Bruno Bettelheim Essays

Analyzing a wide range of traditional stories, from the tales of Sindbad to “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bettelheim shows how the fantastical, sometimes cruel, but always deeply significant narrative strands of the classic fairy tales can aid in our greatest human task, that of finding meaning for one’s life. He received his doctorate at the University of Vienna and came to America in 1939, after a year in the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. More about Bruno Bettelheim Bruno Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1903.

He received his doctorate at the University of Vienna and came to America in 1939, after a year in the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald.

For the record Los Angeles Times Sunday April 7, 1991 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction The name of Bettelheim’s long-time literary agent, Theron Raines , was misspelled in “Love and Death.”Although the calendar read late October, it was one of those flawless, forever-summer Southern California days--a disturbing contrast to the conversation at hand: Bruno Bettelheim was talking about whether or not he would kill himself. “However, if I could be sure that I would not be in pain or be a vegetable, then, like most everyone, I believe I would prefer to live.” And then he smiled.

For a moment his gaze traveled around the room, which was filled with a lifetime’s treasures: Greek and pre-Columbian artifacts from various trips abroad, a wall full of art books and operatic recordings, Rembrandt etchings and, centered over the couch, an eerily beautiful painting, of a woman walking down the side of a building, titled “The Dreamer.” “Things I enjoyed are no longer available to me, you know,” he said. “But, of course,” he said, “there is no such guarantee.

He defined, it seems to me now, exactly what is meant by the phrase “sound mind.”In the two weeks after we first met, Bettelheim’s dilemma was constantly in my thoughts.

I had to fight the illogical and unjournalistic urge to bring him a dozen brightly colored balloons in the childish hope of cheering him up. He dressed himself up in civilian clothing, rented a room in the best hotel in Vienna and put a bullet into his heart.“The noise of the shot reverberated in the hotel and the maid rushed in. When he came to again, he thought, ‘If my effort to kill myself has this kind of a reaction, then I might as well live.’ ”Bettelheim smiled.“But it was 100 times worse because he was someone who saved so many people from despair.”Why had Bruno Bettelheim, of all people, engineered his own death?I discovered at least part of the answer by accident.This is why the decision is so problematic.”That was October, 1989.On March 13, 1990, Bruno Bettelheim was found dead on the floor of his new apartment in a Maryland nursing home, a plastic bag over his head and barbiturates in his bloodstream.The Pacific Ocean glittered blue and white through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors behind him.He was 86 years old, and although his mind was quicker than that of most 30-year-olds, his body was failing.It was as if asking him to talk about his life and ideas was equivalent to asking him to look through a scrapbook from a now-inconsequential journey. The older one gets, the greater the likelihood that one will be kept alive without purpose.” I asked him to elaborate, and he dodged the question.Finally frustrated by his disinterest, I asked him abruptly: “Are you afraid of dying? Seeing that he was growing tired, I turned off the tape recorder and prepared to leave, when Bettelheim unexpectedly turned to me. “I am planning to take a trip to Europe from which I may or may not come back.” His intention, he said, was to meet with a doctor in Holland, an old friend of his, who was willing to give him a lethal, and in Holland a perfectly legal, injection.The news of his death stunned the psychological community.For 50 years, Bruno Bettelheim had been acknowledged as one of the most important thinkers and practitioners in the field of psychology and child development.


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