Cinderella Essay By Bruno Bettelheim The Informed

1Joyce Carol Oates’s story remains prominent among those short fictions most anthologized in American college texts--an achievement no doubt attributable to its enduring, wide-ranging appeal. Aside from having been made into Tom Cole’s screenplay and Joyce Chopra’s much-admired film SmoothTalk, the twice-award winning story has recently become the subject of a well-resourced casebook edited by Elaine Showalter; and it remains a fixture, even featured, in such first-line texts as Abcarian and Klotz’s Literature; Barnet, Berman, Burto, and Cain’s re-edition of Literature; Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico’s DiscoveringLiterature; Lee Jacobus’s Literature; Kirzner and Mandell’s Literature, where it is featured in a “Fiction Casebook”; and Ann Charters’ The Story and Its Writer as well as her (and Samuel Charters’) Literature and Its Writers. In the last regard it is also a staple in short fiction anthologies such as Bohner and Dougherty’s Short Fiction and Pickering’s Fiction 1001. Although highly regarded as a poet, essayist, novelist, playwright, and short fiction writer, Oates is best known to the general public as the author of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Consequently, although its first-time readers, typically college freshmen students, have been guided throughthe story’s seemingly inexhaustible trove of suggestive meanings, its idiosyncratic styling weaves, within its varied richness, a pattern worth studying that brings together distinctive elements of theme, characterization, structure, imagery, and perspective in a format well ingrained in the American popular imagination. This pattern, although I have taught several different approaches to the story over the years, invokes something like a community of assent in young readers, who dispute far more among other interpretations.2

2I would suggest that this popular young-reader-response  comes from an American teen’s ‘grasp’ of a powerfully fixed cultural ‘handle’ available to us all, but especially to young people nowadays, particularly young students’ sense of a story. And I think that this pattern as crafted into the story by Joyce Carol Oates evokes that ever-unrealized zone between consciousness and unconsciousness shaped from childhood--hers, ours, that of our students--recalling that ancient story modernized by Charles Perrault, popularized by the brothers Grimm, and implanted in the collective American semi-consciousness by Walt Disney--the tale of “Cinderella”. Accordingly, Oates, in 1963 and then in her twenties herself,3 transformed most of the story’s principle features, carrying them forth from Connie’s psyche, especially through the content and tone of Connie’s “trashy” dreamy state, to reveal something deep and permanent within the mythic strata of troubled twentieth century ‘Cinderellan’ American life--something that the young reader especially acknowledges in the process of growing, learning, and valuing experience.

3Connie’s dreamy escape, like Cinderella’s, although it promises pleasurable resolution, unfortunately brings unresolved tensions upon her, as they are upon many young women, and sometimes men, by a mass culture (the story’s audience--the “You” of the title) that, despite aspirations otherwise, unwarily depersonalizes, debases, and devours the feminine ideal, branding those young among us, especially girls attaining to womanhood, as nameless, faceless, even heedless victims of culturally prompted masculate sexual appetite, consumption, and disposal. In fact, the standard merchandising of human sexuality, before men and women young and old, in the American marketplace, although oriented greatly towards foods, attaches itself to all manner of commodities, becoming evident most where expected least, in appealing to children’s dreams--those wondrous yet terrifying acts of human imagination, poised to aspire, and to ascend--yet dreams blandly controlled by the huckster’s world illustrated in Barbie-Doll iconography, mindless pop music, arcane Miss Americana, heavily capitalized pornographia, all of which inform Oates’s reading of “Cinderella”.A girl justly desires in the purity of her heart to be pretty, to feel good, to gain attention, and to be cherished--a dream in formation since early childhood. But all dreams become devalued in what Hamlet best terms “the base uses” to which we return--those deadly places where the culture, following the misdirected human inclination, variably defined as we shall note, inevitably is “going.” Oates finds in the Cinderellan motif the pretensions and tensions of a serious, even tragic, contemporary conception of feminization targeted in the American predilection for merchandising flashy, readily consumable, and easily disposable commodities within a culture joyfully yet madly devouring its own resources of body, mind, and spirit, as well as its capacity even to imagine such losses.

4Much in the story’s fascinating complexity is rooted in its comprehensive stylistic involvement with the more recent versions, from Perrault to Disney, of the Cinderella tradition. A few aspects of the Cinderella analogy have been noted in an account of how the “story is full of fairy tales.”4 But as diligently as this reading places the story in a tradition of several popular tales such as “Snow White,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “The Genie in the Bottle,” it understates the psychological acumen with which Oates’s story imaginatively reformulates the Cinderella mythos,placing it effectively within its cultural context. For, as Bruno Bettelheim, among others, has observed, the Cinderella story enacts the compensatory vision, dear to all children coming of age, that counteracts that universally seated conviction “deep within” the child “that Cinderella deserves her dejected state”:

The oedipal disappointments which come at the end of this developmental stage cast deep shadows of doubt on the child’s sense of his worthiness. He feels that if he were really as deserving of love as he had thought, then his parents would never be critical of him or disappoint him. The only explanation for parental criticism the child can think of is that there must be some serious flaw in him which accounts for what he experiences as rejection.5

5The childhood-induced Oedipal flaw, as Bettelheim fails to observe, is not only universally compounded by the culture, but it is principally represented in the culture as characteristic of feminine reality. Therefore, Connie, by ‘acting out’ her Oedipal resentment--in wishing her mother dead (the very condition of Cinderella’s mother in the tale)--further problematizes her fate, adding, Bettelheim might say, “another reason to feel guilty.” Therefore, such multiplied guilt “about desires to be dirty and disorderly” ultimately in the most honorific sense “makes every child identify with Cinderella, who is relegated to sit among the cinders”:

Since the child has such “dirty” wishes, that is where he also belongs, and where he would end up if his parents knew of his desires. This is why every child needs to believe that even if he were thus degraded, eventually he would be rescued from such degradation and experience the most wonderful exaltation--as Cinderella does.6

6Bettelheim, referring to “every” child, remains curiously blind to the distinctively victimized status of the girl as featured in the tale (along, for that matter, in other tales from childhood such as “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Little Miss Muffet”). But prior to satisfying her need to be released from such ‘dirty’ ‘shame,’ the feminine child, far more than the masculine child, must obediently endure her earth-bound affliction. In Perrault’s fairy tale, from his Contes de ma mère l’Oye, the less transfigured young maid--gentile, refined, and gracious--is called “Cinderbottom” (“Cendrillon”) as in the brothers Grimm version she is known as “Ashputtle” because, as the authors have it, “she always looked dusty and dirty.”7 The Disney version, playing lightly off the name by invoking “Cinderella,”8 covers up but cannot remove the stains of grimy guilt from this chariest maiden: Cinderella, as if deserving, ispunished in having to do the ‘dirty’ work, and she fully accepts her ‘soiled’ role as her lot in life. Connie likewise is immediately associated with and helplessly mired in uncleanliness from the outset of the story. Her mother’s first words to her--“Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister?”9 --convey by an inexact analogy an exact contrast: The youthful Connie is ‘dirty’ and suspect, while the matured June is ‘clean’ and therefore the more favored.10 Connie’s hair, which is “dark blonde”--she is told, and as we suggestively learn, “stinks,” but that of her sister, free from such unacceptable filth, doesn’t. June wins praise for her domestic virtue, for “she helped clean the house and cooked,” while “Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was filled with trashy daydreams.” Yearning release from this condition so as to embrace, as Bettelheim remarks, fantasies of “exhilaration,” the anticipation of imminent “rescue” becomes for Connie, as for Cinderella and all girls, the basis of the wish behind her most desired dream. This subconscious Cinderellan need to feel ‘dirty’ yet to be released from this state extends into, and is expressive of, the American market-culture, which calculates dissatisfactions that are typically only provisionally appeased. Consequently, in Oates’s vision, the terms of the compensatory, restorative dream are all too readily available as a convenient fancy to everyone, young and old, in our happiness-crazed American culture. In our public cultural formations of joy--our childhood recreations, for example, with ‘hot’ toys, ‘sweet’ songs, and ‘instant’ model heroes--we too readily appropriate fantasies to salve momentarily the shame that has abided for centuries, whether transvalued from Hellenic defilement, Judeo-Christian sin, or Modern Oedipal guilt. Such analgesic ‘salvation,’ the stuff of sleep, though an act as simple as feeding oneself, does, however, by virtue of its self-evident falseness, only exacerbate the inadequacy felt by the young even as it produces the collateral need to punish ourselves even more while we cheerfully hold out for those yearnings expressed by Cinderellan dreams.

7Connie, therefore, like Cinderella, is reduced in name (from Constance) and thereby in moral status (from steadfastness and faithfulness), to a name that, among its meanings, suggests the illicit or fraudulent conduct of which Connie will accuse herself. Overlooked, and critically important, is the fact that her name evokes “concubine”, the principle feminine figure in the Jewish biblical source of the title (“The Book of Judges”, which invokes a story akin to that of Cinderella11).Connie in Oates’s tale is bereft of family identity having, like Cinderella, no surname. In both instances the single name conveys the character’s hapless, devalued condition as an individual, as a member of a family, and as the diminished component of a socio-economic unit indifferent to even itself. Connie’s familial, social, and economic disconnections, like Cinderella’s, all the more heighten the contrast between her shamed solitude and the social modes by which she becomes solicited, valued, and appropriated. The defining element binding old tale and contemporary story is, ofcourse, the dream of yearning, a key motif in itself.12 Connie, like Disney’s Cinderella, who sings, “A dream is a wish your heart makes,” eagerly drifts off into fantasy, half-consciously yielding to her dream experience as she ardently wishes for a special place where she can feel good and be noticed; where she can enjoy rapturous music; and where she can meet her sweet, charming lover--her own ‘prince charming’--whom she abstracts as the amorphous composite of all those boys who have dwelled in the pleasure zone of her affection. By these three means--the enjoyments of palace, pleasurable music, and prince charming--both young women plan their escapes from a household filled with sad antagonisms--a father’s physical or moral absence, the sexual jealousy and hostility of a mother figure, the irritating probing of an older sister, and subjection to continual mistreatment. What is vital--namely, wishing where to go, what to feel, and whom to meet--are in both accounts played off against what has debased and deadened both girls at home: the disappointments of where they have been, what they have felt, and with whom they have had to share company. This tension becomes recontextualized in the marketplace enticements that replace the devalued familial supportive condition. This second, even more extreme, disjunctive effect, properly understood and directed by the story’s interrogative title, conveys a spiritually depleted, secular psychomachia--an unresolved opposition between one set of misguided social attractions and another equally unacceptable set of prompts—for the ‘salvation’ (here, the physical well being) of one’s flesh and blood.

8On another frequency, of course, the split lies between Connie’s brain and her mind, a split dictated, as Kay Redfield Jamison so poignantly observes, by the manic forces engendered by a culture that simultaneously attracts acutely with pleasure while rejecting harshly with painful trauma many people, most impressionably the young, who strive to live somehow integrally within it.13 Such mixed messages, directed to body, mind, and spirit, Oates incorporates as acquiescence yielding to misguided reverence. Appropriately, then, the critical gathering places in Connie’s life, described as places of communion, are the dining table or barbeque at home, where food helps ritualize the vacuity that family space has become, or away from home, particularly the “drive-in restaurant,” where again, the claims of appetite bring young people together in unconscious religious charade. In the latter case, we see Connie brought to a place of romance envisioned, fitfully, as the sexually satisfying locus of masculine carnal appetite--the “drive in.” Unacknowledged moral negligence not only underlies this sexual tension (inviting yet threatening) but also “the pretence of exasperation” facing Connie (Oates, 30) that lies at the heart of the insincerely concerted fighting between mother and daughter. Connie’s mother chastises her for having the healthy vitalism that she herself has lost, thereby shaming her into the false sense of herself to which she is already prone. Bereft and adrift, helpless in a morally depleted trashland of her own, Connie finds her only remedia--precisely Cinderella’s--in her desire to transformher ambivalent pining to be with her ‘prince’ into her desperate escape from the emotional and moral wasteland of her home. Along with her daydreaming of escaping to the arms of her lover in what she fantasizes as “a kind of love, the caresses of love,” (Oates, 30) Connie experiences ‘shame’ in having repeatedly deceived her mother about the undisclosed sexual experience to which she flees: “Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much.” (Oates, 29). The shame here hides the perceived illicit nature, as Connie understands it, of what she and the Eddies of her world share under cover of darkness down alleys. Connie’s ritual ‘loss’ evokes Cinderella’s ‘loss’ in the night symbolized by a glass slipper that conveys not an actual serious moral failing, but something perceived as such. Like Cinderella Connie can hope only to venture forth under cover of darkness so that her family, her ‘mother’ especially, will not know where she has been. The drive-in, as with the prince’s palace, is where both young women hope they are going. Both young woman, then, are granted their wishes. Connie brings to her dream certain activating points of consciousness which become metamorphosed and elaborated, as any dreamer well knows, into the mixed stuff of her sleep--these include recollections of her sneaking off to the place of her desire, her experiencing good feelings generated from music atthe teen hangout, her being noticed by boys, teens given over to Bobby King’s music show, and the specter of Arnold Friend and his golden convertible. These key elements on their surface are also, it so happens, the exact formulae of Cinderella’s wishful dreaming--the surreptitious venture, the pleasure palace beckoning all lovely young women to the enchanting music of the ball, the ‘King’s’ sponsorship of that ball, and the resplendent cream and gold coach and six. Thus, the unresolvable actualities of Connie’s life and the emanations of one more of her “trashy daydreams” are fused together in a modern-day American “Cinderella” tale...but with some new twists.

9Connie, “pretty,” blonde-haired, good-natured but very uncomfortable, beleaguered, and neglected, lives at home, exactly as Cinderella, with a complaining, mean-spirited mother and an indifferent, ineffectual father. Connie’s father, likewise, has been “lost”, not at sea like Cinderella’s, but even while at home. Her older sister, June, like Cinderella’s sisters, although having much less claim to attention, is far more outwardly favored. Far less attractive, yet far more secure in her mother’s affection, like Cinderella’s sisters, June is obviously outwardly preferred by a mother embittered in her sexual jealousy. Connie and Cinderella also share a type of bimodal appearance: each is quite ordinary-looking about the house; but whether venturing to a cherished teen hangout or to a palace ball, each becomes transformed through her clothing into a radiant, youthful beauty. Each, attracting much attention, achieves her desired happiness; and each wins over her prince charming. Both young women long for the opportunity to fulfill this cherished ‘dream,’ but such dreams of life all too often become nightmares of death.

10Connie’s Cinderella-life, however, takes on such dimension as she ventures forth once more, as Cinderella herself does, into her dream...essentially, a subset of the youthcultish ‘American dream.’ Connie, as her family drives off to the family barbecue, turns inwardly, away from her mother’s angry stare, to a Hollywood wonderland of cherished comforts:

Connie sat out back in a lawn chair...Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love...the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was....She shook her head as if to get awake. (Oates, 30-31)

11As she “breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest,” Connie in rhythmic sleep-like reverie brings to her filmland-dreamland other elements that will figure into her dream. One is that prevailing sense of human worthlessness that she has so readily accepted as her lot in life: “Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished (my emphasis) her mother dead and she herself was dead and it was all over.” (26) Connie’s edginess hints at severe self-judgment: her implicit acknowledgment of her cindered self, her realization that she isindeed ‘the kind of girl’ she uncomfortably assures her mother she is not, that she, like Cinderella, must be a dirtied young lady, one who has indeed ‘lost’ something precious, fragile, irrevocable. In fact, Connie’s assumed loss of innocence, like Cinderella’s lost slipper, she must learn, can only be ‘regained’ by a prince charming’s outlandish claim upon her. Connie’s dream will carry out her own conflicted moral judgment upon herself for the shame that in the absence of evidence is only thought to be underlying what she has done. Connie’s diametric feelings of wishing herself dead yet being granted love “promised in songs” therefore, because they are so essentially unrelated yet now for her so intimately related, are together enacted in dream. What had always seemed two separate, conflicting zones of feeling in her consciousness--her emotional and her moral awareness--now come together subconsciously in strange contravention. Her darkened selfhood and her fondest wish for light uneasily come together.Meanwhile this self-contesting quality in Connie’s life is outwardly defined in, and indeed stimulated by, the now-popular iconography of veneration--what one critic has called our “counter-ideology”14 symbolized, as another critic has carefully noted, by the church-like “drive-in” with its bottled roof and “grinning boy" revolving atop it.15 Now venerated, Oates suggests, is our culture’s reduced spirituality so evident in its enshrinement of childish sexuality mixing levity with appetite but haunted, profoundly, by something amiss, something separated, strangely attractive, and yet threatening. Neither Prince of Peace nor Prince of Charm, forever ensconced atop the building’s spire is the ludicrously reductive figure of a rotating “grinning boy” holding up a hamburger. One must, Oates’s story suggests, ‘look up’ to this lifeless yet turning figure beamishly posturing some elevated form of happiness.

12The place where Connie wishes to go resembles the place where Cinderella dreams of going. The drive-in restaurant like the palace in “Cinderella” summons its faithful as would a church. The spells of music replace the peals of bells calling forth all fair young maidens to the place where the son of a ‘King’ can be found and where the ‘sinner’--here, the afflicted maiden--can be called forth and ‘saved’ from the suffering she has borne. Certain moments in the Catholic Mass seem subtly reduced in Oates’s story: the Communion call to the rail (Oates’s story is set in the early sixties, when the Latinate liturgy prevailed) becomes the promise of food at the restaurant’s counter; the ‘host’ itself held high in the consecrated hamburger raised aloft by the revolving figure. Eddie’s own ‘grin’ and ‘turn’ on the stool emulates this grinning, turning figure; and the girls crossing their ankles are all that remains of the Sign of the Cross. Oates thereby captures the sense of religious culture lost in the pleasurable rituals of childhood fantasy, trapped in self-denigration and made hapless in the “going” of life. Oates sees Connie as Cinderella, having been and going nowhere. Eddie, Connie’s boyfriend, ceremonially acts out in postpubsecent imitatio the icon’s motions as he turns friskily upon his seatoffering Connie a hamburger and a soda for another kind of happy turn down an alley. Before she and Eddie leave, Connie finds herself taking notice of another pilgrim to this shrine of toyish joy–“a boy” whose “lips widened into a grin” who then playfully yet ominously intones to her, “Gonna get you, baby.” (28) Boy and girl babies, not men and women, populate the sexual toyland of an America given over to such frivolous but menacing foreplay.

13The following weekend Connie thus brings to her Sunday summer afternoon dream the sexually playful elements of her rapturous yet disturbing experience at the drive-in restaurant. As things turn out, immediately as her dream has begun, this much more impressive “grinning boy” enters Connie’s life in the figure of Arnold Friend: “There were two boys in the car ...and one was grinning at her.” (31-2) This child of man imperially shows off his credentials as the vassal of a true ‘king’--Bobby King. In effect a dutiful son to King, he proclaims “I listen to him all the time.” (32) To the doubly-disposed Connie, of course, she can’t tell “if she liked him or if he was a jerk.” (33) Then, having trumpeted his car horn, he heralds himself:

“This here is my name, to begin with,” he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the side, with a drawing of a round, grinning face that reminded Connie of a pumpkin, except it wore sunglasses. (33)

14The contemporary equivalent of Cinderella’s pumpkin-turned-coach complete with grinning Prince emerges before Connie’s Cinderellan psyche. Arnold, like the cartoon on his golden “convertible,” presents to her his own silly, bizarre pumpkin face; and Connie, fascinated yet fearful, hesitates to encourage him. Arnold, for his part, comes to Connie with that same determination that drives the Prince to Cinderella. He will have his lady fair because, as he says, she's “the one.” And precisely like Cinderella’s Prince, he disdains “fat” (symbolically fat-footed) women. “I don't like them fat,” he will announce, as if savoring fast food. (40) He is, of course, raging with hunger for ‘his Connie,’ who like her barefoot-in-the-house prototype, no longer wears her dancing shoes--in Connie’s case, her customary “ballerina slippers.” And true to the form of Cinderella’s Prince, Arnold says, “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you...” (35) Arnold confidently struts with the erogenous authority and power of Cinderella’s Prince...the libidinous law of the land, which puts him in the company of our culture’s Cinderellan acknowledgment that a woman, chosen merely for her arousing looks, her body’s movement to music, her being “the one,” must, like food on a fork, yield herself up. One social critic, citing what she calls “the Cinderella complex,” voices concern that far too many American women remain trapped in helpless, even endangering dependency upon men.16 Another commentator, a psychologist, reads the Cinderella figure as the object of pervasive envy--the plight of many women who find themselves nullified, made helpless, and ultimately attacked.17 Oates defines the social contract as pretty much a one-sided proposition assuring men the rewards of sexual gratification for the mere grabbing. Most have one characteristic in common: physical intimidation coupled with sexual immaturity posing as a morally responsible agency, cloaked in the authority of uniform or high office, or some sartorial emblem of power over youth (one recalls the military or royal dress, for example, of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, other ‘uniformed’ public figures, often targeting young, easily-summoned and readily subduable young women).

15Connie, of course, though barely beyond childhood, detects some kind of fakery and suspects that Arnold is neither princely nor youthful. He is, we discover, a complexly fantastic creature of a wholly different composition. Part of him contains a vulgar parody of the impudent, offensive sexuality of the militantly homoerotic culture awkwardly parading itself in the lineaments of American youthcult. But the parody falls back upon itself. Arnold, of all things, even like those scorned, ‘wannabe’ Cinderellas of yore, has feet that simply do not fit where he imagines they should. Whether or not earth-bound in satanic affliction, he is a wobbling imposter in the parodic terms by which one’s ultimate worth is valued in Cinderella’s and America’s world--by one’s size--shoe or otherwise--and, of relatedly, by one’s looking “pretty,” one’s inclining oneself to the deadening music of Bobby King’s eschatalogical “XYZ Jamboree,” and by one’s being singled out for admiration in the process. This youthcultural requisite signals a special thematic effect in the story. In fact, the morally suspect Arnold cannot maintain the parody of childish human sexuality that he has tarted up. As a thirty-year-old man unsuccessfully passing himself off as a sexually attractive youth of eighteen, he ends up coming across in boorish mockery of that commercially feminized (not feminine) ideal of being “pretty” that the culture he symbolizes vulgarly upholds and pursues:

He grinned to reassure her and lines appeared at the corners of his mouth. His teeth were big and white. He grinned so broadly his eyes became slits and she saw how thick his lashes were, thick and big as if painted with a black tarlike material. (38)

16Reflecting forth his visceral obsessions, Arnold’s sunglasses mirrored back to Connie the image of her blouse. Flaunting his face, Arnold Friend--whose namesans letter r’s becomes “An Old Fiend”--can exhibit only a diabolic ferocity of appetite. But in his grotesque parody Arnold flashes his own version of the ‘winning’ Miss America smile under a heavy curtain of eye shadow in a face that is mascara muddied and ‘masked’ in “plastered” makeup, while he teeters about ridiculously in his high-heels, a shaky wig on his head, tight in his pullover and jeans, fretting and strutting--wobbling, actually--his hour upon the walkway. Arnold’s wobbling about, as the stuff of Connie’s dream, evokes another vestige of the grinning hamburger boy who turns about the drive-in’s steepled roof. He’s virtually everything that one could ever fantasize of an impostor--a phony Prince and a fake Cinderella to boot. Even the music he ‘sings’ in his pitch to Connie is spurious--the rowdy trash of poprock accorded the solemnity of religious hymn. And in his teetering-tottering eminence, male or female, he embodies theovercontrived appeal of virtually every pop icon that the merchandising media have created for public consumption or emulation, from Presley to Prince, Monroe to Madonna, James Bond to Ken and Barbie, a pin-up culture to a universe of childishly sexual ‘playmates’ and ‘pets.’ Making himself a clumsy joke of how anyone can become a ‘dashing’ prince or ‘beautiful’ princess if one sets one’s life to it, the banal Arnold Friend affirms the unfortunate truth that for too many, young women especially, such a ‘dream’ of recreating oneself, whatever its frightening impact, has indeed taken firm hold of the collective psyche. After all, like all that he stalks, he ishis culture’s creation...both its dream and nightmare.

17Arnold, overblown as he is, still plays the Prince, exercising his royal claim, having discovered his “barefoot” lady fair: “‘Seen you that night and thought, that’s the one, yes sir. I never needed to look anymore.’” (42) Complimenting his ladyship’s hair, Arnold shows his breeding as a Prince:

“...I thank you sweetheart,” he said with a mock bow, but again he almost lost his balance. He had to bend and adjust his boots. Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he might seem taller. (42-43)

18To coax her out, this sinister Prince threateningly assures her that, now that her hour has come, there is no father for her, nor for that matter any fairy godmother with her miracle fowl and other charmed objects: “'Hey, you know that old woman down the road, the one with the chickens and stuff--you know her?'” (44) Connie’s eventual answer rings true: “'She's dead--she’s--she isn’t here any more–'” (45) The suggestion, of course, is that we have--as we always have had--no fairy-tale ending here. No coach and six will await Connie, only a “convertible jalopy” with its mocking cartoon of this pumpkin-faced, grinning Prince of Darkness intent upon taking Connie on another journey, where indeed she may join the dead “old woman down the road.” Arnold’s sing-song voice, given hymnal validation by the popculture, accompanies his ever-childish, now-menacing insincerity. He, like Cinderella’s youthful Prince, has come to take Connie away from everyplace where she has been. Connie’s wish upon a star and her death wish have become one.

19Joyce Carol Oates, in having drawn much of the idiosyncratic detail of Arnold Friend’s parodic quality directly from the March 1966 Lifemagazine descriptive account of serial-killer Charles Schmidt, the “Pied Piper of Tucson,”18 who in fact fashioned himself after his idol, Elvis Presley, illustrates how fact and fancy in art take on the same confusion as life and art in reality. Most of the details in the descriptive catalogue of Arnold Friend are drawn from the Life account. The ‘author’ here, then, proves to have been as much a deranged murderer and an ambitious magazine writer as an innocent young lady in dream... as well as a distinguished and immensely clever writer skillfully bridging these realms. This confusion as to what is real or not and where it comes from, long a fascination with Joyce Carol Oates, along with the title of her famous story, informs the brilliantly ambiguous portrait of Corky in the Epilogue of her recent novel What I Lived For,and the astonishingly calm duplicity of Quentin P depicted in her recent novella, Zombie. In this fashion, she suggests, the iniquitous farce of our nowadays plays itself out in the horrid truth of its self-parody found within a child’s honestly contradictory vision of life, America’s escapable dream and inescapable nightmare,19 from which we create what devours us, and blaspheme what we revere. In the seemingly vain, nervous and unsteady emotionalism of a teen-age girl, Oates, from the integrity of her art, locates the issues defining the breakdown of fundamental moral consciousness of our Age of Appetite in the fantasy of a child-victim whose eventual sacrifices mock our culture’s mindless self-consumptions.

Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 – March 13, 1990) was the director of the Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children at the University of Chicago from 1944 to 1973. After his death allegations of plagiarism, falsified credentials, and abusive treatment of students were raised and later substantiated.[2][3][4][5]

Bettelheim was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Following the Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, Bettelheim was arrested in May because he was a Jew and an advocate of Austrian independence. He was imprisoned for ten and a half months in the concentration camps Dachau and Buchenwald until he was released in April 1939.[6] He then emigrated to the United States and participated in a wartime project sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation to help refugee scholars find new jobs. He first worked as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, then taught as a professor at Rockford College, and then returned to the University of Chicago to accept positions as both professor and director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children.[7]

Bettelheim remained director of the school from 1944 to 1973 and during the 1960s and 1970s had an international reputation in such fields as autism, child psychiatry, and Freudian analysis.[5][8] After his death in 1990, it was discovered that he had substantially misrepresented his background and credentials.[3][9] For example, he had never been a candidate at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and had only taken three introductory courses in psychology.[4] His one Ph.D was in either art history or philosophy (aesthetics).[3][10] Bettelheim's theories on autism, for which he blamed parents and primarily mothers in The Empty Fortress (1967), raised controversy in his lifetime[11] and are now considered to be discredited.[12]

After his death, it was further revealed that Bettelheim often used violence against students at the school even though he wrote against corporal punishment. Counselors tended to merely perceive corporal punishment, whereas some but not all students perceived rage and out-of-control violence.[8][2][13][14]

Chicago-area psychiatrists were later criticized for knowing at least some of what was occurring and not taking effective action.[15][16] The University of Chicago was also criticized for not providing their normal oversight during Bettelheim's tenure.[8][17]

Background in Austria[edit]

Bruno Bettelheim was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, on August 28, 1903. When his father died, Bettelheim left his studies at the University of Vienna to look after his family's sawmill. Having discharged his obligations to his family's business, Bettelheim returned as a mature student in his 30s to the University of Vienna.[citation needed] He earned a degree in philosophy, producing a dissertation on Immanuel Kant and on the history of art.

Bettelheim's first wife, Gina, took care of a troubled American child, Patsy, who lived in their home in Vienna for seven years. There is disagreement among sources regarding whether or not Patsy was autistic.[10][17][18]

In the Austrian academic culture of Bettelheim's time, one could not study the history of art without mastering aspects of psychology.[citation needed] Candidates for the doctoral dissertation in the History of Art in 1938 at Vienna University had to fulfill prerequisites in the formal study of the role of Jungian archetypes in art, and in art as an expression of the Freudian subconscious.

Though Jewish by birth, Bettelheim grew up in a secular family. After the Nazi invasion and Anschluss (political annexation) of Austria on March 12, 1938, the Nazi authorities sent Bettelheim, other Austrian Jews and political opponents to the Dachau and Buchenwaldconcentration camps where they were brutally treated, and tortured or killed. In Buchenwald, he met and befriended the social psychologist Ernst Federn. Bettelheim was arrested on May 28, 1938, was imprisoned in both these camps for ten and half months being released on April 14, 1939.[6][19] As a result of an amnesty declared for Hitler's birthday (April 20, 1939), Bettelheim and hundreds of other prisoners regained their liberty. Bettelheim drew on the experience of the concentration camps for some of his later work.

Life and career in the United States[edit]

Bettelheim arrived by ship as a refugee in New York City in late 1939 to join his wife Gina, who had already emigrated. They divorced because she had become involved with someone else during their separation. He soon moved to Chicago, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944, and married an Austrian woman, Getrude ('Trudi') Weinfeld, also an emigrant from Vienna.

The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a wartime project to help resettle European scholars by circulating their resumes to American Universities. Through this process, Ralph Tyler hired Bettelheim to be his research assistant at the University of Chicago from 1939-1941 with funding from the Progressive Education Association to evaluate how high schools taught art. Once this funding ran out, Bettelheim found a job at Rockford College, Illinois, where he taught from 1942-1944.[7][8][20]

In 1943, he published the paper "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations" about his experiences in the concentration camps, a paper which was highly regarded by Dwight Eisenhower among others.[5] Bettelheim claimed he had interviewed 1,500 fellow prisoners, although this was unlikely.[5][21]

Through Ralph Tyler's recommendation, the University of Chicago appointed Bettelheim as a professor of psychology, as well as director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for emotionally disturbed children.[8] He held both positions from 1944 until his retirement in 1973. He wrote a number of books on psychology and, for a time, had an international reputation for his work on Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis, and emotionally disturbed children. He stated that the Viennese psychoanalyst Richard Sterba had analyzed him, as well as implying in several of his writings that he had written a PhD dissertation in the philosophy of education. His actual PhD was in art history, and he had only taken three introductory courses in psychology.[4]

At the Orthogenic School, Bettelheim made changes and set up an environment for milieu therapy, in which children could form strong attachments with adults within a structured but caring environment. He claimed considerable success in treating some of the emotionally disturbed children. He wrote books on both normal and abnormal child psychology, and became a major influence in the field, widely respected during his lifetime. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[22] After retiring in 1973, he and his wife moved to Portola Valley, California, where he continued to write and taught at Stanford University. His wife died in 1984.[23]

Bettelheim analyzed fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychology in The Uses of Enchantment (1976). He discussed the emotional and symbolic importance of fairy tales for children, including traditional tales at one time[clarification needed] considered too dark, such as those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm. Bettelheim suggested that traditional fairy tales, with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in remote, symbolic terms. If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Bettelheim thought that by engaging with these socially-evolved stories, children would go through emotional growth that would better prepare them for their own futures. In the United States, Bettelheim won two major awards for The Uses of Enchantment: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism[24] and the National Book Award in category Contemporary Thought.[25] However, a 1991 article in The Journal of American Folklore charged that Bettelheim had engaged in plagiarism by unacknowledged borrowing from a number of sources, primarily Julius Heuscher's A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales (1963), although Heuscher himself stated he was not bothered.[26][27]

His writings covered a wide range of topics, beginning shortly after he arrived in the United States with an essay on concentration camps and their dynamics. He long had a reputation as an authority on these topics.[28]

At the end of his life, Bettelheim suffered from depression. He appeared to have had difficulties with depression for much of his life.[28] In 1990, widowed, in failing physical health, and suffering from the effects of a stroke which impaired his mental abilities and paralyzed part of his body, he committed suicide as a result of self-induced asphyxiation by placing a plastic bag over his head.[29][30] He died on March 13, 1990, in Maryland.[31]

Currently, many of Bettelheim's theories in which he attributes autism spectrum conditions to parenting style are considered to be discredited, not least because of the controversies relating to his academic and professional qualifications.[12][32][33]

Misrepresented credentials[edit]

As early as November 1990, the Chicago Tribune raised questions about Bettelheim's credentials. Different people seemed to believe different things about his background and credentials. Bertram Cohler and Jacquelyn Sanders at the Orthogenic School believed Bettelheim had a PhD in art history. In some of his own writings, Bettelheim implied that he had written a dissertation on the philosophy of education. Ralph Tyler, who brought Bettelheim to the University of Chicago, assumed that Bettelheim had two PhDs, one in art history and the other in psychology.[8] A related perception is provided by biography of Tyler which states, "Tyler assumed, mistakenly, that Bettelheim had received formal certification in psychoanalysis, a matter on which Bettelheim never set Tyler straight."[20]

A lot of information came out following the publication of two biographies, Bruno Bettelheim, Une vie (Bruno Bettelheim: A Life and a Legacy) (1995) by Nina Sutton, originally in French,[34][35][36] and The creation of Dr. B: A biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997) by Richard Pollak.[37][38]

These somewhat competing biographies, especially Pollak's more critical biography, seemed to motivate journalists to look into the matter in greater depth. Richard Pollak's biography begins with a personal account, for his brother was a resident at Bettelheim's school. While home one summer and playing hide-and-go-seek in a hay loft, the brother fell through a chute covered with hay, hit the concrete floor on the level below and died. Years later Pollak, hoping to get some information about his brother's life, sought out Bettelheim. As Pollak recounts, "Bettelheim immediately launched into an attack. The boys' father, he said, was a simple-minded 'schlemiel.' Their mother, he insisted, had rejected Stephen at birth forcing him to develop 'pseudo-feeble-mindedness' to cope." He went on to angrily ask, "What is it about these Jewish mothers, Mr. Pollak?" Bettelheim insisted the brother had committed suicide and made it look like an accident.[10][39]

A January 1997 review in the Baltimore Sun states, "The stance of infallibility over matters Pollak knew to be untrue prompted him to wonder about the foundation of Bettelheim's commanding reputation."[3] Pollak would go on to work as a journalist and magazine editor for close to two decades before attempting his biography of Bettelheim.[40]

A number of reviewers didn't praise Pollak's writing style, commenting that his book was motivated by "Vengeance, not malice"[10] or that his book was "curiously unnuanced,"[5] but they still largely agreed with his conclusions.[2][5] For example, in a New York Review of Books article, Robert Gottlieb describes Pollak as a "relentlessly negative biographer," but Gottlieb still writes, "The accusations against Bettelheim fall into several categories. First, he lied; that is, he both exaggerated his successes at the school and falsified aspects of his background, claiming a more elaborate academic and psychoanalytic history in Vienna than he had actually had. There is conclusive evidence to support both charges." He goes on to say that Bettelheim arrived in the United States as a Holocaust survivor and refugee without a job nor even a profession. Gottlieb writes, "I suspect he said what he thought it was necessary to say, and was then stuck with these claims later on, when he could neither confirm them (since they were false) nor, given his pride, acknowledge that he had lied." This is Robert Gottlieb's judgment call for why Bettelheim lied.[28]

A review in The Independent (UK) of Sutton's book stated that Bettelheim "despite claims to the contrary, possessed no psychology qualifications of any sort,"[41] A review of Pollak's book in the New York Times stated "when all is said and done, Bettelheim seems to have re-enacted the archetypal American success story of inventing a false past, concocting a new formula for snake oil and selling it to the public with flummery. Under Mr. Pollak's magnifying glass, Bettelheim is seen in a new, harsh light, and stands exposed as a brilliant charlatan."[9] Another review in the New York Times by a different reviewer stated that Bettelheim "began inventing degrees he never earned."[5] A review in the Chicago Tribune stated "as Pollak demonstrates, Bettelheim was a snake-oil salesman of the first magnitude."[10]

When Bettelheim applied for a position at Rockford College in Illinois, he claimed in a résumé that he had earned summa cum laude doctorates in philosophy, art history, and psychology, and he made such claims that he had run the art department at Lower Austria's library, that he had published two books on art, that he had excavated Roman antiquities, and that he had engaged in music studies with Arnold Schoenberg. When he applied at the University of Chicago for a professorship and as director of the Orthogenic School, he further claimed that he had training in psychology, experience raising autistic children, and personal encouragement from Sigmund Freud. In a 1997 Weekly Standard article Peter Kramer, clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, summarized: "There were snatches of truth in the tall tale, but not many. Bettelheim had earned a non-honors degree in philosophy, he had made acquaintances in the psychoanalytic community, and his first wife had helped raise a troubled child. But, from 1926 to 1938, -- the bulk of the '14 years' at university -- Bettelheim had worked as a lumber dealer in the family business."[18]

Sources disagree whether Bettelheim's one PhD was in art history[4][3] or in philosophy (aesthetics).[10][9] He claimed he had met Freud and that Freud that stated he (Bettelheim) was "just [or, "exactly"] the person we need for psychoanalysis to grow and develop."[39][21] Bettelheim had never met Freud.[5][21] He had not been accepted as a candidate for membership in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.[4] A posthumous review of his transcript showed that Bettelheim had only taken three introductory classes in psychology.[4]

Bettelheim's first wife, Gina, took care of a troubled American child, Patsy, who lived in their home in Vienna for seven years. Although Bettelheim later claimed he himself had taken care of the child, there is general agreement that his wife actually provided most of the child care. There is disagreement, however, among sources regarding whether or not Patsy was autistic.[10][17][18] Bettelheim later embellished the story claiming there had been two or even several autistic children.[5][21]

In his 1997 review of Pollak's book in the Baltimore Sun, Paul McHugh, then director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, stated "Bettelheim – with boldness, energy and luck – exploited American deference to Freudo-Nietzschean mind-sets and interpretation, especially when intoned in accents Viennese."[3]

In his book Unstrange Minds (2007), Roy Richard Grinker wrote that Bettelheim was "simply too good a writer, and with his Viennese accent—the sign of an authentic expert in psychology—too good a self promoter." [42][43]

Plagiarism in Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment[edit]

For his book The Uses of Enchantment (1976), which applied Freudian psychology to fairy tales, Bettelheim won the 1976 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and the 1977 National Book Award in category Contemporary Thought.[24][25]

However, within a year of his death, an article in the winter 1991 edition of The Journal of American Folklore presented a case that he had engaged in plagiarism by borrowing without acknowledgement from a number of sources, including author Alan Dundes' 1967 paper on Cinderella, although primarily from Dr. Julius E. Heuscher's book A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales (1963, 1974 enlarged and rev. edition). A Los Angeles Times article stated, "Alan Dundes, a widely published expert on folklore and a 28-year veteran of Berkeley's anthropology department, details what he says is 'wholesale borrowing,' not only of 'random passages' but also of 'key ideas' in Bettelheim's 1976 book." Heuscher himself was gracious about the charges, stating "We all plagiarize. I plagiarize. Many times, I am not sure whether it came out of my own brain or if it came from somewhere else. . . . I'm only happy that I would have influenced Bruno Bettelheim. I did not always agree with him. But that does not matter. Poor Bruno Bettelheim. I would not want to disturb his eternal sleep with this" [ellipsis as it appeared in Los Angeles Times article].[26][27][44]

Jacquelyn Sanders, who worked with Bettelheim and was the director of the Orthogenic School in 1991, states that she had read Dundes' article but did not believe many people would agree with his conclusions. She said, "I would not call that plagiarism. I think the article is a reasonable scholarly endeavor, and calling it scholarly etiquette is appropriate. It is appropriate that this man deserved to be acknowledged and Bettelheim didn't. . . . But I would not fail a student for doing that, and I don`t know anybody who would" [Ellipses in Chicago Tribune article].[45]

Heuscher wrote in 1963: "While one must never 'explain' the fairy tales to the child, the narrator's understanding of their meaning is very important. It furthers the sensitivity for selecting those stories which are most appropriate in various phases of children's development and for stressing those themes which may be therapeutic for specific psychological difficulties."[27]

Bettelheim wrote in 1976: "One must never 'explain' to the child the meaning of fairy tales. However, the narrator's understanding of the fairy tale's message to the child's preconscious mind is important. . . . It furthers the adult's sensitivity to selection of those stories which are most appropriate to the child's state of development and to the specific psychological difficulties he is confronted with at the moment" [ellipsis as it appeared in Los Angeles Times article].[27]

In reviewing Richard Pollak's The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997), Sarah Boxer of the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Pollak gives a damning passage-for-passage comparison of the two. [Heuscher's 1963 book and Bettelheim's 1976 book]"[5]

Abusive treatment of students[edit]

After Bettelheim's suicide in 1990, some students claimed that Bettelheim exploded in screaming anger and hit students, although he preached against corporal punishment. A November 1990 Chicago Tribune article states: "Of the 19 alumni of the Orthogenic School interviewed for this story, some are still bitterly angry at Bettelheim, 20 or 30 years after leaving the institution. Others say their stays did them good, and they express gratitude for having had the opportunity to be at the school. All agree that Bettelheim frequently struck his young and vulnerable patients."[8]

Some but not all counselors at the Orthogenic School tended to see Bettelheim merely as using corporal punishment, while many but not all students saw rage and out-of-control violence on his part.[13][14][47][48][49][50]

Alida Jatich, who lived at the school from 1966 to 1972 from ages twelve to eighteen, wrote in an initially anonymous April 1990 letter to the Chicago Reader, "Bettelheim told the children over and over how lucky they were to be at his school, and that if they didn't do as they were told, they would end up in a state mental asylum where they would be given drugs and shock treatments. . . . . I lived in fear of Bettelheim's unpredictable temper tantrums, public beatings, hair pulling, wild accusations and threats and abuse in front of classmates and staff. One minute he could be smiling and joking, the next minute he could be exploding." Ms. Alida Jatich publicly revealed her name and the years she was at the school in another letter a year later.[13][51]

In an August 1990 letter to the Washington Post, Charles Pekow wrote, "Bettelheim had standard lines he gave us all: we were considered hopelessly 'crazy' by the outside world and only he could save us from lives in mental institutions or jail. 'You get better here or you go to a nut house,' I heard him routinely tell school-aged children. . . . . Once, after a boy returned from a visit home, Bettelheim spent five minutes slapping him in the face, hitting him in the sides with fists and pulling his hair. Midway through, he revealed why: The lad had told his brother to 'do well in school.' He had no right to 'push' his brother around. To be sure, the blows he struck, though often painful and humiliating, did not physically damage people. But I often saw Bettleheim drag children across the floor by their hair and kick them. He even hit autistic children who couldn't speak clearly."[14]

As an example of a counselor viewing Bettelheim's behavior as more legitimate corporal punishment, David Zwerdling, who was a counselor at the school for one year in 1969-70, wrote a Sept. 1990 response to the Washington Post in which he stated, "I witnessed one occasion when an adolescent boy cursed at a female counselor. Incensed upon learning of this, Dr. Bettelheim proceeded to slap the boy two or three times across the face, while telling him sternly never to speak that way to a woman again. This was the only such incident I observed or heard of during my year at the school, and it should be noted that until fairly recently, the near-consensus against corporal punishment in schools did not obtain." However, Zwerdling also noted, "He also was a man who, for whatever reasons, was capable of intense anger on occasion."[14]

In an October 1990 essay in Commentary magazine, former student Ronald Angres wrote, "For all of those years, they [my parents] too endured his insulting and intimidating theatrics. But from his behavior they never drew the obvious conclusion about his character, nor did they ever pause to consider how he must be treating those whom he had totally in his power. It did not seem to occur to them that in his 'total therapeutic milieu,' the professional distance they sought had been delegated to people who raised us, educated us, disciplined us, and controlled us far more completely than any parentand kept our real parents in the dark. Indeed, Bettelheim's constant verbal abuse of the parents with whom he dealt, and whom he refused to allow past the visitors' area—combined with his well-publicized assertion that it was parents who caused mental illness in their children—systematically destroyed their will to stand up for themselves or their children."

Roberta Carly Redford, who was a student at the Orthogenic School from age 16 to 23 (1967 to 1974), stated in a 1990 letter to the New York Times, "Unlike most of the other kids there, I was beaten only once. Bettelheim knew how to find people's Achilles' heels. Alida Jatich, whom you quote, he beat up often, knowing that her parents had done so and that was what would cause her the most grief. He also did to me what my parents had done -- stripped me of my self-esteem, caused me constantly to doubt myself and verbally abused me. He told me I was a slut, I was a failure at life, and only by abiding by his rules would I ever be fit to live in society again."[50]

In a July 1990 letter to the Chicago Reader, a former counselor at the school writing anonymously stated, "At that time, in the late forties, I probably had more experience upon which to assess the adjustment of the children than most of the counselors at the school. By age 22, when I worked there, I had spent fully a third of my life in group living with a variety of youngsters under stress; four years in an orphan home followed by three and a half years in the wartime army. I understood that the stream of human normality was very wide, and that time healed many wounds without human intervention. It amazed me that Bettelheim, a man from another culture, could look at the same child as I and see a 'schizophrenic' while I saw another rambunctious American kid. What did a forty year old Viennese intellectual really know about the inner (or outer for that matter) life of a ten-year-old West Side, Chicago Irish kid who had no one to care for him?"[52]

Richard Pollak's 1997 biography states that two separate women reported that Bettelheim fondled their breasts and those of other female students at the school while he was ostensibly apologizing to each for beating her.[2][18]

The above Nov. 1990 Chicago Tribune article listed the following accounts of abusive treatment of students at the 'Orthogenic School':[8]
• "[Ronald Angres] recently wrote in Commentary magazine, 'I lived for years in terror of his beatings, in terror of his footsteps in the dorms-in abject, animal terror.'"
• "would pull an adolescent girl out of a shower, then hit and berate her in front of dormitory mates. Yet Alida Jatich says he did just that"
• "another former student, Roberta Redford, recalls being summoned from a toilet stall for a similar thrashing,"
• "Orthogenic School patient Charles Pekow had allergies, but was not allowed to take medication, even when overcome by asthmatic attacks. Bettelheim thought allergies were psychologically induced—a theory largely laid to rest by subsequent medical research,"
• "Richard Younker, a photojournalist in Chicago, remembers how he and a dormitory mate, both Cub Scouts, decorated their wall with a plaque illustrating how to tie knots. 'Dr. B said to the whole dorm: "Look, the two boys who are so twisted up inside show the whole world by putting knots on the wall,"' Younker says."

On the other hand, Karen Zelan, who worked at the school from 1956 to 1964 recalls Bettelheim taking personal responsibility for a badly dehydrated five-year-old girl and nursing her back to health when other staff members could not get her to take nourishment.[8]

Jacquelyn Sanders, who started as a counselor, left to pursue her PhD, and later became director of the Orthogenic School, thinks it may have been a case of too much success coming too soon. She said, ``Dr. B got worse once he started getting acclaim. He was less able to have any insight into his effect on these kids.``[8]

Richard Younker said, "I think these things happened to me the way I describe them. If you made the most innocent joke to the man, he exploded. He was out of control."[49]

In her April 1991 letter to the Chicago Reader, Alida Jatich wrote, "I suspect that the main reason why it's so hard to talk about the Bettelheim tragedy is this: in one way or another, he induced all of us to act in ways that we feel sick to think about now. This includes kids, parents, staff members, students and faculty at the University of Chicago, colleagues, and so forth."[13]

Three former students have written books about their experiences at the school:
•Tom Lyon's The Pelican and After: A Novel about Emotional Disturbance, a roman à clef novel in which the head of the school is a "Dr. V," published in 1983.[53]
• Stephen Eliot's memoir Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenics School, published in 2003.[54]
•Roberta Carly Redford memoir Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogeneic School, published in 2010.[55]


A September 10, 1990 Newsweek article stated: "Patients were not the only ones who knew of Bettelheim's explosive temper. There are indications that at least the local psychiatric community knew exactly what was going on, and did nothing. Chicago analysts scathingly referred to the doctor as 'Beno Brutalheim.'"[15][16]

In an April 4, 1991 letter to the Chicago Reader, former student Alida Jatich asked, "Who are these analysts? Why didn't they warn the university and our parents? Why are they still keeping silent?"[13]

A November 1990 article in the Chicago Tribune reported that the University of Chicago's official biographical sketch of Bettelheim listed him as having a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) but did not specify the field.[8]

In a January 1997 Los Angeles Times review of Richard Pollak's biography The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim, Howard Gardner wrote, "When I began to discuss this biography with clinicians, several of them said in effect, 'Oh, we all knew this about Bettelheim. We did not believe his claims and figures; we knew he was a bastard.' I asked myself--and then I started to ask others--'Why did no one expose this fraud, this pretending saint who was tainted with evil? Did their silence encourage Bettelheim's excesses?' Answers varied from fear about Bettelheim's legendary capacity for retribution to the solidarity needed among the guild of healers to a feeling that, on balance, Bettelheim's positive attributes predominated and an unmasking would fuel more malevolent forces."[2] Howard Gardner is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is perhaps best known for his theory of multiple intelligences.

In a June/July 1997 article in First Things, Molly Finn wrote, "it is deplorable that the institution [University of Chicago] supported Bettelheim's work without ever setting up the oversight committee or board of visitors it usually appointed."[17]

Richard Pollak, author of The Creation of Dr. B (1997), states that popular media played along from the start. He said, "They never asked the questions, never asked to see any kind of support for the claims he was making. He'd appear on Dick Cavett and the Today Show, and they all sat there slack-jawed and threw softball questions."[56]

Autism controversy[edit]

Autism spectrum conditions are now currently regarded as perhaps having multiple forms with a variety of genetic, epigenetic, and brain development causes influenced by such environmental factors as complications during pregnancy, viral infections, and perhaps even air pollution.[12][57][32][33][17][9][58]

The two biographies by Sutton (1995) and Pollak (1997) awakened interest and focus on Bettelheim's actual methods as distinct from his public persona.[17][9][5] Bettelheim's theories on the causes of autism have been largely discredited, and his reporting rates of cure have been questioned, with critics stating that his patients were not actually suffering from autism.[10][17][59] In a favorable review of Pollak's biography, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times wrote, "What scanty evidence remains suggests that his patients were not even autistic in the first place."[9]

Bettelheim believed that autism did not have an organic basis, but resulted when mothers withheld appropriate affection from their children and failed to make a good connection with them. Bettelheim also blamed absent or weak fathers. One of his most famous books, The Empty Fortress (1967), contains a complex and detailed explanation of this dynamic in psychoanalytical and psychological terms. These views were disputed at the time by mothers of autistic children and by researchers.[11] He derived his thinking from the qualitative investigation of clinical cases.[citation needed] He also related the world of autistic children to conditions in concentration camps.

In A Good Enough Parent, published in 1987, he had come to the view that children had considerable resilience and that most parents could be "good enough" to help their children make a good start.[60]

Prior to this, Bettelheim subscribed to and became an early prominent proponent of the "refrigerator mother" theory of autism: the theory that autistic behaviors stem from the emotional frigidity of the children's mothers. He adapted and transformed the Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago as a residential treatment milieu for such children, who he felt would benefit from a "parentectomy". This marked the apex of autism viewed as a disorder of parenting.[58][61]

A 2002 book on autism spectrum stated, "At the time, few people knew that Bettelheim had faked his credentials and was using fictional data to support his research."[62]Michael Rutter has observed, "Many people made a mistake in going from a statement which is undoubtedly true—that there is no evidence that autism has been caused by poor parenting—to the statement that it has been disproven. It has not actually been disproven. It has faded away simply because, on the one hand, of a lack of convincing evidence and on the other hand, an awareness that autism was a neurodevelopmental disorder of some kind."[63]

In a 1997 review of two books on Bettelheim, Molly Finn wrote "I am the mother of an autistic daughter, and have considered Bettelheim a charlatan since The Empty Fortress, his celebrated study of autism, came out in 1967. I have nothing personal against Bettelheim, if it is not personal to resent being compared to a devouring witch, an infanticidal king, and an SS guard in a concentration camp, or to wonder what could be the basis of Bettelheim's statement that 'the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that his child should not exist.'"[17]

Although Bettelheim foreshadowed the modern interest in the causal influence of genetics in the section Parental Background, he consistently emphasised nurture over nature. For example: "When at last the once totally frozen affects begin to emerge, and a much richer human personality to evolve, then convictions about the psychogenic nature of the disturbance become stronger still."; On Treatability, p. 412.

The rates of recovery claimed for the Orthogenic School are set out in Follow-up Data, with a recovery good enough to be considered a 'cure' of 43%., ps. 414–415.

Subsequently, medical research has provided greater understanding of the biological basis of autism and other illnesses. Scientists such as Bernard Rimland challenged Bettelheim's view of autism by arguing that autism is a neurodevelopmental issue. As late as 2009, the "refrigerator mother" theory retained some prominent supporters,[29][64] including the prominent Irish psychologist Tony Humphreys.[65] His theory still enjoys widespread support in France.[66][dubious– discuss]

Political controversy[edit]

Bettelheim became one of the most prominent defenders of Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem. He wrote a positive review for The New Republic.[67] This review prompted a letter from a writer, Harry Golden, who alleged that both Bettelheim and Arendt suffered from "an essentially Jewish phenomenon … self-hatred".[68][69] Richard Pollak's biography, The Creation of Dr. B, portrays Bettelheim as a clear anti-Semite even though he was raised in a secular Jewish household, and asserts that Bettelheim criticized in others the same cowardice he himself had displayed in the concentration camps.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1974, a four-part series featuring Bruno Bettelheim and directed by Daniel Carlin appeared on French television — Portrait de Bruno Bettelheim.

Woody Allen included Bettelheim as himself in a cameo in the film Zelig (1983).

A BBCHorizon documentary about Bettelheim was televised in 1986.[70]


Major works by Bettelheim[edit]

  • 1943 "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations", Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 38: 417–452.
  • 1950 Love Is Not Enough: The Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed Children, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1954 Symbolic Wounds; Puberty Rites and the Envious Male, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1955 Truants From Life; The Rehabilitation of Emotionally Disturbed Children, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1959 "Joey: A 'Mechanical Boy'", Scientific American, 200, March 1959: 117–126. (About a boy who believes himself to be a robot.)
  • 1960 The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1962 Dialogues with Mothers, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1967 The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, The Free Press, New York
  • 1969 The Children of the Dream, Macmillan, London & New York (About the raising of children in a kibbutz environment.)
  • 1974 A Home for the Heart, Knopf, New York. (About Bettelheim's Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago for schizophrenic and autistic children.)
  • 1976 The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-49771-6
  • 1979 Surviving and Other Essays, Knopf, New York (Includes the essay "The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank".)
  • 1982 On Learning to Read: The Child's Fascination with Meaning (with Karen Zelan), Knopf, New York
  • 1982 Freud and Man's Soul, Knopf, 1983, ISBN 0-394-52481-0
  • 1987 A Good Enough Parent: A Book on Child-Rearing, Knopf, New York
  • 1990 Freud's Vienna and Other Essays, Knopf, New York
  • 1993, Bettelheim, Bruno and Rosenfeld, Alvin A, "The Art of the Obvious" Knopf.
  • 1994 Bettelheim, Bruno & Ekstein, Rudolf: Grenzgänge zwischen den Kulturen. Das letzte Gespräch zwischen Bruno Bettelheim und Rudolf Ekstein (de). In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1994): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz (Grünewald): 49–60.

Critical reviews of Bettelheim (works and person)[edit]

  • Angres, Ronald: "Who, Really, Was Bruno Bettelheim?", personal essay, Commentary, 90, (4), October 1990: 26–30.
  • Bernstein, Richard: "Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim", New York Times, November 4, 1990: "The Week in Review" section.
  • Bersihand, Geneviève (1977). Bettelheim [Bettelheim]. Champigny-sur-Marne: R. Jauze. p. 199. ISBN 2-86214-001-5. 
  • Dundes, Alan: "Bruno Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment and Abuses of Scholarship". The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, N0. 411. (Winter, 1991): 74–83.
  • Ekstein, Rudolf (1994): Mein Freund Bruno (1903–1990). Wie ich mich an ihn erinnere. In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1994): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz (Grünewald), S. 87–94.
  • Eliot, Stephen: Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, St. Martin's Press, 2003.
  • Federn, Ernst (1994): Bruno Bettelheim und das Überleben im Konzentrationslager. In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1999): Ernst Federn: Versuche zur Psychologie des Terrors. Gießen (Psychosozial-Verlag): 105–108.
  • Finn M (1997). "In the case of Bruno Bettelheim". First Things (74): 44–8. 
  • Fisher, David James: Psychoanalytische Kulturkritik und die Seele des Menschen. Essays über Bruno Bettelheim (co-editor: Roland Kaufhold), Gießen (Psychosozial-Verlag)
  • Fisher, David James: Bettelheim: Living and Dying, Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies, Amsterdam, New York: Brill/Rodopi, 2008.
  • Frattaroli, Elio: "Bruno Bettelheim's Unrecognized Contribution to Psychoanalytic Thought", Psychoanalytic Review, 81:379–409, 1994.
  • Heisig, James W.: "Bruno Bettelheim and the Fairy Tales", Children's Literature, 6, 1977: 93–115.
  • Kaufhold, Roland (ed.): Pioniere der psychoanalytischen Pädagogik: Bruno Bettelheim, Rudolf Ekstein, Ernst Federn und Siegfried Bernfeld, psychosozial Nr. 53 (1/1993)
  • Kaufhold, Roland (Ed.): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz, 1994 (Grünewald)
  • Kaufhold, Roland (1999): „Falsche Fabeln vom Guru?" Der "Spiegel" und sein Märchen vom bösen Juden Bruno Bettelheim, Behindertenpädagogik, 38. Jhg., Heft 2/1999, S. 160–187.
  • Kaufhold, Roland: Bettelheim, Ekstein, Federn: Impulse für die psychoanalytisch-pädagogische Bewegung. Gießen, 2001 (Psychosozial-Verlag).
  • Kaufhold, Roland/Löffelholz, Michael (Ed.) (2003): "So können sie nicht leben" – Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990). Zeitschrift für Politische Psychologie 1-3/2003.
  • Lyons, Tom W. (1983), The Pelican and After: A Novel about Emotional Disturbance, Richmond, Virginia: Prescott, Durrell, and Company. This is a roman à clef novel in which the author lived at the Orthogenic School for almost twelve years. The novel's head of the institution is a "Dr. V."
  • Marcus, Paul: Autonomy in the Extreme Situation. Bruno Bettelheim, the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Mass Society, Praeger, Westport, Conn., 1999.
  • Pollak, Richard: The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997.
  • Raines, Theron (2002). Rising to the light : a portrait of Bruno Bettelheim (1 ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-40196-2. 
  • Redford, Roberta Carly (2010) Crazy: My Seven Years At Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, Trafford Publishing, 364 pages.
  • Sutton, Nina: Bruno Bettelheim: The Other Side of Madness, Duckworth Press, London, 1995. (Translated from the French by David Sharp in collaboration with the author. Subsequently, published with the title Bruno Bettelheim, a Life and a Legacy.)
  • Zipes, Jack: "On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children: Bruno Bettelheim's Moralistic Magic Wand", in Zipes, Jack: Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1979.


  1. ^"The Annual Obituary". 
  2. ^ abcdefThe Confidence Man : THE CREATION OF DR. B.: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim. By Richard Pollak. Simon & Schuster: 478 pages, Los Angeles Times, review by Howard Gardner, Jan. 19, 1997. " . . indicts those of his time who knew the man but kept their reservations to themselves."
  3. ^ abcdefBruno Bettelheim: a cautionary life, Baltimore Sun, Paul R. McHugh, Jan. 19, 1997.
  4. ^ abcdefGenius Or Fraud? Bettelheim's Biographers Can't Seem To Decide, Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman, January 23, 1997, page 2: " . . . when the directorship of the Orthogenic School became available, he evidently gambled that because of the war no one would be able to check on his credentials. . . "
  5. ^ abcdefghijkBoxer, Sarah (January 26, 1997). "The Man He Always Wanted to Be". The New York Times. Retrieved Dec 2, 2016.  
  6. ^ abNeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Steve Silberman, Foreword by Oliver Sacks, Penguin Random House, 2015, pages 202-203.
  7. ^ abBiographical Dictionary of American Educators, Vol. 1 edited by John F. Ohles, London, England and Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  8. ^ abcdefghijkThe Puzzle That Was Bruno Bettelheim, Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman, November 11, 1990. " . . Yet the university`s official biographical sketch [University of Chicago] credits Bettelheim with only one Ph.D., and doesn`t specify a field. . "
  9. ^ abcdefAn Icon of Psychology Falls From His Pedestal, New York Times, Books, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review of The Creation of Dr. B by Richard Pollak), Jan. 13, 1997.
  10. ^ abcdefghBiography As Revenge, Chicago Tribune, Marie Winn (who writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal's Leisure & Arts Page), Feb. 23, 1997. " . . He was familiar with this disease because his first wife, Gina, had cared for an autistic child in their home for several years. . "
  11. ^ abLehmann-Haupt, Christopher, "An Icon of Psychology Falls From His Pedestal," The New York Times, 13 Jan. 1997.
  12. ^ abcWorkshop on U.S. Data to Evaluate Changes in the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), February 1, 2011, Background: What Do We Know About ASD Prevalence?, M. Yeargin-Allsopp, page 7, ' . . There are likely multiple forms of ASDs with multiple causes that are poorly understood. . '
  13. ^ abcdeChicago Reader, Letters to the Editor, Brutal Bettelheim, Name Withheld, April 5, 1990. And, The Monster of the Midway, Alida Jatich, April 4, 1991. The author is a former student at the 'Orthogenic School' from 1966-1972, and in her second letter, she acknowledged authorship of the first.


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