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melanie klein trust

Melanie Klein Trust

Furthering the psychoanalytic theory
and technique of Melanie Klein

Oedipus complex


Freud's Oedipus complex, to the fore between the ages of 3 and 5 years, involves wish-fulfilling fantasies of the death of the same-sex parent, with usurpation of their place in the couple. Inverse forms are also central. The boy's fear of castration by the vengeful father and the girl's fear of loss of love lead to the abandonment of these wishes and to installation of the superego. Freud describes all this at the phallic level.

Klein, like Freud, sees the Oedipus complex as central, but modifies and extends his ideas in her new conceptions of an earlier Oedipus situation. She postulates infantile preconception with an exciting and terrifying parental couple, phantasied first as a 'combined figure': the maternal body containing the father's penis and rival babies. This primitive version of a couple, phantasised as in continuous intercourse, exhibits sadistic oral, urethral and anal features, due to projections of infantile sexuality and sadism. Phantasies about the maternal body link to Klein's new understandings of primary femininity and both the male and female Oedipus complexes.

Primitive superego figures develop early, in relation to infantile sadism generally, not simply as a result of the oedipal situation. The splitting characteristic of paranoid-schizoid functioning [see Paranoid-schizoid position] facilitates clear and oscillating division of the part-object parents into ideal/loved ones and denigrated/hated ones. Increasing awareness of whole objects, ambivalently regarded, and the onset of depressive guilt for attacks lead increasingly to the need to relinquish oedipal desires and to repair the internal parents, allowing them to come together [see Depressive position]. For Klein, the Oedipus complex and the depressive position are closely linked.

Key papers

For full references for Melanie Klein's works visit the 'Melanie Klein's publications' section.

1897 Freud, S. Letter 71 from 'Extracts from the Fleiss Papers'. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1. Hogarth Press (1966). Freud's first mention of the idea of the Oedipus complex in a letter to Fleiss.

1923b Klein, M. 'Early analysis'. Klein still using classical model. Oedipal material, often pregenital in its nature, observed in children. Centrality of phantasies and fears about the 'primal scene'.

1925 Freud, S. 'Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes'. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19. Hogarth Press (1961). Freud gives for the first time an account of the Oedipus complex that fully lays out the distinction in his view between male and female oedipal development.

1926 Klein, M. 'The psychological principles of early analysis'. 'Incipient Oediups tendencies' described at beginning of second year. Early, severe and cruel superego activity.

1927a Klein, M. 'Symposium on child analysis'. Onset of Oedipus complex dated at weaning.

1927b Klein, M. 'Criminal tendencies in normal children'. Oral and anal sadistic impulses contributing to distorted and frightening versions of sexual intercourse.

1928 Klein, M. 'Early stages of the Oedipus conflict'. Klein's first paper devoted to the Oedipus complex. Idea of maternal body phantasised by child as site of sexual activity. New conceptions of female sexuality.

1929b Klein, M. 'Infantile anxiety-situations reflected in a work of art and in the creative impulse'. First explicit mention of the combined parent figure.

1932 Klein, M. The Psychoanalysis of Children. Sexual development of boy and girl further explicated.

1933 Klein, M. 'The early development of conscience in the child'. Superego development uncoupled from the Oedipus complex. Begins to emphasise the importance of love/hate conflict, using Freud's life and death instinct concepts.

1935 Klein, M. 'A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states'. Begins to see the Oedipus complex as inextricably linked to the depressive position.

1945 Klein, M. 'The Oedipus complex in the light of early anxieties'. Third and final paper devoted to the Oedipus complex. Now seen as beginning to be worked through when love comes to the fore, at onset of the depressive position.

1952 Klein, M. 'Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant'. Reciprocal and beneficent relation between Oedipus complex and depressive position.

1957 Klein, M. 'Envy and gratitude'. Deleterious effects of envy on the oedipal situation.