Call It Sleep

Eros, Thanatos and Oceanic Oneness in Henry Roth's Call it Sleep

In Chapter IX of Henry Roth's Call it Sleep, David achieves a rudimentary understanding of the intrinsic connection between sexuality and death. He is confronted with the reality of death for the first time in his short life when he sees a row of funeral hearses in the street. This experience causes David a great deal of anxiety, which his mother is unable to alleviate; but when he glances through the kitchen window, the snowflakes trigger a sudden realization within him: "Snow it was… Confetti… They threw it down on those two who were going to be married… Confetti. Carriages. Carriages! The same!... He saw it clearly. Everything belonged to the same dark." (70). David intuitively perceives a link between death and marriage, which for him unconsciously symbolizes sexuality.

David does not comprehend the intellectual implications of his realization, but through the boy's limited intuition Roth points the adult reader towards the Freudian theory of the sex drive (Eros) and the death drive (Thanatos). Sigmund Freud claims that these drives originate in the human subject's need "to restore an earlier state of things" (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 57). Freud calls this earlier state "oceanic...

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