Tag Archive: oedipal complex


Esther Quintanilla

The Oedipal complex, as explained by Sigmund Freud, is the repressed desire for a son (or daughter) to have sex with their mother (or father) and is in a constant battle with the father (or the mother). These desires, as mentioned before, are repressed deeply into the son’s unconscious. However, in the novel Frankenstein, this is not the case at all. After the animation of the creature, Victor Frankenstein experiences a very vivid dream in which he is kissing his love Elizabeth but then shifts into Frankenstein’s departed mother.

This wild dream says quite a bit about the psyche of Victor.

The Oedipal complex is an unconscious desire that is repressed by the son/daughter. However, Victor experiences this desire in his sleep, in his subconscious-which is very different than the unconscious. The subconscious is defined as concerning the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware, but which still influences one’s actions and feelings. The unconscious is defined as the part of the mind that is inaccessible to the conscious mind, meaning, it would have no effect on the way Victor acts or the dreams the he dreams. The fact that Victor dreams about kissing his mother shows that Victor has a desire to sleep with his dead mother, and that he is not trying very hard to repress it or to change it. Elizabeth was raised by Victor’s mother, and therefore is a byproduct of her being. Elizabeth is the most identical person to his mother, and that leads to the idea that Victor only wants to be with Elizabeth because he has an unrepressed desire to sleep with his dead mother.

In regard to the animation of a corpse made of severed body parts, this may be the unrepressed desire coming to the surface of Victor’s mind. Perhaps Victor wanted to animate this creature in order to fulfill his necrophilia-oedipal desire. But when the creature turns out to be something that is hideous in Victor’s eyes, something unlike his mother (or Elizabeth), he abandons it in hopes that it will destroy itself. Thus, creating the conflict of the novel: Victor running away from his unrepressed desires in the hopes of them going away on their own.

By Steven Gonzalez

Sigmund Freud’s iceberg model of the human psyche attempts to categorize an individual’s thoughts, actions, and desires as being a product of one of three states in the mind: the ego, the superego, and the id. The id, residing deep within one’s unconscious mind, is a person’s instinctual/biological desires and feelings, the superego, residing both in the deep unconscious as well as the subconscious mind, is a person’s moral barometer, and the ego, lying right beyond the conscious in the subconscious mind, acts as a person’s mediator between one’s desires and one’s moral objectives. Freud uses this model of the psyche as well as what he refers to as the “Oedipal Complex” in order to describe the development of a child’s personality throughout childhood and adolescence. The oedipal complex refers to a group of a person’s feelings which result from their underlying desire to form a romantic relationship with their parent of the opposite sex and a desire to eliminate their parent of the same sex. Freud believed that we all had these primal oedipal desires within us and that most of us merely repressed these desires deep into our unconscious, the id.  In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein exhibits the Oedipal Complex in a dream-which Freud says is where the disguised id manifests itself- where Elizabeth appears and as he leans in to kiss her, his dead mother appears.

This wild dream that represents Victor’s oedipal complex occurs following Frankenstein’s creation of the monster, Victor is repulsed at the sight of his new creation and states “The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature.”(Shelley 60). This, while not directly referring to Victor’s Oedipal desires, hint at Freud’s description of the id being the biological and instinctive desires which lie deep underneath of a person’s psyche. Next, Victor describes going to sleep in an attempt to forget that which he has just created only to be “disturbed” by Elizabeth within his dream. Victor describes the following events saying, “Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms.” (Shelley 60). This quote serves as an exemplar for Freud’s solution to the Oedipal complex where the boy- in this case, Victor- still holds affection for his mother but no longer holds a libidinal attraction for her and instead bestows his libidinal affection upon another woman who would act as a substitute to his mother. Victor then describes how he felt great despair and agitation following the animation of his monster, saying, “I remained during the rest of the night walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce  the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.”(Shelley 61). This great agitation perhaps symbolizing the internal struggle of the ego within Victor’s psyche attempting to create order between his primal desires-the id-  and his moral objectives-the superego.

This analysis of Victor’s character through the Freud’s psychoanalytic lens and as an exemplar of the Oedipal Complex that resides within all of us, while being unorthodox and outlandish, does allow us to better understand Victor’s internal conflicts more clearly and in a more concrete manner. Moreover, using Freud’s model of the psyche to analyze allows the reader -through seeing Victor’s internal struggles- to empathize with Victor and in turn see the novel from a different perspective rather than see it from the typical point of view: “The creature is more human than Victor, Victor is the real monster of the story.” Ultimately, the novel is much more nuanced than that and reading the novel using different lenses allows us to capture more of that nuance which we so often simplify.

 

Unfulfilled Wishes

Uncanny according to Sigmund Freud is “discussing things that appear to slip outside of  normal perceptions or normal assumptions.” (418).  An example of Freud’s definition of uncanny can be see through the dream of Victor. In Victor’s dream his unconscious mind is completely exposed as it reveals what is described by Freud as the oedipal complex. According to Freud the oedipal complex is when a child develops sexual attraction to the parent of the opposite sex. In Victor’s dream his repressed thoughts are released, he dreams that Elizabeth’s (sister/cousin) body is his mothers who he grows to have an attraction for. Elizabeth is the closest person to resemble his mother, which is why he believes that to be her. ”  I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health… but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lip… her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms;” (60). This is representation of the oedipal complex because the son in this case become attracted to the mother. He however cannot change the fact that she is dead, and cannot fulfill his desire. He proceeds to create the monster as a way to fulfill that wish. To fill the void of losing his mother, Victor ultimately creates the monster as a substitute. That plan of his completely backfires as his creation did not meet to his expectations becoming Victor’s biggest regret, the same way that Elizabeth didn’t satisfy being his mother or fulfilling that attraction.

-Dariana Lara

From Victor’s “wildest dreams” it appears that he is deviating from the normal Oedipal development (if any of it can actually be called ‘normal’), and instead of progressing from the infantile Oedipal stage into an adult stage where he is supposed to look for substitutes for his mother, he is regressing back from the substitute, namely Elizabeth, to his mother, as is seen in the dream figure’s transformation. This revival of an infantile stage is a return of the repressed and this which arouses the uncanny, along with the incest taboo that is ingrained in society, causes Victor to be absolutely horrified with his unholy desire, as is seen in the image of the “graveworms crawling”(61) which, according to Freud, could be a safer way to express his horror at his incestuous thoughts, as ‘insects’ is a word similar to ‘incest’. This tension and self-abhorrence in Victor may be the source of all his anguish throughout the novel, and his drive to make the Creature. The Creature can in fact be seen as an expression of this unnatural sexual desire for his mother that is buried in his unconscious; he is the desire made flesh. Victor’s narcissism doesn’t allow him to loathe himself for what he sees as a horrifying unnatural desire, or go harmlessly neurotic like other people do when their repressed drives rise to the surface, so instead he creates a being, a manifestation of this desire, on which he can displace the hatred. This is supported by the fact that the Creature’s biggest grievance is that he is unnatural and doesn’t belong anywhere.

Like his desire for his mother, the Creature is also a literal return from the repressed, as he is put together from parts of dead bodies that were buried in the past. He is Victor’s hidden perversity exposed to whole world, as is exemplified in the image created by “[in the] light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch”(61), where the light invades the dark room, a representation of the inner compartments of Victor’s psyche, and shines on the Creature. This can also explain the description of the Creature’s eyes with “if eyes they may called”(61) which calls into question the legitimacy of his penis, as Victor is afraid that his forbidden desire for his mother means that there is something wrong with him sexually. This is why Victor seems to simultaneously hate the Creature and be obsessed with him. This is why he never tells anyone about the Creature as, to reveal his unconscious desire would be unthinkable, elucidated in how he says, “my tale is not one for the public”(78) and doesn’t even consider telling the truth to save Justine’s life. This is why he feels such strong fear, (“catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse”) and horror towards the Creature, as this is the result of the experience of the uncanny that arises when there is a return of the repressed.

An Uncanny Vision

While Otto Rank associates the idea of the double with a feeling of preservation and immortality, the monster’s vision of his own “miserable deformity” (104) more likely is associated with the “castration by a doubling or multiplication of the genital symbol” (Freud 425). The monster covets the appearances of the DeLaceys, “the perfect forms of my cottagers – their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions” (104). The DeLaceys serve in Freud’s Oedipal complex as the mother, with the monster being the young son in the stage of polymorphous sexuality and desiring the mother. However, the monster becomes “terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool… unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror” (104). This terror is due to the fact that the monster sees the separation between him and his mother – he has a phallic penis while she does not, and thus he can never be like her, just as he will never have the perfect form of the DeLaceys. This terror stems from his fear of castration; he sees that the DeLaceys are different than himself and worries that his phallic penis will also be taken away. His hatred for himself represents the Oedipal hatred for the father with whom he associates due to the common penis, but whom he believes has stolen the penis of the mother (or created the differences between himself and the DeLaceys). Eventually however, he identifies with the father when he “became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am” (104).
Freud mentions the “unfulfilled but possible features to which we still cling in phantasy, all those strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of violition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will” (426). The double is a representation of these unfilfilled and suppressed actions. Even though the monster wants others to overlook his deformity, he can’t help but be disgusted by the unconscious feelings of desire for his mother and hatred for his father. The double is also associated with early ideas of narcissism, rendering “it possible to invest the old idea of a ‘double’ with a new meaning and to ascribe… those things which seem to the new faculty of self-criticism to belong to the old surmounted narcissism of the earliest period of all” (426). Initally the monster is unable to even believe that his own reflection is staring back at him out of the pool, which is a protection provided by his early stages of narcissism. Our senses of self-criticism and the ability to accept ones flaws revert back to narcisssim with the incorporation of the double. When he sees his reflection in the pool, his double reflection prevents him from being able to look at his appearance objectively and he reverts back to the more basic form of narcissism to form his self-image giving him the “bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (104).