In his psychoanalytic excerpt, “The Oedipus Complex”, Sigmund Freud
ruminates on how children develop bonds with their parents. According to Freud, children develop intimate bonds with parents by adopting the roles and values of the parent whose sex they share. Conversely, the parent of the opposite sex becomes a cherished object of affection. The Oedipus Complex implies that a boy adopts his father’s identity (and roles) in the hope of gaining the affection of his mother. Inevitably, the boy’s attempts to become his father and live out the role of husband/wife between himself and his mother is bound to fail. According to Freud, these futile and misunderstood efforts cause a child to be “in love with the one parent and hat[e] the other” (NA, 919). In other words, the boy envies both his father for the love of his mother and for is own inaccessibility to that love. Freud goes on to list two literary masterpieces whose protagonists exhibit this complex: Hamlet and Oedipus Rex. By superimposing his own psychoanalysis on literary masterpieces, Freud aims to validate his own concepts. Perhaps then it is only fitting that, since the apex of Freudian psychoanalysis, literary writers have been adopting, reassessing, and ultimately modifying Freudian concepts. In Toni Morrison’s novel, Jazz, Joe Trace exhibits typically Oedipal characteristics, but for all the Oedipal tendencies Trace seems to possess, he also has psychological features that seem to go against “The Oedipus Complex”.
While much of Trace’s psychology supports “The Oedipus complex”, those opposing characteristics, apparently engendered by the circumstances of his childhood, function as plausible possibilities indicating the limits of Freudian psychoanalysis, and the need for a less myopic form of psychoanalysis on some literary characters. Undoubtedly, Trace’s obsession for Dorcas can be attributed to “The Oedipus Complex”. Of all of Jazz’s unique characters, Dorcas has the most in common with Trace’s mother. Trace’s mother, Wild, is exactly what her name indicates: a wild untamable, incomprehensive, nonconforming woman. Dorcas is, as described by Alice Manfred, a “mishandled child” who “knew better than you or me or anybody just how small and quick this little bitty life is” (Jazz, 113). Throughout Dorcas is depicted as having the wild and untamed disposition of a typically misguided and untethered teenager. When Trace meets her, her defiance to conformity signifies, within the depths of his psyche, some trace vestige of his lost mother. Accordingly, Trace does everything in his power to make himself completely accessible to Dorcas’s affection.
Another validation of Joe’s Oedipal tendencies is quite explicit in a self-reflective thought made about his wife and marriage: “Like me saying, ‘All right, Violet, I’ll marry you,’ just because I couldn’t see whether a wild woman put her hand out or not’” (181). At first glance, a reader might think Trace retrospectively is...