Id. Ego. Superego. These are three concepts that the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud uses to focus on. Binary opposition, a pair of terms that have an opposite meaning, a concept made by Structuralists. “The Starlight on Idaho,” focuses on Mark Cassandra, a man with bad addiction but recovering in a rehab center. “Strangler Bob,” follows these inmates who became great friends with each other. These stories could be found in Denis Johnson’s book, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories. “The Starlight on Idaho” features a good and evil aspect of Mark Cassandra’s lifestyle which can be evaluated by using the Structuralist principles of binary opposition, while “Strangler Bob” can be analyzed using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory of id, ego, and superego.
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories is a book combined with five short stories by Denis Johnson. One of which is “The Starlight on Idaho,” which is about a man named Mark Cassandra, who writes letters from a rehab center as a beneficial exercise. In the story, Cassandra believes that Satan tells him to commit evil acts. As the story progresses, Cassandra stops taking his medication and tells Satan that he no longer has control over him. After rehab, he starts to become closer to God and finds a new sense of precision. In addition, “Strangler Bob” is about a group of inmates in a prison. Each inmate receives a nickname that is related to the crimes they committed to get sentenced. While serving their sentence each of the inmates influenced and shaped each other’s lives.
Structuralists use the theory of binary opposition to aid in the help understanding of ideas by contrasting other ideas. In Robert Dale Parker’s book “How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies” he states, “We interpret the world by [placing] different concepts against each other.” One of the many ways this concept can be used is to analyze stories that include a protagonist and antagonist.
The story “The Starlight on Idaho” can be interpreted by using binary opposition by comparing the aspect of Mark Cassandra’s lifestyle. Cass has gone through hell and back because of his alcohol addiction. He finds himself in a battle with his addiction and once he reaches rock bottom, he turns his life around. Cass is sent to rehab to fix his life and become a man with God and religion on his side. The way he lived his life before was bad by drinking too much alcohol and doing senseless things. Cass used to be evil but now he is a good person. He thought that Satan took control over him and made him do evil things but then he realized that there is this force blocking him to see the good in his life. Cass fights that force and starts to find God which helps him to find a sense of sanity. In the letter to his old dad and grandma, he tells them what his future will be like after rehab by writing, “if this rehab program works and if I get it together, […] I will get a part-time job and enroll in college” (49-50). Cass plans to change his life positively instead of negatively. Evil is the opposite of good. As for evil is something negative but good is something positive. There are many binary oppositions to Cass’s situation such as God vs Satan, good vs bad, and starlight vs darkness. Many people throughout the world have an alcohol addiction but are trying to fix themselves by going to rehab. The short story “The Starlight on Idaho” used binary oppositions to show that the theme of the show can be symbols of religion and Antabuse.
Late in Freud’s career, he developed this structural model of the psyche that consists of the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the basic part of the personality and that is our wants and needs. The desire for food and sex and if these needs are met then a person feels pleasure but if it is not met then the person is angry. The ego is involved with reality, meets with id which means that if the person doesn’t get what they need then they need to face reality. Superego is about right and wrong. The person realized they could do something but then doing that thing will be wrong which is the superego. The id, ego, and superego create human behavior.
In the story “Strangler Bob” Dink is controlled by his id his entire life due to his desires and pleasure for drugs. It is when people need steady contentment and when it occurs the person will sense pleasure. The id is the unconscious part of the mind and it is not reality. Dink stopped being addicted to heroin but once he came in contact with it again, he starts to use it more often and becomes addicted again. Dundun, Dink’s old jail friend, came by his house after he robs the drug lord of Kansas City and “left [Dink] a large quantity of [heroin], and over the course of the following month [he] became thoroughly addicted to heroin” (100). Once Dink consumes the drugs he starts to become pleased and happy which caused him to be homeless. His id takes control of his mind and makes him become a drug addict again. Dink experienced a feeling that he felt before which is a pleasure so the drugs make him feel great. The id gives the person this continuous satisfaction causing them to continue with what they’re doing. This causes Dink to sense the desire for drugs which makes him be controlled by his id.
BD, Dink’s other old jail friend, is challenged with his own ego as it takes over his entire mind. According to Freud, “the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world.” BD didn’t want to go back to jail but then he gets sent back. He states, “I’ll never go back to jail. I’ll hang myself first” (98), his ego is telling him that he should just hang himself than going back to jail. BD desires to not go back to jail but that doesn’t work for him so he kills himself to meet his desire. Him killing himself caused him to not serve the time and just go to heaven or hell. BD did something terribly wrong which he had to serve the consequences for but he didn’t want to so he had to face reality.
Another inmate named Jocko faces his own problems that involve with superego. Superego is the decision of what is right and wrong which means that if you do something bad then you might feel guilty. Jocko had an idea to kill the “crazy boy” but then he lost his cool and started to act crazy. The narrator of the story says, “because he hated the idea of killing the crazy boy” (88), Jocko knew it was a bad idea to kill the crazy boy. So he stood on the table and shouts “I have HAD it!” Jocko felt that guilty pleasure if he did kill the boy then he would feel bad about it so he went crazy and starts to calm down. The superego itself likewise drives ego towards admonishing objectives as opposed to something practical and just to seek perfection.
There are many other concepts of structuralism and psychoanalysis but the main ones that are used today are the Structuralist concepts of binary oppositions. Also, Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory of id, ego, and superego. The book The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories has combinations of five stories with different characters that can be interpreted using many lenses which makes readers think critically. “The Starlight on Idaho” is a story that can be interpreted by using binary oppositions which involves the evil and good in someone. The other story “Strangler Bob” can also be interpreted by using Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory of id, ego, and superego by having each of these concepts control multiple characters in the story.
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