Personality Development (Psychology) In Light Of Kate Chopins The Awakening Essay, Research Paper
The idea that one can understand and comprehend the development of an individual is profound and abstruse, but very few people have actually had success dealing with such a topic. From obstacles such as proper test subjects to the whole stigma of taboo attached in trying to understand the human mind, researchers and psychologists have had success. One of the most notable successes is that of Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, as we know it. Freud s in depth pioneering journey into the minds of people, and how the mind itself develops with the passing of time and events. Other modern psychologists have elaborated on Freud, including the psychologists Erik Erikson and Karen Horney. Their thoughts on the personality development of people relate directly to Kate Chopin s book, The Awakening. In this book, the theories discussed by Freud and his successors are shown explicitly and implicitly.
Obviously, Sigmund Freud s work in the field of personality development was by far the most prolific and controversial. The father of modern psychology, Freud broke all barriers to expose what he thought to be the real reasons for human behavior. His theories of personality development can best start with the discussion of the conscious and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind along with the lesser preconscious mind is that part of the mind that one has control, or knowledge of. Ironically, this is the least part of the mind that one has control over. The so called subconscious mind is the part of the mind that lurks beneath the surface, filled with instincts, emotions, and unfulfilled desires (Shaffer 26). The total human mind is divided into the famous three parts of the Id, the ego, and the superego. The Id can be correlated directly to the subconscious, since it contains one s innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires, or as Freud would call them, wishes . The Id represents one s innermost and primitive desires, such as food and reproduction, and it constantly drives one s actions. The total antithesis of the Id is the superego. The superego in the case of personality development, comes directly from parents. This superego is consisted of the conscience (punishments and warnings) and the ego ideal (positive rewards and role models). Thus the superego can be defined as what keeps the Id in check, which leads to the ego. The ego is the rationalizing factor, it is the result of the superego and the Id, canceling each other out. The ego is the compromise between the Id and the superego, and it seeks to solve the problems that an individual may face. The ego is the visible part of the mind, and it is with the ego that individuals can either raise or lower themselves.
Thus having discussed Freud s analysis of the brain, it seems logical to determine how the mind responds to events that in turn lead to the development of the individual. Freud mentions things such as traumatical events, which can affect one s development that trigger what he calls defense mechanisms (Shaffer 61). One example would be suppression, wherein one tries to bury and put away all that is bothering them, such as the loss of a loved one, etc. This suppression may resurface at the wrong time (since it s never been dealt with) and can have harmful effects on the individual. Another example would repression, or forgetting such a trauma occurred. Another well known mechanism would be denial, wherein one denies that something will happen, or denies the severity of such an event. All these things have one thing in common; that when a person doesn t deal with a situation properly, it can affect them later on in life, when it is most likely unwanted (Cooper 73). Freud also dealt with the development of the child, and how one s upbringing can affect one s adult life. Skipping the parts of Oedipal-complex, etc., the one Freudian dogma that sticks out, especially in relation to the story is the lack of the mother theory. In this case which applies to the main character of The Awakening, Edna, a loss of the mother leads to a female child to lose her female role model, thus making her more manly, etc. This is shown in how Chopin describes Edna as handsome, etc.
The next psychologist is Karen Horney, who deals with personalities slightly different from Freud. She agrees with Freud on the whole neurosis concept, but relates that this is caused more from a lack of affection given by one s parents. A child may even misinterpret parents genuinely healthy intentions as hostile, and may take offense to this. Favoritism among siblings is also a topic of Horney, who concludes that one may feel jealousy or hatred towards an individual who may seem to be more loved. Many though, feel inferior and helpless, and feel that they are abandoned and lose self-esteem. Some may even withdraw from the family (runaways) in response to what they may feel. Karen Horney goes on to say that one s potential is the key to one s development. When one is loved, one can live up to that potential and unfortunately vice-versa. This is why Horney holds parental affection as the key in personaliy development. Yet one should understand that the ideal self is not plausible; it is usually impossible to achieve (Greenberg 53). When one doesn t recognize this, they may have mixed feelings of contentment and anxiety, of accord and malevolence.
Lastly is the works of Erik Erikson, who is a complete successor of Freud s work, using Freud’s work as his guidelines. He accepts Freud, but goes on to refine Freud s tenets wherever he deems necessary, which has caused much controversy. Erikson deals in depth with society and how that related to the potential that an individual has. The Eight Step Development, wherein each step leads to the next stage of life is the key to this beliefs. If one step in this starcase is broke, the individual will suffer throughout the rest of his/her life. The steps are time dependent as well; if the proper time is not spent in each stage, then full development will not take place and the individual will suffer. For this reason, Erikson advocates strongly not to rush the child into adulthood, but at the same time, not to hinder the child to remain young forever. When a stage is sufficiently completed, one can pass over into the next stage healthy and strong, which will help him/her to fulfill the rest of the eight stages (Shaffer 103)
Neither Freud nor Erikson deal with women extensively in personality development (except in the phallic symbols, etc. which don t need to be discussed here), but Karen Horney does. She talks about how parents rear their children to be manly/womanly from birth itself, giving them toys male toys (guns, soldiers, etc.) and female toys (dolls, tea sets, etc.). Another influence would be the sex of the other siblings; a girl surrounded by numerous male siblings may take on their games and toys, so as to win their affection and respect. Similarly, a boy with many sisters may become more involved in dolls, etc., so as to gain the respect and love of his sisters. This may affect the individual in the adult life, making them more like the opposite sex. This was seen in Edna s loss of her mother, which made her more manly; thus she liked the company of men as non-sexual companions, and could never be comfortable with marriage.
Thus having examined the theories of three notable psychologists, one must associate these with the events that transpired in The Awakening. One of the aforementioned is that of Edna s mother passing away. This passing away led to her taking on more of her father s characteristics and being less womanly as compared to the other Creole women. Another would be the Freudian death instinct , wherein one feels that life is hard and has a subconscious wish to escape or die. This was shown in the foreshadowing of Edna looking to the sea for an answer numerous times. Another is repression/suppression; by trying to forget her past by way of marriage, Edna only tried to escape reality, which would not work for a long time. Since she herself was not loved as a child from her family, she could not love her own children. When her mother died, the stage of life that she was on was never complete, and thus that carried over to the other stages. Freudian ideology would even say that Edna suffers from a phallic personality; that the loss of her mother has made her vain, proud, and self-centered shown best when she commits suicide, giving the reason that she felt that not even her own children had any right to her inner self. Yet the best Freudian correlation is shown when Edna sleeps with Arobin. This was an example of sublimination, wherein the frustrations are taken out on another person or object. Edna was frustrated with life, and she realized that she was not living up to her full potential. Yet to spite Leonce and Robert, she sleeps with Arobin, as if to harm those who really cared about her. What she failed to realize was that by “sleeping with the enemy”, she was ironically harming herself.
With the case of Edna, Freudian measures would have to be applied. The therapies would be numerous, from dream analysis to free association. What must be found is where Edna is lacking in her personality development. What must be found is at what point in time did Edna begin to suffer from the loss of her mother, and not being able to deal with it properly, made her become what she is. A favorite method of Freud was the inkblot tests giving these to Edna and then analyzing her response would help to understand her subconscious mind, as well as her fears and desires. All these methods may have to be used, or none of them may have to be used. Yet the one goal to keep in mind, according to Freud is, the goal of therapy is to make the unconscious conscious. . Thus, in understanding Edna s unconscious, can one fully understand the real Edna.
Looking at Freud, Erikson, and Horney, all have merit and logic in their theories and how it should apply to Edna Pontellier. The lack of a mother, but moreover, the way that she dealt with this event is the key to understanding her problems. Freud, Erikson, and Horney are only pioneers in a field that is both intriguing and scary. Their efforts in trying to understand the human thought process and development have been well documented; yet as the clich goes, it’s only the tip of the iceberg, since researchers’ knowledge about the topic is limited and has much to increase in the future. While there is no hardcore evidence to back up what they have reported since there is always the credibility of the patients, etc., one must keep in mind that there is much merit to their arguments. Their findings can be applied in daily life, as well as in the fictional world of literature. Yet by understanding the human mind, does man comes one step closer to understanding the human soul or one step further from understanding the human soul?
1. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books,1996.
2. Cooper, Robert G., Child Development, Its Nature and Course. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992.
3. Greenberg, Jerald, Managing Behavior. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1996.
4. Shaffer, David R., Social And Personality Development. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1994.