The Psychoanalytic Lens
A psychoanalytic criticism argues that an author's unconscious desires and anxieties can be found in literary texts. Ultimately, any type of literature (from poetry to prose) acts as a manifestation of an author's internal desires and thoughts. There are three popular approaches used in this criticism:
The Freudian Side:
- Sigmund Freud’s research focused on the inner-workings of the human mind. His research methods would later be called “psychoanalysis.” According to Freud, internal desires, memories, repressions, and unconscious thoughts create the basis of human behavior. In literature, we take his methodology and apply it to the analysis of characters and character choices; this type of analysis is called a “Psychoanalytic criticism.” Basically, every piece of literature, whether poetry or prose, has characters with motivations. A Psychoanalytic criticism provides the opportunity to discover and analyze those motivations, providing a deeper understanding of the holistic piece. (Motivations can be anxiety, sexual, fear, or unconscious-driven.)
- How do the operations of repression structure or inform the work?
- Are there any oedipal dynamics - or any other family dynamics - at work here?
- 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 psychological identity or the operations 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"?
Alfred Adler’s Approach:
- Adler believed that writers wrote out of inferiority complexes, meaning an unrealistic general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere, sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation.
- According to Jungian theory, a great work of literature is not a disguised expression of its author’s personal, repressed wishes; rather, it is a manifestation of desires once held by the whole human race but now repressed because of the advent of civilization. This theory is holistically called the “collective unconscious” in analysis, for theories and analyses are based on archetypal endeavors.
- What connections can we make between elements of the text and the archetypes? (Mask, Shadow, Anima, Animus)
- How do the characters in the text mirror the archetypal figures? (Great Mother or nurturing Mother, Whore, destroying Crone, Lover, Destroying Angel)
- How does the text mirror the archetypal narrative patterns? (Quest, Night-Sea-Journey)
- How symbolic is the imagery in the work?
- How does the protagonist reflect the hero of myth?
- Does the “hero” embark on a journey in either a physical or spiritual sense?
- Is there a journey to an underworld or land of the dead?
- What trials or ordeals does the protagonist face? What is the reward for overcoming them?