|Psychology in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Dr. Sigmund Freud and psychosexual theory
Diagnoses of McMurphy
1. What are the precepts of Dr. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory? Define the following: id, ego, superego, psychosexual stages.
Dr. Freud believed that sexual motivation was largely responsible for one’s actions. He theorized that from an early age, even infancy, children begin a series of psychosexual stages of development. Each stage centered around a certain type of sex: manual, oral, anal, and vaginal (intercourse). Freud believed that children in each stage display a characteristic set of behaviours, which reflect an unconscious interest in the type of sex of each stage. For instance, a child in the manual stage will not only masturbate, but inadvertently handle objects that resemble its own genitals. A child in the oral stage might suck on its fingers or thumbs, soothers, and bottles. A child in the anal stage might associate certain bathroom (excretion of feces) operations with other everyday events. Perhaps a child who is entertained by passing gas (“farting”) shows he is in the anal stage. A child who matures normally should reach the vaginal stage, and have a normal interest in conventional intercourse with others, presumably of the opposite sex.
In attempting to catalog and diagnose adult psychological problems, Freud watched for signs that the patient might not have matured, in other words, not have reached the vaginal stage. The disparity between the immature sexual stage and the patient’s age would, in Freud’s opinion, help explain the cause of the psychological problem. An adult trapped in the manual stage might have very fidgety hands, perhaps habitually tap the desk, or always feel the need to be holding something, especially phallic, such as a pencil, keys, stapler, etc.. One trapped in the oral stage might smoke, perhaps drink alcohol, always chew gun, even talk a lot. Those trapped in the anal stage are thought to display a need to control their surroundings, much as the child must learn to control his or her own bowel movements. This theorized need for control led to the term, “anal”, or “anal fixation”, meaning a controlling or retentive person. In this way, Nurse Ratched could be related to this concept. Of course, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between an unconsciously, psychosexually motivated act and a simple task. We must write, hold keys, use doorknobs to open doors, and carry out other tasks using our hands, but that does not guarantee that a person is locked in the manual stage. One cannot help drinking, eating or talking; doing so doesn’t at all condemn one as being orally fixated. As for control; it is always a delicate issue how much control one should attempt to extend over one’s environment. It would seem ridiculous to say that we all have some anal fixation or other, but the subjective nature of psychoanalytic theory makes it possible in a certain mindset. If we look, we can find “fixations” all around us.
Elements of Freud’s theory of the human psyche include the id, ego, and superego.
Id: This is a powerful part of the psyche. It is unconscious only, and controls our basic desires for food, water, sleep, and sex. These basic needs pervade the individual’s motivation, with sex being the most powerful. Indeed, people are generally willing to forego a little food, water, or sleep for sex. The id is demanding, and has no regard for morality, not even for societal rules and conventions. It wants sex, food, water, and sleep, in that order, NOW!
Superego: This is the smallest element of the psyche and is the last to develop. It is responsible for our sense of universal ethics, such as murder, theft, rape, etc., are morally wrong. It is also partly unconscious, but it also enters consciousness as the individual contemplates ethics.
Ego: With the Id and Superego constantly locked in battle against one another, the individual needs a manager. This is the ego. Its function is to manage the needs and demands of the id and superego in order for the person to live in society, while causing a minimum of conflicts inside the psyche. The ego knows that one must abide by certain conventions, or the society will impose sanctions that restrict freedom, and even may bring death (depending on what you might do). At the same time, one must satisfy basic drives, or, essentially, one goes crazy. The ego is conscious, and allows the person to function cooperatively with others.
2. Define the following psychological diagnoses applied to McMurphy by the doctors wishing to please Nurse Ratched: Schizophrenic Reaction, Latent Homosexual with Reaction Formation, and Negative Oedipal.
Schizophrenic Reaction: This is not listed as such in DSM-IIIR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III - Revised). However, it implies a reaction to stimuli that is schizophrenic in nature, characterized by feelings of great upset and loss of control in the patient. It is applied to McMurphy as he is not really ill; this catch-all diagnosis could theoretically be applied to any individual who ever feels upset or loss or control, applied by a staff member who searches for mental illness in a patient but can’t make an accurate assessment.
Latent Homosexual with Reaction Formation: Latent homosexuality is where a person feels and appears to be heterosexual, but underlying the conscious self are homosexual impulses. Many therapists and other psychiatric staff members asserted that this condition of latent homosexuality was true of many , most, or all individuals when this concept was in vogue in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1990s, it appears to be applied less often. Reaction Formation is a defense mechanism that the human psyche employs when it feels a conflict or stress. It is the conversion of one feeling, such as hate, to its opposite, love. Thus, if the doctor feels McMurphy is harboring latent homosexuality and is distressed about it (ego-dystonic homosexuality), he might act all the more heterosexual, such as pinching Nurse Ratched on the bum and making regular sexual remarks and telling of sexual escapades with women.
Negative Oedipal: This is a key element of psychoanalytic theory, pioneered by Dr. Sigmund Freud.
Mythical background: the Oedipus saga
Oedipus' parents, King Laius and Jocasta of Thebes, had received a warning that if they had a son, that son would kill his own father, Laius. (This curse is usually related mythically to a previous offense by Laius against the gods, particularly Hera, Goddess of Marriage, when Laius had as a young man abducted his host's young son Chrysippus to be his lover.) Laius and Jocasta therefore abstained from sexual relations, until one night Jocasta, who could no longer take it, got Laius drunk and induced him to have sex with her. She became pregnant as a result and gave birth to a son in due course. The parents, fearful of the prophecy concerning this son, decided to kill him. They had his ankles pierced and bound together with a leather cord and then gave him to a Theban shepherd with orders to expose the baby on nearby Mt. Cithaeron. The shepherd, however, pitied the infant and instead gave it to a Corinthian shepherd who carried it to his masters, the King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth. They raised the infant at their own child and give it the name Oedipus, which in Greek means "swollen foot."
Upon reaching manhood, Oedipus was one day taunted by a companion who claimed that Polybus and Merope were not his parents. Oedipus then decided to consult the Oracle at Delphi to learn the truth of the matter. The Oracle ignored Oedipus' question and instead prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus thereupon fled from Delphi, but avoided returning home to Corinth, where his assumed parents lived, and instead went in the opposite direction toward Thebes. While traveling he encountered an old man with a group of retainers. The old man tried to force Oedipus off the road and struck him with his staff, but Oedipus in self-defense killed the old man as well as all the retainers except one, who escaped. Then, upon arriving at Thebes, Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx (a monster who was killing and eating Thebans), thereby ridding the city of the monster and winning the hand of the recently widowed Queen Jocasta as well as the kingship. King Oedipus and Jocasta had four children, two sons (Polyneices and Eteocles) and two daughters (Antigone and Ismene).
Oedipus the King: When these children were grown, a plague descended upon Thebes. King Oedipus sent Jocasta's brother Creon to the Oracle at Delphi to seek the cause. Creon returned to say that Thebes was harboring the murderer of King Laius and needed to expel the murderer in order to remove the plague. Oedipus immediately began an investigation to find the murderer. Upon consulting the blind prophet Teiresias, Oedipus was given indications that he (Oedipus) was this murderer. He immediately assumed that Teiresias and Creon must be conspiring to remove him from the throne of Thebes so that Creon could become ruler. But as the play proceeds, Oedipus begins to suspect that he may have killed Laius and, finally, it is revealed, by the testimony of the old shepherd who had been given the infant Oedipus to expose, that Oedipus is in fact the son and killer of Laius, and the son and husband of Jocasta. Jocasta then hangs herself, and Oedipus upon finding her body stabs his own eyes with the pins of her brooches. Oedipus begs Creon to exile him, but Creon insists that they wait until the gods provide further direction.
- The Encyclopedia Mythica, www.mythica.org
The Oedipus Complex: Freudian Theory
In Freudian theory, the desire and conflict of the four year-old male child who wants to possess his mother sexually and to eliminate the father rival. The threat of punishment from the father makes the boy repress these id impulses. Girls have a similar sexual desire for the father, which is repressed in analogous fashion and is called the Electra Complex.
(Taken from Abnormal Psychology, Davison & Neale, John Wiley & Sons, 1987)
In terms of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this doctor perceives McMurphy having a negative Oedipal impulse for Nurse Ratched, who might symbolize McMurphy’s mother. The idea would be that at some point in McMurphy’s childhood or adolescence, his mother would have sexually rejected him, quite normal for the theory of the Oedipus Complex. Freud asserted that this would motivate the male child to then identify with the same sex parent, and pursue normal sexual relations with females his own age. Perhaps McMurphy would have reacted extremely badly to his mother’s rejection, and as a result of his refused Oedipal impulses, developed jealous loathing for his mother. According to the doctor’s theory, this loathing or his mother must have transferred to Nurse Ratched, who holds a mother-like position as ward nurse.