Critical Thinking Media Competence

Oedipus Complex—Group 1

The Myth

Who is Oedipus?

Oedipus is a figure from Greek mythology. He was the son of Laius, the king of Thebes, and Jocasta. An oracle predicted Laius that if Jocasta gave birth to a son, he would kill his father and marry his own mother Jocasta.

On Oedipus’ birthday, Jocasta decides to kill her child to escape from the destiny the oracle predicted. She hands over Oedipus to an herdsman to abandon him in the forest with his feet tied together so that there would be no escaping. However, the herdsman has pity on the infant and hands him over to a man serving King Polybus of Corinth who brings him to his master. The childless king adopts the boy and the little prince grows up in Corinth without knowing that he is not the by birth son of King Polybus of Corinth. The Delphic Sibyl forecasts him that it will be his destiny to kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore, he decides to never return to his alleged parents to escape this fate.

On his way back from Delphi, he gets into a fight with an old, coming in man. He loses his self-control and kills the man without knowing that it was his actual father, the King of Thebes.

Finally, he reaches Thebes. There, a Sphinx devours the city’s young men and virgins and says she will not stop until someone comes around who knows the answer to her riddle. The town Thebes promised that the person who solves the riddle and thus manages to liberate Thebes, will become the new king and marry the king’s widow.

Oedipus dares to try and finds the solution to the riddle. The Sphinx plunges into the sea and the city is liberated. Oedipus becomes king and marries his mother Jocasta. After a time in which Oedipus happily reigned, a plague spreads in town which many citizens do not survive.

The blind prophet Tiresias uncovers the plague is the penalty for the double crime Oedipus committed; patricide and incest. At first, Oedipus does not want to admit the truth, but when the time comes and he sees himself forced to recognise the truth, he blinds himself and Jocasta commits suicide. The tragedy ends with Oedipus suffering from the penalty for a crime which he committed unwittingly and despite of his deliberate efforts to avoid it.


The Oedipus Complex


The Oedipus complex is a theory put together by the Philosopher Sigmund Freud who believed that each person, as they grow up has a subconscious desire to have sexual relationship with either their mother or father depending on whether they are a boy or a girl.


The idea begins with Freud believing that from the age of 3-6 years old a child begins to realise the difference between a boy and a girl, they also understand the theory of attraction between male and a female.  This phase could be considered as dangerous because at this stage of life for a child they may not understand the detrimental affects of things such as incest as they may see their sibling as a male or a female and feel attracted to them despite the fact that they are family. Furthermore, it is easier for adults who have psychological issues such as paedophilia to manipulate them at this stadium. That means the child would probably even feel comfortable with being pursued by an adult of the opposite sex due to his or her desire to feel attracted to the other gender.

The theory leads on to Freud believing that as the child grows older, they learn to divert their attraction to the person who has the most unconditional love for them, which is in most cases their mother or father.

Focussing on how the Oedipus complex affects a boy and a girl, there is a difference. As the boy grows older, Freud believes, he begins to feel attracted to his mother simply through the natural bond between a mother and her child which is accompanied by her undying love. However, because in most cases the young boy also grows up with a father figure, he suppresses his feelings for his mother until he is at a point where he is able to compete with his father for her affection.

This leads to a subconscious feeling of rivalry and competition towards his father and eventually the desire to obliterate the competition completely in order to win the affection of his mother now in a sexual way.

The female child however, begins to feel a sense of inadequacy when she begins to understand the difference between a male and a female because she realises that she does not have a penis and feels that she is not good enough for her male counterpart. She does not have the desire to obliterate her competition such as the male child does, in which case she starts to demand the attention from her father more in order to feel adequate.

Once the phase is over for both children, they start to feel a sense of regret for always wanting the attention of their mother or father and then begin to include the other parent in a ‘love triangle’ in order to make amends with the parent who’s affection they have not been seeking.


This theory would appear to most as ridiculous as nobody would admit to wanting to have sexual relations with their mother as it is considered to be taboo. However Freud openly admits to the study being based on a child’s subconscious; a repressed feeling that may come to conscious through trauma or even therapy.

A case study that Freud used to support his study would be the Little Hans study, in which a young boy from the age of 3 began to show signs of awareness to the difference between male and female genitalia and began to be fascinated with his own genitalia as well as the other genitalia of other males.  This did not impress Hans’ parents and they warned him that if he continued to play with his private parts, a doctor would come and cut it off.  Hans developed a phobia of horses, which may have been caused by a psychogenic disorder.

Freud correlated this to the Oedipus complex because he related the horse to being a representation of Hans’ father as the features of the horse he was afraid of in the dreams he was having were similar to the features of his father, this ties in the power struggle that a young boy faces when he is in a race for the affection of the mother because it shows the competition between the father and son to be the winner.


The way that Freud interpreted little Hans case is somewhat over-analysed as it is very unlikely that a young boys thoughts would be so dark because of a repressed feeling that he has for his mother. It is more likely to be a case of verbal abuse from his parents such as telling him that his penis will be cut off. That has scared him into his phobia of horses and simply naive curiosity that caused him to be fascinated with his penis to begin with.

However, there is probably some truth to Freud’s theory of little Hans, for instance the case that it is normal as a young child to aspire to ‘marry’ your mother or father.

They are just the only powerful male or female that you may come into contact with once you begin to recognise the difference between male and females and their organs. Similarly a child would aspire to mimic the way they see their parents’ relationship and want to treat their partner the same way, but as they are only 3-6 years old they may see their mother or father also as their partner. Hence the desire arises to marry them.

This could also affect the way a person treats their partner once they have passed the stage of naivety and this is a concept, which seems to build on Freud’s theory.






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[last access: 29.06.2014]