Understanding Visual Culture- Exercise 17- Freud, Oedipus and Castration

In this exercise, we first had to read “The Dissolution of the Oedipal Complex” by Sigmund Freud and make notes.

Task 1

Using what we had learnt, we were then asked to look at Edvard Munch’s Ashes and explain how Freud’s ideas help us to understand the image.


When I began looking at this image, I decided to also do a little research on the artist as well. From the information I read, the point that stood out the most (which is relevant to this exercise) was the fact that Munch had lost his mother when he was around 5 years old.

The image looks at how love can be turned to ashes, when the people involved are consumed by the flame of passion. In the image, you can see a disheveled bed, indicating that the couple have just been intimate. The woman is stood fixing her hair and clothes, looking straight on and the use of red in her undergarment and hair are symbolic of passion and flames. It is obvious that the woman is the more dominant person within the painting as the man is sat in the corner, his face cannot be seen and he has very little colour. The woman appears to be a representation of Munch’s mother and the man is possibly himself. The way that the man is posed could be showing his grief at the loss of his mother and the mixed feelings he has for her. Freud suggested that children went through the Oedipus Complex between the ages of 3 and 5. As I mentioned earlier, Munch lost his mother when he was around 5 years old, which could imply that he was never able to pass through this phase. The woman appears to be anxious or resentful of what has just happened, however this also could be Munch’s lasting memory of his mother as a timid and passive person. In the background there are a number of trees and a tree trunk framing the bottom and left hand of the image. These could be symbolic of two things a) nature and basic human instincts and b) phallus, which are symbolic of the Oedipus Complex (also known as the Phallic stage).

Task 2

The second task required us to look for images which might be explained in part by Freud and annonate them to show how.

The first image I chose Was from the Disney film, Tangled. This may seem quite an unusual image considering the subject matter, however after watching the film a number of times (I have a 3 year old daughter) I feel that Rapunzel’s character is a perfect example.


In this particular image, Rapunzel is in a very domineering position with Flynn at her mercy. By standing with her arms crossed, she is taller/higher then Flynn and appears very strong and independant. Flynn however is very submissive as he is sat down and he is tied to the chair. His body is very open and exposed. It is during this scene that you first start to see Flynn falling in love with Rapunzel and this could be due to the fact that men like strong and confident women who can take care of themselves. With this ability, women are also able to look after men. Freud theorised that women, after the phallic stage, became very passive and sought to emulate their mothers. Even though men pass through the Oedipus Complex, a small part of the feelings towards their mothers remain and this turns into a need to be mothered by their partners. To symbolise the passiveness of women, the colour purple has been used in her clothes as it is a very feminine and calming colour.

The second image I chose was of Jessica and Rodger Rabbit. This image was a little easier to annonate as the symbolism is a lot more obvious.


Jessica is the epitome of the perfect woman. She is attractive, seductive and flirtatious. The red of her hair and clothes screams passion and love. There is also the reality that, as she is the perfect woman, she is unattainable much like mothers.









About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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