Menu Close

A Child’s Guide to Freud

Author John Cech
Air Date 5/6/2004

A Child’s Guide to Freud Transcript

“If you beat your Daddy at Chinese Checkers…call this Healthy Aggression. If he decides to get mad about this, call him Insecure. If he changes his mind and smiles, call him unstable. If you trip him on the staircase when Mommy isn’t looking, call this Hostility. If he trips you back, call him Infantile. If you paint a picture of a dragon and title it Daddy, this is called Sublimation. If you don’t paint a picture of a dragon and title it Daddy, this is called Repression. The picture itself is called a Symbol. This means Daddy is not really a dragon. If you insist he is, this is called a Delusion. If you still insist he is, this is called an Obsession. If you imagine that the little dragon slays the big dragon, this is called a Fantasy.”

This passage is from a tongue (or should I say, thumb) in-cheek picture book called A Child’s Guide to Freud by Louise Armstrong, with drawings by a well-known New Yorker cartoonist, Whitney Darrow, Jr. Darrow’s quick, energetic, a little disheveled pencil drawings show an all-American kid, with cowlick and overalls, hilariously working through his Oedipal phase. This supposed guide, which is long out of print, was never meant to be a children’s book when it appeared in 1963 — in the same year that saw the publication of Maurice Sendak’s tale of another little boy’s fantasies of aggression, Where the Wild Things Are. Armstrong’s and Darrow’s witty send-up of Freudian theory arrived at a time when psychoanalysis had become both extremely popular, as well as the target for endless jokes in certain parts of the country — like New York City.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing any of this up, just call me calendar-obsessed. It’s Sigmund Freud’s birthday today; he was born on May 6th, 1856, in a small town called Pribor, in what is now Moravia, a part of the Czech Republic. His mother called him her “golden Sigi.” He was her first-born child, and though there were other children (and a good bit of sibling rivalry), Sigi remained her favorite, basking in the glow of her affection. His privileged position was a fact that Freud would later use to explain why throughout his life he kept “feeling sure of success” even if reality (and its reception of his theories) seemed to be telling a different story. But Freud’s recognition and study of the powerful, complex, often unconscious connections between parents and children has been one of his lasting contributions to our thinking about both our child and adult selves. For example, we now take, virtually for granted that some of the emotional problems that we may feel in our adult present are rooted in our child past. Just call us post-Freudian.

Posted in Literature