Image by B. Mannoni/CC licensed
Image by B. Mannoni/CC licensed

Born in France of parents from Corsica, Octave Mannoni (1899-1989) belonged to a small group of critics who managed to think independently while faithfully following Lacan. After a tumultuous youth, Mannoni traveled to Africa and resided for more than twenty years in Madagascar, where he held various positions while working as an ethnologist. Upon return to France after World War II, he undertook analysis with Lacan and became initiated into clinical practice. Through the various schisms of psychoanalysis, Mannoni always adopted the ideological camp of Lacan (see Frantz Fanon). In 1982, after the dissolution of the Ecole Freudienne (Freudian School), he founded The Center for Psychoanalytical Training and Research with his wife Maud Mannoni and Patrick Guyomard. Mannoni’s works were varied and included ethnology, clinical practice, biographical study, and philosophical reflections.

Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology

Mannoni lists several aspects of human significance in the colonial situation–economical, political, ethical, and historical aspects–yet he chooses to focus on the psychological aspect for his study. Mannoni describes the core of his book Prospero and Caliban as, “the phenomena which occur in a colonial situation and the way in which colonials as well as natives react to that situation” (22).  He also explains that his book sets out to “describe colonial situations as primarily the results of misunderstanding, of mutual incomprehension” (31). To specify, Mannoni defines a colonial situation as follows:

A colonial situation is created so to speak, the very instant a white man, even if he is alone, appears in the midst of a tribe, even if it is independent, so long as long as he is thought to be rich or powerful or merely immune to the local forces of magic, and as long as he derives from his position, even though only in his most secret self, a feeling of his own superiority. (18)

Mannoni points out that one must take into account the relationship between the observer and the observed.  Every observation made, such as those made in Madagascar, is an interpretation as well as a reaction (18).

One theory Mannoni applies to his study is the belief that humans accuse others of faults they find in themselves (See Orientalism).  Consequently, those that openly display one’s innermost thoughts are inferior to those that keep these thoughts hidden (20).  Mannoni declares that the social and mental state of a native is not equal to the fraction created by the amount the native has absorbed over the amount the Europeans desire the natives to absorb (See Colonial Education, The Myths of the Native). In addition, a native’s reaction is not a simple reflection of European action (23).

Mannoni explores the typical connection between European civilization and colonial racism. He claims colonial racism to be the outcome of petty officials, small traders, and colonials with no success, not European civilization and its best representatives. Three options are listed for natives as outcomes of colonization. The first is assimilation, which also results in natives no longer being able to connect with their own culture.  Secondly, a native can experience a half-way assimilation where psychological conflicts occur usually ending in hostility directed at Europeans. Finally, no assimilation can take place (24).

At the conclusion of the “Introduction,” Octave Mannoni lists characteristic features of a colonial situation. They are as follows: domination of a mass by a minority, economic exploitation, paternalism, and racialism. The question arises over whether these characteristics are the outcome of a relationship between two peoples or if these features are distinctly colonial as a result of the above mentioned relationship (27). Mannoni reminds the reader:

In spite of all their love and devotion, the doctors, missionaries, and so on can hardly be called disinterested observers, if only because they came with the idea of changing, converting, civilizing … we need to bear this purpose in mind; we need, that is to say, to take into consideration the situation I have been calling colonial. (31)

The Inferiority Complex (Prospero)

Mannoni states that Europeans in Madagascar exhibit the need to feel highly regarded by others. The dependence versus inferiority relationship has already been established prior to each individual European entrance into the colonial situation. An inferiority complex occurs specifically for those colonizers whose “grave lack of sociability combined with a pathological urge to dominate” (102) urges them to seek out a situation with servile people. This complex falls into place especially for the colonizer with self-esteem that is not quenched, or more specifically raised, while in the presence of his own people, where he feels that he cannot compete.

The Dependence Complex (Caliban)

Mannoni attaches a dependence complex to the Malagasy. While in Madagascar, he studied, “the dependence complex among Malagasies in course of colonization, and more particularly among the Merina” (41). After being forced out of the stable routine of their tribal society by colonizers, the Malagasy tasted abandonment for the first time. Mannoni believes that the lack of stability caused a strong reliance on the colonizers. The Malagasy were described as, “neither inferior nor superior but yet wholly dependent” (157). Mannoni explains this through the difference in how each group of people handle a difficult situation. When the Europeans entered a difficult situation they were more concerned in proving that they were not inferior. The Malagasy, on the other hand, were more interested in avoiding a sense of abandonment (49). The drive to avoid a sense of abandonment results in dependence.

The Cult of the Dead

An inferiority complex does not exist among the Malagasy “because he knows whom he can count on, but they are all his equals, and not his superiors” (62). Equality among the Malagasy stems from their belief in the cult of the dead: “The dead are the sole and inexhaustible source of all good things: life, happiness, peace, and above all, fertility” (50). In Madagascar, the father is the natural interpreter of the will of the dead (57). The dead are superior to the living because they are the source of everything and as a result of this belief all living Malagasy are equal. For the Malagasy, dependence does not equal inferiority (61).

Commentary on Prospero and Caliban

Many scholars have reread Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a commentary on decolonization using the “colonial” metaphor of Prospero and Caliban’s relationship. This relationship parallels the interaction between colonizer and colonized.

Mannoni was the first psychologist to make use of this metaphor in a critical study of colonization.  “Mannoni’s inaugural gesture helped to shape the trajectory of those associated appropriations which lay ahead and, concomitantly, to bring about the re-estimation of The Tempest in Africa and the Caribbean.” (Nixon 562)

Two French theorists in particular responded negatively to Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban. In Discours sur le colonialisme, Aimé Césaire, a former student of Mannoni, “denounces Mannoni’s over-reliance on psychological interpretation and such bourgeois ‘hollow notions [as] the idea of the dependence complex’” (Zabus 37). In Peau Noire, Masques Blancs, Frantz Fanon declares that Mannoni has “[left] the Malagasy no choice safe between inferiority and dependence,” for “it is the racist who creates his inferior” (37). Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o also uses the connection to The Tempest in his collection of essays, Homecoming.

Selected Bibliography

Works by Octave Mannoni

  • Mannoni, Octave. “About the Pedagogy of Secondary Education.”  Psyche 5 (1950): 688-701.
  • “A Brief Introduction to Jacques Lacan.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 8.1 (1971): 97-106.
  • Ca N’empeche Pas d’Exister. Paris: Seuil, 1982.
  • Clefs Pour l’Imaginaire; Ou, L’autre Scene. Paris: Seuil, 1969.
  • “The Dependence Complex and the Personality Structure.” Psyche 2 (1947): 1453-1479.
  • “The Dependence Complex As It Affects Personality Structure.” Psyche 3 (1948): 1160-1163.
  • Fictions Freudiennes. Paris: Seuil, 1978.
  • Freud. Paris: Seuil, 1968.
  • “The Impassioned ‘Wants To Know Nothing.’” Nouvelle Revue dePsychanalyse 21 (Spring 1980): 43-50.
  • “Introduction to the Text of ‘The Rat Man.’” Clinica y Analisis Grupal 9.4 (1987): 437-459.
  • “Poetry and Psychoanalysis.” Psychanalyse 3 (1957): 139-163.
  • “Power, Knowledge and Transference.” Revista Uruguaya de Psicoanalisis 60 (Nov 1980): 16-19.
  • Un Commencement Qui N’en Finit Pas; Transfert, Interpretation, Thorie. Paris: Seuil, 1980.

Works About Mannoni

  • Bollard, O. Nigel. “Mannoni and Fanon: The Psychology of Colonization and the Decolonization of the Personality.” New Scholar 4.1 (1973): 29-50.
  • Demangeat, Michel. “Scenographie de L’enfant Imaginaire: La Drevedes Larmes.” Etudes Psychotherapiques 20.1 (Mar 1989): 9-15.
  • Garate Martinez, Ignacio. “Media Hora con Octavio Mannoni.” Clinicay Analisis Grupal 8.34 (1984): 525-539.
  • Mango, Edmundo G. “Poesia y Psicoanalisis: Homenaje a Octave Mannoni.” Revista Uruguaya de Psicoanalisis 75 (1992): 131-139.

Works Cited

  • DesGroseillers, Rene. “Galeriede Portraits de la Psychanalyse Francaise (2).” La Psychanalyse. Microtec Internet. Web. 5 Nov. 1998.
  • Mannoni, Octave. Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1956. Rpt. of Psychologie de la Colonisation. Paris: Seuil, 1950.
  • Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1990.
  • Nixon, Rob.  “Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest.” Critical Inquiry 13:3 (1987): 557-578.
  • Zabus, Chantel. “A Calibanic Tempest In Anglophone & Francophone New World Writing.” Canadian Literature 104 (Spring 1985).

Author: Anne M. Lynch, Fall 1998
Last edited: July 2017

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