Critical Thinking Media Competence

The Oedipus Complex

 Psychoanalytic Theory

According to Siegmund Freud, every individual transfers his love object from the breast to the mother. He introduced this concept in his Interpretation of Dreams (1899). 

In 1909, Freud analysed the fear of a 5-year-old boy known as Little Hans and confirmed his findings in this case study. Little Hans (actually Herbert Graf, the son of one of Freud's early followers) was scared of horses. Freud declares in his paper that the boys fear was due to feelings of anger that related to his parents. He refused to leave his house because of the fear that a horse would bite him. Freud said that the boy was actually scared about getting castrated by his father with his big (horse-like) penis in retaliation for Hans's forbidden longing for his mother.

Freud theorised that all small boys have a “phallic” stage of development. This happens in the oral phase. He attributes the Oedipus complex to children of about the ages three to five. While this stage the child develops strong feelings towards his mother. This effects a grudge towards his own father because of jealousy.The (male) child develops the wish to kill his father so that he can take (sexual) possession of his mother.

These primal desires are quickly depressed by the child. But Freud said that they will arise again in dreams or in literature. Children are repressing these feelings because they suspect that acting on these feeling will lead to danger. This will lead to an anxiety about getting castrated by his father.

In the best case, after this stage of development, the child is respecting the father as an authority.

The oedipus complex is named after Sophocles` protagonist.

Sophocles tragedy  ”Oedipus the king” is telling the story of Oedipus as a tragic hero. In the Greek mythology Oedipus was born as the son of Laius and Jocasta. Laius was the king and Jocasta the queen of Thebes, a town in Greece.


But there was a prophecy for Laius which said that this child would grow up to marry his wife, Jocasta and to murder himself. To avoid the prediction of the oracle, Laius fastened the feet of his own son with a pin (Oedipus meaning “swollen foot”) and they gave the baby to a slave. He should leave the baby to die, but the slave felt pity for the kid and gave him to a shepherd on the other side of the mountains.

The King Polybus of Corinth, who was given the baby decided to raise Oedipus together with his wife. Oedipus grows up normally until he got a prophecy from the oracle at Delphi. It said that he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. Consequently he left Corinth to prevent the prophecy from coming true. Oedipus went to Thebes unwitting that his real parents live there.

On the way he met an old man driving a wagon on a narrow road. The old man ordered Oedipus to move of the road, but Oedipus became aggressive.The both quarreled over who should give way and finally Oedipus killed the man.

Oedipus had to answer the riddle of the sphinx, which guarded the entrance of Thebes. The city welcomed him and offered him the king’s throne and the marriage to Jocasta.

He ruled Thebes for years and married Jocasta. Together they had four children.

After a while Oedipus found out that the old man he killed was the king Laius and Jocasta realized that she had married her own son. She hanged herself.

Oedipus blinded himself and was ordered to leave Thebes and he was driven to exile. After years of wandering, Oedipus died at Colonus.

All theories from Sigmund Freud about the Oedipus Complex are based on this legend from Oedipus.