Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Oedipus Complex in Literature
The Oedipus complex is a psychoanalytical theory created by Sigmund Freud. The theory’s major idea is that all children have a hidden sexual desire for the opposite sex parent, and it is it is believed to be manifest only in very young children. According to Freud’s theory, Oedipus complex refers to a boy’s sexual desire towards his mother which, in turn, leads to the feeling of hatred and jealousy towards the father. Similarly, young girls often have the desire to marry their father and replace their mother. Such Oedipus idea is known as Electra complex.
The term Oedipus complex is derived from an ancient Greek play by Sophocles called “Oedipus the King”. The play has become a prototype to illustrate the Oedipus complex since it is about a son, Oedipus, who fell in a sexual relationship with his mother. Moreover, influenced by Freud, later, many writers had shown elements of the Oedipus complex in their writings. “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is an example of the Electra complex describing a girl who falls in love with her father. Although the idea of Oedipus complex has always been controversial in the society, it is widely revealed in many literature works. The ideal example is “Oedipus the King” since its characters and plot laid the foundation for the Freudian interpretation based on the oedipal complex idea. As any reader would be able to see, Oedipus Rex in the play “Oedipus the King” contributes to the Freudian interpretation based on the oedipal complex idea.
Oedipus Rex can be regarded as a mythical character that represents young children who suffer from the Oedipus complex. This is vivid when Oedipus says, “Apollo told me once- it is my fate- I must make love with my own mother” (Sophocles 85). This quote clearly reflects Freud’s oedipal theory as it reveals the fact that the sexual desire was against the will of Oedipus. This proves that this case was rather a case of Oedipus complex. This can be clearly noted since Oedipus does not realize that his sexual desire towards his mother is deeply rooted in his subconscious mind. It is proved when he could no longer resist but had to accept and finally marry his mother, and they even bore four children. He says, “Worse yet, the sight of my children, born as they were born, how could I long to look into their eyes? No, not with these eyes of mine, never” (Sophocles 89). This further indicates that the Oedipus complex can be intense to the extent that a son marries his mother. However, Oedipus is very sad and tormented to see his children whom he has borne with his mother though being disgusted by this marriage with his mother. It is noted that “Oedipus: Now loathed by the gods, son of the mother I defiled” (Sophocles 89).
Oedipus laments of his action of having sexual relation with his mother, a clear sign of Oedipus complex according to Freud’s theory. He complains of his wretched life that has been brought out as a result of this unusual relationship. Also, this is illustrated in the line “As for this marriage with your mother never fear” (Sophocles 84). Jocasta attempts to make Oedipus overcome his fear as she considered the marriage a normal thing that could not have been avoided. Moreover, from the words used in god’s prophesy to Oedipus that he will bear children with his mother, it can be revealed that the children will come with torments to Oedipus. It is said, “You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see” (Sophocles 82). As was mentioned above, the play “Oedipus the King” illustrates the sexual desire that many boys feel in their dreams towards their mothers. This is clearly depicted in the line, “Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed. Take such things for shadows, nothing at all” (Sophocles 84).
This means that many men have had some sort of sexual relation with their mothers. This kind of dream proves the hidden sexual desire of men towards their mothers. The Oedipus case is, therefore, not a new case and can be taken as a universal problem. According to Freud’s psychoanalysis of Oedipus complex, the play shows that Oedipus complex is a psychological problem that society fears to acknowledge. Oedipus Rex provides a good opportunity to bring the hidden psychological problem in the society to light. From this point of view, Sophocles shows that certain behaviors can be against our desire and will. Psychoanalysis, therefore, comes in handy in an attempt to explain the reason for such dreadful behavior. The fact that Oedipus Rex suffers because of his actions and fears makes Freud suggest that this issue is a universal problem that silently torments the victims with fear and dread.
The Oedipus complex is also reflected in the play “Oedipus the King” through Oedipus unknowingly killing his biological father. According to Freud’s Oedipus complex theory, a child’s sexual desire towards one parent may awaken a child’s feeling of hatred and jealousy towards the parent of the same sex. This jealousy may ultimately result in the child’s desire to eliminate the parent. This is clearly illustrated in the part of the play “Oedipus the King” where Oedipus is jealous towards his father due to his sexual feelings towards his mother. Oedipus considers his father as his competitor. Therefore, he fled from the presence of his parents when the Oracle prophesied him a dreadful future in which he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was told, “You will kill your father, the one who gave you life! I heard all that and ran. I abandoned Corinth, from that day I gauged its landfall only by the stars, running, always running towards some place where I would never see the shame of all those oracles come true” (Sophocles 83). Oedipus is ashamed of what will befall him in future and, therefore, departs from Corinth in an attempt to avoid such dreadful outcome. However, the prophesy comes true when Oedipus accidentally kills his father. It is noted that “Your prophecies of the gods, where are you? This is the man that Oedipus feared for years, he fled him, not to kill him- and now he’s dead, quite by chance, a normal, natural death, not murdered by his son” (Sophocles 84). Oedipus’ father dies accidentally though not murdered by his son as the Oracle prophesied. When his father accidentally dies, Oedipus becomes afraid of the fact that he will now have to marry his mother. He says, “But my mother’s bed for sure I must fear” (Sophocles 84).
Oedipus poured out his fear of defiling his mother when he realized that his father is now dead. This shift in Oedipus’ thinking towards defiling his mother immediately after the father’s death illustrates that he had a desire to eliminate his father and one day inherit the mother. The play thereby confirms the Freud’s theory of Oedipus complex. In fact, it shows that whenever one is possessed by this desire, the intervention of gods or the amount of torments that they go through do not matter. The play highlights some of the fears and suffering that Oedipus Rex faces; yet, he still goes ahead and enters into a sexual relationship with the mother. For example, Jocasta the queen of Thebes tries to console Oedipus to overcome his fears and anguish. She even visits the temple to pray to the gods in order to relieve Oedipus from the curse. “I come with prayers and offerings…I beg you, cleanse us, set us free… Look at us, passengers in the grip of fear” (Sophocles 84). These lines show the anguish and fear that Oedipus complex brings to an individual. This passage explains the misunderstanding of the Oedipus complex and associating it with the gods making it more dreadful. Freud takes advantage of this performance to clarify the misconception a society may hold concerning the Oedipus complex. Freud points out that through psychological understanding of the problem, the fear and dread associated with it will go away and the victim may be in a better position to recover from the Oedipus complex.
Finally, the Oedipus complex is shown through Oedipus’ emotional torture and guilt caused by his innate sexual phenomena that cannot be controlled and even accepted. Oedipus complex is always characterized by emotional torture to the children who fail to understand the reason for their sexual desire. In the play “Oedipus the King”, this can be illustrated when Oedipus says, “Now I have exposed my guilt, horrendous guilt, could I train a level glance on you, my countrymen?” (Sophocles 89). He is being emotionally tortured by guilt for his actions. This means that Oedipus is very much aware that his sexual desire towards his mother is abomination and loathe by gods. Oedipus complex is well brought out in his guilt and mental suffering, which is portrayed when he cries out, “Look at me! Born of outrage, outrage to the core” (Sophocles 89). Oedipus seems to realize that his problems are deeply rooted in his genes. This shows that indeed Oedipus had a psychological problem that Freud identifies as Oedipus complex. He weeps, “Now I weep like a man who wails the dead and the dirge comes pouring forth with all my heart! My breath leapt up in you and now you bring me down night upon my eyes” (Sophocles 87).
This passage brings out Oedipus’ emotions and feelings for unknowingly killing his father and the subsequent sexual relation with his mother. Oedipus is also seen to be tormented by his life to the point when he feels he will go insane. He says, “Oh again, the misery, all at once, over and over the stabbing daggers, stab of memory raking me insane” (Sophocles 89). Oedipus even fears going mad. In addition, his state of despair and guilt is expressed in the line “Oedipus is beside himself. Racked with anguish, no longer a man of sense, he won’t admit the latest prophecies are hollow as the old-he’s at the mercy of every passing voice if the voice tells of terror” (Sophocles 84). Jocasta tries to help Oedipus to relieve himself of anguish, self-torture, and guilt. Freud uses this passage to tackle the psychological trauma that results from Oedipus complex. As the play illustrates the struggles that Oedipus goes through for his actions, Freud is able to find the insight on the psychological problems that are caused by Oedipus complex.
The Electra complex, the opposite of Oedipus complex, is reflected in the story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner through the sexual desires that Miss Emily feels towards her father. Electra complex concerns girls’ sexual feelings towards their fathers and the feeling of hatred and jealousy towards their mothers. In the story “A Rose for Emily”, Emily falls in love with her father and expects to get married to him. This is evident from the passage, “That was two years after her father’s death and a short time after her sweetheart–the one we believed would marry her – had deserted her” (Faulkner 1). This means that the neighbors of Miss Emily expected that the two (Emily and his father) would get married because of the sexual relation between them. This clearly illustrates the Oedipus complex by Freud. Furthermore, the neighbors found it not strange for Emily to marry her father as they had suspected it. They say, “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will” (Faulkner 2).
This passage shows that the kind of relationship between Emily and her father was intimate. The neighbors suspected that Emily would have no choice but to have a sexual relation with her father since her father kept chasing young men away from her. This contributes to the Freud’s Oedipus theory in that Emily’s neighbor sympathized her due to the sexual problem she had to go through. After her father’s death, the neighbors expected Emily to return to a normal sexual life. They say, “At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized” (Faulkner 2). This statement contributes to Freud’s Electra complex as it brings out the abnormal sexual desires that a girl can develop towards her father.
In conclusion, Sigmund Freud’s theory of Oedipus complex is supported by various literature works such as the play “Oedipus the King” and the story “A rose For Emily”. In the two readings, the Freud’s theory is brought out in the following ways. First, the Oedipus complex is reflected in the play “Oedipus the King” through the Oedipus’ sexual feeling towards his mother after which they got married and had four kids. Secondly, just as was prophesied, Oedipus gets afraid of defiling the mother’s bed immediately after the accidental death of the father, something that came to pass. Third, the Oedipus complex is shown through Oedipus’ remorse and tragedy in the end since it is an innate sexual phenomenon that cannot be controlled and even accepted. Similarly, “A Rose for Emily” reflects the Freud’s Electra complex, oedipal idea through the sexual desires that Miss Emily feels towards her father.