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Slap, J.W. (1961). Little Hans's Tonsillectomy. Psychoanal Q., 30:259-261.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 30:259-261

Little Hans's Tonsillectomy

Joseph William Slap, M.D.

A detail of little Hans's case history not noted by Freud is the tonsillectomy performed on the boy in February 1908, during the second month of his neurosis. Such an experience could not fail to have been traumatic and to have had an influence on the course and content of the evolving illness. An examination of the father's reports reveals a number of fragments to which the tonsillectomy seems to offer understanding.

The father reported the surgery incidentally: '… After another week which he has had to spend indoors because he has had his tonsils cut, the phobia has grown very much worse again', thus placing the emphasis on the confinement to the exclusion of the operation except as a neutral event.

The fear of horses had made its appearance in the early days of January but on March first, soon after the tonsillectomy, Hans expressed a fear of white horses. He countered his father's explanation that horses do not bite with the assertion, 'But white horses bite. There's a white horse at Gmunden that bites. If you hold your finger to it it bites.' He then told the story of Lizzi's father: 'Her father was standing near the horse, and the horse turned its head round (to touch him), and he said to Lizzi: "Don't put your finger to the white horse or it'll bite you"'. The father interpreted this story as a fantasy of punishment for masturbation, saying to the boy: 'I say, it strikes me that it isn't a horse you mean, but a widdler, that one mustn't put one's hand to'.

This interpretation does not however account for the emphatic specificity of the whiteness; but by taking the operation into consideration it could be neatly explained as deriving from the surgeon's gown. The tonsillectomy, furthermore, must have struck the boy as a realization of the mother's threat, 'If you do that, I shall send for Dr. A to cut off your widdler. And then what'll you widdle with?' Indeed it would be interesting to know if the surgeon who performed the tonsillectomy was actually the notorious Dr. A.

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