The primitive ego cannot perceive or conceive of the objects in its external world as whole, multifaceted persons. Instead it lives in a world of one-dimensional objects that have either good or bad intentions towards the infant (Klein, 1932). Abraham's concept of whole-object love was a way of talking about the integration of various impulses from all levels of development—the libidinal stages and the phases of early aggression linked with them. All these levels were, in Freud's view, linked and integrated under the dominance of the genital libido.
Working with children, Melanie Klein found herself confronted with partial impulses towards objects, toys, and the person they represented. She was impressed by how pure these relations were, either wholly hating or wholly loving.
She noticed, too, that the objects were related to as if they had similar single-minded attitudes and impulses towards the ego (Klein, 1929). Some objects were feared and hated as terrifyingly violent and punitive, and some were loved for their equal benevolence. The objects themselves had internal states and the ego was greatly preoccupied by their good or bad relations with itself. This sharply redirected her attention from the satisfactions of libidinal impulses toward the relations to objects.
The predominance of the child's hatred and fears led her at first to concentrate on the harshness of objects, and she believed it represented in play a superego of great ferocity (Klein, 1932, 1933). The multiple representations and nuances of these superego figures led her to understand that the superego was not a unitary object but a composite of many figures inside the child. Her attention, once drawn to these internal objects, expanded to recognize an internal world of good objects as well as bad ones.
With her more disturbed patients she noted the concreteness of these internal objects, good or bad. They were conceived by the child as actual physical entities roaming around inside it. She believed that this concreteness is not just explicit in children and disturbed (schizophrenic) adults, but it is also the character of a deep layer of the unconscious in all people.