Attachment and sibling rivalry in Little Hans: The fantasy of the two giraffes revisited

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Freud's interpretation of Little Hans's "phantasy of the two giraffes" (1909) is pivotal to his oedipal analysis that Hans has inchoate desires for sexual intercourse with his mother. Bowlby (1973) argued that Freud's focus on his oedipal theory led him to ignore preoedipal attachment-related factors that have equal plausibility in explaining the clinical data. However, Bowlby did not attempt to apply the attachment perspective to the interpretation of Hans's fantasies that form the core of the case material. A microanalysis of Hans's giraffe fantasy and the evidence used to support Freud's claims about it yields an attachment-based sibling rivalry account arguably of greater explanatory power than the oedipal account. Consistent with Bowlby's hypothesis, the evidence suggests that Hans's giraffe fantasy is about the sibling rivalry triangle involved in caregiver attachment access, rather than (or in addition to) the oedipal triangle. The issue of multiple levels of meaning and the methodological challenges raised by multiple determination is also considered. The giraffe fantasy's attachment-theoretic explanation encourages a rethinking of this classic case and strengthens Bowlby's claim that the case is fruitfully viewed from an attachment perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)821-849
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology


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