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Psychoanalytical Approach to Analyzing Literature. a.k.a. “Finding Sigmund Freud Wherever you Look”. Interpretation of Dreams: 1900.

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Psychoanalytical approach to analyzing literature

Psychoanalytical Approach to Analyzing Literature

a.k.a. “Finding Sigmund Freud Wherever you Look”

Interpretation of dreams 1900
Interpretation of Dreams: 1900

  • In the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, everydream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state. Further, I shall endeavour to elucidate the processes which underlie the strangeness and obscurityof dreams, and to deduce from these processes the nature of the psychic forces whose conflict or co-operation is responsible for our dreams.

Dreams wish fulfillment
Dreams = Wish Fulfillment

  • Dreams are a function of the brain intended to solve problems the waking brain cannot handle

  • Strange, unexplainable features of dreams are symbolic, and hold meanings that can be traced through patterns of the mind

  • Dream Work = the conscious mind’s “translation” of the raw dream material

Freud divided the brain into 3
Freud Divided the Brain into 3

  • ID – original state of mind – uninhibited by boundaries, rules, or responsibilities

  • EGO – “I” in Latin – the “self” – limited by separation of self from others. Negotiates between the desires of the ID and the demands of the SUPEREGO

  • SUPEREGO – the mature version of the self, imposes limitations from external sources on the ID.

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  • Humans are ruled by ID’s desires –

    • Desire to be protected (womb symbols)

    • Desire to sleep (darkness, caves)

    • Desire to die (most protected state, most like womb)

    • Desire to live (most stimulated state, most fulfilled on all levels)

Psychoanalytical approach to analyzing literature 1324753

  • At about six months, infants go through the “mirror stage”

  • This fascination with one’s own image (whether literally in a mirror, or “reflected” in others) rules our conscious lives

  • We are in a continual search to define our selves, to uphold our visions of our selves, and to extend our selves into others’ reflections.

  • This determines the “symbolic order,” in other words, humans’ tendencies to see things symbolically


  • At around age 5, children go through the “Oedipal Stage”

  • Successful completion of the Oedipal Stage is key to understanding ourselves as individuals, and as gendered beings

  • In short – children begin to see their fathers as competitors for their mother’s attention & feel a desire to kill their fathers in order to be closer to their mothers.

Psychoanalytical approach to analyzing literature 1324753

  • Yes. Remember though, that there’s a healthy resolution…

  • Boys eventually learn to identify with their fathers (through a fear of castration) and separate from their mothers (through a fear of, well, sleeping with their mothers).

What about the girls
What about the Girls?

  • Girls eventually learn to identify with their mothers (through a shared recognition of what they “lack,” or “penis envy”) and separate from their fathers.

  • Later, Carl Jung (we’ll get there next year), established the Electra Complex, in which girls see their mothers as competition for their father’s attention.

Superego again
SUPEREGO (again)

  • The fear of castration and penis envy lead both boys and girls to internalize the harsh lessons of their parents – “don’t do this,” “don’t do that.”

  • Those internalized voices become the SUPEREGO – the force that keeps our IDs in check and our EGOs happy.

So why are we studying this in english class
So Why are We Studying this in English Class?

  • Symbols.

  • Remember the Mirror Stage? We are hard-wired to see the world in “Analogical” terms (remember the Puritans?)

  • Literature is filled with symbols and interpretable meanings that help us understand the conflict of the novel, and ultimately, of the outside world (like symbols in dreams reveal the conflicts of the conscious minds)

How to read between the lines
How to read between the lines

  • Understanding the core Freudian patterns can provide additional insights into the author or characters of a story.

  • Every detail counts (that’s from Interpretation of Dreams)

  • “Organic Unity” of a text is when all of the symbolic details are crafted to build into a coherent interpretation

Basic freudian symbols

  • Phallic Symbols (swords, missiles, trees, tulips, guns, …)

  • Yanic Symbols (flowers, caves, cups…)

  • Escape Symbols (flight, birds, wings, running…)

  • Security Symbols (beds, pillows, maternal associations,…)

  • Fear Symbols (walls closing in, weapons, jagged edges…)


  • Ring around the Rosy

  • A pocket full of posey

  • Ashes, Ashes,

  • We all fall down

  • Freudian Interpretation:

    • We fear, and therefore destroy the flowers within ourselves

  • Historical Interpretation:

    • Medieval Plague