The Oedipal Complex in Portnoy’s Complaint

Alexander Portnoy’s case is a product of a textbook definition of the Oedipal Complex. Alexander is very receptive to his father’s teachings but loathes him secretly and possibly subconsciously. He recalls his father, an insurance salesman, complaining about how he saw an African American family leaving their children out in the rain at the mercy of the elements, “Please, what kind of man is it, who can think to leave children out in the rain without even a decent umbrella for protection!” (Roth, 284).

Immediately afterward, Alexander recalls when he defeated and figuratively killed his father in a game of baseball when challenged by him. Alexander mockingly refers to his father’s complaint, “Some umbrella” (Roth, 284).

Perhaps Alexander loathed his father so much because his father never took his side during traumatic instances inflicted by his mother. His mother once pointed a bread knife at his heart when he refused to eat, which he reflects on with much grief. “And why didn’t my father stop her?”, he ends his mourning tirade with (Roth, 289).

As the narrative progresses, the weight of his mother’s torture on his conscious fuels the further antagonizing of his father. Alexander develops a paranoia of his father, “for as time went on,  the enemy was more and more his own beloved son”. This paranoia leads to Alexander fantasizing about slaying his father, “What terrified me most about my father was not the violence I expected him momentarily to unleash upon me, but the violence I wished every night at the dinner table to commit upon his ignorant, barbaric carcass”.

As much as he apparently loathed his father, Alexander is envious of his father’s genitals, which he witnesses when they go to the schvitz bathhouse and when his father urinates with the door open. Although  Alexander at times speaks of his father as he would an enemy, he regards his father’s genitals as if they were those of a marvelous king’s (Roth, 305, 311). Simultaneously, he develops castration anxiety over his testicle rising into his body (Roth, 304) and the belittlement of his genitalia by his mother and his family’s condescending treatment when he decides to switch to buying the pair of swimming trunks with a jock rather than the one without (Roth, 312).

At other times, Alexander blatantly expresses sexual desire towards his mother. He recalls in specific detail sitting and watching his mother get dressed as she praised him, and allowed him to feel her body (Roth, 309).  He then fantasized about what his father would do if he found Alexander and his mother engaging in intercourse (Roth, 309).

To think about the severity of the character Alexander Portnoy’s Oedipal complex is at times very overwhelming and almost sickening.

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One Response to “The Oedipal Complex in Portnoy’s Complaint”

  1. speeptsob Says:

    This is cool! My gratitude is endless.

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