The Freudian Oedipus Complex: treated in The Rainbow

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Oedipus Complex - meaning.

      The name Oedipus has its origin in the story of King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. Oedipus unknowingly married his own mother and had children by her. Oedipus’s father had tried to revert this prophecy which was given to him much in advance but could not revert the inevitable. Freud and other psychologists have used the term Oedipus Complex to define "a manifestation of infantile sexuality in the relation of the child to its parents. It is a state in which the person shows excessive affection for the parent opposite in sex to himself or herself, and a corresponding distaste for his or her other parent." Like Sons and Lovers, in The Rainbow also, Lawrence uses the Oedipus Complex to show the negative effect of too much devotion of the children for their mother. Though, it cannot be said with certainty whether Lawrence read the theories of Freud before or after the conception of The Rainbow. We find the presence of Oedipal love in all the three generations of the Brangwens. Tom in the first generation suffers from mother-fixation. He in turn has an Oedipal relationship with his daughter Anna. Then, in the third generation, we have William Brangwen’s excessive love or an Oedipal love for his daughter Ursula.

Self, Mother-fixation of Lawrence.

      It is quite true that Lawrence himself was a victim of mother-fixation and his own mother Lydia Lawrence exercised a strong hold over him. The relationship of Lawrence with his mother has been treated very personally in his first major novel Sons and Lovers where he seems to be depicting instances from his own life and presents the relation of Paul with his mother very effectively and realistically. Hence, Sons and Lovers had a cathartic effect on him which became complete with the completion of the novel. Therefore, we may find the presence of the Freudian Oedipus Complex in The Rainbow but it receives an impersonal treatment here. Talking of the Oedipus Complex of Lawrence we can quote the words of Middleton Murray, "Lawrence was never able to make a happy emotional adjustment with other women. The novelist was a tortured soul throughout the full forty-five years of his life, and what he suffered, and what he thought and observed under the stimulus of suffering."

Oedipus Complex in the First Generation.

      Victims of mother-fixation or Oedipus Complex are to be found in all the, three generations. In the first generation we have Tom, who is a great favorite of his mother. He is sent to school to realize her dreams of a superior life. The negative influence of the mother-fixation renders him insufficient in matters of sex. His mother-fixation advances him towards sexual purity so much so that he vehemently detests the idea of uncovering a girl. He is unable to satisfy the first woman with whom he has carnal contacts and because of his mother-fixation he is instilled with shame and thus he takes to heavy drinking. His state gets somewhat improved after his marriage with Lydia but that too for the time being because with the pregnancy of Lydia, he starts feeling dissatisfied with her and in turn drifts towards his step-daughter Anna.

Oedipus Complex in the Second Generation.

      Tom feels virtually neglected with the pregnancy of Lydia who is unable to satisfy his love and passion even after the birth of their first child. Thus, he turns for emotional fulfillment towards his step-daughter Anna which Lawrence has described as: "He formed another center of love in her child, Anna. Gradually, a part of his stream of life was diverted to the child, relieving the main flood to his wife." Tom and Anna seem to make a little life together of their own. Tom is a kind and understanding step-father and cherishes Anna comforting her when she is unhappy and providing her with entertainment and amusement on her own terms. It is a delightful relationship and though she has a brief moment of defiance of him when she and Will tell him of their intended marriage, the love between them is close and warm throughout their lives. The Oedipal overtones in this case get clear when Tom to his great frustration realizes that now that he has grown old, he should be rejected in favor of youth. He has much difficulty in reconciling himself to the idea that he is required by Anna to only help her in settling down in life.

Oedipus Complex in the Third Generation.

      Oedipus Complex generally arises according to Freud because of a lack of adjustment among the parents. So is seen in the case of the third generation. Anna finds her self-confidence and power over Will through her motherhood, it is perhaps not surprising that she lapses into a 'long trance of complacent Child-bearing'. Thus, Will who is left totally unfulfilled seeks emotional satisfaction with his eldest (laughter Ursula. Ursula also responds to him wholly. But the kind of relationship that Will has with Ursula is quite different from what Tom had for Anna because though he loves her he wishes to dominate her: 'he had a curious craving to frighten her' and thus he jumps into the canal with the infant Ursula clinging to his back or drives the swingboats at the fair until they hang almost perpendicular. Will occupies a permanent position in Anna’s childish consciousness where her mother was a mere accident in her life. When Will went away Ursula knew that she must wait for his coming back:

"The return on the departure of the father was the one event which the child remembered. When he came, something woke up in her, some yearning. She knew when he was out of joint or irritable or tired; then she was uneasy, she could not rest."

      The presence of the father in the house made the child full and warm, rich like a creature in the sunshine. She became forgetful and vague when he was gone. She was directed all her life by her awareness of him and her wakefulness to his being. We are told that she set towards him like a quivering needle. Her father was the dawn, wherein her consciousness woke up. The negative influence of this father-fixation which becomes too personal and does not allow the child free mental development has been described by William Walsh as :

"Her father was the dawn wherein her consciousness woke up. But for him, she might have gone on like the other children, Gudrun and Theresa and Catherine, one with the insects and flowers and playthings, having no existence apart from the concrete object of her attention. But her father came too near to her. The clasp of his hands and the power of his breast woke her up almost in pain from the transient unconsciousness of childhood. Wide-eyed, unseeing, she was awake before she knew how to see."

      Ursula is overwhelmed with her vast responsibility towards her father as he depends too much on her for his emotional fulfillment. When she was unable to satisfy him, she was pained and hurt:

"The child looked at him dumbly. Already her heart was heavy because of her own disappointment. Her mouth was dumb and pathetic. But he did not notice, he went his way."

      Thus, the Oedipal relationship of Ursula with her father has a negative and deadening effect on her father which can be described in the words of William Walsh:

"It is the kind of love which consumes its object, which cannot keep its distance or allow its object any degree of autonomy. The father's love springs from some incoherence in his own nature, an absence of serenity or self-acceptance, it is a projection of his own need, his own tension and inadequacy. And so intricately is the child involved with him that it is impossible for him to make the painful and wrenching effort necessary for regarding Ursula as another being, separate, autonomous and sufficient."

University Questions also can be Answered:

How has the Freudian Oedipus Complex been treated in The Rainbow?
How has Lawrence impersonally treated the mother fixation in The Rainbow.

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