Summary: the Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism

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The works of Dr. Sigmund Freud marks as the cradle for the psychoanalytic literary criticism. The fundamental belief of Freud work was the interlinkage between reading, extraction of text meaning emotional, personal and psychological processes. Within each genre of literature, there exist pointers that provide a guide to the reader to facilitate understanding of the literary work as week the individual’s reader inner workings. Psychoanalytical theory provides a profound too for exploring fictional work to obtain an in-depth understanding of both the author and the literary work. Relying on the psychoanalytical theory in analyzing literature piece enables the reader to understand how the fiction represents repressed fears, desires, and impulses of the author. Through identification of the inner mind, psychoanalytical analysis enables understanding of how the fiction demonstrates the authors’ denial of existence circumstances or isolation from events. The theory of psychoanalytical analysis is premised on Dr. Sigmund Freud notion of unconscious and the interlinkage between dreams and artistic process repression.

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Sigmund Freud identified three component of the psychoanalytical framework; ID, Ego, and Superego struggle; unconscious; and literature as a reflection of the inner mind workings Freud construed three levels of consciousness; conscious; preconscious and unconscious. The conscious level is the section of the mind that constitutes self-awareness, the preconscious level encompasses the ordinary memory while the unconsciousness part constitutes the section of the mind that indirectly accessible to awareness. Freud further configured the human mind as a multilayered visual instrument made up of three psychic structures of ID, Ego, and Superego. According to Feud, the ID entails the emotional and irrational section of the mind hence represents the biological foundation of personality. ID represents the part of the mind that unconsciously responds to instincts, hence it’s not influenced by the logic, reality of the everyday world. The ID configures unconscious compulsions such as sexual desires that intrigues unthinking gratification. ID operates on the principle of pleasure, implying that every wishful impulse ought to be satisfied irrespective of the consequences. For example, drinking from another person’s glass water as opposed to refilling one’s glass of water to quench thirst or losing patience in traffic and speeding off irrespective of damage on other road users is a manifestation of ID. Hence, ID is a reflection of human’s unconscious life.

The direct influence of the external world modifies ID into ego, hence ego functions as the predominantly rational and conscious section of the mind. Unlike the ID that operates with the pleasure principle, ego operates with the reality principle. Ego controls wishful impulse resulting in actions that are in accord with demands of reality. Ego is the epi-center of common sense, reason, and reality testing. Ego commands diverse defensive actions that repress the wishful impulse of unrealistic desires. The superego, on the other hand, is the moral section of the mind, which is the last to develop. Superego is a projection of ego and yields form values installed by parents and societal. It’s the part of the brain that stores and enforces the rule and strives for perfection. Conscience and ego ideal form two subsystems of the superego. While the Ego Ideal establishes the rules for bad or good behavior as well as standards of excellence, conscience entails the rules on what constitutes bad or good behavior. Superego is the part of the mind that sustains self -sacrifice even when it’s illogical or irrational. According to Schapiro, functional relationship with the external environment defines both ego and superego implying that the two psychic structures are a reflection of relational history and development. The two psychic censor’s materials and are responsible for repressed thinking which is pushed to the unconscious mind. As Muffin posits, repressed thinking in the unconscious mind manifests in disguised forms of artistic creativity, Freudian slips, dreams or neurotic behavior.

One the repressed desires in childhood are evident by inner conflict by children that results to the high affection of child towards the parent of the opposite sex and the desire to replace the parent of the similar sex. For example, Freud posited that a boy fought the fear of the father castrating him resulting in wishful desires of nursing by the father. Freud construed the repressed feelings and wishful desires as the “Oedipus” complex which was named after Greek tragic hero Oedipus, who unwittingly married his mother after murdering his father. The psychoanalytical theory integrates the Freud’s Oedipus complex in literature by establishing images in fictions that conceal the author’s unconscious desires and fantasies. Kirszner & Mandell notes that modern psychoanalytic theory embodies the Freud’s Oedipus complex in the literature to establish images in literary work that conceals an illustration of the unconscious life of the author. Dreams expressed in a literary text, for example, express the unconscious anxieties and desires of a literary work author.

It’s with no doubt that Freud theory of psychoanalysis has influenced the reading and disposition of figurative literary work. A critic interpretation of literary work is a manifestation of the critic’s unconscious. Kirszner & Mandell points out the psychoanalytical critics of literature is grounded on the argument that fictional work as an expression of the human mind inner workings. A fictional representation enables the author to explore a variety of concepts in a non-threatening venue while the critic is able to uncover hidden original and inner thoughts expressed in the writing. A literary critic learns about the author’s internal struggle to balance the ID desires, personal identity, and social identity through identification if symbols and images in the literally work. While identifying the ideas, themes, and message in a literary work, a psychoanalytic critic uncovers tricks of isolation, repression, attribution, displacement, and reversal in the human mind

Charles Yu is a brilliant author who contextualizes his fictions on contemporary society. Literary work by Charles Yu is a representation of the general psychological human being experiences. His book Sorry Please Thank You entails a collection of stories that provides inquiry to the human condition in a humorous context. The characters in the collection of stories are contextualized in different worlds where they experience afflictions and technologies that they hardly understand or they have not experienced before. Charles Yu’s story ‘OPEN’ is a fiction of a transdimensional apartment swap that jeopardizes a romantic relationship between character Samantha and her spouse. The story demonstrates the struggles of realism of relationships and marriage and the role of social values as interpreted by the ego and superego psychic structures as contextualized by the psychoanalysis theory. Yu’s Open fiction contextualizes magical realism demonstrated by the unexplained appearance of a giant word and subsequently a door within an apartment of a couple with a constrained relationship. While in the real world the couple finds it difficult to freely interact, the couple visits a parallel world where they’re freely able to interact. The fiction entails a mix of meticulous restraint and wild imagination. The fiction is an idealized version of human and entails the mystery of living without or losing what we have now.

The giant word “door” brings the realism of the relationship between the couple in Charles Yu fiction. The narrator in the fiction gets home earlier than routine to find his girlfriend Samantha staring at the giant word “door” hanging in the middle of the room. The giant word “door” in this context symbolizes “separation” or “divorce”. The idea of separation is clearly brought out when Samantha declares that “It’s over” and one of them had to move out of their matrimonial house The word implies that it’s time that a barrier had to be established in the relationship. It’s evident from the text that the couple had become discordant but had hardly confronted the issue. As they get in bed the narrator presents an ensuing conflict because of the proposed idea of separation construed as “door”. The couple figuratively uses “it” to refer to separation and are consistently avoiding the reality of the idea of separation which results in counteraccusation. The narrator paints the picture that the word “door” had been floating at the center of their apartment which figuratively implies that the failing relationship was clearly evident two the couple and they needed to address the issue. This is a consequence of human mind defense where subconsciously, humans avoid recognizing or seizing destructive behavior since the identity has been formed around the destructive behavior. Samantha accuses the narrator (boyfriend) as conjuring the idea of separation hence the narrator should be the one to declare the need for separation.

The narrator points out that the couple wakes up to a real door in the apartment where the girlfriend is eager to open and explore what’s on the other side of the door. The door leads the couple to a virtual world where people were having fun and party and the people already knew Samantha. As the couple explores the virtual world, the narrator displays discomfort of adapting to a new environment where people live according to values imposed by society. This aspect of the couple’s life demonstrates the consciousness behavior that is brought about by the ego and superego psychic structures as pointed out by Freud multilayered structure of the mind. As the couple spends more time in the virtual world they begin to engage in actions configured by the society as a symbol of affection in a relationship. Repressed thinking is evident in the couples increasing affection for each other. As opposed to addressing the apparent issue, “separation”, the couple consistently explored the virtual world every time they got off from work and stayed at the virtual world until before the peak time where the desperation of loneliness kicks in. The narrator points out that while the couple was back to the real world, a void was missing in their life which a manifestation of repressed thinking by the ego and superego parts of the mind. The fiction brings out the role of structured society that makes people uphold actions and characters that normally would be irrational or illogical in an ideal scenario. The consistent visiting of the virtual reality would, in this case, be interpreted is the subconscious actions of human beings due to the desire, fears, needs, and internal conflicts.

The psychoanalysis theory posits that repressed experiences projects at later stages of life. While the couple is comfortable in each other’s space and affectionate while in the virtual world, they consistently find themselves lacking comfort and affection in reality. The comfort and affection was a consequence of the defense of the human mind where the mind represses some thoughts/feelings on one hand but on the other hand projects other feelings and thoughts. For example, the narrator points out that the girlfriend Samantha would be displeased by any affectionate moves by the narrator in the real word implying that their affection in the virtual world was counterfeit and unreal. Consequently, the narrator seizes to visit the virtual world as he explores identifying the real self. Using a psychoanalytic lens, it’s evident that the narrator’s actions are a manifestation of unresolved issues in the relationship.

Even after exploring the affection and comfort in the virtual world, the reality was that the couple had to face the fear of a separation which is demonstrated by the missing outer wall of the apartment, the appearance of the word “open” and “door”. The author paints a picture of the “door” drifting away and Samantha trying to reach out grab the letters in the word. Arguably, this could be posited as the psychic action of human mind holding into behaviors even where change is apparent. The narrator presents two possible scenarios, holding on to the girlfriend and drift away with her and continue pursuing more doors together, or letting her go on her own hoping she would one day be back. The two scenarios are a reflection of the possible action plans by a discordant couple; separation  or consistently pursuing the relationship (following Samantha to explore more doors). The fiction concludes with a true reflection of the reality of life which is a consistent journey where humans are consistently opening doors.

The psychoanalytic theory provides a foundation for the self-conscious introspection of relational symbols, images, and subjects in literary works. The projection of unconscious projection of defense for destructive behavior or need for change is a prevalent symbol evident of literary work where the characters explore other alternative cause of action as opposed to addressing the prevalent need for change. Freud concept of psychoanalysis identifies this behavior as a manifestation of the interaction of the three psychic structures; id, ego, and superhero. Not only do these symbols in literary work demystify the intended message in the text, but as well enables the critic and the author relates with the text since it’s founded on the contemporary human experience.

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