Just as the phrase ‘I’ve got a lovely bunch of conconuts’ expresses Oedpial grandiosity and exhibitionism, I have often thought that the phrase ‘Yes! we have no bananas’, was the perfect linguistic form in which to capture the essence of Oedipal disappointment.
So I was delighted to read the following extract from a story by Auberon Waugh, recently published in an anthology to celebrate Father’s Day, which adds a further dimension to the theme.
“On one occasion, just after the war, the first consignment of bananas reached Britain. Neither I, my sister Teresa nor my sister Margaret had ever eaten a banana throughout the war, when they were unprocurable, but we had heard all about them as the most delicious taste in the world.
“When this consignment arrived, the socialist government decided that every child in the country should be allowed one banana. An army of civil servants issued a library of special banana coupons, and the great day arrived when my mother came home with three bananas. All three were put on my father’s plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children, he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three.
“A child’s sense of justice may be defective in many respects, and egocentric at the best of times, but it is no less intense for either. By any standards he had done wrong. It would be absurd to say that I never forgave him, but he was permenantly marked down in my estimation from that moment in ways which no amount of sexual transgression would have achieved.
“From that moment I never treated anything he had to say on faith or morals very seriously.”
My own father tells a similar tale, but for bananas substitute Smith’s crisps.
Freud did not explicitly develop a concept of ‘typical screen memories’ as he did ‘typical dreams’, but the idea is evident in his work. There are typical memories of childhood which correspond to developmental milestones. They are similar to ‘primal phantasies’, or to what the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion calls ‘preconceptions’, in that very little in reality is required to provoke them.
Such is the memory of the father’s greed, or the mother’s wantonness in giving all your possessions away to other children. (When children grow out of their clothes and toys they are often given away and this may be later remembered as an act of maternal betrayal). In this particular example the sisters may have a different screen memory – perhaps of the father secretly allowing them a taste of the forbidden fruit as a token of the special place they held in his heart.
The incidental reference to ‘sexual transgression’, a seemingly incongruous thought embedded in the penultimate sentence, indicates the currents of feeling that may be contained in the story. Oedipal themes are once more in evidence. It is a story of the primal father keeping all the good things for himself. In doing so he achieves undreamed of phallic potency and exclusive access to the source of pleasure which can only seem grossly unfair to the little boy who’s passions are so ‘intense’.
And if Daddy is the cat who’s got the cream, it must be doubly upsetting for the pre-pubescent boy for whom the cream is still physically ‘unprocurable’.