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Reik, T. (1951). Modern Medusa. Am. Imago, 8(4):323-328.

(1951). American Imago, 8(4):323-328

Modern Medusa

Theodor Reik


Among the psychological discoveries of Freud which were met at first with the most decided disbelief was his assertion that many emotional disturbances have their unconscious roots in a small boy's fear of losing his penis. Even psychiatrists and psychologists who applied the analytical method of investigation had difficulties in finding material that would confirm this thesis. They did not consider that existence and effects of the castration-threat are rarely preserved in conscious memory, that they belong to the prehistoric phase of development and are in most cases not available to direct and clear recollection. Only distorted offsprings of an early intimidation reveal its lasting effects. There are, of course, cases in which a direct threat is remembered, as for instance that an adult jokingly remarked that the penis of the child could be cut off, but in most cases it was the sight of the female genitals which awakened the boy's fear that he too could be deprived of his precious organ. The child who assumes that all people are built like himself believes, of course, that all women have a penis. He at first disavows that girls are any different from boys. When he sees for instance his baby-sister, he thinks that she has only a small penis, but that later on it will grow to full size. The sight of the genitals of an adult woman leads him then to the assumption that she once had a penis, but that was taken away from her.

When my son Arthur was a little boy, he shared his bedroom with a nurse. He must have had occasion to observe her in the nude, because he said once: “Anne had a whee whee-maker too, but she was naughty and it was put into the stove.”

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