Thumb sucking was interpreted using Freudian Theory of Infantile Sexuality in psychosexual development. The word sexuality caused confusion and controversy. It should be replaced with sensuality, related to the senses. Sexuality implies desire for sex or body parts, or lust, but a child at the oral stage (birth to one year old) had no notion of sex, or the language to construct concepts of sexual pleasure. At birth, the child was more body than mind, and the personality took time to interact and develop. At this first stage, the focus was activity around the mouth, such as feeding, sucking, and the interaction with others in the external world. The early thumb sucking was natural neural oro-rooting reflexes. Biologically this stage last a few years, and most children grew out of the habit. Freud reckoned it was the fixated pleasure of Id that would not allow the Reality (Principle) of ego to move on to the next stage. It could be due to the superego (conscience) of the “other” that demanded postponement of gratification. It was the repressed other that projected thumb sucking to the default of mother’s breasts in attempts to arouse the desire- experience, a symbolic return and fantasy for the adult rather than child.
The heart of psychoanalysis was the concept of psychic conflict, and hence persistence of thumb sucking habit resulted in ambivalence between child and mother (or another adult).However, it was an adult anxiety projected onto the child. We could observe such psychodrama in play in the cited story.
The story began with a lonely and unhappy boy that persisted in thumb sucking, probably beyond his age. The sexism was obvious between a male child and mother. The boy was addicted to his habit, and we assumed he found some innocent pleasure in it. The mother’s objection caused anxiety and shame in him. Freudian overlooked all these psycho-emotional conflict and instead picked on thumb sucking, ignoring the other human dimension, and failed to acknowledge people should have a choice, or guided properly by Adlerian or others. What the Freudians have analysed was interesting to read, and the explanation could be true, but it did not imply the interpretation was truth itself. The goal was to provide insight into the deep recesses of our unconsciousness to enable normal child development, but the plot of the story did not enlighten the reader in that respect.
As the dynamic picture story moved on, the mother heeded her child not to thumb suck in her absence, for fear that the tailor might harm him. The boy persisted in his habits, for it was already an addiction. As soon as she left the house, the tailor stormed into the house, chased the poor boy and cut off both his thumbs. The tailor’s was a power symbol, and he was both omniscient and omnipresent. He functioned liked a “panopticon”, putting the boy on constant surveillance, not without the mother’s passive consent. The climax of the story was the violent act of castration, metaphorically in Freudian interpretation of Oedipal complex, but the story showed the literal and bloody physical trauma, which would frightened any child, and adults at any historical period. Destructive power was never a good means to an end. Honestly, instilling fear to eradicate thumb sucking was never the goal of psychotherapy or analysis. Thereby, it was an uneasy task to depict the fantasy in the unconsciousness in children’s picture book. Freud had stated that the unconscious could only be understood in dreams. Jiddhu Krishnamurthi commented how something that could not understand itself could interpret what the unconscious mind generated. It was “framing” behaviour problem, identified “pathological differences” from the norm, with little awareness of power imbalance. The story sent a mixed message of the difficulties of being good to please adults. Despite this, Freudian psycho-sexual development of the infant did provide some insight into child development, and the Oedipal complex showed there was sensuous emotional relationship between the child and mother or significant others. Freudian psychoanalysis provided an understanding that there were many levels of mind, and helped to understand how past experiences affected human behavior and motivation in unique way.
(691 words)

1.Cherry,Kendra.Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development.About.com.Psychology. http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/ss/psychosexualdev.htm. Cited 15-11-2013
2.Children and Youth in History. http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/328Cited 15-11-2013
3.Lacan.What does Lacan Say About Desire.lacanonline.com2009. http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/328 cited 15-11-2013
4.e-Notes.Postcolonialismhttp://www.enotes.com/topics/postcolonialism/critical-essays/postcolonialism.Cited 15-11-2013
5.Maclure,Maggie et al.Becoming a Problem:How Children Develop a Reputation as “Naughty” in the Earliest Years at School. ESRC.2008


  1. aussieian2011

    Instilling fear in any child to curb their natural instincts is not conducive to their eventual mental growth, too many adults, like Freud can preach on what they believe, the only person that really understands and will draw their own conclusions is the child, then and only when their conceptual mind has grown naturally.
    Interesting blog.


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