"In my experience, the chief part in the mental lives of all children
who later become psychoneurotics is played by their parents."

One of the greatest theorists and psychologists in history, Sigmund Freud was born as Sigismund Schlomo Freud on May 6, 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, now the Czech Republic. He was the son of Jacob Freud and his third wife Amalia, who was 20 years younger than Jacob. "Sigi" also had seven younger brothers and sisters. Freud's early family dynamic was unusual; he had two half-brothers, Emmanuel and Philipp, who were almost the same age as his mother. Emmanuel had a son John who was actually a little older than his uncle Sigmund.

Jacob was a Jewish wool merchant who lived modestly. He and the family moved to Leipzig, Germany in 1859 and then finally settled in Vienna in 1860 where Freud would live until 1938. Before Freud was 10 years old, he was already reading the works of Shakespeare and contemplating the theories of Goethe. At first, he considering taking up law, but finally decided to pursue medical research and began to study at Vienna University in 1873. He abbreviated his name to "Sigmund," as he is now known, in 1877.

He began to research the central nervous system under Ernst von Brücke and became a medical doctor in 1881. He became employed at Theodor Meynett's Psychiatric Clinic from 1882 until 1883. From 1885 to 1886, he went to Paris to study under Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpetricre. There, he was influenced by Charcot's clinical research on hypnosis. This began Freud's active interest into the unconscious mind. In 1887 Freud met Wilhelm Fleiss, a Berlin doctor, who further interested him in psychology.

In 1886, he married Martha Bernays and had six children with her: Mathilde, born in 1887, Jean-Martin, born in 1889, Olivier, born in 1891, Ernst, born in 1892, Sophie, born in 1893, and Anna, born in 1895. He founded his private practice which focused on nervous disorders. He moved to Berggasse which would later become The Freud Museum Vienna in 1971.

From 1895 until 1900, Freud began to seriously develop the principles of psychoanalysis. He created the term 'psychoanalysis' in 1896 and began to break with some of his earlier research partners. His father died, which began his self-analysis of his thoughts and dreams in 1897. Die Traumdeutung, or The Interpretation of Dreams, was published in 1899. He considered it to be the most important of his books and his greatest discovery. During this time, he worked alone, as his research was dismissed by many members of the medical community.

In 1902, he became a professor at the University of Vienna and founded the Wednesday Society, a small group of his friends who met to discuss their research. Later, this group would become the Viennese Association of Psychoanalysis in 1908. He began to attract a following, including such thinkers as Carl Jung, Eugen Bleuler, William Stekel, and Otto Rank. Sándor Ferenczi and Ernest Jones joined the circle later, and they held a conference in 1908 which attracted forty psychologists from five different countries.

In 1909, Freud began his lecture series at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. in the United States. This set of lectures was published in 1910, and it was vital in terms of drawing more of an audience for his work. In 1912, as the psychoanalytic movement spread, the magazine based upon its theories, Imago, was founded in 1912. During this period, several of the psychologists who were previously members of Freud's circle began to express dissenting opinions. Adler and Jung both left, disagreeing with Freud's theories on the libido as the origin for psychological problems. Jung had been training to become Freud's successor, so his leaving shook the psychoanalytic movement considerably. In 1914, World War I was also breaking out, which was also hard on Freud; all three of his sons fought in the war. This has been said to be a major influence on his death drive theory, as introduced in 1920's Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In 1923, Freud officially introduced his famous notion of the id, ego, and superego as well as the unconscious, preconscious and subconscious.

By 1923, Freud had his first diagnosis of cancer of the palate, but he couldn't quit smoking which aggravated the pain. In 1930, he was given the Goethe Prize for Literature and was elected an Honorary Member of the British Royal Society of Medicine in 1935. This coincided with Hitler's rise to chancellor in 1933. The Gestapo searched Freud's house and arrested his daughter Anna for one day. Freud left Austria in 1938 for England aided by Princess Marie Bonaparte. He died the following year on September 23, 1939 at age 83. He was euthanized after suffering for a long time from the pain of cancer.

The Theories of Sigmund Freud

Reality, according to Freud, contains objects. Human beings are among these objects, but it is different in that it acts to further its own existence by certain impulses like hunger, thirst, sexual drive, and the avoidance of pain stimuli. As such, one of the most important aspects of an organism's functioning is the central nervous system which is sensitive to its needs. At birth, that system is comparable to an animal's; it responds to triebe, or instincts. This is what Freud calls the id. The id operates according to the pleasure principle, which is simply a demand that needs be fulfilled immediately. This is most obviously observed in the crying infant, which may not be able to sort out exactly what it wants, just simply that it has that desire. Freud describes the infant as pure id.

As a child matures, consciousness expands to include the objects around it. Sensory impulses are translated on a more complex level, and the id splits, forming the ego. The ego represents a human being's problem solving capacity, or the capacity for reason. The actual activity of problem solving is known as the secondary process in Freud's work. The ego functions more according to the circumstances of reality, in that needs will be satisfied when the appropriate object in reality is found in order to satisfy it.

While the ego goes through this process of satisfying the id, it encounters various obstacles. Particularly, as a child, certain rewards and punishments are associated with need fulfillment, and therefore the child will develop an even more advanced set of strategies in order to avoid obstacles. This signals the formation of the superego. Freud projects that it is formed at approximately age 7. Many times, it is full of flawed stategies or skewed perspectives due to whatever reward-punishment types of situations that the child encounters at a young age. The superego develops into two parts. The first part is the conscience, which is an internal representation of the punishments it has encountered. The other part is called the ego ideal. It is formed from rewards. These two halves interact to form emotions like pride and guilt.

Freud also developed the notions of the conscious, unconscious, and preconscious minds. The conscious mind is the state of being aware in the present, involving perceptions, memories, thoughts and emotions in the present moment. The preconscious mind is derived from the conscious mind; it is anything that can be made conscious, memories that are not consistently being thought of, but can be readily recalled. According to Freud, these are the smallest parts to the overal mind.

The largest and most complex layer of the mind, according to Freud, is the unconscious mind. It is all things which aren't available for immediate awareness, drives and instincts which aren't considered in daily life. Such things like memories or emotions associated with traumatic events are in the unconscious mind. It is ultimately the source of all motivations, from simple things like obtaining food or sex to the complex drives of an artist or scientist. The unconsious mind is something that most people ignore, according to Freud, because its contents are too painful to remember.

The Writing of Sigmund Freud

Freud's early work is characterized by his interest in neurology and medicine; this was his chosen career at first. Later, as he developed his interest in psychology, his works begin to illustrate his principles of psychoanalysis more thoroughly. Finally, at the end of his life, he began to broaden his approach to writing as he took on social issues.

The Legacy of Sigmund Freud

Freud's influence today is enormous in the field of literary criticism, as is noted in the writeups in the Sigmund Freud's legacy node. To be more specific, Jacques Lacan is perhaps the best known theorist to work further with Freud's research. In modern debates over gender relations, Freud's pioneering work on human sexuality remains central. Recent attempts to apply Freud's theories come in terms of the analysis of the "subject" in postmodern theory, and what role Freud's notion of "unconcious mind" plays in such developments.

In terms of literary theory, this is combined with ideas about language. Since human beings are born into linguistic communities, what role will language play in terms of constructing a person's awareness? Lacan's approach to Freud involves the idea of "identity" that the subject is more of a reflection of the world which perceives it.

In terms of psychological accuracy, Freud's work is often dismissed as being scientifically invalid. Much of Freud's clinical work cannot be reproduced and therefore it can't be reasonably validated in many ways. Inconsistencies in his theories, which often built upon one another, are the main criticism of his work by scientists. However, his influence in the humanities astounds this student of literature; his legacy permeates across disciplines and will surely be felt for generations.


1Sigmund Freud. Oedipus, the Child. © 1900.