Carl Jung Theory of Electra Complex

Electra complex, in psychoanalysis, is a daughter’s rivalry towards her mother and unconscious physical desire for her father.

Sigmund Freud propounded the theory of Oedipus complex in The Interpretation of Dreams, in 1899. And Swiss psychologist Carl Jung proposed that female equivalent of Oedipus complex is Electra complex. When Carl Jung coined Electra complex in 1913, Freud rejected it outright and continued to use feminine Oedipus complex, or negative Oedipus complex. Electra complex is more readily used in modern psychology.

Freud advocated Oedipus complex by analyzing the myth of Oedipus, and Jung interpreted another Greek mythological figure Electra (Greek Elektra) and proposed Electra complex. According to Greek mythology, Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, and Electra committed matricide.

Carl Jung believed if Electra complex is not resolved, a woman might either have high self-esteem or low self-esteem. Woman with high self-esteem try to dominate men and women with low self-esteem are submissive. Electra complex develops in girls when they are between 3 and 6 years.

Oedipus and Electra Complex

Freudian theory analyses psychosexual development in human beings. Oedipus complex is a man’s sexual competition with his father and sexual possession of mother. Sigmund Freud described similar condition in female as female Oedipus complex, or negative Oedipus complex. On the other hand, Carl Jung interpreted the myth of Electra and said Electra complex is a condition where a girl sees her father as a prize and competes with her mother for sexual attraction.

Sigmund Freud even went further saying a girl, because of inferiority complex, wishes to have a penis. This kind of psychic conflict in a woman is called penis envy. Carl Jung interpreted the theory of penis envy and proposed Animus theory. Animus, according to Carl Jung is the existence of inner male in every woman, which develops from the experience a woman had with her father or any father-figure earlier in her life.

A girl resolves her complex by penis envy and a boy by castration anxiety. If a boy and a girl fail to resolve their complexes, they might develop neurosis, personality disorder, homosexuality, even pedophilia. Man and woman are fixated in Oedipal and Electra complexes during their psychosexual development. According to Freudian theory this is called mother-fixated and father-fixated. Later in their life, men and women choose their sexual partners who resemble their mother and father.

Rendition of Electra in Literature

Sophocles’ Electra

Production date of Sophocles’ Electra is unknown, however, it is one of the seven surviving tragedies by Sophocles. The central character in Sophocles’ Electra is the daughter Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Electra is filled with animal ferocity against her mother for murdering her father, and she waits for her brother Orestes to revenge her father’s death. The play ends with the murder of Clytemnestra. In the play Sophocles makes Electra with array of emotions: anguish, frustration and hatred.

Euripides’ Electra

Euripides’ Electra was produced in about 418 BC. Euripides portrays Electra as an anti-hero. Electra hates her mother Clytemnestra because she has killed her father Agamemnon. Electra has unconditional loyalty to her father and enmity against mother. Electra provokes her brother Orestes to kill Clytemnestra. Euripides believes there cannot be just violence, so after the murder of their mother, Electra and Orestes are consumed by remorse.
Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill

Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra

American dramatist Eugene O’Neill (1883–1953) was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936. His masterpiece Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) is a faithful adaptation of Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. Eugene O’Neill gives contemporary treatment to Greek tragedy.

The Myth of Electra (Elektra)

Greek mythologies mention three Electra. One is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Another is the daughter of Atlas and Pleione, and mother of Dardanus from Zeus. Electra is one of the Pleiades, seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Pleiades is a cluster of seven stars in Taurus constellation. And the third Electra is a sea nymph, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. She married Thaumus, and became mother of Iris (Rainbow) and Harpies (Wind). In Greek mythology, Agamemnon’s daughter Electra shadows other two Electra.

King Tyndareus of Sparta had two daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen, who were married to two brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon and Menelaus went to war with Troy when Helen absconded with Paris. Paris was the son of Priam, king of Troy.

Agamemnon was the king of Agros. He had three daughters and a son from Clytemnestra. Iphigeneia, Electra and Chrysothemis were Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s daughters. Their son was called Orestes. Before he sailed for Troy, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to Aeolus, the wind god, for favorable winds. WhenAgamemnon returned from Trojan war, he brought with him Trojan prophetess Cassandra as his concubine.

When Agamemnon was fighting in Troy, Clytemnestra fell in love with Aegisthus. Aegisthus was the son of Pelopia and Thyestes. As a child he was left to die in the mountain by his mother Pelopia when she found out that he was her son not from her husband Atreus but her own father Theyestes. The child survived to kill his supposed father Atreus.

When Agamemnon was back in Agros, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra brutally murdered him. In another version, it was Aegisthus who killed Agamemnon. (Some version also point Clytemnestra as her husband’s murderer.)

When Agamemnon was murdered, his daughter Electra (Elektra) was filled with hatred against her mother. She asked her brother Orestes to kill Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Electra is said to have married her brother’s friend Pylades, and nothing more is known about her after the matricide.

Homer briefly mentions about Electra in Iliad, however, ancient Greek dramatists like Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles have substantially written about Electra in their tragedies. Amongst the modern literary works based on the myth of Electra, Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill is very famous. Myth of Electra has also inspired psychologists, notable amongst all is Carl Jung, who coined Electra complex.Electra-complex is deeply rooted in mind, however can be channelized in a proper way.

Carl Jung Theory of Electra Complex

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) is the father of analytical psychology. He developed the theories of collective unconscious, introvert and extrovert personality, and the archetypes. Electra complex, as proposed by Carl Jung, is neo-Freudian theory.

There are five stages psychosexual development: Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. According to Jung, Electra complex occurs in the third stage, the phallic stage, when a girl is between 3 and 6 years of age. This is the stage when children become aware about their bodies and learn the difference between male and female. They even try to investigate their curiosity by undressing and exploring each other genitals, and understanding the difference between a boy and a girl.

Carl Jung developed Electra complex from Sigmund Freud’s analysis of psychosexual developments in the child stage. The differences between a mother and a daughter occur because of penis envy. Since a girl does not have a penis, she cannot possess her mother, which makes her physically attracted towards her father. This is how heterosexual femininity develops. However, a girl also has a fear of losing her mother’s love, so she represses her competitive desire, and identifies herself with her mother. This is how a distinct sexual identity develops. Penis envy subsides when she knows it is only a woman who can produce a child.

Electra complex and Oedipus complex are resolved in two ways: one, by repression, two by cultivating solidarity with the same sex. In repression method, men and women blocking memories and emotional impulses from their conscious mind. When man/woman identify himself/herself with the same sex, he/she will understand father/mother is not his/her rival. Electra complex leads to high self-esteem or low self-esteem. Electra complex is not just a sexual attraction, it is more than that.

Electra Complex

A girl, in the beginning, identifies with herself with her mother. Later, during the psychosexual development, she discovers the importance of phallic symbol. She feels helpless because she does not have a penis. She now resent her mother and becomes close with her father. This is how Electra complex develops in a woman. However, Electra complex is not just a sexual attraction, it is more than that. All the expectations that a woman has with her man (husband) are because of Electra complex. What a woman likes and don’t like about men comes from her father’s character. As a child, she sees her father as the head of the family and the sole provider. And she expects same from her husband. Like her father who handled all the family business, she expects her husband to take charge of her life. If the man fails to meet her expectations, a chasm appears between them.

Jung proposed that existence of cruel step-mother or witch in folk tales is the basis of Electra complex. Girls, as young as three years, envy the heroes in these ancient tales and penis envy grows in them. Their hatred of mother (step-mother, witch) makes them close with their father. Later in their life, they try to find father figure in their husbands.

Carl Jung believed that girls unconsciously try to gain their fathers’ attention and take mother’s place. These emotions carry into adulthood. Women become attracted towards young men, who resemble their father in their young age.

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