Civilization and Its Discontents Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 11 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Civilization and Its Discontents.
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Primal Man

The primal man is man before he has entered into a civilization. He is aggressive and pursues his life based only on instinct. He follows his sexual desires as they arise and does not cooperate with other men. In Freud's theories, this primal man still lives within all men to some extent but has been tamed through the mechanism of civilization. in Freud's theory, the sexual drive leads him to keep a woman close at hand to satisfy his urges whenever he wishes. This leads to the birth of children and gives the woman and child a reason to stay close to the man for protection. Thus the primal family begins, as well a the interplay between the child and its parents on which much of Freud's psychoanalytic theories are based. This family is also an elemental type of civilization. The primal man also discovers early on that there are other men around him engaged in the same activities and that working together with them allows for more to be accomplished. This is another force that sets the primal man on the course toward becoming civilized.

Civilized Man

Civilized man is one who belongs to a civilization after submitting himself to its demands. These demands are both external and internal as Freud defines them. Externally, there the demands of the civilization's ethics. Internally, there are the demands that each civilized individual places on himself. These individual demands are enforced by the person's sense of guilt, which is a feeling that arises as a result of civilization. This guilt serves to inhibit the residual instincts of the primal man so that men may live in groups without destroying the bonds that hold them together.

Civilized man is never truly happy because of this inhibition of his instincts. He lives in constant internal struggle between his ego, or sense of self, and his conscience, which is connected to his sense of guilt and enforced by his super-ego. This constant struggle produces a persistent feeling of discontentment in civilized people.

Civilized man is naturally aggressive, a trait that is a holdover from primal man and which is normally held in check to some degree. Nevertheless, it is often set loose to the detriment of society. Freud seems to be of the opinion that it is possible for individual civilized men, and by extension civilization itself, to develop beyond the need for this aggression.


An important German thinker and writer and one of the most influential literary figures of Europe. Freud quotes from Goethe several times in the book, usually to reinforce what Freud feels should be recognized as an essential truth about humanity.


A French enlightenment era writer and philosopher, who was frequently critical of Christian teachings. Freud refers to Voltaire while explaining the various methods humans use to alleviate suffering.


A German writer and philosopher and friend and colleague of Goethe. Freud quotes from Schiller's poetry to illustrate the human condition.

Franz Alexander

A recognized authority in the field of psychoanalysis and a contemporary of Freud. Freud refers to some of Alexander's works in the book.

The Jews

Several times, Freud mentions the Jews as a people, usually in reference to their place in civilization as a kind of scapegoat for the dominant society. Freud is writing in the years leading up to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, and it is likely that the treatment of the Jews was a much-discussed topic at that time.


A German romantic poet. Freud quotes from Heine's memoirs while illustrating the impossibility of the adage to love one's enemies.

Francis of Assisi

A man who gave up his possessions and lived in poverty in service to the Catholic Church. Francis founded a religious order known as the Franciscans. Freud uses him as an example of a rare type of person who finds satisfaction in giving his love to all living things.

Romain Rolland

A French writer and recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. Rolland is a contemporary of Freud and is the distinguished friend to whom Freud refers in Chapter I, who offers his opinion of Freud's earlier book on religion. Freud uses Rolland's remark as a departure point for the discussion of the love instinct.

This section contains 711 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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