Oedipus and Elektra

Excerpt from Reflections: Revised Edition 2018…available June 2018…

A five-year-old Freud, growing up in stuffy, late-nineteenth century Austria, may have discovered that having a thing dangling between your legs would free him from the social restrictions suffered by his female contemporaries, and came to the conclusion that they were jealous of boys being allowed to climb trees.

If you are mistreated aggressively by your mother and have difficulty getting along with her, then you may feel more at ease with your father, assuming he treats you with greater equanimity, not to mention affection and respect. Should this shift in identity take place in the case of a woman, this could mean that she would taking on the stereotyped (or perhaps better said, mythical) male tendency towards aggressiveness, argument and competition, and in doing so, will effectively copy her mother’s behaviour and become, in some ways, her mirror image. Then when she meets a potential (in this case male) partner the woman may frighten them off because she will appear to be competing with them for power, a rivalry which boys have been taught to watch out for. Rejection by or of your mother may mean you reject your own femininity, unless this figure was administered by a friend, a grandmother or in books you read late at night.

This apparent loathing of the mother figure, (an aversion occasionally atoned by a perplexing, trembling compassion) Carl Jung called the Elektra complex, to counterbalance Freud’s insistence that only boys could be unnaturally attached to their mothers, and not girls to their fathers. Freud likened a man’s fate to that of Oedipus, he that unwittingly killed his father and begat four half-siblings with his own mother and was mortally shocked when he found out. All Elektra did (or at least that’s what she said) was to collaborate in her brother’s plot to commit matricide in revenge for their father’s murder at the hands of the mother’s lover.

These two complexes should never be thought of in terms of a desire to have sex with a progenitor, but rather of power struggles in relationships often sparked off by the ambiguous, perplexing growing pains of sexual and social ripening, as if each sex were jealous of the other. Maybe we owe many a 20th century gender issue to overplayed Greek tragedy.

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