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Keywords:

  • Melanie Klein;
  • Sigmund Freud;
  • Kleinian thinking;
  • Paula Heimann;
  • Susan Isaacs;
  • Joan Riviere;
  • ego;
  • ego functioning;
  • ego development;
  • superego;
  • id;
  • metapsychology;
  • phantasy;
  • psychoanalytic theory

This paper explores fundamental dimensions of Melanie Klein’s concept of the ego through a detailed study of the writings of Klein and her early colleagues (Paula Heimann, Susan Isaacs and Joan Riviere). The study examines three central issues: (a) the basic theoretical framework for Klein’s conceptualization of the ego, and specifically how her conceptualization builds on Freud’s structural and dual instinct models; (b) the processes involved in the development of the ego and its capacities (including the development from id to ego and from ego to superego); and (c) the view of the ego as an object of phantasy. Through this examination, the study demonstrates that Klein’s conceptualization of the ego is firmly grounded both in Freud’s formulations about the ego and in his theoretical and metapsychological approach to thinking about the ego. This counters the prevalent view that Klein was only focused on clinical understandings, unconcerned with theory and fuzzy in her abstract thinking. More specifically, it counters the view that Klein did not really have a concept of the ego in any well-structured sense of the term (Britton, 2003; Hinshelwood, 1994; Segal, 2001). The study considers the sources of these misconceived views. Finally, it argues that discarding such views allows us to appreciate better the richness of Klein’s thinking, her theoretical affinities to Freud, and the role of theory in the development and justification of psychoanalysis.