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Introducing Psychoanalytic Literary Theory

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    Psychoanalytic Literary Theory is the final theory we will be looking at. If you find psychology interesting at all, then this theory is the one for you! The reason for this is due to this theory having origins in S
    igmund Freud's work. Freud was the "father of psychology" and his work dealt with the human mind.

    Freud thought that people had a conscious and unconscious mind. A person's conscious mind is one that is aware of their thoughts. The unconscious mind are the thoughts and desires of a person that they may not be aware of. According to Freud, dreams were a window to the unconscious mind. He analyzed them and used symbols in dreams to understand what they reveal.

    Freud thought the mind was made up of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The ego is the conscious part of the brain, the part a person is aware of like was mentioned above. The id is the unconscious or repressed desires a person has. The superego is the conscience, the judge and jury in a person’s mind. This can also be thought of as a persons morals or ethics.

    For Freud, he thought family dynamics also heavily influenced a person's development. He believed that children needed their parents and as they matured a conflict arose as they realized they were not the soul focus of their mother or father. He called this the Oedipus Complex.




    Psychoanalytic Theory

    Psychoanalytic literary critics view a text as if it were a dream, and analyze it like Freud would analyze dreams. They see texts as having a literal level and a deeper symbolic meaning. Psychoanalytic critics see the literal meaning of the text as a way to hide the deeper symbolic meaning. The deeper meaning is often something the writer cannot say out loud because it is too painful. They argue that a reader must look past the literal meaning and strive to see the deeper symbolic meaning that the writer can't say to us overtly, or plainly. 

    "A Psychoanalytic critic may:

    • See the text as an expression of the secret, repressed life of its author, explaining the textual features as symbolic of internal struggles in the writer.
    • Look not to the author but to characters in the text, applying the theory to explain their hidden motives or psychological makeup.
    • Look at ways in which specific readers reveal their own obsessions, desires, etc. as they read a particular text."

    What questions do Psychoanalytic critics ask about texts?

    • How does repression, or the attempt to repel one's desires and impluses, structure or influence the text?
    • Are there any family dynamics at work in the text?
    • How can characters' behavior, narrative events, and/or images be explained in terms of psychoanalytic concepts of any kind (for example...fear or fascination with death, sexuality - which includes love and romance as well as sexual behavior - as a primary indicator of identity or a reflection of ego-id-superego)?
    • What does the work suggest about the psychological being of its author?
    • What might a given interpretation of a literary work suggest about the psychological motives of the reader?
    • Are there prominent words in the piece that could have different or hidden meanings? Could there be a subconscious reason for the author using these "problem words"?

    A short recap:





    Works Cited

    Assumption College. Psychoanalytic Criticism. 15 November 2013.

    NPR. 15 November 2013.

    Purdue Online Writing Lab. 15 November 2013.

    YouTube. 15 November 2013.