'Yung and Easily Freudened':1 William Gass's 'The Pedersen Kid,'

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2000
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,165 words

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[(essay date Fall 1991) In the following essay, Dettmar provides analysis of initiation themes, postmodern literary techniques, and psychoanalytic associations in Gass's story"The Pedersen Kid." Dettmar concludes, "Jorge is not just another 'little Oedipus'--rather he's a little Freud, both author and subject of his own case history."]

Hans: "What I've told you isn't the least true."Father: "How much of it's true?" "None of it's true; I only told you for fun. ..."2

William Gass's first story, "The Pedersen Kid," is a weird and unsettling piece; but in spite of the menacing atmosphere it evokes, its stylistic daring has to date not been sufficiently appreciated by critics. Larry McCaffery, for instance, contrasts "the early, somewhat realistic methods of 'The Pedersen Kid'" to the "highly experimental, plotless arrangements of 'In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.'"3 "The Pedersen Kid," after all, manipulates a fairly common plot device--McCaffery calls it "an almost classically rendered initiation formula."4

While clearly a story of initiation, it is an initiation with a particularly overt Freudian bent--a Bildungsroman, or better a Künstlerroman, written by a man who knows his Freud.5 "The Pedersen Kid" narrates the coming of age of a young boy--the overcoming of the obstacles to freedom, the creation of a free identity, free from parental determination. Freud famously dubbed this struggle the "family romance"; and the day narrated in "The Pedersen Kid" marks the culmination of the Segren/Esbyorn family romance, a day after which nothing will ever be the same for Jorge--and he knows it. "I was on the edge of something wonderful," he writes; "I felt it trembling in me strangely. ..."6

The story opens with a disguised birth scene. The corn crib has spawned a pretender, and the Kid, a changeling, is adopted, carried into Jorge's house, and nursed back to life. An intruder has insinuated himself into the Segren family romance, and Jorge's role has been usurped; as Arthur Saltzman remarks, "the appearance of the Pedersen kid emphasizes for Jorge his peripheral position."7 The result of this disruption in family dynamics, Freud claims, is always resentment: "The elder child expresses unconcealed hostility towards his rival, which finds vent in unfriendly criticisms of it, in wishes that 'the stork should take it away again,' and occasionally even in small attacks upon the creature lying helpless in the cradle."8

A timeless battle is being reenacted, a battle as old as Cain and Abel. When the Kid appears, diverting his Ma's attention, Jorge declares: "I decided I hated the Pedersen kid too, dying in our kitchen while I was away where I couldn't watch, dying just to pleasure Hans" (3). Saltzman comments that "Jorge's immediate reaction to the arrival of the helpless Pedersen kid is one of resentment, for the frozen child commands center stage in a way Jorge, who regularly dodges physical abuse, never has";9 and the culmination of Jorge's jealousy is his declaration that the Kid is dead. At this critical...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100033584