Toni Morrison’s Jazz: Joe Trace and The Oedipus Complex
In his psychoanalytic excerpt, “The Oedipus Complex”, Sigmund Freud
ruminates on how children develop bonds with their parents. According to Freud, children develop intimate bonds with parents by adopting the roles and values of the parent whose sex they share. Conversely, the parent of the opposite sex becomes a cherished object of affection. The Oedipus Complex implies that a boy adopts his father’s identity (and roles) in the hope of gaining the affection of his mother. Inevitably, the boy’s attempts to become his father and live out the role of husband/wife between himself and his mother is bound to fail. According to Freud, these futile and misunderstood efforts cause a child to be “in love with the one parent and hat[e] the other” (NA, 919). In other words, the boy envies both his father for the love of his mother and for is own inaccessibility to that love. Freud goes on to list two literary masterpieces whose protagonists exhibit this complex: Hamlet and Oedipus Rex. By superimposing his own psychoanalysis on literary masterpieces, Freud aims to validate his own concepts. Perhaps then it is only fitting that, since the apex of Freudian psychoanalysis, literary writers have been adopting, reassessing, and ultimately modifying Freudian concepts. In Toni Morrison’s novel, Jazz, Joe Trace exhibits typically Oedipal characteristics, but for all the Oedipal tendencies Trace seems to possess, he also has psychological features that seem to go against “The Oedipus Complex”.
While much of Trace’s psychology supports “The Oedipus complex”, those opposing characteristics, apparently engendered by the circumstances of his childhood, function as plausible possibilities indicating the limits of Freudian psychoanalysis, …
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…described in “The Oedipus Complex”.
Just as Freud used literature as a foundation, or backbone, to support his psychoanalytical theories, literary writers have used Freudian psychoanalysis to build upon literature. As a result, novelists, like Toni Morrison, have often adopted and modified Freudian psychoanalysis. Specifically, Joe Trace reveals the possibilities of psychological variation and promotes a case specific reality in which psychological universals, while being relevant, prove to be narrow and limited in assessing the psychological interiors of fictional characters.
English 300 5
Freud, Sigmond. “The Oedipus Complex.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2001. 919-923.
Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: First Vintage International Edition, 2004.