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Searl, M.N. (1933). Play, Reality and Aggression. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 14:310-320.

(1933). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 14:310-320

Play, Reality and Aggression

M. N. Searl


Freud goes to the heart of the matter, as usual. Discussing the psychology of the poet, he says 'We ought surely to look in the child for the first traces of imaginative activity. The child's best loved and most absorbing occupation is play. Perhaps we may say that every child at play behaves like an imaginative writer, in that he creates a world of his own or, more truly, rearranges the things of his world and orders it in a new way that pleases him better. It would be incorrect to think that he does not take this world seriously; on the contrary, he takes his play very seriously and expends a great deal of emotion on it. The opposite of play is not serious occupation but—reality. Notwithstanding the large affective cathexis of his play-world, the child distinguishes it perfectly from reality; only he likes to borrow the objects and circumstances that he imagines from the tangible and visible things of the real world. It is only this linking of it to reality that still distinguishes a child's "play" from "day-dreaming"'.

I myself think that when, as an outcome of his accurate and penetrating observation, Freud described 'this linking of it (play) to reality', he told us more than we, or possibly he himself, could at the time fully realize. Since he contrasts play with reality, it would be possible to condense the whole paragraph into a sentence, and say that 'play is that activity which, for the child, links non-reality with reality', or preferably, 'psychic with external reality'. This aspect of play seems to me to throw the most vivid light on its extremely important function in the life of the child. We can, at first glance, see how it can steer the child between two pitfalls—denial (or repression) of psychic reality, neurosis, and denial of external reality, psychosis. The child whose play activities are functioning healthily need sacrifice neither reality, but link one to the other. This fact at once substantiates all the emphasis which Melanie Klein has put upon the release of play from inhibitions by means of early analysis.

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