Project-Freud Oedipus and castration. BLOG questions…..

In the context of Freud’s  theories, and more specifically the essay ‘The  dissolution of the Oedipus complex’ I made a short analysis of three images from modern culture (20-21st C). The first two are from popular culture and the last, a slightly longer analysis of a fine art image.


Fig. 1 ‘Why is mother’s milk best?’ (no date)

  • This is a ‘naughty postcard’
  • The ‘mother’s milk’ clearly symbolises the boy sucking his mum’s breast greedily.
  • the boy is clearly too old to be doing this in ‘normal’ circumstances (he even appears to have androgenic facial hair- ‘sideburns’)
  • Thus we have an allusion to a pathologoical sexual relationship between boy and his mum, referencing the Oedipus complex. The boy may or may not have literally killed his father, but he is displacing him from the normal parent-parent sexual relationship.
  • the milk is warm, and he does not want to share- these facts reinforce a certain biological ‘earthiness’ and evolutionary imperative about his attitude to the milk sucking, alluding to rampant sexual pleasure.
  • The teacher’s breasts are obvious
  • a highly sexualised image
  • the discomfort I feel when viewing this postcard has two elements to it. The first is  it’s allusion to a sexual taboo. Some thought his ideas about the importance of  unconscious  drives (eg. sex) was groundbreaking and bravely original in 19th C society. Others criticised his work for being unscientific and  obsessed by sex- perhaps reflecting his own mind ? The second element is the above’s juxtaposition with a normal discourse- that of nurturing infants through healthy nutritious breast milk for the first few months of life. The discomfort jarrs for me a modern, 21st C viewer. When this image was made, society was less worried about what was ‘politically correct’ . Now, though we have an increased tolerance to differences in people and society, we have a heightened state of awareness about broadcast of images which allude to certain Taboos (such as child sexualisation and incest here).


eee                                                                                         Fig. 2 Oedipus Rex cartoon (no date)

  • This cartoon is simpler and more innocent.
  • It is much more concerned with ‘the punchline’
  • It pokes fun at the relatively recent phenomenon that programmes containing serious issues are often followed by information for those who may have been affected by such issues.
  • This is a worthy thing, but taken to extreme, it alludes to an overbearing ‘bourgoisie’  ‘nanny state’ attitude.
  • Thus the cartoon mocks this phenomenon by connecting it with the given film ‘Oedipus Rex’, and suggestiung those affected by the complex will be likely to go to the ‘pathological’ female parent for comfort……..



Fig. 3  Ashes  (1894)

The girl:

  • Adolescent age (period of transition from innocent child to sexual woman, the culmination of other bodily transitions…. such as the oral and genital stages…)
  • Very long hair-( gives her an ‘earthy’ look- long hair symbolic of females in traditional culture) . this overtly sexualises the girl.
  • the girl s complexion is ruddy red- alive
  • Clutches hair and looks anxious/ shameful?
  • Exposed breasts, and her  dress is open- the far end of the opening seems to end at the vaginal area..emphasising sex, sexuality, and sexual activity
  • Dressed in white (pure/virgin)

The man

  • The man’s complexion is pale and deathly grey.
  • he is dressed in black , symbolising evil or fear?
  • Looks away – why? Ashamed? Or afraid?
  • What does he lean on?
  • he holds his head as if it hurts…… as if it is the diseased organ. This was the beginning of the times of psycho-analytic theory. before this pathologies were more likely to be considered physical/bodily. Freud concenetrated on the mind as a source of pathology………..

The forest and stream

  • Many tall thin tree trunks (these could be interpreted as phalluses)
  • Total Darkness lies beyond ( signifying taboo relationships?)
  • Is there a deer lying down? the deer is a symbol of Spiritual authority, regeneration , piety/ devotion (González de León, 2015)
  • a river? Representing flow? This could be symbolic of the girl’s menstrual flow- a sign of transition from child to adult, or of the flow of time………from childhood to adulthood.
  • Ellipsoid shaped rocks nearby, and on the white cloth (eggs?). These ellipsoid shapes may symbolize testicles  removed from the girl (or the female equivalent ovaries).
  • One of the rocks looks like a skull-symbolic of death
  • we seem to be at a picnic- a typical lover’s activity at this time????

Perhaps this girl feels the vagina she has constitutes the loss  of a penis, and testicles (she has been castrated, and the symbols of the removed organs lie scattered around).           . She still has  an Oedipal  complex  which has not been repressed by the usual means (ie the   thwarting of her desires.. say through the birth of further siblings, or the social taboo of incest). Perhaps this father has committed incest with her since childhood?

She has reached puberty with the  complex intact, and still desires her father sexually. This is now clearly inappropriate ( the white/black colours may mean Good/Bad, based on the lack of blame on the younger party) . Has  she just  had sex with the man (her father?), who is now ashamed, or she has tried to seduce him unsuccessfully, and he is hiding and scared of her- suddenly aware of the taboo of incest and what this now means? The deer is barely visible- camouflaged in the wooded background- perhaps symbolising the devotion of the girl to her father, or the way Spiritual authority has been sidelined in this unhealthy situation?

To what does the title refer? Are they the ashes of her childhood, burnt up in the fire and passion of adult sexuality? or the ashes of the ruined father-daughter relationship- spoilt by incest?? Perhaps they are referring to Ash trees? ……in which case the phallic symbology is given pride of place in the title of the piece…..


González de León, M. (2015) Notes on the symbolism of deer [online] at URL    [accessed on 5 July 2017]



Fig. 1   ‘Why is mother’s milk best?’   (no date) [postcard] at URL : [accessed on 5 July 2017]

Fig. 2 Proud, B. Oedipus cartoon (no date) [cartoon] at  URL : %5Baccessed on 5 July 2017]

Fig. 3 Munch, E.  Ashes (1894) [oil on canvas] at URL :  [accessed on 5 July 2017]




Project-Freud, Oedipus and castration.

Written notes:-

The OCA guide

  • How we see is related to how we see ourselves and others
  • How do we see ourselves with respect to our sex (male/female?)
  • Freud has been influential to this study.
  • He thought as children we develop with a desire and jealousy for the opposite and same sex parent respectively.
  • He called this the Oedipus complex
  • It is usually thought of metaphorical- not actual.
  • The complex is responsible for anxiety.
  • When children become aware of the genital differences between the sexes, they need to resolve the idea. In males, they believe that the female is missing the genitals through the action of their female parent. This may lead to misogyny.
  • Jacques Lacan updated many of Freuds theories., amongst those were

-‘the name of the father’ how the father regulates male/ female relations in society

-the phallus’- the relationship between mum and child is triangulated by a ‘phallus’. This is what the mum actually wants, so the child tries to be this in any way possible. The father intervenes, so the child is thwarted.


Text:  The dissolution of the oedipal complex by Sigmund Freud.


  • The oedipal complex is the most important stage of early sexual development.
  • It then goes through repression, and next latency.
  • This destruction occurs via the disappointment of… new babies, people etc… so the child’s love for the opposite sex parent is thwarted. (ultimately also the child will never ‘have a baby with its parent}


  • Another view is that the phase must die out , and how it happens is not of interest. It is reasonable to be interested in both views.
  • The genital phase accompanies the oedipal phase, and the genitals dominate this phase- but it’s the male phallus only- no female equivalent.
  • During the genital phase the child manipulates his genitals.
  • The repression occurs via the parent’s viewing/commenting on this as bad, usually the mother.


  • (Usually ) mothers may say that the boy will have his penis removed (or his hand).
  • Sometimes its not genital manipulation , but bed wetting (a similar ’ emission’) which is the behaviour.
  • Freud believes that the ultimate cause of the end of the genital phase is the threat of castration.
  • These Children have previously suffered loss of ‘body parts’ – eg. the withdrawal of the breast, and evacuation of the bowel, but these are not thought relevant.
  • Initially the child does not believe the threat, but when he sees the female genitals he does believe the threat.


  • At this point the masturbating is not the whole of his sexual life
  • He is also in the oedipus complex
  • This can be
  1. active (to usurp the father)
  2. passive (to replace the mother)

 (why is one passive the other active ???………..)

  •  The child sees in this complex the loss of his penis- (as punishment in 1, or as a precondition in 2,)
  • The conflict of the penis interest, and the oedipal threat means the Oedipus complex is ended (his ego renounces it)


  • The child has saved its penis, but no longer needs it- the oedipal love has been replaced by affection.
  • This is a destruction of the oedipal complex. If it is simply repressed it can emerge later in pathogenic ways.
  • So threat of castration causes the destruction of the oedipal complex.
  • But how does this transpire in girls???- it’s less clear


  • The destruction of the female oedipal complex is also thought to involve/genital/castration complex…..
  • Initially the girl believes that boys have a bigger penis (than her clitoris), and that her’s must have been removed.
  • Ie. Girls accept castration and boys are scared of it.
  • Or…… she will get a bigger one in future….leading to the ‘masculinity complex’
  • NB She does not seem to think other girls’ penises have been removed
  • The girls does not stop the genital phase through ‘fear’, but through social attitudes to her genital manipulation
  • The girls complex is much simpler than the boys- usually just taking the mum s place or adopting a feminine attitude to the father


  • The ‘taking away’ of the girl’s penis is channelled into a desire for a baby….
  • The girls Oedipus complex ends through an unrequited desire to have a baby with her father
  • Thus the female child wants both a penis and a child in later life………..
  • Because the oedipal complex in women is less ‘sadistic’, it makes her sexual role more ‘affectionate’ than men.
  • Freud suggests that the relationships between 1. Oedipal complex 2. Castration threat. 3. Development of super ego (?????) 4. Latency phase, as described here are the usual ones, but other variations exist- and will be important for the ‘bearing’ of the individual (behaviour/thinking ??)
  • He also accepts that the science is not exact !!!