, is indicative of the Oedipal complex; Dora adored her father but detested her mother, while Dora’s brother was closer to his mother. Starting at the age of eight, Dora began to exhibit what Freud calls “neurotic symptoms,” some of which worsened over time. Freud describes how he had first treated Dora’s father for periods of mental confusion and disturbances, for which Freud prescribed him a course of treatment for syphilis. Several years later, Dora was then brought by her father for treatment for a series of mental and physical symptoms– depression and difficulty socializing, along with a nervous cough, a loss of voice, migraines, and difficulty breathing.

At this point, Freud describes the family’s relationship with a married couple. Dora’s father had become close to the wife, Frau K., when she nursed him back to health after an illness, but this relationship had developed into a romantic affair. The husband, Herr K., had become close to Dora through their walks together; however, Dora told her mother that Herr K. made advances towards her, a fact that he adamantly denied. Dora claimed that on one occasion, Herr. K attempted to kiss her, to which she felt disgust, and tore herself free.

Freud deduces that these encounters with Herr K. are central to understanding Dora’s hysteria. He characterizes her reaction from the experience as manifesting in two psychological neuroses, the first being a ‘reversal of affect’, which occurs when a person feels one thing but expresses its opposite; in Dora’s case, she responded to Herr. K’s sexual advances with revulsion, when what she was actually feeling was sexual excitement. Freud imagines that Dora must have felt Herr K.’s erect penis in the embrace and experienced disgust instead of the normal response of pleasure. The second reaction he calls a ‘displacement’ of sensation, where a stimuli felt on one part of the body is relegated to another, unrelated area. Freud says that she repressed her reaction to Herr. K’s kiss and that it was psychologically displaced onto the upper part of the body, rather than the lower.

In the next two sections, Freud analyzes two of Dora’s dreams. In her first dream, a house is on fire, and her father goes to wake her to get her out of the house. Dora’s mother attempts to retrieve her jewelry box before they escape the fire, but Dora’s father prevents her from doing so and the whole family gets out of the house. Freud interprets the jewelry box as being a stand-in for Dora’s genitals, a metaphor for her repressed fear of yielding to Herr K.’s sexual advances. In the second dream that Dora tells, she finds herself in a town she does not recognize. She receives a letter from her mother telling her that her father has died, and that she must come right away. Dora tries to find the train station to get back, but every person she asks for directions tells her it is five minutes away. She then meets a man in a forest who tells her the station is two and a half hours away, and even though she eventually sees the station, she still cannot reach it. Freud suggests that this dream indicates Dora’s repressed desire for revenge against her father for his affair with Frau K., and that the scene in the woods represents her sexual fantasy involving Herr K.

Freud relays in the final section, “Postscript,” that Dora preemptively broke off their sessions before he was able to treat her. He postulates that this is due to the phenomenon of ‘transference,”: Dora must have projected her emotions regarding Herr K. onto Freud himself, thereby terminating therapy as an act of revenge. He concludes the case history with details about Dora’s condition after their sessions ended; though she had relapses of her symptoms, she eventually married and was more or less able to adapt to her life.

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