Heart of Darkness: Psychoanalytic Criticism

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Heart of Darkness: Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic criticism originated in the work of Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who pioneered the technique of psychoanalysis. Freud developed a language that described, a model that explained, and a theory that encompassed human psychology. His theories are directly and indirectly concerned with the nature of the unconscious mind. Through his multiple case studies, Freud managed to find convincing evidence that most of our actions are motivated by psychological forces over which we have very limited control (Guerin 127). One of Freud’s most important contributions to the study of the psyche is his theory of repression: the unconscious mind is a repository of repressed desires, feelings, memories, wishes and instinctual drives; many of which have to do with sexuality and violence. These unconscious wishes, according to Freud, can find expression in dreams because dreams distort the unconscious material and make it appear different from itself and more acceptable to consciousness. They may also appear in other disguised forms, like in language (sometimes called the Freudian slips), in creative art and in neurotic behavior. One of the unconscious desires Freud believed that all human beings supposedly suppress is the childhood desire to displace the parent of the same sex and to take his or her place in the affections of the parent of the opposite sex. This so-called “Oedipus Complex,” which all children experience as a rite of passage to adult gender identity, lies at the core of Freud’s sexual theory (Murfin 114-5).

A principal element in Freud’s theory is his assignment of the mental processes to three psychic zones: the id, the ego and the superego. The id is the passional, irrational, and unconscious part of the psyche. It is the site of the energy of the mind, energy that Freud characterized as a combination of sexual libido and other instincts, such as aggression, that propel the human organism through life, moving it to grow, develop and eventually to die. That primary process of life is completely irrational, and it cannot distinguish reasonable objects and unreasonable or socially unacceptable ones. Here comes the secondary processes of the mind, lodged in the ego and the superego. The ego, or “I,” was Freud’s term for the predominantly rational, logical, orderly and conscious part of the psych...

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