our assignment is to attempt a psychoanalytic interpretation of George Benderman, the protagonist in Kafka’s short story, The Judgment. This must include, but need not be limited to, an analysis of the oedipal issues or themes expressed in the story.
Note: The protagonist of the story is a grown man. Therefore, you will not see a portrayal of the oedipal stage itself. What you are looking for are signs of persisting (unresolved) oedipal issues.
Remember the basic oedipal themes:
- attachment to the opposite-sex parent – attachment that has erotic overtones or is otherwise ‘passionate’ (libidinal cathexis)
- rivalry with the same-sex parent (aggressive cathexis)
- a wish to eliminate and replace said parent, perhaps even murderous impulses
- intense fear of reprisal/punishment at the hands of said parent
The “natural” story would involve either the son’s defeat/destruction of the father, followed by intense guilt and self-inflicted punishment, or else the son’s defeat/destruction by the father. Of course, in ordinary life the conflicts are nearly always resolved without coming to such a pass.
As the original oedipal crisis is (more or less) resolved, these wishes are repressed. If the resolution is successful, then the child relinquishes the craving for the opposite-sex parent and identifies with the same-sex parent. This entails taking on many of that parent’s qualities and values – resulting, among other things, in the “birth” of the superego. The child grows up to be an adult who can express the instinctual drives in appropriate ways – love and work. To the extent that the resolution is incomplete or unsuccessful, oedipal issues persist. However, they are likely to be disguised. These “disguises” may involve elements of primary process thinking (e.g., symbolization, condensation). They will also involve the use of defense mechanisms, protecting the individual against awareness of these anxiety-producing wishes and fears.
Among the possible signs of unresolved oedipal issues are the following:
- continued excessive attachment to/dependence on the opposite-sex parent – or possibly a reaction-formation against such attachment (e.g., severing all ties)
- difficulty forming mature romantic/sexual relationships, including marriage (incomplete displacement of libido onto other love-objects)
- continued hostility toward the same-sex parent, probably blended with fear – or possibly a reaction-formation against such hostility (e.g., solicitude)
- problems with authority figures of one’s own gender, especially older ones. Perhaps:
- excessive subservience (coupled with resentment)
- self-defeating rebelliousness
- difficulty taking on adult social roles (e.g., employment), especially if it involves:
- surpassing parental achievements
- detaching from one’s parents
- intense guilt and neurotic anxiety over the expression of desire, produced by a punitive superego (internalized same-sex parent). Perhaps:
- guilt/anxiety surrounding sexuality (love), which may be rigidly repressed or expressed in impulsive or otherwise self-defeating ways
- guilt/anxiety surrounding behavior that might be taken as competitive with the same-sex parent (work)
- inappropriate guilt over signs of weakness, injury, or illness in the same-sex parent (as if one were responsible: as if one’s unconscious infantile aggressive wishes were the cause)
- Of course, no single individual will express all of these characteristics. One looks for two or three, or perhaps even for one that is very vividly present.
In reading The Judgment, be aware that this is not a realistic depiction of events. Rather, it is a highly subjective, almost dream-like or hallucinatory account – a strange hybrid of objective actuality with personal experiencing. The very first paragraph provides a clue to this, as each successive sentence moves further away from physical reality, further toward the fantastic intrapsychic sphere. Expect to see signs of primary process breaking through the surface story. Try to follow the permutations of the father-son relationship. When something unexpected happens, ask yourself: How might this reflect oedipal dynamics on a primary process level?
This assignment is a good opportunity to use a three paragraph essay format in a coherent fashion.
Please do not cite paper