What is the psychological theme in the short story The Kite by W. Somerset Maugham? How is the relationship of mother and son in this story defined in the world of psychology ?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the world of psychology, Mrs. Sunbury would be characterized as a mother with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Borderline mothers expect their children to be on hand at all times. The offspring of these mothers are expected to reject intrinsic desires for personal agency and to be willing to meet every maternal demand, however unreasonable they may be. 

Mothers like Mrs. Sunbury will resort to any type of subterfuge to manipulate their children into obeying their every dictate. They often fall back on what psychologists call the "loyalty test" to ensure that their children do what they want. In the story, Mrs. Sunbury tells Herbert to keep to himself and to refrain from socializing with others. Her motives for requiring Herbert to sequester himself from others becomes clear when Mr. Sunbury brings up the subject of Herbert marrying:

‘What should he want to do that for?’ asked Mrs Sunbury with asperity. ‘He’s got a good home here, hasn’t he? Don’t you go putting silly ideas into his head, Samuel, or you and me’ll have words and you know that’s the last thing I want. Marry indeed! He’s got more sense than that...‘I don’t hold with a man marrying till he knows his own mind,’ she went on. ‘And a man doesn’t know his own mind till he’s thirty or thirty–five.’

Mrs. Sunbury is a classic narcissist; she expects Herbert to reject his masculine inclinations. She demands absolute loyalty, even to the extend that he denies his sexuality. This is because a borderline/narcissistic mother views her son's sexuality as a threat.

Later in the story, Mrs. Sunbury does her utmost best to make Betty (Herbert's date) feel uncomfortable. A borderline/narcissistic mother expects to be the center of her child's world; as a result, she often feels threatened by her child's spouse or lover. In the story, Mrs. Sunbury is motivated by her desire to isolate Herbert and to destroy his relationship with Betty. She magnifies Betty's supposed flaws and utterly rejects the idea of Herbert having a wife:

‘Pretty my foot. All that paint and powder. You take my word for it, she’d look very different with her face washed and without a perm. Common, that’s what she is, common as dirt.’

‘She’s never going to set foot in this house only over my dead body.’

‘That’s absurd, Mum. Why, everything’ll be just the same if you’ll only be reasonable. I mean, we can go flying on Saturday afternoons same as we always did.

‘That’s what you think. Well, let me tell you that if you marry that woman you’re not going to fly my kite.

Mrs. Sunbury portrays herself as a victim, but it's also obvious that Herbert has a dysfunctional attachment to his mother. Because he misses his kite-flying activities with his mother, Herbert is eventually drawn back to his parents' home. Inevitably, Herbert's inability to individuate leads to the failure of his marriage and to his eventual stint in prison. Children of borderline or narcisstic mothers often suffer from self-esteem issues. Herbert's behavior clearly demonstrates that his neurosis is the result of an unnatural attachment to his mother. 

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the world of psychology, the relationship between the mother and son in William Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Kite” is an Oedipus complex. In Greek mythology, Oedipus, the King of Thebes, killed his father and unbeknownst to him married his mother with whom he had children. In “The Kite,” the mother, Mrs. Beatrice Sunbury, and her son, Herbert, have an unnaturally close relationship. She controls him from the time he is a child through his early adulthood. He worships his mother in spite of her controlling nature. As a young boy, he asks for a kite and his parents give him one as a present. The family develops a ritual of flying the kites each Saturday until he is a young adult. He attempts to leave his mother by marrying a young woman. Herbert’s wife experiences the wrath of her mother-in-law and in turn, abandonment by her husband. Herbert is drawn back to his mother after speaking to his father who tells him how his mother is now flying the kites. His marriage fails and he returns to live in his parents’ home and reverts to their schedule that includes flying the symbolic kites each Saturday. Due to the son’s attachment to his mother, he chooses to be jailed instead of paying his a weekly allowance to his former wife in spite of being a successful accountant. In this way, the Oedipus complex plays out through the unnatural relationship between mother and son.

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Somerset Maugham

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