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Fromm, E. Narváez, F. (1968). The Oedipus Complex: Comments on 'The Case of Little Hans'. Contemp. Psychoanal., 4(2):178-187.

(1968). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 4(2):178-187

The Oedipus Complex: Comments on 'The Case of Little Hans'

Erich Fromm, Ph.D. and Fernando Narváez, M.D.


We believe that the clinical material of this case can be understood and analyzed in a manner other than Freud's interpretation. We start from a different premise: The mother's image has a deeper importance than the father's for the little boy (and little girl) from two points of view—the love bond and fear. The mother is the giver of life and she can destroy it. The amorous aspect, however, is not essentially based on genital characteristics; rather, it is pregenital (or even pre-pregenital).

The genital aspects of this bond are secondary, and do not make up the nucleus of the attachment. A seductive and at the same time threatening mother often arouses intense anxiety. The son can escape this anxiety by increasing his positive attachment to his mother, even though the price he has to pay is the weakening of his masculinity; or he can establish a positive bond with the father, who will help him overcome the fear of his mother. We believe that the clinical data support the hypothesis that the phobia was principally based on the fear of the mother, and that the father took upon himself the role of instilling more courage and strength into the child.

We would like to add one more consideration: Freud believes that the fear of castration is endogenous, fear as a consequence of the incestuous fantasies. We have already underlined the fact that, in little Hans's case, the threats of castration were rather clear and different. But it seems necessary to go one step further.

With the exception of some primitive societies, a central principle of societies, to the present day, has been the use of force (or the threat of its use) against all those who lack power: the children and the poor. This threat of the use of force, be it direct and open or softened and less direct, produces anxiety in the child, and anxiety will become a feeling of guilt when, as is nearly always the case, those who have power succeed in brainwashing those who lack it and convince them that they, the possessors of power, are virtuous

and well-intentioned. Disobeying adults' orders is a source of anxiety. In a culture that prohibits sexual activity to children, the content of anxiety is the menace of castration as punishment for such activity. If other activities are forbidden, the child's anxiety would be related to these too. In short, the fear of castration is merely one of the manifestations of a general fear, produced by the principle of force and threat that has infiltrated the total structure of society. To be able to recognize this fact, we must go beyond the framework of family life, and enter into a critical examination of the structure of societies.

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