Letter to Freud, Dated November 1912, Right After the Lunch Meeting Attended by Freud, Jung and other Psychologists
Dear Mr. Sigmund Freud,
It concerned me a lot to know that you fainted during the lunch meeting with other psychologists. If any consolation, I am happy that Mr. Jung was there to assist despite the growing faction between the two of you. I am fully aware that Mr. Jung has recently developed his own concepts in psychology, different from your own. I am not writing to you to elaborate on them, rather to tell you that despite the growing criticisms around, I stand firm in support of your theories of the mind, and defense mechanisms.
I will try to relate my knowledge of your theories with the life of the famous humorist and novelist of our time, Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. Mr. Clemens was a good friend of mine, thus his death greatly affected me. During his lifetime he confided with me some thoughts, which I would share with you right now, in the hope of gaining from you a better analysis of his personal conflicts.
First of all, let me focus on your theory of the unconscious. On the one hand, you said in one lecture that this presents all thoughts, experiences and emotions that we are unaware of. They are either difficult or too painful to bear, that is why people have a tendency to deny or repress them. On the other hand, the conscious mind presents one’s thoughts that the person is fully aware of. Relating this with Clemens’s life, I remember him telling me about his popularity as a democrat as evident in his writings against racism and his position as the Vice-President of the American Anti-Imperialist League, which he held for nine years. He did his part as a good citizen, and displayed a conscious mind that strongly opposed racial discrimination and bureaucracy. However, in his mind resided a racist upbringing, as his father had a slave, while one of his uncles had several slaves. In addition, in 1860, Clemens voted for a presidential candidate who was pro-slavery, and served in the Confederate Army.
These only show that while Clemens befriended other cultures, he could be doing this out of a guilty past, which haunted him. To hide this guilt, Clemens established the friendship no one would forget, between a black boy and a white one, in his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While his conscious mind directed him to write humor in his novels, his unconscious mind still called out to state the inner recesses of his being. For instance, in the novel, The Prince and the Pauper, we see the great humor in the confusion the two boys bring others. However, the humor is replaced with melancholy as the prince was abused physically by the villain.
The contradictory attitude in Clemens also makes up the opposition between his conscious and unconscious mind. This could be explained by the hardships he suffered during his childhood, from his stern father, and the deaths of his siblings. Although Clemens tried to repress these realities, always showing the brighter side of him, he could not conceal the unconscious mind that had to deal with the losses he had—both from his original family and his three children who died before they reached twenties. Such great bereavements could have led Clemens towards repression. As you explained, repression is one’s involuntary removal of a threatening or painful past from one’s consciousness. By trying to forget his past, however, those painful experiences were made evident in Clemens’ writings. Even so, the experiences he had helped in making him a well-loved and famous writer.
Aside from repression of his childhood memories, I also figure out from Clemens’s own confession that he turned to denial. Again, taking from you, Clemens tried to distort reality by denying the sufferings he dealt with in the past. Facing realities like death of a loved one could lead a person to a mournful period, which could come to an end. In Clemens, we unbelievably see an inpidual dealing with too many losses but still maintaining poise and humor.
Furthermore, Clemens also seemingly submitted to regression. The use of young characters in his novels tells us this truth. Due to the way he viewed his father (which will be explained later), Clemens regressed by looking at the brighter side of life in the eyes of young boys like Huckleberry Finn. Although Clemens was close to his mother, I do not see this as a way to explain Oedipal complex. With all due respect, Mr. Freud, allow me to elucidate my point in relation to my friend’s personality. Sifted of confidence, I believe that your concept of Oedipal complex is too assuming and needs further proofs.
For instance, I believe that more than competing with his father for his mother’s love, Clemens simply hated his father for what the old man did. Clemens told me that his father worked as a shopkeeper and land speculator. During his childhood, he stumbled upon a bloody corpse of a murdered man whose body was dragged into his father's office. This experience disturbed Clemens as a young boy, and affected the way he looked at his father. He could have resented him for it, and resorted to leaning more towards the affection of his mother who was more considerate. As such, his father’s own wrongdoings, and not the Oedipal complex, which you proposed to be innate, caused Clemens to develop resentment towards his father.
In summary, I would like to congratulate you for the great contribution you have made in the field of psychology, my own field of work. Your theories certainly help us define personality traits and disorders. Similarly, they assist us in making sense of our clients’ past to explain present tendencies. In particular, your theories of the conscious and the unconscious, and defense mechanisms are very well acclaimed.
I am concluding this letter with the hope that you could send me a reply regarding how you see my friend’s life, with particular attention to proofs regarding Oedipal complex.
Once again, thank you, Mr, Freud!
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