by Emma Gray
Psychoanalysis is the study of the unconscious mind, and of how the unconscious interacts with the conscious mind to produce human behavior. It is a branch of psychology, which focuses on conscious mental processes. In literature, psychoanalysis is typically used to understand how the unconscious mind interacts with characters, storylines, symbols, and themes, as well as the ways in which a character’s unconscious desires guide their interactions with others (Castle). Psychoanalytic theory was pioneered by Sigmund Freud, who made the landmark discovery of the unconscious in the early twentieth century through his own self-analysis and his experiences as a clinician. Freud theorized that the mind was composed of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id represents the fully unconscious mind which houses sexual and aggressive drives and desires, the ego is the conscious mind, and the superego is a manifestation of internalized morality that reaches both the unconscious and the conscious components of the mind.
Freud asserted that psychoanalysis is a multidimensional concept in that it is an investigation of the unconscious drives underlying human behavior, it is a method of therapy, and it is a combination of multiple theories about the functions of the unconscious mind (Buchanan). He hypothesized that psychopathology and dreams were the ways in which a person’s unconscious fears, conflicts, and desires were revealed to the conscious mind. Therefore, psychoanalytic therapy centered on the “talking cure,” or free association, in which patients were encouraged to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings to reveal unconscious influences (Buchanon). Psychoanalysts also utilized dream interpretation, which was based upon literary techniques of interpretation and representation. The psychoanalyst-patient relationship is the key concept of psychoanalysis, as emphasized by Lacan (Buchanan). Many other psychologists also contributed their own theories to psychoanalysis, including Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, and Jacques Lacan.
Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922. Print.
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Avon Books, 1965. Print.
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1975. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955. W.W. Norton & Co.: 1991.
Buchanan, Ian. “Psychoanalysis.” A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Castle, Gregory. “Psychoanalysis (to 1966).” The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory. Wiley, 2011.