Civilization and Its Discontents

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Civilization and Its Discontents

By | November 2011
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In Civilization and Its Discontents, by Sigmund Freud, Freud offers his personal views on humanity’s ideas of religion and morality. The Book of J, translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg, features characters who do not necessarily seem to be comparable to Freud’s thinking, as they exhibit behaviors unique to their time or story. Though Civilizations and Its Discontents and The Book of J are two contrasting texts in time, Freud’s thinking helps a reader to understand The Book of J to a greater extent. As demonstrated by Rebecca and Jacob in Chapter 60 of The Book of J, morality or, in Freud’s terms, the superego, can be ignored in order to grasp the most ‘precious’ aspect of religion, a blessing.

The characters in the Book of J do not seem to have a sense of morality or guilt, in which Freud calls a human’s superego. Rebecca, the mother of Jacob and Esau, desires Jacob to receive the blessing in which her dying husband Isaac is going to give to Esau. Even though Jacob recognizes “I [Jacob] would be in his eyes an impostor […] would be serving myself a curse, not a blessing” (Rosenberg, 102), he still goes ahead and takes the blessing from his brother Esau. This, in Freud’s thinking, demonstrates that though people “feel guilty when he has done something which he knows to be ‘bad’” (Freud, 84), some, like Jacob, can decide to ignore his or her superego, or conscience, and give into their desires with guidance from his mother. It is significant that Jacob does not carry out this deed alone, as his mother Rebecca urges him to let her “voice guide you [Jacob]—only follow” (Rosenburg, 102) and reassures him “any curse would be mine [Rebecca’s]” (102). As Freud explains in his text, the difference between an infant and an adult is that an infant is mainly scared of being caught, while the establishment of a super-ego after maturing will instill “the fear of being found out” (86). In this case, Freud’s thinking suggests Rebecca’s character shows signs of being...

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