4.The relevance of psychoanalysis for the 20th century English literature
Psychoanalysis is introduced in the late 19th century by the most famous critic in psychology, Sigmund Freud. It is a branch of psychology and represents a therapy method in which it tends to solve one’s psychiatric disorders by bringing them to the surface and clarifying the significance of the hidden desires of the patient. Some of his most famous concepts are the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego, the relevance of dreams, the Oedipus complex, concepts which have a major impact in literature.
Psychoanalysis can also be used as a critical approach in literature. The object of the psychoanalytic literary criticism is strongly represented by the psychoanalysis of the author or of a particular interesting character in a given work. Literature could be seen as a kind of dream, through which the author involuntarily includes repressed desires. Literature’s aim is to bring them to the surface but metamorphosed for being no longer recognizable by the consciousness. A considerable part of our mind is unconscious and this part is accessible only through psychoanalysis. Literature may be the expression of the obsessions of frustrations in the author’s unconsciousness.
Dreams have two contents ‘the manifest content’ – what we remember after we wake up- and the ‘latent content’ –the hidden meaning of the dream, whose real meaning we need to find out in order to understand its significance- The transition from the ‘manifest meaning’ to ‘latent meaning’ is what Freud called ‘condensation’, a process where several thoughts are brought together intro a symbol. In order to be able to find out the hidden meaning of the author’s repressed desires ‘the dram thought’ we should start looking at symbols, which lead us to a better understanding of the unconscious. The ‘displacement’ gives a dream a meaning and operates unconsciously in the mind.
One of the most important works of the 20th century British literature that includes psychoanalysis is D.H Lawrence’s novel “Sons and Lovers” The novel represents a great portrayal of the Oedipus complex. Freud used Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to illustrate this story – he kills his father and marries his mother. According to Freud, all male children form an erotic attachment to their mother and are jealous of their father.
In the novel, Gertrude Morel has a dysfunctional relationship with her two sons, William and Paul. The beginning of the Oedipus complex appearing in the boys is exemplified in the relationship between the parents. The boys witness an abusive marriage in which Walter Morel often comes home drunk. All of this causes the boys to hate their father and love their mother. Gertrude Morel is unhappy in her marriage and tries to live through her sons, allowing the oedipal attachment to form.
William, the eldest son is her favourite one. He does everything for his mother to be happy. William and his brother Paul become at a certain time rivals as they were competing for their mother’s affection. We can see that William tries unconsciously to break free of his oedipal complex by moving to London as her mother became jealous of every girl he was dating. He had the opportunity to meet a girl in London, named Lili, but with whom he is unhappy as he realized that she does not have the qualities of her mother, so he became frustrated.
After William’s death, Paul is the mother’s favourite. His relationship with his father is strained and he becomes jealous of him, as he tells his mother not to sleep with him anymore. Paul loves his mother more than anything and he cannot imagine his life without her as she is his best friend, the one who controls his life, in his mind, the only true love.
Paul meets Miriam, and even though he likes her, he represses his feeling lest she should replace his mother. We can observe a childish type of love, but sincere because she loves him deeply, but he pretends that they are just friends. He repeats the same behaviour of his brother, William. He knows that Miriam is his soulmate, but he does not admit it as he cannot betray his mother and has to remain faithful to her. Paul’s relationship with Miriam is reduced to friendship.
Later, he has an affair with a married woman, Clara Dawes, a few years older than him. She was separated from her husband and appears in Paul’s life in order to make him discover the physical type of love. He knows that Clara cannot be a threat to his complex, because the physical love was the only one he can get from her. Every decision of him is constantly made according to his mother; she is the controller of his life. The Oedipus complex is always present in Paul.
Mrs Morel becomes ill and because she is in pain, Paul decides to stop her from suffering by administrating an overdose of morphine, even though it meant to kill her. It could represent an unconscious attempt of releasing himself from the oedipal fixation to his mother. Devastated and alone, Paul feels like his life has no purpose anymore. She was the dominant character of his life, and without her everything seemed empty, his heart was broken. Even after his mother’s death, he is not able to get rid of the oedipal attachment as he chooses the loneliness rather than being with Miriam who was still loving him.