Sigmund Freud Writing Styles in Civilization and Its Discontents

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Freud is writing Civilization and its Discontents later in his career from the perspective of a respected and highly-influential man in his own field. The book looks back on his earlier works and pulls threads from many of them, which he weaves into the supporting material for his new theory about civilization and man's happiness. Having reached the level of importance that he has, he does not feel the need to establish the validity of most of this earlier material, assuming that his readership will accept his supporting theories as given.

Freud is also writing from the perspective of someone addressing his colleagues, and he anticipates their potential questions and objections to his central theory. At these points in the book, Freud uses the rhetorical device of changing his perspective to that of his imagined reader, slipping into their voice and raising questions he imagines they might be thinking. He then proceeds to answer these questions.

Freud does not pretend to answer all the questions he raises but leaves many of them open, implying that his readers might find the pursuit of their answers worthwhile. This indicates a certain respect Freud has for his readers, which forms part of his perspective while writing.


Freud's tone is matter-of-fact and direct, occasionally injected with deference, humor and sarcasm. He often writes directly to the reader, acknowledging the structure of the book and even apologizing from time to time that he has not laid out his argument as clearly as he would have liked. This deference to the reader is mildly flattering and serves to soften Freud's somewhat startling conclusion that civilization makes us unhappy.

Freud frequently assumes his reader is already familiar with his previous writing and with the field of psycho-analysis. As a result, his tone is often in the direct, matter-of-fact style that one might expect from a professor lecturing to a college class. He runs quickly through material he assumes his readers have already studied and then slows down to explain new or more complicated ideas.

Freud is skeptical about religion, and he assumes his reader shares his skepticism, as evidenced by his remarks about religion and religious people. His tone is often sarcastic on this subject, as when he closes Chapter II, with the sarcastic suggestion that religious people are essentially weak-minded people, who could satisfy their need to submit to authority without going through the bother of following religion.


Civilization and its Discontents is a short book, divided into eight chapters. Freud refers to it as an essay, which describes it well, for it does not go into great depth on the subject matter but outlines the larger themes of his theory of civilization and happiness, along with the supporting material he uses to arrive at the theory.

Broadly speaking, Freud starts with the general and moves to the specific over the course of the book. He begins by discussing a definition of civilization, followed by the interactions of individuals within a civilization and then onto the processes within the individual that both drive humans to form civilizations and also make them unhappy within civilizations. While this is the broad structure of the work, Freud often digresses and detours. This can make it difficult to follow the main thread of his argument at times, a fact which Freud acknowledges and for which he apologizes.

Chapters I-VI are primarily concerned with the supporting material on which Freud bases his main conclusion. They draw largely from his earlier works and provide background information to the reader. Chapter VII, is where Freud draws the various threads of his discussion together to propose his main theory that the struggle between love and death in the individual is the root cause of man's unhappiness in civilization. Finally, in Chapter VIII, Freud reiterates the path he has taken to reach his conclusion and more specifically defines some of the terms he has used.

This section contains 654 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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