Debates in literature

How can reading Freud help us in analysing literary texts? of How can reading Freud helpus in analysing literary texts? The critical paradigm of thinking or rather rethinking human behaviour and social relations that Sigmund Freud proposed in his works, designated by the term ‘ psychoanalysis’ remains relevant in contemporary literary studies. In a manner quite unprecedented, Freud offered an alternate means of understanding the human psyche, that is, through the realm of the unconscious or the repressed. Thus dreams and hitherto stifled desires become the chief subjects of Freud’s studies. This essay would attempt to argue for the continuing relevance of psychoanalysis in literature and literary inquiry through a reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s work TheStrange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson’s novella seeks to problematize the conventional moral binary between good and evil to locate the source of both within mind of an individual. This produces a schism or a dual personality which is said to be the cause for Hyde’s criminality. However, the employment of psychoanalytic theory imparts to one’s a humanistic bent as it enables our interpretation of the text to steer clear of Manichean boundaries. The coexistence of goodness and inexplicable violence thus leads us to revise our conservative notions regarding the neat divisions between conscientious citizens and outlaws. A Freudian reading of the text also leads us to probe the relevance of conventional morality. It is indeed significant that the chief motivating factor for Dr. Jekyll in transforming into his dark double is a desire to rid himself of conscience (Stevenson 1962). In Freud’s works the human conscienceis a facet of the Superego which controls and inhibits the more primordial urges of the repressed Id mediating them to meet socially acceptable behavior (Freud 1962). However, in Jekyll’s wish for moral freedom, one finds the text questioning the very relevance of such a didactic paradigm in society. Thus, the Superego becomes the product of a kind of social conservatism which while aiming for social equilibrium also forces individuals to curb their psychological impulses and lead double lives. It is noteworthy that Stevenson’s novella deliberately shuns the tendency to construct Gabriel John Utterson as the moral fulcrum of the story. Utterson’s strict adherence to moral codes of behavior is not necessarily extolled by the overarching narrative voice as he is shown to have been shaped entirely by acceptable social mores. Furthermore, the story hints at his own dark past as it says “ he was humbled to the dust by the many ill things he had done” (Stevenson 2013). By presenting Utterson in this manner the text reworks the conventional figure of the truth-seeker in detective fiction, as following Freudian theory we are given to understand that the repressed is a universal aspect of the human psyche. Psychoanalysis is relevant also in interpreting the work’s politics of gender and race, especially in the context of the Victorian society in which it was conceived. In the story Jekyll’s hand is described as s ” large, firm, white and comely” (Stevenson 88), while Hyde is described as hirsute and untamed. The description of Jekyll’s handbrings about a confluence of the masculine and the feminine, while Hyde’s physicality lends itself to Freud’s analysis of the psychosocial implications of hair. Freud contends that the head of the mythic figure Medusa symbolizes both the fear of the mythic force of the female genitalia and that of male castration (Freud, “ Medusa’s Head” 2013). Hyde’s body, and correspondingly, his mind could perhaps then be representative of women’s libidinal energies and sexuality which was often repressed in the conservative Victorian society. While at a certain level there is an implicit sexism in Freud’s conceptualization of agential female as necessarily aggressive, if one is to use psychoanalysis against its grain, then one may observe that the fact that this unbridled feminine energy in Jekyll/Hyde leads him commit to crimes in a manner that moves constantly towards self-destruction, critiques also to the perils of the oppressive sexual politics of the times. If one interprets the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde and vice versa in Freudian terms, as the constant struggle between the Id and the Superego, then text lends itself well also to reading of race and race relations, albeit sub-textually. In Hyde’s hirsute appearance and his immense potential for violence one finds the embodiment of the derogatory stereotypes pertaining to colored people in the conservative West. Jekyll on the other hand is shown to be the very image of the civilizational progress of Anglo-Saxon manhood. In the unlikely merging of the two, one thus finds a conscious debunking of the categories of the Self and the Other. To conclude, Freudian psychoanalysis continues to be a veritable critical tool for understanding and analyzing works of literature. By initiating an investigation into the unseen and the erstwhile unknown, psychoanalysis enables one to probe the interstices of a work and unearth interpretive possibilities which are radical and socially and politically progressive. References STEVENSON, ROBERT LOUIS. (2013). The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Project Gutenberg. [Online]. Available from: http://www. gutenberg. org/files/43/43-h/43-h. htm . Accessed 11th May, 2013. FREUD, SIGMUND. (1962). Civilization and Its Discontents. London: Penguin. —. “ Medusa’s Head.” The Classic Psychoanalytic Reading. Trans. James Strachey. Scribd. [Online]. Available from: http://www. scribd. com/doc/101335539/Freud-Medusa-s-Head#download. Accessed 11th May, 2013.