Anthropologists & the Oedipus
To the Editor:
I have read with much interest the exchange between Lillian Blumberg McCall and Hans Meyerhoff (April). I am concerned in this note only to draw attention to the fact that not all anthropologists would accept Clyde Kluckhohn’s statement that “the essential universality of the Oedipus complex . . . is now established by the anthropological record.” On the contrary, and contrary to Freud’s claims, I, as an anthropologist, would say that the anthropological record, if it has established anything, has established the fact that the Oedipus complex is neither (1) innate, nor (2) universal, but wherever it occurs (3) culturally determined.
Malinowski in Sex and Repression in Savage Society (1927) was the first field anthropologist to challenge Freud’s claims on the basis of evidence collected in the Trobriand Islands. I inquired into the problem and set out the evidence from both the field of anthropology and psychoanalysis in an article entitled “Nescience, Science, and Psycho-Analysis,” Psychiatry, vol. 4, 1941, pp. 45-60. This was reprinted in The British Journal of Medical Psychology, vol. 17, 1941, pp. 383-404. Ernest Jones was quite familiar with the evidence in this article but chose to ignore it.
Finally, it should be pointed out that there is good reason to believe that in the United States, where the father is far from the patriarchal figure he constitutes elsewhere, the Oedipus complex seems to be very spottily distributed.
Princeton, New Jersey
[Further correspondence on the exchange between Mrs. McCall and Mr. Meyerhoff will appear in a forthcoming number.]