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The Electra complex

With Harry Potter Mania striking the heart of popular culture, it is important to stress that Harry Potterís tale of a child avenging family murder is a timeless theme in storytelling. Perhaps an even more prominent example of this featured Electra, daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. The Greek myth goes that her father was murdered following the Trojan War by his wifeís lover, Aegisthus. Though the story varies from here, the basic premise is that Electra and her brother Orestes are responsible for revenge killing both their mother and Aegisthus. Dramatic to be sure, but parent-offspring dysfunction is replete in storytelling and history with many layers of meaning assigned to it. Among the more controversial interpretations of Electra’s story is rooted in psychology, namely, in Sigmund Freudís theory of psychosexual development.

The vengeful lady

The vengeful lady

Carl Jung – another 20th century psychologist- was the one who proposed the name ëElectra Complexí for the psychosexual theory proposed by Sigmund Freud. For Freud, the Electra Complex (and the Oedipus Complex in their male counterpart) was a fundamental stage in healthy psychosexual development in girls. Freud outlined several stages in a childís development that needed to be resolved in order for their healthy cultivation of personality into adulthood: the oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages. Unsuccessful resolution of these individual stages, due to undergratification or excess stimulation may result in numerous antisocial or psychosexual disorders later in their life. Of all these stages, the phallic stage takes centre stage for the psychosexual development in young girls. That is where the Electra complex occurs.

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As an infant, the girl has no qualms with their mother. After all, the two psychosexual stages that precede the phallic stage are the oral and anal stages. In these stages they are dependent on the mother: in order to resolve the oral stage, breast feeding nourishes the infant, while helping potty train the child is essential in providing closure to the anal stage. During the phallic stage between ages three and five, the child becomes aware of their genitalia. This enlightenment is accompanied by intense feelings of insecurity, lust, and jealousy in both girls and boys. Freudís psychosexual theory asserts that young girls begin to turn against their mother. The girl is now conscious of their lack of a male appendage. She begins to lust after her father and wishes to bear his child due to her deep-rooted ìpenis envy.î  If she bears his child, she will carry in her the penis that she woefully lacks.

In a theory full of surprises, it comes as unsurprising that the young girl holds her mother accountable for “castrating” her of her penis and standing in the way of achieving her sexual endeavors with her father. As a result, young girls exhibit feelings of rage and revenge: the Electra complex. In order for successful resolution, the girl begins to identify with the same sex parent and treat them with equal respect as the opposite sexed. The girl inevitably begins to repress their sexual urge which yields a few years of dormancy in their psychosexual development.

[ad#downcont]Of course, there are critics of the Electra complex. Anthropological research suggests that psychosexual development is subjective to culture and upbringing. Wealthy Cambodian girls will not have the same perspective and socialization as middle class Swiss ladies. Meanwhile, feminist theorists view the Electra complex as sexist and demeaning by reducing the central conflict in psychosexual development in females to being a gender identity crisis for simply being a woman. Though the Electra complex theory has largely been dismissed, its legacy and stories live on.

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