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Introduction to Literary Studies

The Psychological Approach
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The Psychological Approach: Freud

Aim of Psychological Approach:

  • Provide many profound clues toward solving a work’s thematic and symbolic mysteries

 

Abuses and Misunderstandings of the Psychological Approach:

  • In the general sense of the word, nothing new about psychological approach.  Used as early as the 4th century by Aristotle.
  • During the twentieth century, psychological criticism has come to be associated with the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers.  This association has resulted in most of the abuses and misunderstandings of this approach.
  • Abuses results from an excess of enthusiasm, which has manifested several ways:
    • Advocates push their critical theses to hard, forcing the psychoanalytical theory at expense of other considerations
    • The literary criticism of the psychoanalytical extremists degenerated into a special occultism with its own mystique and jargon used specifically for the in-group.
    • Results in widespread mistrust of the psychological approach in analyzing literature

 

Freud’s Theories:

  • Freud emphasized the unconscious aspects of the human psyche
  • Most of the individual’s mental processes are unconscious
  • All human behavior is motivated ultimately by sexuality (However, some of Freud’s own disciples have rejected this, including Jung and Adler)

 

Freud assigned mental processes to three psychic zones:

  • The id:
    • Reservoir of libido, the primary source of all physic energy.
    • The id functions to fulfill the pleasure principle.
    • The id has no consciousness or semblance of rational order; characterized by a tremendous and amorphous vitality.
    • Only has an impulse to obtain satisfaction for the instinctual needs in accordance with pleasure
    • In short, the id is the source of all aggression and desires
  • Two agencies to regulate the id:
    • The ego:
      • Protects the individual
      • Rational  governing agent of the psyche
      • Lacks the strong vitality of the id, regulates the instinctual drives of the id so that they may be in released in nondestructive behavioral patterns
      • Ego comprises what we think of as the conscious mind
    • The superego:
      • Primarily functions to protect society
      • Largely unconscious, superego is the moral censoring agency, the repository of conscience and pride
      • Serves to inhibit or repress the id, to block off and thrust back into the unconscious those impulses toward pleasure that society regards as unacceptable (like overt aggression, sexual passion, and the Oedipal Instinct)

 

Examples of the Psychological Approach in practice:

  • The Oedipus Complex in Hamlet (Oedipus Complex is when a boy is sexually attracted to his mother)
  • Rebellion against the father in Huckleberry Finn
  • Id versus Superego in the short story “Young Goodman Brown”
  • The consequences of sexual repression in The Turn of the Screw
  • Love and Death in the short story “Sick Rose”
  • Sexual Imagery in the poem “To His Coy Mistress” (Most often use of sexual imagery is finding phallic and yonic symbols)
  • Morality over the pleasure principle in the short story “Everyday Use”

 

Taken from A Handbook of Critical Approaches ot Literature, Fouth ed. Guren, et al

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