The problem with psychological criticism

Basic tenants of PsychCrit.  Examples from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” (click to read the short story)

Throughout my posts, a pattern has emerged based on the power of words and the using the right words, especially in imagery.  Today is no exception.  In today’s post, I will briefly (very briefly) get down to business with one of the biggest reasons why word choice, concepts, and imagery are so important.  Essentially it all comes down to Psychological Criticism.

Here’s the deal with psychological criticism.  It can be a blast for the imaginative scholar, but it can also be a pain-in-the-derriere for the author.  As soon as your work hits the stands, blogosphere, desk your entire mind will be broken apart by fans, haters, researchers, etc.  Every word you wrote down will be a tool for them to dissect your every intention.  This is why it’s important to at least have the tenants of psychological criticism down.  Even though it won’t stop analyzers from making you seem like an over-zealous, sexual nutjob, it will at least provide you with the tools for being able to 1) best them at their own game 2) have a lot of fun at their expense.

Defining the PsychCrit Approach:

Essentially, the Psychological Approach “reads between the lines.”  It looks at the unstated motivations that drive the author, the characters, and the audience. Because it looks at both the author and characters, psychological criticism can be used along with the traditional and formal approaches.

Why Use (In addition to the reasons stated in the intro):

Psychological Criticism enhances the text by searching for common aspects of human nature manifested in literature.  It adds depth and makes the text relatable.

By searching for the below, you will find yourself relating to the characters and author on a higher level which affects your psychological view of the story.

PsychCrit. History:

Do you see phallic or archetype here?

Sigmund Freud – Immensely Disturbing

  • Main Point: Its all about SEX
  • In a strictly Freudian psychological approach, both the old man’s wings and the activity of flying would have been seen as phallic and sexual symbols.

Carl G. Jung – Slightly-less Disturbing

  •  Main Point: Conscious, Unconscious, Archetypes
  • In Jung’s form of archetypal criticism, great significance would have been placed on the wings in relation to the angelic archetype.

“The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict…, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.” Kendra Wagner

The Spider Girl - Superego exemplified

Ego, Id, and Superego

•EGO (the way things are):
  •         Issue of the old man’s humanity
•ID (pleasure principle):
  •  Elisenda reveling in the new money and buying herself   dresses and a new house.
  •   In a sense, the old man represents the opposite of this  as he is denying himself the pleasure of shelter, good food and comfort.
  •   The townspeople, placing their love of entertainment above anything else, are the epitome of this.
•SUPEREGO (morality principle)
  •   The side story of the girl who was changed into a spider is an excellent example of an embedded moral within the story. Her circumstances bring to light that it was the wrongness of her choices that account for the reason why she was changed.

Applying PsychCrit.

1. How are the author’s psychological conflicts revealed in his or her work?

  1. The theme of solitude is prevalent throughout the story as represented by the angel who kept his distance from the humans and who was also held captive.
  2. Religion is described in a very hierarchical and ritualistic respect.  The priest is highly symbolic of this order.
  3. The reader can see the effects growing up in poverty had on Marquez through his description of Elisenda.

2. What is an in-depth analysis of the characters if they were real people?

  1. The Very Old Man: In comparison to some of the other incredible happenings within the story, the old man seems disappointingly normal and human, despite the presence of his wings.   “He argued that if wings were not the essential element in determining the difference between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels.”
  2. Pelayo and Elisenda: Their reaction to him and his “familiarity” is the one single tie between their humanity and the possibility of his. “They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar.”
  3. Pelay and Elisenda cont.: They’re normal people. In the face of something inexplicable, they grasp at anything that lets them avoid what is unknown and unexplainable.  “That was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings.”
  4. The Townspeople: As they belittle the old man, they seem to loose some of their humanity. “…they had to call in troops with fixed bayonets to disperse the mob that was about to knock the house down.”

3. What is the appeal of the work to the readers in relation to their own ability to work out hidden desires and fears?

  1. Fear of the unknown and the mysterious that is outside of ourselves
  2. Question of self-interest vs. consideration for humanity
  3. Self-esteem vs. despair

Mind Bender with Psychological Criticism and your Thursday Challenge:

  1. Does the subconscious mind really effect what the author writes?
  2. Does a reader’s psychological analysis of a piece of text say more about the author’s psychological state or the reader’s own psychological state of mind?

Fun Stuff: Authors Easily Analyzed for HOURS of Great Amusement

  1. Edgar Allen Poe – Any and All
  2.  Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
  3. William Faulkner – A Rose for Emily

One thought on “Psychological Criticism and A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

  1. Yes, our unconscious minds influence most everything we do and choices we make, some more than others. This means that the reader unconsciously reads themselves into the story, and the critic then transfers this to his or her criticism. Since the critic does not know the author all of the assumptions made by the critic grow out of who they are, not who the author is.

    A parallel is that, as a therapist, I know that when a spouse accuses the other spouse of having an affair with no evidence and the believable denials of the accused spouse (i.e. out of their character) I know that the accuser is more likely to have an affair than the accused. The material, fantasy, fear, etc. that becomes the accusation grows out of the accuser’s mind, not the accused’s behavior.

    Unless I know that the author is using psychology (i.e. Poe) I need to tread carefully when I read psychology into a writer. I am most likely reading my own psychology into the story.

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