The Third Position or the Oedipal Situation

"Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together. But when I look ahead up the White Road there is always another one walking beside you"

T.S. Elliott's poem, The Waste Land.

Such is the dawning recognition of the presence of the "third" and with that the dawning of the Oedipal situation. It challenges the infant's delusion of only "you and I together" and portends that to move along the path of development "to get ahead up the White Road" involves the recognition and acceptance that there has always been another, there has always been father walking beside mother.

Our response to the experience of this particular emotional constellation, can either give rise to the most severe disturbance and impediment to emotional development or conversely can be the source of the greatest creativity and enrichment of the personality.

The Oedipus Complex begins with the child's recognition, not only of another involved with mother, but also of the nature of the parental relationship. It is an adult, procreative relationship different to that of mother and child. It confronts the child with issues concerning separateness, sexuality and also generational difference. The impact of this reality arouses fantasies both conscious and unconscious. In Sophocles' Myth the infant Oedipus is abandoned on the hillside by Jocasta, his mother. This constitutes the child's tragic fantasy that if he is not the one totally, absolutely and exclusively involved with mother, as he once believed, then someone else is. At worst the terrifying fantasy is that mother now has no mind for anyone but father; it is as if the child is completely abandoned from her mind, left alone to die on the hillside, while she and father perpetually gratify each other in everyway imaginable.

Not surprisingly, these fantasies give rise to very intense feeling. It is a tremendous blow to the infant's omnipotent and narcissistic belief that mother, the source of all goodness, is no longer his own possession, forever inside him. He is confronted with the intense pain and disillusionment associated with the loss of this fantasised relationship and along with this, the recognition of his own smallness, vulnerability and need.

The development of the child's rivalry with one parent for the other is articulated in the Oedipus myth with the meeting of father and son at the crossroads, where Laius bars the way to his son Oedipus. It symbolises the child's fantasy that it is father who frustrates and prohibits, bars his wish to re-enter mother and dwell inside her, and inside this relationship with her forever. The young child's wish is to stay in a combined "locked together forever" relationship with mother, and deprived of this, it is now imagined that mother and father are combined together in this intimate structure – as one combined parental figure. Added to the child's experience to being small, vulnerable and needy are the disturbing feelings of aggression, jealousy and envy provoked by the realisation that the parental relationship is sexual and procreative, and something from which the infant will always (hopefully) remain excluded. Violent fantasies towards the parents are met with either the fear of destroying all love for them or with the fear of even more violent punishment and retribution. Either way the child unconsciously risks losing a loving link with the parents and is then left to face the fear of abandonment.

These anxieties and also the defences against them can be experienced at all levels of development. Freud dated the Oedipal fantasies as beginning at about the fourth or fifth year of life with the establishment of genitality, but Melanie Klein located such anxieties much earlier. Klein underlined the fact that oral, anal and genital phases of development overlap, intermingle and can be experienced simultaneously. That is, Oedipal anxieties and defences can be set on the oral, anal or genital stage of development and are expressed in these terms.

One of Melanie Klein's famous cases, the case of little Erna, aged six years, is often cited to illustrate Oedipal concerns at an oral level. Klein describes Erna's activity in a play therapy situation.

"She began by taking a small carriage which stood on the little table amongst the other toys and letting it run towards me. She declared that she had come to fetch me. But she put a toy woman in the carriage instead and added a toy man. The two loved and kissed one another and drove up and down all the time".

In this play, the child revealed her fantasy that the parental relationship is an exclusive and very loving relationship, which she perceived as being primarily at an oral level. That is, a loving, kissing relationship.

"Next a toy man in another carriage collided with them and killed them and then roasted and ate them up."

Here the third person has crashed onto the stage of this exclusive, loving couple and feeling excluded like Erna herself, expresses Erna's wish to attack them, to destroy and devour them, to have it all back inside herself by means of an oral attack and incorporation.

Oedipal concerns and fantasies occur at all levels of development and can be expressed in oral, anal as well as genital terms.

We are all confronted with anxiety and the defences we employ to protect ourselves from the painful realities involved in the course of growing up. The awareness of the link between the parental couple brings also into awareness the child's separateness and his difference. He is linked to both parents separately and differently, as well as to them as a couple. These are links of loving and being loved, hating and being hated, loving one parent and hating the other – all contained and interchanging within the context of the triangular relationship. The closure of the Oedipal triangle is contingent on the infant being able to tolerate a sufficient degree of separation from mother to allow space for the presence of another – father. This closure is represented by the recognition of the link joining the parents, which provides a limiting membrane or a boundary for the child's internal world. It creates a triangular space bounded by the three parties of the Oedipal situation and of all their potential relationships. This mental space allows one to participate in a relationship while at the same time allowing for the possibility of observing oneself, of observing others and of being observed, while at the same time being held safely together internally. We can see ourselves in interaction with others and entertain another point of view whilst retaining our own. We can think about others and about ourselves without falling apart and becoming confused as to who is who. This constitutes what Robert Caper calls a "Mind of One's Own".

This experience of separateness and difference stimulates curiosity, the urge for exploration and the acquisition of knowledge. Indeed, Freud believed that there is a basic instinctual desire for knowledge that is inherent in the Oedipus Complex and related specifically to curiosity and to the wish to know about the parental relationship. Melanie Klein added that this curiosity and wish to know is also provoked and stimulated by the infant's anxiety about the effects of his aggressive fantasies on the external objects. The urge to know is stimulated by the need for reassurance that this aggressive part of himself has not in reality damaged the loving link with his parents and between them and that they remain alive and available for introjection. It can be seen that this inquiry into external reality can be in order to support a precarious internal world.

The developmental movement from the second to the third position is dependent, as I have said, on the degree to which the infant can tolerate separation from mother. This is in large part determined by the degree to which the infant has been able to internalise a good object. This means the degree to which the infant has been able to take in and hold onto good loving feelings inside himself and able to extend these feelings to others in the external world. As Melanie Klein stated, "the criterion for all later capacity for adaptation to reality is the degree to which they are able to tolerate the deprivations that result from the Oedipal situation." (1926). By this, she means the degree to which the infant can allow for and tolerate the recognition of the nature of the world and relationships outside himself, as well as the nature of his own internal world and relationships. The emergence of the Oedipal situation marks the beginning of the sense of the difference between external and internal reality and of the relationship between them. The development of the sense of all this is identified by the period known as the Depressive Position. During this period, the infant begins to struggle to come to terms with the fact that the ideal gratifying mother whom he loves, and the one whom frustrates and deprives whom he hates, is in fact, one and the same person, the person whom he both loves and hates. He begins to feel guilt over his fantasised attacks to tax on the loved object and afraid of the damage he may have done. There is an intense wish to repair and to reinstate the good feelings towards the other and within the self. The realisation of all this, involves being able to mourn the loss of the ideal fantasy world, and to bear in mind all the intense and ambivalent feelings that result from this.

The Oedipal situation and the depressive position go hand-in-hand. The successful working through of one involves the working through of the other enabling us to both separate and integrate, to come to terms with the real world and to learn from our experience of it.

As stated earlier, the capacity to deal with the Oedipal situation and to work through the Depressive Position is dependant on the degree to which the infant has been able to internalise a good loving object. The success or failure of this may be due to a failure on the part of the mother to adequately provide for the infant's emotional needs or due to the infant having particular difficulty in being able to tolerate the frustrations of reality, or as is most often the case, a combination of both. Whatever the case, the infant without a sufficiently good internalised maternal object, is overwhelmed by anxiety and unable to tolerate the idea of a union between the parents, from which he is excluded. He is not able to bear losing the ideal relationship with mother and to go through the necessary process of mourning. Most often the fantasy of losing this ideal is felt as being similar to losing life itself, and the infant will retreat more and more into fantasy in order to avoid what is imagined as being an intolerable reality.

Ron Britton has offered the concept of what he refers to as an Oedipal Illusion. This is a defensive structure formed in order to protect the infant from fears of disintegration and to maintain the illusion of an exclusive dyadic relationship with each parent, while hating the other. What is fundamental and common to each illusion is that the link joining the parents is obliterated in the mind of the infant. The function of the illusion either conscious or unconscious is to keep the parents separate, the infant's love and hate separate, and not to allow any convergence between fantasy and reality. In normal development such illusions may be frequent, but are transitory and gradually modified by a process of disillusionment and increasing tolerance of reality. Often they are in the nature of wish fulfilling fantasies and quite conscious such as the little boy growing up to marry mummy or the little girl one day having daddy's babies. In the normal enough situation external reality provides an opportunity for the benign modification of such fantasies and reduction of anxiety.

However, these delusions can take a more primitive form and become unconscious delusional systems which actively operate against psychic development. Such delusions block the process of psychic integration. They are intended to not only prevent the parents from coming together, but also to prevent the mind itself from coming together in the process of integration. The mind functions as if in two worlds; one ideal and gratifying, the other a state of persecution. When there is only a precarious and limited grip on a good maternal object, the threat of acknowledging the relationship with father and the rage and hostility this would provoke is feared as having disastrous consequence. Any disruption to the idea of the ideal link with mother is felt as being a violent attack by father and the terror is that any conjunction between mother and father will destroy any surviving source of goodness in the infant and its life itself. In extreme situations this results in a psychotic world, in which the mind itself is mutilated, the perceptual apparatus splinted and the development of the capacity for thinking and learning rendered impossible.

In our clinical work we frequently meet up with either conscious or unconscious Oedipal illusions which interfere with therapeutic development. Often these are manifest in the form of fantasies of being the favourite, special, best loved, most interesting patient to the exclusion of all others, or even frankly Oedipal desires of establishing a personal, intimate even sexual relationship with the analyst / therapist in total denial of all boundaries and of the reality of those others in the analyst's life. In tragic situations, the analyst or therapist's own Oedipal illusions can be evoked and lead to a breaking down of boundaries and to the acting out of an abusive relationship with the patient.

However, generally the operation of the Oedipal illusion is more subtle and can effect the work in pervasive and undermining ways. Typically, these are situations where the patient has enormous difficulty tolerating anything but a sense of the therapist being absolutely gratifying and of there being anything other than a constant flow of connection and good feeling. Any independent thought on the part of the therapist or any sense of a separate and objective position is felt as being extremely hostile and rejecting of the patient's needs. Robert Caper in his book "A mind of One's Own" asserts that in this situation that the patient unconsciously experiences the therapist's relationship with his Psychoanalytic Theory as an intercourse going on in his own mind. The analyst is felt to be turning away from the patient, rejecting of him and turning to something else, someone else in his own mind. This is experienced as and perceived as if being a repetition of the fantasy of the parents engaged in their own exclusive special relationship that demeans, excludes and rejects the infant. The therapist's interpretations are experienced as attacks on the Oedipal illusion and give rise to severe distress and disturbance. Such patients need a great deal of time, help and understanding and for the analyst to be working as much within their own minds as with the mind of the patient.

Perhaps we can now put to one side the theoretical and clinical considerations related to "the Third position" and allow another sort of space to find the emotional "nuts and bolts" of it all within ourselves.

As part of growing up, we are all confronted with Oedipal anxieties and the defences against them and our cultural life reflects this. Indeed, the fairytale literature of childhood deals with the basic problems or growing up and provides us with the opportunity to share in some Oedipal illusions. The fairytales that survive to be passed down from generation to generation possibly are those that deal most directly with the child's unconscious dilemmas. As children we identify with the struggles of the young innocent hero or heroine, we unconsciously grasp the meaning of the tale and we gain tremendous reassurance from the fact that they almost all end with the young child growing up to be "live happily ever after".

Lets think about an old favourite Oedipal illusion, Jack and the Beanstalk. This is a very old fairytale, first published as we know it in 1898 by Joseph Jacobs in Britain, but having many much earlier oral versions. Dr Bruno Bettleheim in his book "The Uses of Enchantment" provides a largely Freudian analysis of Jack and the Beanstalk, but I think we might be able to spice it up with a bit of Klein.

You will remember that,

There was once upon a time a poor widow who had an only son named Jack, and a cow named Milky-White. And all they had to live on was the milk the cow gave every morning, which they carried to the market and sold. But one morning Milky-White gave no milk, and they didn't know what to do.

        "What shall we do, what shall we do?"  said the widow, wringing her hands.

"Cheer up, mother, I'll go and get work somewhere," said Jack.

"We've tried that before, and nobody would take you," said his mother. "We must sell Milky-White and with the money start a shop, or something."

"All right, mother", says Jack. "It's market day today, and I'll soon sell Milky-White, and then we'll see what we can do."

The emotional scene is set when the child is confronted by the fact that Milky-White's supply is exhausted. That ideal state that nurtured mother and child is over (even if only for the moment) and Jack must now turn to his own resources and to the outside world in order to develop. It is not hard for the child to grasp the unconscious meaning of the tragedy when the milk stops flowing and it is not surprising that this may evoke unconscious memories of the ending of that idealised pure, Milky-White, totally gratifying and seemingly unending, blissful relationship with mother. At the beginning of the fairytale, as in the infant's mind only Jack and his mother exist. As in the T. S. Elliott poem, it is "only you and I together" there is "no father walking beside mother". There are no other babies, because there is no room in the infant's mind for the idea of a procreative parental relationship.

Jack, faced with the realities of the situation, and confronted by his own needs and those of his mother, determines to "get work somewhere". However, as his mother says "nobody would take you". Jack is a little boy, he is not a big grown up man yet, able to provide for a wife and family. He has to allow time to "get ahead up the White Road" to proceed along the path of development.

"So he took the cow's halter in his hand, and off he started. He hadn't gone far when he met a funny-looking old man, who said to him, "good morning, Jack".

"Good morning to you," said Jack, and wondered how he knew his name.

        "Well, Jack, and where are you off to?" said the man.

        "I am going to market to sell our cow there."

"Oh you look the proper sort of chap to sell cows," said the man. "I wonder if you know how many beans make five."

        "Two in each hand and one in your mouth," says Jack as sharp as a needle.

"Right you are," says the man, "and here they are, the very beans themselves," he went on, pulling out of his pocket a number of strange-looking beans. "As you are so sharp," say he, "I don't mind doing a swap with you – your cow for these beans

"Go along," say Jack. "wouldn't you like it?"

"Ah! You don't know what these beans are," said the man. "If you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky."

"Really?" said Jack. "You don't say so."

"Yes, that is so. And if it doesn't turn out to be true you can have your cow back.":

"Right," says Jack, and hands him over Milky-White's halter and pockets the beans."

We can imagine Jack, disappointed that mother no longer magically supplies all his needs, turning to the idea of good father to provide a different sort of magic. This is the father, just happens to know his name who tells him what a good chap he is, how bright and clever he is and who offers the hope and promise that very soon he would grow into a great big man, as high as the sky. I think that Melanie Klein might say that this is a narcissistic, omnipotent delusion which protects the infant from feeling so little, so vulnerable and so powerless – in fact so unable to provide for himself.

Back goes Jack home, and as he hadn't gone very far it wasn't dusk by the time he got to his door.

        "Back already, Jack?" said his mother.  "I see you haven't got Milky-White, so you've sold her.  How much did you get for her?"

        "You'll never guess, mother," says Jack.

"No, you don't say so, Good boy! Five pounds? Ten? Fifteen? No, it can't be twenty."

"I told you, you couldn't guess. What do you say to these beans? They're magical. Plant them overnight and –"

"what! says Jack's mother. "Have you been such a fool, such a dolt, such an idiot, as to give away Milky-White, the best milker in the parish, and prime beef to boot, for a set of paltry beans? Take that! Take that! Take that! And as for your precious beans here they go out the window. And now off with you to bed. Not a sup shall you drink, and nor a bit shall you swallow this very night."

So Jack went upstairs to his little room in the attic, and sad and sorry he was, to be sure, as much for his mother's sake as for the loss of his supper.

In Jack's fantasy, perhaps his anger and disappointment in the Milky-White mother, has turned her into this cow of a woman who attacks, starves him and leaves him like Oedipus abandoned to his bedroom. His contempt for the little unknowing part of himself is possibly projected into mother, who unlike the man Jack has just met, turns into a persecutor who sadistically torments and belittles him. The loss of the loving link with his mother leaves Jack in a sad and sorry state.

At last he dropped off to sleep.

When he woke up, the room looked so funny. The sun was shining into part of it, and yet all the rest was quite dark and shady. So Jack jumped up and dressed himself and went to the window. And what do you think he saw? Why, the beans his mother had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a big beanstalk which went up and up and up till it reached the sky. So the man spoke the truth after all.

At last Jack was able to drop off to sleep – to escape from this disappointing reality and in his dreams recreate the hope provided for him by the idea of a good father who allows his son to shine. However, although the sun was shining into part of the room, all the rest was still quite dark and shady.

The beanstalk grew up quite close past Jack's window, so all he had to do was to open it and give a jump onto the beanstalk which ran up just like a big ladder. So Jack climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed till at last he reached the sky. And when he got there he found a long broad road going as straight as a dart. So he walked along, and he walked along, and he walked along till he came to a great big tall house, and on the doorstep there was a great big tall woman.

"Good morning, mum," says Jack, quite polite-like. "Could you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?" For he hadn't had anything to eat, you know, the night before, and was as hungry as a hunter.

Jack climbing up the beanstalk is a vivid and compelling image. What might the child make of it? It has obvious genital and phallic connotations and perhaps the hope of one day being a great big father hunter fed by his equally great big tall woman wife. Perhaps it also relates to more primitive fantasies as well. Is it the wish or dream of regressing to that fantasised ideal state inside mother, to climb back up the cord and into that heavenly womb. Is it the wish of the starving infant, hungry as a hunter to recreate this ideal maternal object who he can dwell inside or have inside himself forever?

"It's breakfast you want, is it?" says the great big tall woman. "It's breakfast you'll be if you don't move off from here. My man is an ogre and there's nothing he likes better than boys broiled on toast. You'd better be moving on or he'll be coming".

"Oh! please, mum, do give me something to eat, mum. I've had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, really and truly, mum," says Jack. "I may as well be broiled as die of hunger."

Well, the ogre's wife was not half so bad after all. So she took Jack into the kitchen, and gave him a hunk of bread and cheese and a jug of milk. But Jack hadn't half finished these when thump! thump! thump! the whole house began to tremble with the noise of someone coming.

"Goodness gracious me! It's my old man," said the ogre's wife. "What on earth shall I do? Come along quick and jump in here". And she bundled Jack into the oven just as the ogre came in.

He was a big one, to be sure. At his belt he had three calves strung up by the heels, and he unhooked them and threw them down on the table and said, "Here, wife, broil me a couple of these for breakfast. Ah! what's this I smell?


                    I smell the blood of an Englishman,

                    Be he alive or be he dead

                    I'll have his bones to grind my bread."

"Nonsense, dear," said his wife. "You're dreaming. Or perhaps you smell the scraps of that little boy you liked so much for yesterday's dinner. Here, you go and have a wash and tidy up, and by the time you come back your breakfast'll be ready for you."

So off the ogre went, and Jack was just going to jump out of the oven and run away when the woman told him not. "Wait till he's asleep," says she; "he always has a doze after breakfast".

The Oedipal plot thickens. The infant's wish to get back inside the mother is barred by the presence of the Oedipal father, just as Laius barred his son at the crossroads. This larger than life figure is imbued with monstrous feelings. Perhaps imbued with the little boy's feelings, that he fears could eat him alive: his fears that he could be eaten up by his demanding all consuming greed. Is it the demanding, jealous infant who smells a rat, the blood of the English man, the presence of the father who he wishes he could get his teeth into and grind to pieces? It is reminiscent of Klien's patient Little Erna, whose oral aggression and destructiveness projected into the man, killed, roasted and ate up the parental couple.

However, it seems to be the link with the good maternal object that saves the day and reassures the little boy with the monstrous feelings that he is only dreaming, nothing in reality is as terrifying as it seems, and that when he has tidied himself up and got himself together, he will find a good breakfast; a good mother waiting for him.

"Well, the ogre had his breakfast, and after that he goes to a big chest and takes out a couple of bags of gold, and down he sits and counts till at last his head began to nod and he began to snore till the whole house shook again."

Again reality is put to sleep and Jack re-enters his fantasy world.

"Then Jack crept out on tiptoe from his oven, and as he was passing the ogre, he took one of the bags of gold under his arm, and off he pelters till he came to the beanstalk, and then he threw down the bag of gold, which, of course, fell into his mother's garden, and then he climbed down and climbed down till at last he got home and told his mother and showed her the gold and said, "Well, mother, wasn't I right about the beans? They are really magical, you see."

So they lived on the bag of gold for some time, but at last they came to the end of it, and Jack made up his mind to try his luck once more at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning he rose up early, and got onto the beanstalk, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed till at last he came out onto the road again and up to the great tall house he had been to before. There, sure enough, was the great tall woman a-standing on the doorstep.

"Good morning, mum," says Jack, as bold as brass, "could you be so good as to give me something to eat?"

        "Go away, my boy", said the big tall woman, "or else my man will eat you up for breakfast.  But aren't you the youngster who came here once before?  Do you know, that very day my man missed one of his bags of gold."

        "That's strange, mum," said Jack, "I dare say I could tell you something about that, but I'm so hungry I can't speak till I've had something to eat."

Well, the big tall woman was so curious that she took him in and gave him something to eat. But he had scarcely begun munching it as slowly as he could when thump! thump! they heard the giant's footstep, and his wife hid Jack away in the oven.

In Kleinian terms, Jack not only projects his jealousy, greed and devouring destructiveness into his father making him monstrous, but he also by means of incorporation, robs him of his golden assets. He appropriates father's power and potency and in fantasy supplies and provides all this for mother himself. There is intense competition with and jealousy of this Oedipal father. After all, it is father who he imagines has robbed him of his rightful position, by taking his place in the heavenly bed with mother. However, when Jack projects his monstrous rage into father and at the same time robs him of all his goodness, he is then faced if caught, with the terror of violent punishment and retribution.

"Go away my boy – or else my man will eat you up for breakfast".

"Every day my man missed one of his bags of gold".

The other complicating factor for Jack is that when he robs his father of his assets in this magical delusional way, the fantasy doesn't last for long, and he is once again faced with his own inability to supply himself and mother in reality. So once again, at great risk Jack sets out on his mission to plunder the father. The fairytale continues.

"All happened as it did before. In came the ogre as he did before, said, "Fee-fi-fo-fum," and had his breakfast of three broiled oxen.

Then he said, "Wife, bring me the hen that lays the golden eggs. "So she brought it, and the ogre said, "Lay,"

and it laid an egg all of gold. And then the ogre began to nod his head, and to snore till the house shook.

Then Jack crept out of the oven on tiptoe and caught hold of the golden hen, and was off before you could say "Jack Robinson".

But this time the hen gave a cackle which woke the ogre, and just as Jack got out of the house he heard him calling, "Wife, wife, what have you done with my golden hen?"

        An the wife said, "Why , my dear?"

        But that was all Jack heard, for he rushed off to the beanstalk and climbed down like a house on fire.  And when he got home he showed his mother the wonderful hen, and said "Lay" to it; and it laid a golden egg every time he said "Lay."

Well, Jack was not content, and it wasn't long before he determined to have another try at his luck up there at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning he rose up early and got to the beanstalk, and he climbed and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed till he got to the top.

But this time he knew better than to go straight to the ogre's house. And when he got near it, he waited behind a bush till he saw ogre's wife come out with a pail to get some water, and then he crept into the house and got into the copper. He hadn't been there long when he heard thump! thump! thump! as before, and in came the ogre and his wife.

In stealing the hen, Jack now has the fantasy of an endless supply of gold, not bags that run out. He, like the ogre (or demanding and omnipotent little baby) just has to say the word and "mother hen" will produce all he wants. There seems to be movement from the oral stage to a more anal position. Even more than the bag of gold, the hen that lays golden eggs may represent anal desires of possession. At the phallic level, he also believes he like father, has the capacity to make mother hen reproduce.

The unfolding of the fairytale gradually brings more into view the idea of a parental couple. "Mother hen cackles" at the prospect of being stolen from father, mother now refers to "the ogre" as "my dear" and when Jack returns to the house in come the parents together as a couple, "in come the ogre and his wife".

"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman," cried out the ogre. "I smell him, wife, I smell him."

"Do you, my dearie?" says the ogre's wife. "Then, if it's that little rogue that stole your gold and the hen that laid the golden eggs he's sure to have got into the oven." And they both rushed to the oven.

But Jack wasn't there, luckily, and the ogre's wife said, "There you are again with your fee-fi-fo-fum. Why, of course, it's the boy you caught last night that I've just broiled for your breakfast. How forgetful I am, and how careless you are not to know the difference between live and dead after all these years."

So the ogre sat down to the breakfast and ate it, but every now and then he would mutter, "Well I could have sworn –" and he'd get up and search the larder and the cupboards and everything, only luckily, he didn't think of the copper.

After breakfast was over, the ogre called out, "Wife, wife, bring me my golden harp."

So she brought it and put it on the table before him. Then he said, "Sing!" and the golden harp sang most beautifully. And it went on singing till the ogre fell asleep, and commenced to snore like thunder.

Then Jack lifted up the copper lid very quietly and got down like a mouse and crept on hands and knees till he came to the table, when up he crawled, caught hold of the golden harp and dashed with it towards the door.

But the harp called out quite loud, "Master! Master! and the ogre woke up just in time to see Jack running off with his harp.

Jack makes one last desperate and terrifying attempt to steal father's most precious and beautiful possession. However, there is an even greater sense of the link that connects the parents. The harp that plays for father, that belongs to him, protests more vehemently than ever, crying out "Master! Master!", alerting father to the presence of the "the little rogue". The golden harp does not belong to Jack, he is not master of it, it belongs to father.

"Jack ran as fast as he could, and the ogre came rushing after, and would soon have caught him, only Jack had a start and dodged him a bit and knew where he was going. When he got to the beanstalk the ogre was not more than twenty yards away when suddenly he saw Jack disappear like, and when he came to the end of the road he saw Jack underneath climbing down for dear life. Well, the ogre didn't like trusting himself to such a ladder, and he stood and waited, so Jack got another start.

But just then the harp cried out, "Master! Master! and the ogre swung himself down onto the beanstalk, which shook with his weight. Down climbs Jack, and after him climbed the ogre.

By this time Jack had climbed down and climbed down and climbed down till he was very nearly home. So he called out, "Mother! Mother! bring me an ax, bring me an ax." And his mother came rushing out with the ax in her hand, but when she came to the beanstalk she stood stock still with fright, for there she saw the ogre with this legs just through the clouds.

But Jack jumped down and got hold of the ax and gave a chop at the beanstalk which cut it half in two. The ogre felt the beanstalk shake and quiver, so he stopped to see what was the matter. Then Jack gave another chop with the ax, and the beanstalk was cut in two and began to topple over. Then the ogre fell down and broke his crown, and the beanstalk came toppling after.

Jack grabs the axe and in cutting down the beanstalk rids himself just in time of this monstrously rivalrous and competitive relationship with his father. This puts a stop to the Oedipal illusion that he can steal and possess all of father's powers, but also frees him from the fear of revenge and retaliation and the need to constantly rely on mother providing him with a safe retreat. He gives up Oedipal illusions, and instead decides to live in the real world.

It is significant that mother does not chop down the beanstalk. She is not able to put a stop to Jack's rivalrous relationship and hatred of the parental couple, only Jack can do this. Only Jack can in time come to the realisation that fixation at the paranoid schizoid and pre-Depressive stages of development can only get him into trouble and that he must give up these fantasies in order to get on with life in the real world.

Running all the way through the story is the sense of the good maternal object who provides a safe regressive haven to which Jack can retreat when fears of destructiveness become overwhelming. It is a mother who protects the child, while at the same time remaining loyal to the father. It is love that gets Jack through. It is the love experienced with mother, but also the good loving father who offers Jack the seeds to sow for his own development. He provides for his son the opportunity to internalise a loving paternal relationship, a relationship with the father who wants to give to him not rob him. Together mother and father can provide for his needs. As Jack matures and internalises the experience of a good parental couple, he can have his own golden harp, and in identification with father can marry his own great princess.

"Then Jack showed his mother his golden harp, and what with showing that and selling the golden eggs, Jack and his mother became very rich, and he married a great princess, and they lived happy ever after."

The working through of the Oedipus complex and the Depressive Position however never comes to an end, with us all living happily ever after. We are all continually reworking and renegotiating this dynamic in every new developmental aspect of life and of learning. We continually revisit our past, we revisit the success or otherwise of becoming able to tolerate the third, and of holding in mind all that is encompassed in the idea of the Oedipal triangle. We revisit this in every new movement and in every new development along life's path.


Bettecheim, B (1976) The Uses of Enchantment. Thomas & Hudson

Britton R. (1998) Belief v Imagination. Routledge Press

Caper R. (1999) A mind of One's Own. Routledge Press

Klein M. (1975) The Psycho-Analysis of Children. The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis.