The Kite by William Somerset Maugham is a study of Oedipus complex ?

The name of Oedipus has been borrowed from the classical story of king Oedipus who unknowingly married his own mother and had children by her. The psychologists, Sigmund Freud and others use the term Oedipus complex for ‘a manifestation of infantile sensuality in the relations of the child to its parents. It is a state in which a person shows excessive affection for the parent opposite in sex to him or herself, and corresponding distance from others’. A great part of his life is actually controlled by this subconscious desires and passions, over which he has no control.

 The Kite by William Somerset Maugham is a study of particular psychological theories with reference to particular characters. The central theme of the story is Oedipal and it has been examined in all its ramifications. The story line is based on the primal relationship between Mrs. Beatrice Sunbury and her son Herbert. Here is replete with psychological truths, revealing attitudes, situations, and emotional states.

The over-possessive mother exercises an unhealthy influence on the emotional development of the growing boy. From the very early days Mrs. Sunbury wishes to nurture her son self-centric and possessive, her advice to her son is quite understandable. She says, “Now, Herbert, do what I do, keep yourself to yourself and don’t have anything to do with them than you can help”. Even she does not allow a single independent assertion on Herbert. Hence, when Herbert is twenty years of age, holding a steady job, Herbert’s father Samuel Sunbury asks if Herbert be get married Mrs. Sunbury’s reply is sharp and vicious. She answers: “I don’t hold with a man marrying till he knows his own mind’ ….. “And a man does not know his own mind till he is thirty or thirty-five”. Such a typical negative response is obviously of a jealous mother unwilling to share her son with a wife and who is trapping the soul of her son and ruins his personal.

Herbert loves her mother almost like a mother-lover. The mother is the very axis and pole of his life. The bond between this mother and her son deepens when they fly the kites as fancy and hobby almost like a ritualistic manner every Saturday. Flying kites is like an imaginary escapism from the monotony of life. The soul of Herbert is so possessed by the mother figure that this kite flying is like nearing to the mother denying the rest of attraction. If emotions are treated as manifestation of physico-psychic phenomena, Herbert’s fatal attraction for the kite is cul de sac of mother fixation.
 Herbert’s love for Betty and his choice of getting married to her is a desperate attempt to free himself from the excessive attachment to his mother. But he cannot give to Betty what he has already given to his mother; and thus results the terrible and torturing conflict within him. Like Mrs. Morel in Lawrence Sons and Lovers Mrs. Sunbury is Jealous of her daughter-in-law. Mrs. Sunbury dislikes Betty who will suck all her Son’s Soul and leave nothing for her. Therefore, she does her best to break up their relationship. In the dark shadow of the mother image that comes between Paul’s relations with Miriam in Sons and Lovers, can have its parallel to Herbert – Betty relationship. Alike Paul, Herbert is incapable of satisfactory sexual adjustment owing to his mother fixation. The Oedipus complex in him has weakened and stunted emotionally.

In the kite the whole story is given a symbolic significance through flying a kite. It is an act of affectionate attachment. Even it is not a plaything, rather an extension of Beatrice’s control over her son. After the marriage what Betty objects and rebels against is Herbert’s flying of the kite on Saturdays with his parents. She dislikes this childish act and warns Herbert from doing this silly favour. But Herbert’s fatal attraction for the kite is a string of mother fixation. Mrs. Sunbury pulls the thread of the kite (emotional attachment) to control over her son. When all the possible pleadings result in vain, Betty hacks down the kite which ultimately aggravates the situation. Herbert chooses the prison instead of providing the alimony to his wife. The smashing of the kite is a kind of matricide for him which he can not forbear.

The entire complication of the story can thus be read through the Freudian complexes. Maugham is an explorer of human relationships and in this story he has studied sex relationship from different angles. Mrs. Sunbury and Betty are both wrong in being too possessive. Both of them want to possess the soul or the personae of Herbert. But satisfactory relationship result only when we recognize the otherness of the other individuals. Successful adjustment would have resulted had these two women recognized that Herbert has a separate identity with separate personae of his own, which can reach fulfillment in its own way. The mother fails to recognize this truth and so ruins the life of Herbert.       


  1. I have a few lines to say.Though this particular story has been interpreted as Oedipal by many,but i think it can be more elaborately interpreted through the Freudian concept of OCD( obsessive compulsive disorder).The story from very beginning lacks the essential aspect of Oedipus complex,that is the hatred for the father.Through out the story nowhere Herbert shows such hatred for Mr. Sunbury.Besides Herbert was extremely addicted by the kite,not because it gave him a sense of freedom from the monotonous way of life,as Herbert liked the way of living he had at Sunbury's :"He was feeling more comfortable was nice having his mother to brush his clothes and mend his socks".In fact Herbert got attracted by the kite as it gave him a sense of superiority.Where as in every other fields he was controlled by Mrs. Sunbury and Betty,in the field of kite flying he was the ultimate controller.Perhaps in the kite Herbert could find a glimpse of his own self.Herbert actually suffered from lack of personality development and was unable to take responsibilities of his married life.Both Betty and Herbert were immature enough to carry a relationship,as a consequence when the early romanticism went away they both felt cooped up.Moreover Herbert was attracted not by Mrs. Sunbury but by the kite as is evident by the fact that when at the end Herbert refused to pay the alimony to Betty and was imprisoned he felt no urge to be with Mrs Sunbury.

  2. Dear Anirban,

    It’s a fair argument not to shadow a story with the burden of theory as the author himself is not so certain about.

    Yet for argument's sake I find such theory of anxiety disorder in this story misfit. As per my knowledge is concerned, such disorder pops up when the person lives with anxiety, tension and inner conflicts. Hinsie & Campbell's Psychiatric Dictionary says:

    "Psychoanalytically, obsessive-compulsive neurosis is interpreted as a defense against aggressive and/or sexual impulses, particularly in relation to the Oedipus complex. The initial defense is to the anal-sadistic level, but the impulses at this level are also intolerable and must be warded-off - by reaction formation, isolation, and undoing."

    But Herbert's compulsive neurosis is quite irreversible as he prefers to be jailed which is a sadistic pleasure for him. He takes it a self sacrifice for the sake his obsession- the kite flying-- an objective correlative to his love of young days of mamma's boy. Again dominating mother figure surely weakens his bond to his father and surely the mother's personality dominates in him.

    Reading through the text, in many ways the story looks oedipal and in many ways it is even not. But reaching through meaning of the circumstances I sometime find the story as not an actual presentation of human behaviour or based on facts.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. In my school the question came"describe briefly the circumstances leading to Herbert's imprisonment" and "Briefly comment on the significance of the story 'The Kite'?"
    will you please give me the answers of the questions? I know the answers but its better to know from you.

  4. wel.i would like to throw jst a qustion dt wt s all related wth metafiction and kite??cn u jst gv sme light on dt perspectve??

  5. Its a good rply to understand the story. its help full for solving any question. thank you:-)

  6. As I understand the story the kite is about the possessiveness of Beatrice for Herbert. In the story Beatrice wants Herbert to be always dependent on her. Her flying of the kite is a symbol which suggests that she wants to control Herbert as she controls the kite. In the story Herbert also has very deep attraction or fondness for his mother. He is in the complete control of his mother. He wants to break this obsessive fondness for his mother. He marries Betty but he is unable to break the string of attachment towards her mother. For Beatrice the kite is Herbert. And for Herbert the kite is the love of his mother. When Betty destroys the kite, Herbert feels that she has hurt his mother. In order to avenge Betty he refuses to forgive Betty and comes back to her mother, whom Betty had tried to hurt.
    In the story the kite metaphorically also symbolizes the ego of the characters. When the kite soars high in sky, the characters feel that it is they who are up in the sky. There is a superiority complex in Beatrice. She brought up Herbert away from other children because she thought that they were not worth getting into company with. For Beatrice, Betty is as cheap as dirt. For Beatrice there is nobody who can equal her. When the kite of Beatrice and Herbert is above the other kites, their ego is satisfied. They feel superior.

  7. Thanks Minz for your voice heard.

  8. Sir, can you tell me the significance of Wormwood Scrubs and the irony behind it in The Kite?

  9. All the participants well said about the story. i would like to pass my views over the objective level of the writer as below:
    Mr.Somerset has aptly teaches the parents, the children and their partners. He guides them to play their suitable role on different levels. We should give up our obsession for relations. It creates anxiety and repulsion.


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