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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sigmund Freud and Karen Horney

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Sigmund Freud and Karen Horney


“You are yourselves the problem,” a quote by Sigmund Freud represented his idea on femininity. However his opinions on the issue were challenged by many. Karen Horney a student of his was one of these people that supported the opposite view about the same subject. Freud’s ideas maintained the notion that women are inferior to men, and that they were at a disadvantage because of their biological structure, suffering from “penis-envy”. This suggestion alleged women of being jealous of men because of their penis, causing them to blame their mother’s for not having one, overall creating a disruptive relationship between mothers and daughters. All of Freud’s ideas worked around his main point of view; women desired to be like men, that they were envious of them, and he refused to recognize external factors as a reason for this envy. Karen Horney confronted these views, by suggesting that this may be very well true, but not because we wished to be like them but only because of the privileged status of men in our culture. She would take external factors in to consideration accepting the environment and circumstances different for every situation. She even argued that the concept of “penis-envy” in fact contradicted biology. The sole purpose of the essay is to analyze the behavior and motivations of Nora Helmer, in a Doll’s House and Blanche Dubois in a Streetcar named desire according to Sigmund Freud’s paper and Karen Horney’s response.


Blanche Dubois is no longer a young girl in her twenties; she has suffered through the deaths of all her loved ones, and because of this anguish looks for comfort and protection in passionate encounters with strangers. Eventually this ruins her reputation causing her to lose her job and forcing her out of town. “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” reveals Blanches dependence on strangers rather than on herself and this is the reason why she has not done well in life. Other strangers, such as Mitch and Stanley do not feel any sympathy towards and refuse to take anything into account to explain what may have caused her to act in this manner. In truth, Blanche is devastated by the lost of her first love, which she was married to that turned out to be homosexual and committed suicide in the end. She is a woman in desperate search for love; however she looks in all the wrong places and ultimately turns to strangers who have been kind only in exchange for sex. Blanche is first accused of having an affair with one of her students; she then teases a young collector, and kisses him shamelessly.


According to Freud, Blanche’s attraction for young men would be considered as a way to gratify her need for a penis. Since she does not have one of her own, she turns to mere strangers, especially young boys to satisfy this need. Her ruthless behavior would suggest to Freud her wish for a penis as the ultimate driving force and explanation for her actions. Freud would fail to take into account external factors and experiences that might have led up to these types of behaviors from Blanche, such as the loss of all her loved ones and her first love and would rather blame it on her dependence on a penis to resolve her problems.


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According to Horney’s analysis, she would argue that Blanche is a woman in need of love and acceptance, and is determined to satisfy these desires, however is doing so in an inappropriate manner. Blanche is crying out to be loved, and since no one is responding to her need, she takes matters into her own hands and expresses these needs in an improper fashion. By having an affair with a young student, kissing the collector boy, and carrying out these types of relationships with strangers she feels as if she is being loved, but according to society’s norms this conduct is reprehensible. These relationships make Blanche feel wanted, fulfill her need to be loved and desired by others, a feeling that she so wishes for, but no one else can satisfy other than strangers in turn for sex. Horney would consider the fact that everyone needs to be loved, and rationalize Blanche’s situation by proposing that she is just in search for love, however her need may be reasonable but her actions of turning to strangers and young boys for love is not.


Through out the play Blanche goes about defending her self by living in a world of illusions in which she refuses to face reality. She attempts to live a life of lies however; she is forced to uncover the truth about her life, causing her breakdown by shattering her dream world.


Shortly after the arrival of Blanche to the Kowalski’s apartment, she aims to hide why she has been kicked out of town in the first place and hides the truth about carrying on a relationship with a young student. She then lives a life of illusions by convincing herself, and then Stella that a rich man by the name of Shep Huntleigh will come to her rescue.


According to Freud’s theory, he would argue that Blanche attempts to live a life of illusions and lies about her past, because she has no sense of justice since she suffers from “penis envy.” All of the lies and her illusions is what has led to her downfall because she refuses to live honestly and this is why no one has any respect for her. Her fantasy and illusions of being young, beautiful and carrying on relationships with young men is the cause of her objectionable reputation. Freud would insist that Blanche insists on living a life of lies and illusions because she knows that she is hopeless given that she is not a man and this is why she behaves in this manner to show her aspiration to be one.


Horney’s theory would suggest that Blanche is in fact not worthless because she feels the need to be like a man, but is just anxious about being appreciated and loved. The fact that she lives in illusions and lies are simply because she feels that by doing this she will be socially accepted and valued. She is overwhelmingly concerned about fitting in and being popular which is evident when she attempts to wear the finest clothing and the most expensive jewellery.


All in all, Horney would accept Blanche’s situation and identify her need but would not agree with her actions to satisfy this necessity of love. Where as Freud on the other hand would argue that Blanche suffers from “penis envy” and this is what makes her turn to all these different men as a way of resolving all her problems by living in a world of lies and illusions.


Nora Helmer on the other hand goes from immediate care from her father to that of her husband, and is inexperienced in the ways of how the world works as a result of this sheltering.


She is forced to choose between living up to the expectations of society and the law or then doing what she thinks is best for her. Nora loans money in attempt to save her husband’s life but realizes that this must be kept a secret in order to allow Torvald to keep his manly independence. In order for a loan to be granted to a women, a man’s signature was necessary and since Torvald had no idea as to what was going on Nora had no choice other than to forge her father’s signature in attempt to save her husband’s life. This forgery would be used against Nora if certain expectations were not met, and she could not understand why she would be criticized for saving her husband’s life. After the secret is revealed, Rather than sacrifice his own reputation for Noras, Torvald seeks to ensure that his reputation remains clean. His desire to hide rather than take responsibility for Noras forgery proves Torvald to be the opposite of the strong, noble man that he presents himself to Nora and to society. Nora on the other hand can be seen as very strong as she takes responsibility for the forgery knowing that she had very fair intentions to save her husband’s life. Nora’s motives and intentions were clear, however who is to judge if this makes a wrong doing right?


According to Freud’s theory, this act of forgery would be interpreted as an attempt to be “masculine” and to take on the active role of a man. He would suggest that Nora taking matters into her own hands by signing off as her father, shows her desperate need to be a man, and act like a man. He would suggest that women think more contextually, and men would think more categorically therefore it is wrong for Nora to sign off as her father, even if it meant it would save her husband’s life.


Karen Horney on the other hand would argue that Nora’s intentions and motives must be considered. She would advocate that Nora is not suffering from “penis envy” but from the advantaged status of men in our society. Forging her father’s signature still does not prove that she did it because she wanted to take on the role of a man, but did it because she had no other choice to save her husband. She was in a situation, where this was her only alternative, seeing how she could not work to earn the money and since this was to be kept a secret. Karen would argue that every situation is different and must be handled differently. Nora’s situation was difficult, and she had no choice but to do this and seeing as her intentions were right, this would make it reasonable for her to forge the signature.


Nora cannot find true freedom in traditional domestic responsibilities of taking care of the kids, keeping the house clean and pleasing her husband. As the play continues, Nora becomes more conscious that she must change her life to find true freedom. By the end of the play, she sees that freedom involves autonomy from societal restrictions and the ability to explore and pursue her own personality, goals, and beliefs.


According to Freud, he would propose that Nora leaving her husband in the end, is an effort to be independent and strong as a man would be. He would suggest that she is attempting to take on the role of the man, by leaving her husband and children behind. She wants to live a life in which she can work to please her self and figure out who she is. Freud would argue that women are hopeless because they are not men, so there is no point in Nora trying to figure out herself as an independent person. Women all along have taken on the passive role, and have worked to please their men and that’s what they should continue to do.


Karen Horney would argue that Nora has made nothing of her life because she has existed only to please men. Nora leaves Torvald in order to make something of her life and for the first time, to exist as a person independent of other people but not because she wants to act like a man. She would suggest that Nora realizes that she needs to face the world, and is leaving to grow as an adult and human being, and to be appreciated by society for who she is and not who everyone wants her to be. Nora leaving is something that she is doing for her personal development and not to prove that she is jealous of men and wants to be like them.


Overall, the two theorists have very different outlooks on the subject. Sigmund Freud believes that women suffer from “penis envy” and are jealous of men where as Karen Horney suggest that women very well maybe jealous of men, but not because of their penis but because of the privileged status that they possess in our society. Freud gives no account to external factors and circumstances, where as Horney suggests that every situation is different and must be determined differently. It is clear that Freud believes that women are inferior to men because they inhabit the victim role, and can not develop as wholly as men. Women in general envy men, because of their penis, wish that they too could have one and be more like them. Karen Horney being a student of Freud does embrace some of his ideas but not all. She agrees that women may have “penis envy” but not of the actual penis but of the advantages and power that men have. In conclusion after analyzing the two theorists, personally Karen Horney’s ideas make more sense to me, however you be the judge.








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