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Eros, Thanatos, and the Oedipal Conflict, Adam and Eve Themes or Patterns Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2022


“I hate myself but I might be able to love myself, I might be allowed to stay here. Yes! I am nothing, but I can be, I wish to be, I want to stay here. I can stay here!

Shinji Ikari, Neon Genesis Evangelion

I chose to start this essay with a quote from the 1995 anime Evangelion to show the internal conflict of man within himself, of how the concepts of Eros and Thanatos pull at his very psyche, causing conflict, confusion and making an outside observer realize that man would be better off without either of them. While the purpose of this essay is an examination of the Judeo-Christian story of creation I plan to not only explain various aspects of that particular creation mythology but will attempt to explain how concepts such as Eros and Thanatos, while a part of the human condition, can be considered detrimental to human existence. One main point of conflict in the story occurs when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of knowledge and become aware of their nakedness, as a result they are cast out from the Garden of Eden and made to live out in the wilderness. One must wonder though, if the tree of life and knowledge were never meant to be eaten from why were they there in the first place? Besides just being there both trees never seemed to hold any actual purpose in ensuring that the Garden of Eden continued to be a garden. A thorough examination of various accounts and historical records show no apparent purpose for either tree besides being called the trees of life and knowledge. Since God can be considered a being who does no wrong there must have been some purpose for the trees to be there and that their creation was not some mistake or act of mere aesthetics. Before we go further into delving into the mystery of the trees I wanted to elaborate on the nakedness of Adam and Eve as a basis for my hypothesis about the trees.

Examining Adam and Eve

This particular verse comes to mind when an examination of the nakedness of Adam and Eve is done: “The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:25, the final verse of Chapter 2). Nakedness I believe is symbolical of a state of purity, in psychological terms it can be interpreted as a state before the concepts of Eros or Thanatos came to be embedded into the mind of man. When reading the entire myth of creation it is not mentioned in any single verse a period where (before the events where they ate the fruit of knowledge) Adam and Even came into conflict with either themselves or their environment. Today if you stick two people into an isolated area with no one to talk to but themselves I can assure you that as I live in breathe eventually they will fight over something. Married couples around the world are a testament to this as one way or another they will fight over something eventually. Yet this is not indicated in any portion of the story of creation, it also cannot be said that there is no point of conflict in religious text; there are numerous stories in the Torah or Bible where man came into conflict with woman. For me it is the interplay of Thanatos and Eros that creates changes in human behavior and emotion that cause conflict in the first place. For example the ambitious quality of two spouses under Eros can cause conflict when both wish to continue working yet one has to stay behind to take care of kids, this does not even take into account the feeling of specialness husbands feel as the breadwinner of the family when it comes into conflict with the feeling of accomplishment of the wife as being able to raise her children and take care of the household. This particular form of conflict is also clearly seen when Thanatos and Eros clash, the ambivalence of a husband towards washing dishes after eating and the need for order that the wife possesses is a good example of that. It can even be stated that it is the clash of Eros to Eros, Thanatos to Eros and Thanatos to Thanatos that is the primary cause of global conflict. For example peace in some parts of the Middle East, particularly in Israel and Palestine, is hard to achieve because people there refuse to see eye to eye, it is not because there is no possible way both sides merely refuse to do what is needed, this is an example of when Thanatos and Thanatos clash. In the same situation one party (Eros) can be willing to do what is necessary for peace while the other (Thanatos) refuses to do anything about it. While there is myriad of possible connections and examples to elaborate on that could fill a shelf of books at a library I believe that my point has been made regarding Eros and Thanatos and their ability to cause conflict. Going back to the matter at hand, the state of nakedness of Adam and Eve as I said is a state where Eros and Thanatos do not exist for them as inherent concepts, similar to the state of a baby. It is only when they eat of the fruit of knowledge that the concepts take hold of them and realization sets in creating the source of all future conflict. The punishments given by God to Adam and Eve in the form of a more painful childbirth and the need to work hard to gain food could be considered symbolical for the eventual conflict that will come as a result of having Thanatos and Eros. The fruit of knowledge itself is also rather debatable; can a fruit give knowledge to a person? I have eaten all manner of fruit and vegetable and I can say with certainty that the essence of knowledge did not flow into me afterward. As such it can be said that the fruit is symbolical for the concept of knowledge itself or rather the application of Eros and Thanatos. Look at babies, while they are human they still do not possess the ability to know the facets of Eros and Thanatos, their life is simple, non-problematic, with no worries and they can be considered content. Yet when we as adults view babies and think these thoughts we immediately conclude that babies are the way they are because they do not know any better, that is Eros and Thanatos talking. While it is inconceivable at the present for the various concepts under Eros and Thanatos to never be part of human culture, it can be speculated as to what type of individuals we would all be. We would have no ambition but we would neither think of ourselves as meaningless, we would not consider ourselves special but neither will we consider ourselves anonymous and so on. While many would consider that state of being to be that of a drooling idiot, can it be said that humanity would have wound up that way? Under the Judeo-Christian story of creation the entire world was supposedly created within seven days with each day being a particular stage in the process, here what must be considered is the fact that everything was created in stages with each previous stage being the building block for the next. If we are to consider that God does things in stages then the trees themselves could be considered stages in God’s plan for man and that man violated God’s plan for him by eating the fruit of knowledge. Based on this particular point of view it can be assumed that the Judaic culture that created this story of creation thinks that the reason behind the conflicts in the world is due to the nature of man. This point of view if further emphasized by the little observed fact that even though Adam and Eve are in a garden full of wild animals never are they once stated to conflict with or have been attacked by any particular animal. If I were to go to the middle of the African savannah or some dense South American jungle I can assure you that one way or the other I will attacked by some form of wild beast yet despite being surrounded by wild animals there are no indications of attack or conflict in any portion of the story. While this can be passed off as a gaping plot hole it could also be considered symbolic of the fact that before man came to acquire Eros and Thanatos he was in harmony with nature and it was only after such knowledge was implanted into him that the harmony was lost. The fact remains that man is the one creature on the entire face of the planet that affects the greatest amount of change in the natural world, unfortunately most of these changes have not been positive ones resulting in the subsequent alteration and destruction of various natural ecosystems. Certain aspects of Eros such as ambition and the need for order has resulted in mankind dominating the world and subjugating it to his whim to create a sense of order that he is satisfied with. When combined with the ambivalence of Thanatos this results in man changing the world to suit his needs without caring for the consequences of his actions. As a result the natural world has been thrown out of balance and into disarray. While I doubt that the ancient culture that wrote this could have foreseen the environmental destruction that mankind would eventually cause they probably did see the potentially destructive qualities of Eros and Thanatos and came to the conclusion that if such qualities did not exist in the first place mankind would be far more harmonious with both nature and others of his kind. The concept of original sin could be interpreted as man taking the wrong path in knowledge and understanding, to which the goal of religion is to help set him back on the proper path to true knowledge and understanding which creates harmony between different individuals as well as nature. Of course this is purely theoretical but when coupled with the various facts observed it does present itself as a valid argument. One curious aspect of the story is the scene between God and Adam regarding the Tree of Knowledge, in it he states “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:15-17). This is a particularly interesting passage to interpret since neither Adam nor Eve die after eating from the fruit, one must assume that God lied but since God does not lie the results are contradictory to this fact, some even go so far as stating that it is the serpent that tells the truth while it is God that is lying. We also know that from the start to the end of the story both Adam and Eve are mortal and inevitably do die at some point in the future. The fact that God banished them from the garden before they were able to eat from the Tree of Life is evidence of this. At this point we come to these set of facts: God said Adam would die but he did not, before Adam ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge he was going to die anyway presumably from old age and the serpent was telling the truth despite being the symbol for lies. What must be understood is that the entire creation story is full of symbology as such it cannot be farfetched to think that Adam himself is a symbol. For me Adam symbolizes man and the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge symbolizes Eros and Thanatos. When Adam (man) consumes the fruit (gains Eros and Thanatos) he is creating his inevitable death. I have mentioned earlier that the interplay of Eros and Thanatos are the source of most of the conflict in the world and as such it is not so hard to believe that such conflict would cause death. It is not that fruit itself will kill Adam (man) rather it is the actions brought about by knowledge of Eros and Thanatos that will lead to his death (death through conflict, man against man). God does not precisely say that the fruit will kill Adam; here is the statement that God said “for when you eat of it you will surely die”. God did not say the fruit will kill you, neither does he say the fruit is poisonous and will kill you rather look at the way it is phrased “for when you eat of it you will surely die”, no precise timeline is given nor is stated that the fruit is deadly. From this it can be assumed that Adam (man) does not die from the fruit rather it is the knowledge that comes from it that will kill him. This also proves that the serpent did lie to Adam since if we take symbology into account Adam being a representation of man does die as a result of eating the fruit of knowledge. The serpent states “You will not surely die”, the word “surely” can also be interpreted as definitely however Adam (man) does “definitely” and “surely” die as a result of eating the fruit (Thanatos and Eros) which becomes the source of future conflict and death (man versus man).

During my interpretations I have glossed over various aspects of the story of creation such as the all important serpent and the moment when God discovers Adam and Eve hiding from him however to go into detail about these various aspects and what they represent would entail considerable time and would result in a rather lengthy essay which I believe would defeat the purpose of it being short and eloquent and would make it seem similar to a thesis or term paper. As such I will close this essay with an examination of how God casts Adam and Even out of the Garden of Eden and how this particular act corresponds to the concept of the Oedipal conflict.

Oedipal Conflict and God

Towards the end of the story of creation we come across the section where God casts Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for them to live in the outside world presumably to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and thus making them immortal. While some interpretations cast this as God being fearful for what might happen should Adam and Eve become immortal another basis under a psychoanalytical perspective posits a different theory as to why this particular incident occurred. Mentioned earlier was the assumption that since God seemed to have a habit of doing things in stages, from this it can be assumed that the trees of life and knowledge were stages created for man. Unfortunately man ate the fruit of knowledge too early thus changing the destined plan of God for man. In the story God acts as both the father and mother figure for Adam and Eve creating the enforcing father figure while at the same being the nurturing mother figure. For most people having a father and mother figure helps to create the necessary balance to help an individual grow to be a productive member of society. Having just one or the other would result in a person developing personality traits which are either too passive and slave like due to a dominating father personality or too dependent and emotionally trapped as a result of a smothering mother figure. The result of such overpowering actions is an individual who is so emotionally stunted that they continue to remain a child despite their age saying otherwise. In my opinion eating the fruit of the tree of life in the story would be similar to being in the state of an individual who is an adult on the outside but a child on the inside due to the overpowering father or mother personalities that prevented him/her from properly maturing and becoming independent. The fruit of the tree of life would have given maturity to Adam and Eve yet they would not know what to do with it. They would have been children trapped in the body of adults with Thanatos and Eros wrecking havoc on their actions and way of thinking. When God cast them out of the garden it was to save them from themselves, the act of giving trials to both Adam and Even was symbolic of helping them mature properly with the knowledge that they attained by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The fact is people grow, mature and become independent only after they can experience trials and overcome them. If God had not released them out into the world to endure trials and had left them in the garden both of them would have not been able to mature properly. It is a concept similar to keeping a child at home and not letting him/her out of the house for fear of them getting into accidents or associating with the wrong people. The problem with this is that it would create an individual who would be emotionally stunted and unable to socialize with people later on. Since the goal of the Oedipal conflict is independence, keeping Adam and Eve within the confines of the garden with them potentially eating the fruit of life later on would have resulted in nothing more than a pair of children in adult bodies. It can even be said that eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge was in itself by the rebellion necessary for an individual to mature. God had explicitly stated that they should not eat from the tree of knowledge yet they did anyway expressing the case of rebellion that starts during the early stages of becoming mature and independent. As a result God helps them to mature by preventing them from eating the fruit from the tree of life and forces them out of the garden to mature through hardship and trials. This could be considered similar to how a father prevents a teenager from using a car till after they reach an appropriate age and take driving lessons. If the father had just let them use the car immediately an accident would have occurred.


Under a psychological perspective it can be assumed that from the story and the lessons learned from Thanatos and Eros, humanity is a very chaotic creature whose own mind is bringing about its destruction. Humanity in the story is initially shown as being able to harmoniously live in nature without conflict and without overtaxing the natural environment. It is only once humanity gains the characteristics of Thanatos and Eros that he has lost the ability to live in harmony, in fact the very act of God banishing Adam and Eve from the garden could also be interpreted as symbolic of man losing his ability to live in harmony at the cost of knowledge. From a psychological point of view it can be stated that the more man learns in terms of knowledge the less likely he can live harmoniously with others and nature. History has shown that as man has progressed through the years gaining knowledge through invention and necessity the greater the atrocities he has committed against nature and his fellow man. The greatest killer in the history of man has been scientific knowledge and the desire to apply it for his means, as such it is seen that God was telling the truth and the serpent was lying regarding the death of man as a result of eating the fruit of knowledge.For me the story is symbolic of how concepts such as Thanatos and Eros are the cause of our undoing. I cannot say without doubting myself that we would be better off without them but one must wonder whether such a bland and boring existence would be worth living. It is the interplay of various aspects of Thanatos and Eros that makes people unique, interesting and at times unpredictable. While the story itself is symbolic of what we have gained it also gives us a glimpse of what we have potentially lost if we had not let such concepts dominate our lives.

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