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

By W. David Sievers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
War and Post-War Neurosis.

NEUROSIS IN THE RECENT DRAMA

Many of the major plays of the forties and fifties have been discussed in connection with their individual authors. In attempting an overview of the drama of the last decade, however, one fact is most impressive: the drama now regularly turns to psychoanalytic psychology for source material. In the hands of master playwrights the result is illumination. In the hands of those without either intuitive understanding or personal psychoanalytic experience, the result is apt to be a kind of "superficial depth," the substitution of the names of complexes and neuroses for the deeper exploration of cause and effect; it was the latter which so many playwrights deplored in their questionnaire replies. There can be no doubt that we live in a neurotic era; the sensitive playwright who is aware of his times must observe the pressures and defense-mechanisms of a fearful atomic age. And yet the cry is now commonly heard in some quarters to spare us "these neurotic plays" and get back to wholesome drama. But Freudianism can hardly be made to bear this guilt. The theatre has always had trashy plays-before the complex there was the missing letter or the foreclosed mortgage. Rather the cry should be to get us back to works of stature by playwrights of broad perception. The great dramatic heroes and heroines of classic drama have all in a sense been "neurotic." The difference is that today there is available

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