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X. (1920). A Trivial Incident. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 1:420-422.

(1920). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1:420-422

A Trivial Incident


Mrs. A. and her little girl had been staying as guests in the house of Mr. and Mrs. S. for three weeks. Mrs. S., the hostess, was of a jealous, autocratic disposition, somewhat given to nagging, with occasional outbursts of violent temper against her husband and child; she was on the whole friendly, and at times excessively amiable, to her guest, who had managed to keep on good terms with her.

One evening the hostess rose rather early to go to bed, saying she was tired and that she hoped Mrs. A. would sit up if she cared to, so leaving her husband and Mrs. A. together. About twenty minutes later Mrs. A. took her candle and went up to her room. At the top of the stairs Mrs. S.'s bedroom door burst open and she appeared, still fully dressed.

"Oh, Mrs. A., " she said, "have you any of my iodine left? and I think your little girl has taken my nail-scissors from my dressing-table!"

Mrs. A. apologized for not having returned a bottle of iodine she had borrowed, and fetched it. Neither she nor the child, who was awakened and asked, had seen the scissors, or had ever been into the hostess's bedroom. She offered Mrs. S. her own scissors, but the latter said, embarrassed, "Oh no, I don't want them now; besides I can take W.'s" (the husband's).

What is the meaning of this apparently trivial incident? It would hardly seem worth a second thought and yet the accusation against the child was remarkable, and Mrs. S.'s agitated and flustered manner and the fact that, although tired, she had not undressed at all in twenty minutes, called for explanations.

The answer lies in the content of the accusation. "You have taken my bottle of potent fluid, my sharp cutting instrument!" These are familiar symbols enough. It is the jealous woman's castration-complex which is involved. Her attitude to her guest throughout the visit had been ambivalent, although the hostile feelings had been much hidden (and transferred on to her husband and her child).

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