Bruno Bettelheim Criticism - Essay

Anthony Storr (review date 24 March 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Storr, Anthony. “Suffering of the Little Children.” Spectator (24 March 1990): 29-30.

[In the following favorable review of Recollections and Reflections, Storr maintains that “Bettelheim's many admirers will not be disappointed by this final volume.”]

Bruno Bettelheim, who died last week in his 87th year, was the best-known child psychologist in the USA. This [Recollections and Reflections] is his 16th book. Most of the essays have been published before, but many have been revised, and some are appearing in English for the first time.

Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1903. As an adolescent, he became interested in psychoanalysis because Otto Fenichel, later to become the author of a standard textbook of psychoanalysis, appeared to be appropriating his girl friend by filling her head full of Freud's teachings. Not to be outdone, Bettelheim bought all the Freudian writings he could find, and promptly became fascinated.

Two main themes derived from his personal experience pervade all Bettelheim's writings: the psychosocial milieu of the concentration camps and the treatment of psychologically disturbed children. Bettelheim himself was, for a year, confined in Dachau and then Buchenwald. After his release, in 1939, he emigrated to the US where he founded and became Director of the Orthogenic School in Chicago for the treatment of mentally ill children. His experience in concentration camps led to his recognition that a malignantly controlled environment can have disastrous effects upon the mental health of its inmates. He concluded that a properly constructed benign environment would have positive effects. So, instead of confining the psychological treatment of severely mentally ill children to psychoanalytic sessions, he designed what he...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

Paul Roazen (essay date spring 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roazen, Paul. “The Rise and Fall of Bruno Bettelheim.” Psychohistory Review: Studies of Motivation in History and Culture 20, no. 3 (spring 1992): 221-50.

[In the following essay, Roazen investigates the reasons for the decline of Bettelheim's reputation.]

Bruno Bettelheim's role in the history of psychoanalysis has long been known to be a special one, but now it appears that his place is bound to remain every bit as contentious as that of any other figure in the controversial story of the development of Freud's school. Perhaps the height of Bettelheim's stature, at which time he was probably the most famous psychoanalyst in the world, came when Woody Allen...

(The entire section is 10331 words.)

Robert A. Paul (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Paul, Robert A. “Bettelheim's Contribution to Anthropology.” In Educating the Emotions: Bruno Bettelheim and Psychoanalytic Development, edited by Nathan M. Szajnberg, pp. 151-72. New York: Plenum Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Paul discusses Bettelheim's theory of womb envy and relates it to Freud's theory of penis envy.]

Bettelheim's unmasking of male's womb envy is as fundamentally profound to our society as Freud's presentation of female penis envy. Yet Bettelheim's discovery has met with resounding silence in our psychoanalytic community, and a few tut-tuts or titters in the anthropological community. Paul sets the intellectual record straight...

(The entire section is 9112 words.)

Christian Fleck and Albert Müller (essay date winter 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fleck, Christian, and Albert Müller. “Bruno Bettelheim and the Concentration Camps.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 33, no. 1 (winter 1997): 1-37.

[In the following essay, Fleck and Müller explore the central tenets of Bettelheim's analysis of the Nazi concentration camps and contrasts his theory with the interpretations of other authors who have written on the same subject.]

Just imagine, Wiesenthal, that you were arriving in New York, and the people asked you, “How was it in those German concentration camps? What did they do to you?” […] You would tell the truth to the people in America. That's right. And you...

(The entire section is 21963 words.)

Paul Marcus (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Marcus, Paul. “Bettelheim's Analysis of the Mass Society.” In Autonomy in the Extreme Situation: Bruno Bettelheim, the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Mass Society, pp. 39-60. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999.

[In the following essay, Marcus delineates Bettelheim's theory of mass society and compares it to those of contemporary social theorists.]

In this [essay] I will elaborate on Bettelheim's analysis of how the mass society undermines the individual's autonomy and integration, including what I think is his novel conceptualization of there being a dangerous continuity between the mass society, the total mass state of Nazi Germany and the concentration...

(The entire section is 10674 words.)