Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha & Psychoanalytic Perspectives of Childhood Development

Sigmund Freud (1917/1966) developed a theory about autoerotic zones that affect the development of children until early adult life. While Freud’s stage theory ends with the emergence of young adult life, these stages coalesce into an adult personality that is ready to fulfill the primary life task of reproduction. Freud based the theory of autoeroticism on the notion that a child seeks to satisfy its needs by obtaining the approval and cooperation of outside objects. After the child has the cooperation of outside objects, usually the parents, they internalize the object(s) approval to learn how to satisfy personal needs. The first example of an object relationship occurs during infancy.  

In an infant the first impulses of sexuality make their appearance attached to other vital functions. His main interest is, as you know, directed to the intake of nourishment; when children fall asleep after being sated at the breast, they show an expression of blissful satisfaction which will be repeated later in life after the experience of a sexual orgasm. (Freud, 1917/1966, p. 388) 

Freud linked adult neuroses to the defense mechanisms caused by unresolved libidinal conflict. The first autoerotic zone explored by a developing infant is the mouth. The autoerotic development of this zone occurs from the instincts of rooting and suckling that occur at birth. The breast gives nourishment to the developing child, sustains its physiological and psychological life, and is the initial attachment object. However, the breast also has a negative component associated with destructive feelings of insatiable hunger. During later life, these insatiable hungers can lead to overindulgence and various forms of addiction. 

The first object of the oral component of the sexual instinct is the mother’s breast which satisfies the infants need for nourishment. The erotic component, which is satisfied simultaneously during the [nutritive] sucking, makes itself independent with the act of sensual sucking [lutschen]; it gives up the outside object and replaces it by an area of the subject’s own body (Freud, 1917/1966, p. 408). 

Internalizing the object from which one receives gratification underlies the ability to relate with others; relating to others ties Freud’s notion of the nurturing breast to Jung’s concept of the nurturing mother.  

Melanie Klein’s (1920, 1948, 1959, 1964, 1975 a – j, 1994) theoretical approach to psychoanalysis offers a complementary theoretical perspective to traditional Freudian psychoanalysis with one clear demarcation. Melanie Klein believed that positive and negative psychological defenses occur at a much earlier age than Freud first imagined. In Freud’s psychosexual theory, “the aim of the impulse was discharge; the object was the accidentally discovered means toward that end” (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 91). From this perspective, infants accidentally discover the breast to satisfy the impulse to eat. Although Melanie Klein never abandoned the Freudian syntax of sexual impulse, her theory differs from Freud’s because she viewed the object of desire existing within the impulse itself. An infant does not differentiate between the ego and other objects; the breast is part of the infant, and exists solely to satisfy its hunger.  

The object of desire was implicit in the experience of desire itself. The libidinal impulse to love and protect contained, embedded within it, an image of a lovable and loving object; the aggressive impulse to hate and destroy contained, embedded within it, an image of a hateful and hating object, Klein believed. (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 91) 

Klein’s theory of the good breast and bad breast holds many similarities to Freud’s theory of oral development. For Klein, psychological growth occurs through introjection and projection of positive and negative traits. An infant grows by introjecting the positive qualities of the primary object (the all nurturing, good mother’s breast) and projecting rage against the negative qualities of the primary object (the hated and destructive bad mother’s breast) (Mitchell & Black, 1995). Introjection and projection occurs because of primary narcissism.  

The divided world Klein depicted was seen as being formed long before any capacity for reality-testing of any sort. The infant believes that his fantasies, both loving and hateful, have powerful actual impact on the objects of those fantasies: his love for the “good breast” a protective and restorative effect, his hatred for the “bad breast” an annihilating destructiveness. It is precisely because of the omnipotence with which the child experiences his impulses that this world is an extremely dangerous place and the stakes are always very high (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 92).   

Primary narcissism is common to Jung’s notion of the divine child; while the polarities of the all-nurturing or devouring mother are similar to the good breast and bad breast, both theories are based on the idea that a child survives through their initial attachment. The object of one’s attachment can have positive and negative qualities. This is similar to the idea that Jung had about the bipolar nature of the archetype. It is the primary responsibility of the infant’s psyche during the oral stage of development to work through primary narcissism to view an object as being capable of both positive and negative qualities that are separate from the ego of the child. While an infant does not have the cognitive capacity to understand this intellectually, the ability to adapt to the environment is dependent on ones ability to differentiate between an object and the emerging ego. The ability to differentiate between the positive and negative qualities of an object underlies superego development. 

Freud believed that “the super-ego is the heir of the Oedipus complex” (Freud, 1924/1989, p. 37). However, Melanie Klein (1920, 1948, 1959, 1964, 1975 a – j, 1994) realized that the oedipal complex and superego development occurs at a much earlier stage. Klein believed that the oedipal complex and superego development finds its roots in the initial object relationship formed between an infant and the mother’s breast. In her psychological discourse, Klein explored the role that introjection and projection has on the emergence of the complex phantasy life of a child. Concerning the split world of early infantile psychological defenses, Hanna Segal (1981) stated: 

She [Klein] observed that children develop a transference, both positive and negative, very rapidly and often intensely… The analysis of children fully confirmed Freud’s deductions about childhood derived from work with adults, but, as might be expected, certain new facts emerged… the roots of the oedipal situation seemed to lie as far back as the second oral phase. The superego of the small child was equally well in evidence, possessed of savage and primitive oral, anal, and urethral characteristics. She [Klein] was impressed by the prevalence and power of the mechanisms of projection and introjection: the introjections leading to the building of a complex inner world and the projections coloring most of the child perceptions of reality. Splitting was very active as an early mechanism preceding repression, and the child’s development appeared to be a constant struggle toward integration and the overcoming of powerful splitting mechanisms… “Unconscious phantasy” springs directly from the instincts and their polarity and from the conflicts between them… In the infant’s omnipotent world, instincts express themselves as the phantasy of their fulfillment. “To the desire to love and eat corresponds the phantasy of an ideal love-, life-, and food-giving breast; to the desire to destroy, equally vivid phantasies of an object shattered, destroyed and attacking” (Segal, 1964). Phantasy in the Kleinian view is primitive, dynamic, and constantly active, coloring external reality and constantly interplaying with it. (pp. 4-5) 

Object relations theory proposes that psychological growth occurs by working through the paradox of consciousness. From an object relations perspective, the psyche matures and develops the ability to differentiate between the self, others, and the ability both have to house positive and negative qualities. The ability to house positive feelings towards an object promotes future nurturing relationships. The initial object that promotes love through nourishment also houses the ability to become a product of the infant’s rage when their stomach is empty. This links the idea of the bad breast to the devouring nature of the mother archetype. 

Within the context of Hesse’s story, no evidence is given that Siddhartha secured attachment with either parent. The novel shows that Siddhartha grew up in a loving environment; however, the way the narrator explained the relationship between the protagonist and his parents is one of complete autonomy, even though it suggests that Siddhartha had respect for his father. The only evidence given that the protagonist had a relationship with his mother is suggested when Siddhartha’s father told him to kiss his mother goodbye. Initial attachment with the mother figure is imperative for a male child to secure object attachment with other individuals in adult life. The lack of secure attachment the protagonist had with his mother in Hesse’s love is evident in Siddhartha’s aloof predisposition later in the novel. This becomes a common theme in the chapter that cover Siddhartha’s adult life, as one of the primary problems the protagonist presents with is a general inability to attach securely with other individuals. In essence, Siddhartha developed a schizoid predisposition, unable to differentiate between the positive and negative aspects of himself and others. His general lack of initial attachment during oral development caused would ultimately cause the protagonist to develop a predisposition of mistrust. 

Freud’s second developmental stage focused on anal zone, occurs during the second and third years of life (Newman & Newman, 2003), and the key task of this developmental stage is to learn toilet training. Freud believed that this developmental phase leads to the development of future control issues. In Character and Anal Eroticism, Freud (1908/1989) wrote about the pathological symptoms that arise if an arrest occurs during anal development. Freud (1908/1989) believed that anal characters are “especially orderly, parsimonious and obstinate” (p. 294). Freud also believed that anal characters have excessive need for cleanliness and control, are conscientious in carrying out even small duties, are often defiant towards others, and in its exaggerated form, this defiance turns into rage and revengeful acts. While the term anal continues to be synonymous to a personality that is reliant on needs for control, an arrest during this stage also indicates future pathological needs to live in filth and squander. Anal development fosters the ability to learn self-control and prohibition, which ties the stage to the father archetype. 

Siddhartha’s inability to navigate the anal stage is apparent in many parts of the story. The narrator explained the extreme acts of self-control the protagonist engaged to leave his father’s home, to become an ascetic who lived without material means in squalor, and the obstinate nature he showed towards individuals that stood in his way. In the novel, Siddhartha shows some evidence of developmental arrest during the anal stage of development by adhering to obstinate and narcissistic means of dealing with others feelings. 

The third stage of psychosexual development is the phallic stage. This stage begins around the third year and lasts until roughly the fifth year of life (Newman & Newman, 2003). Freud (1924/1989) believed the phallic stage of development existed for both boys and girls, and represented a sequence in which young boys and girls begin to focus libidinal energy on the genitalia. However, the way in which a child directs the libidinal energy during this stage differs for males and females. Freud believed that boys developed castration anxiety during this stage. While Freud’s idea of a phallic stage for girls has been greatly modified and debated (Bergmann, 2005; Brooks, 2006; Kristeva, 2004; Roth, 2004), because Siddhartha is male, in the research conducted I focused only on the masculine aspects of psychosexual development.  

Freud believed the phallic stage was pivotal to the development of adult relationships. During this stage, a child focuses libidinal energy towards outside objects, usually the opposite sex parent. This begins the oedipal conflict, from which a child learns the role of their gender by emulating the behaviors of the same sex parent within the relational dynamic that exists with the opposite sex parent.   

The physiological response a child undergoes during the phallic stage of development consists of manual stimulation of sexual organs to initiate the primary feelings of pleasure that will later be associated with sexual activity.  

Among the erotogenic zones that form part of the child’s body there is one which certainly does not play the opening part, and which cannot be the vehicle of the oldest sexual impulses, but which is destined to great things in the future. In both male and female children it is brought into connection with micturition (in the glans and clitoris) and in the former is enclosed in a pouch of mucous membrane, so that there can be no lack of stimulation of it by secretions which may give an early start to sexual excitation. The sexual activities of this erotogenic zone, which forms the part of the sexual organs proper, are the beginning of what is later to become normal sexual life. The anatomical situation of this region, the secretions in which it is bathed, the washing and rubbing to which it is subjected in the course of a child’s toilet, as well as accidental stimulation… make it inevitable that the pleasurable feeling which this part of the body is capable of producing should be noticed by children even during their earliest infancy, and should give rise to a need for its repetition. If we consider this whole range of contrivances and bear in mind that both making a mess and measures for keeping clear are bound to operate in much the same way, it is scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion that the foundations for the future primacy over sexual activity exercised by this erotogenic zone are established by early infantile masturbation, which scarcely a single individual escapes (Freud, 1905/1989, p. 266). 

While masturbation is a means by which children become sexually aware of “the great things in the future” (Freud, 1905/1989, p. 267), the association of guilt caused by this process also drives pathological forms of development.  

Freud (1905/1989) believed that the childhood masturbatory experience constituted the “first great deviation from the course of development laid down for civilized man” (p. 267). This deviation causes the superego to emerge. Parents are a crucial factor to the development of the superego; they help develop the superego by teaching what is right and wrong within social expectations. The genital stage occurs in conjunction with the oedipal complex, introduces the archetypal polarities of moral commandment and prohibition common to the father archetype into the dyadic relationship formed between a mother and child, and causes the first signs of guilt from which consciousness emerges. The guilt associated with consciousness presents the psyche with a paradox. 

The significance of the erotogenic zones as apparatuses subordinate to the genitals and as substitutes for them is, among all the psychoneuroses, most clearly to be seen in hysteria; but this does not imply that that significance is any the less in the other forms of illness… Most psychoneurotics only fall ill after the age of puberty as a result of the demands made upon them by normal sexual life. (It is most particularly against the latter that repression is directed.) Or else illnesses of this kind sets in later, when the libido fails to obtain satisfaction along normal lines. (Freud, 1905/1989, p. 257). 

For Freud, the flow of life energy consisted of two distinct, yet cooperative drive states. Libidinal energy drives the development of the individual to become a sexual being that is capable of assuming the responsibility needed to continue the species. The secondary drive that exists in conjunction with the libidinal drive is the thanatos (death) drive. This drive allows a person to channel aggression both intra and inter-personally. The interaction between the life and death drives introduces the psyche to one of its foundational paradoxes, the difference between existence and non-existence. By learning about the paradoxical nature of primary drive states, the child develops a superego by which to categorize information as being positive or negative. Furthermore, through categorization a child learns of their gender. By learning gender, a child learns the social expectations that underlie adult relationships. Social expectations also assure that morality continues within the social milieu common to a culture. This helps curb what Freud (1924/1989) viewed as “the constitutional inclination of human beings to be aggressive towards one another” (p. 770). 

Siddhartha’s phallic development, as well as his navigation through the phallic stage of development is not evident in the story. This is not surprising, because psychosexual theory is hierarchical. One developmental stage cannot be successfully navigated if a preceding developmental stage failed. Siddhartha failed to develop primary attachment with his mother figure, rendering the ability to develop oedipal feelings mute. While Siddhartha respected his father, this respect was passive; the protagonist never rectified the triadic relationship that existed between his parents and himself. Siddhartha bypassed his mother altogether, stood up to his father the way that men do, and never had to incur the pain associated with saying goodbye to one’s primary attachment figure. His inability to begin and complete the dynamics common to the oedipal conflict plagued his later ability to successfully attain and navigate within intimate relationships. 

Sigmund Freud viewed early childhood development from the perspective of emerging sexual impulses. For Freud, drive states equated to the increasing need individuals have to realize their one and true quest in life, to relieve sexual tension. Freud was highly indebted to Darwin’s (1859/1979) theories about evolution. Freud also introduced the idea that drive states compete with one another to promote human development.

While many of Freud’s theories regarding early childhood sexual development have been heatedly debated and oftentimes discounted, the field of psychology continues to be indebted to his staunch empirical exploration of childhood development. Without his early explorations into topics once thought, and in many circumstances, still considered to be taboo, developmental psychology would not have a foundation to exist. This is most evident by the division of schools found in developmental psychology, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and the numerous fields of psychology that arose because of Freud’s empirical explorations into subject matters considered highly taboo in Victorian era Viennese society.

While Freud’s work lays the foundation from which developmental psychology as a field emerged, his work has been greatly expanded upon by other theoreticians. Carl Jung, who viewed the psyche as a competition ground for a-priori constructs that drive the individuation process continued Freud’s idea about the primary importance paradoxes have on psychological development. As theoreticians, Freud focused on the personal nature of the problems his patients presented, while Jung focused on the historical development of ideas that govern present behaviors. Both theorists saw the importance nurturing has for the growth of the human psyche, even though they may have viewed it from differing perspectives. 

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One cannot remove the tenets of psychoanalysis from the theoretical underpinnings of Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. Any research undertaking that will propose a developmental perspective of archetypes that occur throughout the lifecycle, must discuss the importance of Freud’s and later psychoanalysts’ exploration into the depths of human development. In the next article, we will explore Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory and the practical implications, commonalities, and divisions it has with an emergent archetypal development theory.

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