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Oedipus Complex Archive

Part 2: Freud and Oedipus

In 1997, Prof. Joe Reish (Tidewater CC) asked his Psychology 201 class to respond to this task:

Focusing on the Oedipal Complex, write a brief (three or four sentence)Sigmund Freud summary of Freud's theory including a description of Id, Ego, Superego, and the four stages of Psychosexual Development. Then write a paragraph answering each of the following questions. 

(1) What observations have you made of children that would give some validity to Freud's notion of the existence of the Oedipal Complex? 

(2) How would the Oedipal Complex relate to a person's passage through Freud's stages of Psychosexual Development?

Here are the best answers collected from the Litonline discussion forum where students made their replies:

Darlene A. sees behavior that might seem Oedipal but sees nothing sexual about it: 

Sigmund Freud's theory as related to the Oedipal complex is basically saying that we humans are ruled "deep down" by animalistic sexual drives. The key here is to understand that he was saying that these drives are derived from our primitive ancestry and are hidden deep within our subconscious. He believed that we all have an Id, which is where our instincts and desires are dominant; then as we evolved, we developed a conscience, which is represented in our Superego, and we all have an Ego which acts as a regulator between the Id and the Superego.

Freud divided his theory of human development into stages, based on self- gratification. The stages are oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. I believe that we need to keep an open mind and not feel that everything that has been written in books or stated by "scientists" has to be accepted by us as the gospel. I personally do not accept Freud's theory of the stages of human development. I have watched my grandchildren and see that my grandsons at the ages of four and five, do have a very real attachment to their mother. I have observed them as they crave praises and attention from her and have witnessed them being very protective of her. This stage seems to be normal for little boys; however, I believe it has more to do with them seeking approval and being recognized as becoming "big boys." 

They are almost role playing as a way of growing up. They see the father "taking care" of the needs of the mom. He goes to work, he shows love by helping the mom to prepare dinner and get things done around the house, and so by watching these rituals, they see that as their role. Thus, it becomes the role that they view as their own. By mimicking the father, they gain approval from the mother, and prepare themselves for the future. They are, of course, unaware of the entire "larger scheme" of these events. Many children, if not all, at the ages of four and five often "play doctor." They do this, and it serves to teach them about their own body as well as that of the opposite sex. 

I subscribe more to the beliefs of Dr. Mary Cauldren than to those of Freud. Dr. Cauldren says that it is a very natural thing for us to explore and learn about our bodies at this age. It is, however, a process of learning and not a sexual event. This is the concept I subscribe to as a natural course of human development. The Oedipal complex, in my view, does not exist.

Julia W. sees merit in Darlene's ideas but also in Freud's: I like your thought about boys seeking approval from their mom my mimicking their dad. You are right, they do see their dad giving her love and helping her. They do see their dad as the breadwinner of the family. I wonder if this would be hard for them if they have that image of their father and yet their mom has to work, too. Although, I do have to wonder about Freud's ideas. I know a little boy that I baby-sit that hates his father and wants to marry his mother when he grows up. How do you explain that?

Renee R. checks whether Oedipus represents an example of the Oedipal Complex: Oedipus demonstrated use of the Id by not being able to remember killing his father and then unknowingly hunting for himself. He demonstrates the Ego when he starts to believe that he really is the murderer, and when Jocasta is trying to explain to him the death of her previous husband. Superego was demonstrated by the blinding of himself. He felt he needed to punish himself for the killing of his father and of incest.

Teresa M. claims Freud's Oedipal Complex doesn't apply to Oedipus: I agree that he Oedipal complex does not exist. I certainly do not see how it could apply to Oedipus at all. He did not forget or suppress the memory of killing his father because he had not killed his "father." He killed a group of strangers on the road that made him angry. One of those strangers happened to be his birth father. Oedipus would have had to have killed the King of Corinth, his adopted father, for Freud's theory to apply. Oedipus obviously loved the parents that had raised him or he never would have been so appalled at the prophecy that he left his home to ensure it did not come to pass. 

Freud's theory would not have applied to his marriage to Jocasta either. He married a complete stranger, not the woman who raised him. Again Freud's theory would only have worked if he had married the mother who had raised him. How does one become jealous of people they have never met? King Laius and Queen Jocasta were the real villains in this story. Had they kept their infant son and raised him, the dire prediction would most likely not have come true.

7th grader Brittany M. suggests it's really the "Jocasta Complex": Although never reading Antigone thoroughly, I doubt the Oedipal syndrome is real. It didn't even occur in the tragedy, Oedipus didn't know Jocasta was his mother, and he was put into position of the king, therefore having to marry the queen. The Oedipal Syndrome should be reversed, because Jocasta was the only one aware of the incest, it should be called the "Jocasta Complex."

Another visitor points to factors that may mitigate the taboo: I was born originally from Russia in the Siberia part. It was a very lonely place very cold and far from other peoples. We are Mongolian peoples and lived alone when my father died. We have a farms and animals. I was alone with my mother when she was alone also. We did sex and it was not all the way, but it was enough to be Oedipus conflict. Is this okay I wonder?

See also Richard Armstrong's consideration of Freud vs. Sophocles,  "Oedipus as Evidence: The Theatrical Background to Freud's Oedipus Complex."

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logotest.gif (2025 bytes) This site was developed by Professor Eric Hibbison of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, under a Courseware Grant from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) in Fall, 1997, and renovated under a VCCS Commonwealth Course grant in 2003 with the addition of the archive for the 1997-2003 forum on Oedipus the King.  If you have comments or suggestions about this site, email them to Prof. Hibbison at jsrlogo.gif (7866 bytes)