Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama

By W. David Sievers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
The Freudian Twenties

MATRIARCHY RAMPANT

It has been said that the villain in drama was abolished by Freud. It is true that the all-black Squire Cribbs species of villain has been superseded in melodrama by a villain whose evil derives from unconscious childhood influences which can be understood if not condoned. On a higher level the villain in tragedy has become the inner man, the villain within who splits the individual and makes of him an ambivalent figure such as O'Neill's Dion Anthony or Williams' Blanche DuBois. But while Freud in one sense internalized the villain, his dramatic followers in the twenties created a new "heavy" -- the Mother.

According to the psychoanalytic point of view, it is the mother who all too often in our civilization reduces her children, especially her sons, to dependency, ambivalence, and psychic impotence. (Jung enthroned the Earth-Mother as the primal force in unconscious life, while to Freud the father assumed more significance as the obstacle who stood between the son and his unconscious objective of reunion with his mother; from either point of view, the Oedipus complex or mother-son-father relationship was of focal importance in the origin of neurosis.) The drama of the twenties makes vividly clear that one of the most striking changes in American mores brought about by psychoanalytic concepts has been the desentimentalization of the role of mother. Philip Wylie gave her the final coup de grace in his Generation of Vipers.

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