Can you describe ontological insecurity as explained in R.D. Laing's The Divided Self and compare it with Poe's "The Black Cat"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ontological is defined as the essence of self or the "nature of being." R.D. Lang's theory of ontological security (or the reverse of insecurity) as expressed in The Divided Self holds that a person's sense of self is formed beginning at or near birth and depends on the behavior of and treatment received from the first "other" in a baby's life, that being the parents and other caregivers. If this first encounter with the other is of kindness, gentleness, and other supportive, loving and encouraging qualities, then the individual will be ontologically secure. If the other delivers the opposites of the above or something on the order of disdain, scorn, sarcasm, etc., then the individual will be ontologically insecure.

Edgar Allen Poe sets up the narrator of "The Black Cat" as having had a childhood defined by his weakness (which may have been innate according to innatist theory) and his parent's and school mates' responses and reactions to his weaknesses. This perfectly fits in with Lang's theory of ontological security/insecurity as Poe is implicitly establishing a direct link between the narrator's childhood and interactions with his "others" and his subsequent behavior as an adult who first lashed out under the influence of strong alcohol.

[Read Jess Lang's essay "Ontological Security" for further detail on R.D. Lang's theory of ontological security.]