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Klein, M. (1930). The Importance of Symbol-Formation in the Development of the Ego. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 11:24-39.

(1930). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 11:24-39

The Importance of Symbol-Formation in the Development of the Ego

Melanie Klein

My argument in this paper is based on the assumption that there is an early stage of mental development at which sadism becomes active at all the various sources of libidinal pleasure. In my experience sadism reaches its zenith in this phase, which is ushered in by the oral-sadistic desire to devour the mother's breast (or the mother herself) and passes away with the earlier anal stage. At the period of which I am speaking, the subject's dominant aim is to possess himself of the contents of the mother's body and to destroy her by means of every weapon which sadism can command. At the same time this phase forms the introduction to the Oedipus conflict. The genital is beginning to exercise an influence, but this is as yet not evident, for the pregenital impulses hold the field. My whole argument depends on the fact that the Oedipus conflict begins at a period when sadism predominates.

The child expects to find within the mother (a) the father's penis, (b) excrement, and (c) children, and these things it equates with edible substances. According to the child's earliest phantasies (or 'sexual theories') of parental coitus, the father's penis (or his whole body) becomes incorporated in the mother during the act. Thus the child's sadistic attacks have for their object both father and mother, who are in phantasy bitten, torn, cut or stamped to bits. The attacks give rise to anxiety lest the subject should be punished by the united parents, and this anxiety also becomes internalized in consequence of the oral-sadistic introjection of the objects and is thus already directed towards the budding super-ego. I have found these anxiety-situations of the early phases of mental development to be the most profound and overwhelming. It is my experience that in the phantasied attack on the mother's body a considerable part is played by the urethral and anal sadism which is very soon added to the oral and muscular sadism.

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