The Diary of Anaïs Nin Essay - Critical Essays

Anaïs Nin

Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces The Diary of Anaïs Nin Analysis

Perhaps the principal concern of Nin’s writing is the struggle between unity and multiplicity in human personality. This is a universal theme, one whose articulation has been enriched in the twentieth century by the explorations of psychoanalysis. Being a student of psychoanalysis, Nin was able to relate these understandings to her personal dilemmas. As the daughter in a traditional Catholic family, Nin’s role seemed circumscribed by the teachings of the Church. European traditions of female subservience certainly were fostered by her parents. Nin’s willfulness, a trait she recognized in herself quite early, was submerged for many years beneath the overlay of inherited, learned patterns of behavior. To liberate herself without guilt, without denying the past, is the quest undertaken in the diary.

Once she dedicated herself to the life of the artist, the maker, she intruded upon a male world. The new complication became how to enter successfully into this world without losing her femininity. The meaning of this femininity, this personhood, this complex and fluid state of being, would occupy Nin all of her life, and the diary provides Nin’s own record of her constant pulse-taking.

Over and over again, questions such as these are explored: How can a woman be assertive without being masculine? How can men be led to take a woman seriously—as an equal—in fields of mutual endeavor? Where is there a healthy point of balance between independence and leaning or cleaving? All these questions are further complicated by Nin’s uncomfortable relationship with her father, a relationship probed most painfully in many sections of the diary.

On numerous occasions, readers encounter Nin’s attempts to resolve her feelings toward her father. Indeed, Nin often claimed that the diary itself was a way of making up for the lost father, a way of reaching out to him and proving her worth. She believed, as a young girl, that her parents’ separation somehow had to do with her unworthiness in her father’s eyes. Nin came to understand her own behavior as being in large measure a quest for her absent father. This quest distorted her relationships with men because it put demands on them that they were not prepared to meet. Conversely, Nin found herself playing the dutiful daughter and leaving other aspects of self underdeveloped. This dynamic had yet another side to it growing out of Nin’s sense of betrayal. Taking her father as a model, she feared betrayal at the hands of other men; thus, she either shied away from commitment or pushed too hard for control in her relationships. For Nin, finding a secure sense of self meant coming to terms with the thwarted daughter who lived within the adult woman.

Another dimension of this dynamic involved Nin’s recognition of the ways in which she was her father’s daughter, perhaps even his double or psychic twin. She feared that her own inability to be satisfied with one man was a reflection of her father’s philandering. Just as she saw him as an incarnation of the Don Juan myth—a myth Nin explored in the teachings of Otto Rank—so she often saw herself as a female Don Juan. Each man brought out a different part of her, or perhaps for each she was a different person.

Nin’s pursuit of this crucial issue—do human beings have a single self or many selves—involved paradox. On the one hand, Nin searched for a definition, an answer, a single and...

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