In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Melanie Klein

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Dictionaries
  • Discussions
  • Primary Sources
  • The Melanie Klein Archive
  • Online Sources
  • Autobiography
  • Biographies
  • Deprivation
  • War
  • Education

Childhood Studies Melanie Klein
Malby Oliver
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0228


Melanie Klein (b. 1882–d. 1960) proposed a revolutionary way of thinking about children and child psychoanalysis that led to discoveries related to the understanding of the functioning, structure, and growth of the mind, as well as an original method for the psychoanalytic treatment of children. The creation of her play technique redefined child psychoanalysis, transformed adult psychoanalysis, and opened new areas including the psychoanalysis of psychosis, autism and borderline conditions, group analysis, and interdisciplinary studies on issues that affect the child’s world. Klein started working with children at a time when child analysis occupied a marginal position in psychoanalysis; children were considered unanalyzable, or in danger if analyzed. Klein’s freedom of thought led her to test psychoanalytic theory and method in her clinical encounters with children, resulting in her concept of the child as a unique object of psychoanalytic treatment and investigation. Her radically original approach to child analysis facilitated the study and treatment of the earliest and deepest functioning of the psyche. The infant was conceived of as born with its objects and with an ego from birth, equipping the infant with the capacity to relate, to love, and to hate the other, to differentiate between me and not-me, inside and outside, and to phantasize. Klein’s theory of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions is a theory on changes in the link between the ego and its objects and ensuing anxieties. The task in development is to master this related anxiety and transform it into language and thought, this occurring in the context of the relationship with the mother/other/analyst. Klein took children extremely seriously. Her child clinical material offers vivid descriptions of the child’s mind and the contact she made with challenging young patients. Klein had an obvious passion for clinical work and curiosity about the child’s unconscious discourse, her intuition, and capacity for observation. Available for the child, playing out the roles attributed to her, adhering to phantasy, receiving positive and negative transferences, intuitively registering anxiety and interpreting it: Klein gives meaning to the child’s experience. The main focus of this article is on the relevance of Kleinian discourse for the study of the child and the thinking on the needs of and dangers affecting children in the 21st century.

General Overviews

Overviews aim to describe the evolution of Klein’s thinking, the challenges she faced and the solutions she suggested. A classical overview of the work of Klein is found in Segal 1973, organized according to the main themes of Kleinian thinking, these imparted knowledge by referring to child and adult clinical material. Petot 1991 comprises two volumes that correspond to two key periods in the development of Klein’s ideas with an emphasis on the roots of her discoveries and the non-linear trajectory in which her ideas emerged. Spillius 2007 is an overview that offers a synthesis of the Kleinian body of work and an analysis of the evolution of Klein’s thinking. She identifies a first period that led to concepts not necessarily interconnected, and a second period that led to an integrated theory. Spillius offers her personal views on the role of observation and inference in Klein. A modern overview is found in Hinshelwood and Fortuna 2017, which addresses what is considered to be the basics of Kleinian thinking. Dense, complex matters are explained/narrated with clarity, following main themes that are also linked in a sequence, introduced by questions that guide the reader through the development of Klein’s thinking. A creative overview is that of Hinshelwood and Robinson 2011, a graphic guide to Kleinian ideas. Rich in its contents, succinct in its texts and visually provoking in its illustrations, it offers a comprehensive picture of Klein’s life and the trajectory of her thinking. A most engaging overview is found in “The Originality of Melanie Klein: A Conversation Between Edna O’Shaughnessy and Ron Britton,” a filmed conversation between the analysts where they discuss Klein’s life, work, and legacy, making particular reference to Klein’s child analysis work. A different type of overview is Likierman 2002, where Klein’s works are contextualized, with a focus on her early work in the context of psychoanalytic controversies and an analysis of Klein’s essays. Rustin and Rustin 2016 is another example of an original chronological and thematic overview covering Klein’s clinical and theoretical research, including extensive quotes from Klein’s works and interdisciplinary research regarding the understanding of social phenomena. Kristeva 2001 is concerned with Klein’s interest in thinking and the thinking child, Klein’s question of what inhibits and frees thought, the primacy of the mother and matricide in psychic life for symbolization, and the work of the death instinct. Melanie Klein is, for Kristeva, the woman of genius whose thinking allows some understanding of madness.

  • Griffiths, Nick, dir. “The Originality of Melanie Klein: A Conversation Between Edna O’Shaughnessy and Ron Britton.” Produced by Natasha Harvey and Eleanor Sawbridge Burton. London: The Melanie Klein Trust, 2013.

    O’Shaughnessy and Britton exchange reflections on Klein, her ideas, her child analysis cases and their own opinions, in the light of Kleinian thinking. Among Klein’s greatest contributions, they refer to the discovery of the play technique, the centrality of anxiety, the notion of psychic continuity, and of transforming the language of psychoanalysis into one of feelings and experience.

  • Hinshelwood, Robert, and Susan Robinson. Introducing Melanie Klein: A Graphic Guide. Illustrated by Oscar Zarate. London: Icon Books, 2011.

    This graphic book is to be read, seen, experienced and thought about. It offers an accessible narrative regarding the development of Klein’s thinking. Using succinct texts and visually provoking illustrations, it manages to capture and vividly convey the both frightening and moving affective experience Klein deals with in her work. The child-analysis origins of her ideas are presented.

  • Hinshelwood, Robert, and Tomasz Fortuna. Melanie Klein: The Basics. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315619125

    A most helpful structure that includes introductions, summaries, and questions in each part, the first part introduces Melanie Klein, her life, her early interest in psychoanalysis, and her first discoveries. The second part focuses on the development of her child analysis technique and its influence on adult analysis techniques. The third part focuses on further scientific and clinical developments in her psychoanalytic technique. The fourth part is on contemporary developments.

  • Kristeva, Julia. Melanie Klein or Matricide as Pain and Creativity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

    Kristeva dedicates this second volume of her work on the transformative role of women in culture, to Klein. Kristeva offers a rich and deep analysis of the evolution of Klein’s work, organized thematically: historical context, play technique, objects, anxiety, superego, the parents, fantasy and representation, symbolism, institutional conflict, and the politics of Kleinianism.

  • Likierman, Miera. Melanie Klein: Her Work in Context. London: Continuum, 2002.

    A publication on the context of Klein’s texts and a critical explanation of these. Likierman draws the reader’s attention to Klein’s contribution to the thinking on childhood. This includes the importance of childhood, the relevance of the environment and maternal attitude, the existence of an instinctual life of the child, and the vulnerability and dependency of the child on the adult for emotional regulation.

  • Petot, Jean-Michel. Melanie Klein: First Discoveries and First System, 1919–1932. Vol. 1. Madison: International Universities Press, 1991.

    Volume 1 corresponds to the first key period in the development of Kleinian thinking, up to the publication of The Psychoanalysis of Children, where Petot traces the roots of Klein’s originality and discoveries.

  • Petot, Jean-Michel. Melanie Klein: The Ego and the Good Object, 1932–1960. Vol. 2. Madison: International Universities Press, 1991.

    Volume 2 sees the publication of Klein’s theory of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Petot 1991 focuses on the originality of Klein’s ideas in this period (ideas that can be read independently from her previous work) and the complexity of her thinking on normality and pathology in light of her theory of positions.

  • Rustin, Margaret, and Michael Rustin. Reading Klein. London: Routledge, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315544618

    The first part examines the development of Klein’s thinking from her beginnings, analyzing children to the formulation of her theories of the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions, envy, and gratitude. A chapter is on Klein’s case study of Richard. The second part is on the influence of Kleinian and contemporary Kleinian thinking in sociopolitical, institutional, and group studies that promote an understanding of the world the child lives in.

  • Segal, Hanna. Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1973.

    A classical, comprehensive introduction to Kleinian theories, conveyed in a lucid manner, using clinical material to illustrate Klein’s ideas. This second edition is a revised edition of the original 1964 publication and includes important chapters on Klein’s early work and technique, as well as a chronological list of her publications.

  • Spillius, Elizabeth. “Kleinian Thought: Overview and Personal View.” In Encounters with Melanie Klein: Selected Papers of Elizabeth Spillius. Edited by Priscilla Roth and Richard Rusbridger, 25–62. London: Routledge, 2007.

    An essay that offers an analysis and synthesis of the entire works of Klein, identifying two periods: the first between 1921 and 1935 characterized by a lack of conceptual integration, the second between 1935 and 1960 where said integration is achieved. Reprinted in Elizabeth Spillius’s Journeys in Psychoanalysis the Selected Works of Elizabeth Spillius (New York: Routledge, 2015).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.