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Sigmund Freud and Everyday Use
Sigmund Freud is best known for his development and use of psychoanalysis. The theory of psychoanalysis focuses on the concept of how our unconscious thoughts, feelings, and emotions play an active role in our daily lives. The id, ego, and superego are the three mental zones that encompass our psyche. Each zone has a specific function: The id functions on the pleasure principle; the ego on the protection of the individual; and the superego on protection of society. The degree of which each zone has been developed can be broken down and then analyzed. These three zones can be visualized by imagining a pie cut into three slices.
Every individual is composed of different amounts of each mental zone. The ultimate goal is to achieve the perfect balance of the three areas by understanding how each area works alone and contributes to make the whole. In the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, Dee's actions are clearly attributed to her over and under development in specific mental zones. Dee, rather Wangero as she prefers being called, suffers from an overdeveloped id, a distorted sense of ego, and an underdeveloped superego. With this degree of pull and tug, misunderstandings are a common experience between Dee (Wangero) and her peers.
The id is the main energy source for the psyche. The id " '...knows no values, no good and evil, no morality' " (HCAL 130); it functions on instinctual motives. Dee (Wangero) possesses a straightforward, rather blunt, disposition about life. Life is hers for the taking and she dares anything to stand in her way. She takes on the attitude that the world was created to satisfy her. Since the world gave her books to read, she expected the world to listen to her read; because the world giving her clothing options to choose from, she expected the world to respect her choices; in changing her name, she expected the world to honor this change. Her id was overdeveloped because she acted on instinctual sources rather than moral for her decisions. The overdeveloped id frequently appears when the self-centered, self-serving side of her become more prominent than her outward orientated, selfless side.
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The superego protects society by housing our morals and values. Society greatly influences the development of our superego, but it is ultimately our decision how we choose to define our principles. From this story, we cannot directly state the complete upbringing of Dee (Wangero). We are lead to uncover some of her childhood through the descriptions made by other characters. I, however, do not believe their is enough information provided to make direct connections as to how her early development may have influenced her present condition. Children are exposed to a wide range of stimulus out of which to draw their values. She may have been exposed to the accepted social morals and values, but we know for sure. Dee's (Wangero's) behaviors were not considered in the range of the social norms for her time period. This generalized observation leads me to believe her id overpowers her ability to comprehend the wide range of situations brought before her. Her decisions came as a direct result of her underdeveloped superego.
The ego is the rational slice of the three mental zones. It has less drive than the id and its function is to regulate between the id and superego in an attempt to locate and maintain a comfortable medium; it focuses on the protection of the individual. Dee (Wangero) has a distorted sense of ego, meaning she understands the concept but is incapable if using it to its full potential. She is self-guarded and defensive: She has trouble relating to others when the subject matter does not concern her personal and immediate gratification. Her centralized behavior of expecting the world to give to her, and only her, is evident in her actions when discussing the matter of the quits with her family. She believes she is the only one who deserves the family quits because she would put it to better use. She lacks the understanding of her family's point of view (which comes from the underdevelopment of the superego) and she only understands her personal needs and desires, (which stems from the overdevelopment of her id).
By analyzing the break down of Dee's (Wangero's) psyche in terms of the id, ego, and superego, we have gained insight into the reasoning behind her personality and character. "It was the balance that Freud advocated - not the complete removal of inhibiting factors" (HCAL 131). No one likes it when one person gets a bigger slice of pie for no apparent reason. The same goes for someone with unequal slices of his or her id, ego, and superego. It just is not fair: After all, they say variety is the spice of life. So, "I'll take some cinnamon with my slice of pie!"
Wilfred Guerin et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. "EVERYDAY USE". -4th ed. New York. Oxford University Press, Inc. 1999.