In his theory of Five Stages of Psychosexual Development, Sigmund Freud argues that for a healthy psyche and a good societal integration an individual should pass all the five stages: the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. A failure to complete a stage results in problems in an individual’s psychological state and social integration. [1 The Phallic Stage is represented through the Oedipus Complex when a child wants to eliminate the parent of the same sex and be with the parent of the opposite sex.] [2 Alfred Hitchcock undoubtedly knew of Freud’s theory and in Psycho (1960) he tells a story of a deeply troubled maniac, Norman Bates, who became deeply troubled psychologically because of the unresolved Phallic Stage and the severe case of the Oedipus Complex. Bates loved his mother so much that he wanted to be the only man in her life and killed her and her lover because of raging jealousy.] [3Through Freud’s theory, the dialogues and the doctors’ explanations show the way Norman Bates’ mental disease progressed from the Oedipus Complex at the Phallic Stage to the multiple personality disorder and culminated in the mother persona completely engulfing the host personality of Norman Bates.] Although the protagonist uses denial, repression and projection to resolve the Phallic Stage, the Oedipus Complex progresses from intense love to his mother to her murder and a personality disorder as a coping mechanism with the help of which Norman Bates can pretend that his mother is alive.
In the episode with Marion Crane talking to Norman Bates in his parlor, he tells that he lost his father at the age of five. It corresponds to the Phallic Stage in Freud’s Development Theory. Freud singled out Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency and Genital stages which last from birth to adult age (Brady). If an individual cannot resolve one of the stages of development, he or she passes on to the next accumulating problems of the unresolved stage. Freud argues that after the oral stage when the child bonds with his or her mother through sucking milk, either from the breast or a milk bottle, the child goes to the anal stage which is represented through potty training and signifies a symbolic independence from the parents. After that, from three to six years, the child goes through the phallic stage when he or she has a desire for the parent of the opposite sex almost hating the parent of the same sex. The desire for the parent of the opposite sex brings up the desire to eliminate the parent of the same sex but eventually it is resolved with the gain of emulation (Brady). As the Oedipus Complex is more common in males, the child believes that if he drives the male figure in his mother’s life out, his mother will give all her attention and love to him. Usually, children deal with the Oedipus Complex by getting closer to the parent of the same sex and communicating with other people. If at this state something goes wrong for a boy in his relationships with his father, for example, a loss of job or alcohol abuse, the boy loses his respect for the father but can fill the vacant place with another male figure, such as a coach or his grandfather, and the Oedipus Complex is then compensated (Brady).
In Norman Bates’ case, his father had died early on, and the boy had the mother all to himself developing perturbed relationships. Norman Bates had lived together with his mother for many years and got dependent on her. Being isolated from other people Norman Bates could not substitute a lack of relationships with his father by another male figure. Additionally, his fate was aggravated by the fact that his mother was despotic and domineering and most probably had sexually abusive relations with him. She taught him that other women are vile and only she was good for him. Usually, a child’s desire for his mother is replaced with feelings for other women, but Norman Bates could not do it. His mother pushed away all other people from his life and thus prevented him from psychological growth. Having a desire for his mother Norman Bates could not resolve his Phallic Stage of development and did not enter the Genital Stage.
However, Norman Bates had to move to the next stage because Psychological Development depends not on completion but rather on age (Brady). He did not complete the Latency and the Genital Phase so when it was time for him to be aroused by female peers Norman Bates most probably repressed his urges because he felt that he should love his mother only. At the same time, Norman Bates began experiencing enormous jealousy because his mother found a lover. He could not bear that she substituted him with somebody and killed them both from jealousy. However, this awful crime – the murder of his own mother – was too unbearable a burden for him to bear so he went into denial as a psychological mechanism to protect an individual from a traumatic experience. Never fully admitting to himself his mother’s death, Norman Bates kept her body and dressed up and talked like her. In the situation when he felt that his mother, or at least her image of the good mother, is threatened by Marion Crane’s clumsy suggestion at his mother’s wrongful role in his life, Norman Bates ‘allows’ the personality of his mother to do her role and be as jealous as he used to be and kill the woman. Thus it was a repetition of the vicious circle in which the mother and the son are jealous of each other by turn and attack the people they like.
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Freud suggested a conception of the human psyche with the mind divided into the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious whereas the personality is composed of the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. The Superego resides mostly in the preconscious and is in charge of the moral and ethical principles of the individual which are formed after the age of 5 (Brady). Given the traumatic experience of his father’s death and his getting stuck at the Phallic Stage, Norman Bates becomes largely dependent on his mother. The three floors of Norman Bates’ house represent his psyche. His mother occupies the upper floor because she substitutes his superego and decides what is right and wrong. Since Norman Bates attempts to accommodate both his mother’s desires and his own he occupies the ground floor, which represents his ego working at satisfying the needs both of the Id and the Superego. Residing in the unconscious and representing a desire for instant gratification the Id takes the subterranean floor. When Norman Bates transfers his mother’s corpse from the top floor to the cellar, he stops carrying out the impossible orders of the superego and attempts to act on his own and win back his freedom.
Seeing the escalation of events and not being able to deal with them, Norman Bates’ coping mechanisms fail. He used to use repression and denial to cope with their perverse relationships but now the situation got worse, and the mother persona killed another person. Norman Bates’ dialogues with Marion Crane at the beginning of the film shed the light on his situation and reveal that he was aware of many things but preferred to justify his mother and choose other ways to look at it. Even though Norman Bates surprisingly admits that “The boy’s best friend is his mother,” he says that it is difficult for him to live with her but he cannot leave her because she needs him. Saying “If you love somebody, you wouldn’t leave them even if they treat your badly” he implies that they had rough times and at the same time he says that, like all people, he cannot get out of his “private traps” and that people “all go a little mad sometimes” adding that his mother is “as harmless as one of those stuffed birds” (“Psycho”). All these details fall into place and eventually Norman Bates’ defense mechanism gets the better of him, and the personality of mother engulfs him.
Hitchcock puts up a compelling story of a man going mad because his ways of coping with the Oedipus complex failed. On the basis of Sigmund Freud’s Development Theory, Psycho demonstrates the most terrible variant how an individual with the unresolved Phallic Stage can end up. Having experienced a trauma of his father’s death Norman Bates could not move past the first two states and stays with the Oedipus Complex forever being afraid of possible male figures in his mother’s life. Therefore, out of his perverse desire to his mother Norman Bates kills her and, being unable to cope with matricide, compensates it by assuming her personality. Thus a multiple personality disorder takes place, and the mother persona gets a chance to act similarly to her son’s earlier jealousy. It makes a vicious circle when the son guards his mother and then the mother protects the son. However, the mother persona’s murder of Marion Crane compromises Norman Bates’ secluded life, and he is threatened with prison. Norman Bates gives up under the pressure and allows the mother person to engulf his personality probably to protect him from going to jail. Thus the unresolved Phallic phase worsens the already unhealthy environment and the coping mechanism goes wrong and causes murders and a complete loss of personality.