chapter  4
35 Pages

Is the Oedipus Complex Universal?

ByMelford E. Spiro

This chapter demonstrates that its empirical foundation is too weak to support Malinowski’s argument that a matrilineal complex exists in the Trobriands and shows that the evidence indicates to the contrary that an unusually strong Oedipus complex exists in the Trobriands. It examines the implications of these Trobriand findings for human societies in general. Since the Oedipus complex may be said to have three important dimensions—structure, intensity, and outcome—in principle at least it could be expected to display cross-cultural variability in all three. Although the structure of the Oedipus complex, while variable in principle, seems to be universal in fact, this is not the case in regard to its two other attributes—its intensity and outcome—in which cross-cultural variability is not only a theoretical expectation but an ethno-graphic fact. Since that paradoxical claim has already been shown to be refuted by Malinowski’s own evidence, there is no need to repeat that demonstration.