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Gordon, K.H., Jr. Sherr, P.C. (1974). The Adolescent Orphan in Literature: A Bibliography for the Study of the Adolescent. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 22:537-541.

(1974). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22:537-541

The Adolescent Orphan in Literature: A Bibliography for the Study of the Adolescent

Kenneth H. Gordon, Jr., M.D. and Paul C. Sherr, Ph.D.

MANY NOVELS AND PLAYS about adolescents depict their major characters as bereft of one or both parents. Orphans appear to be chosen as literary figures because the overdetermination of the theme of being an orphan makes it one that is infinitely rich for the writer's purposes. The vicissitudes of ego and libidinal development in the adolescent orphan become even richer and more complex than those of the normal adolescent—who has a stormy enough time without being an orphan. Orphans make appealing heroes because they often have a mysterious origin—mysterious birth and unknown parentage—and are hence not subject to the usual limits and controls of family life.

One early western adolescent orphan was none other than Oedipus Rex. By leaving his adoptive parents he more or less made himself an orphan, then managed to make himself a real one. Oedipus certainly was not subject to the usual controls of family life. He, of course, failed to establish nonincestuous object relations, which appears to be a major task of the adolescents. The adolescent orphan should have less of a problem here than other adolescents, insofar as one or both of his incestuous objects are no longer available. The fantasies involved in finding guaranteed nonincestuous object relations can become incredibly rich and varied when authors deal with orphans. In some stories, the orphan ends up with the very person most forbidden to him. This happened to Oedipus and, if briefly, to Tom Jones. Fielding had Tom Jones rescue an unknown woman from a cruel man who was torturing her. Tom found out only after he had sexual relations with her that she was meant to be his mystery mother.

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