Freudian Theory in Eveline
Literary critics have relied on comparing a work to a current intellectual theory for over a century now. Most major works in the English canon have fallen under the influence of Marxist criticism, a criticism that emphasizes the economic relationships and class between major characters, at one time or another. After, the 1960s, many works were reinterpreted from a feminist perspective which stresses the subservience of female characters and their reliance on males. James Joyce’s “Eveline” has been analyzed in these fashions; both theories have a great deal of validity and grant the reader new insights into Eveline’s plight. However, while, in academia, it has become acceptable to disregard authorial intent (what did Joyce intend to “say” when writing “Eveline”?), there should be common sense limits to criticism, so that it remains pertinent to the culture and era in which the literature was created.
Freudian interpretations are a prime example of literary criticism that often is more about Freud’s theories than the literature that psychoanalytic theories are attempting to clarify. Ever since Freud first published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, intellectuals have been applying his theories on developmental sexuality and the unconscious to different literary works. Joyce himself was well aware of Freud and was known to comment on the similarity of their names: The German Freude means joy in English. Additionally Joyce was well aware of Freudian, psychoanalytic theories. When Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, began exhibiting signs of mental illness (she was eventually institutionalized), Joyce conferred with Carl Jung, an early disciple of Freud. Many of the stream-of-consciousness techniques that Joyce employs, particularly in later works, would not have been as accepted had it not been for Freud’s groundbreaking work on the subconscious. However, in spite of all this, Freudian interpretations that rely on the Oedipal or Electra complex (the theories of human sexual development), seem to have less to do with “Eveline” than the theories of the subconscious because the sexual theories disregard specific aspects of the Irish-Catholic upbringing which may override any influence of the different complexes discussed. Freudian criticism of “Eveline” presents a good example of the intellectual bias towards an aspect of Freudian theory that emphasizes the Electra Complex at the expense of the more mundane subconscious impulses which both spur and prevent Eveline from acting.
A detailed Freudian analysis occurs in a 1993 book, Reading Dubliners Again , in which author Gary Leonard applies elements of Freudian interpretation to Eveline’s psychological development. According to Freud’s Oedipal or Electra complex, a child develops a sexual attraction for the opposite-sex parent (the Electra complex refers to a girl’s attraction for her father). Failure to resolve the conflict can result in difficulties in adult sexuality that manifest themselves in all sorts of ways which stifle healthy development. Freud concludes that the Oedipal and Electra complex provide the fundamental obstacle that a child must overcome to develop healthily; a failure of the developing child to resolve the Oedipal or Electra complex results in profound difficulties. Taken at a very basic level, a Freudian might say that Eveline has never been able to free herself from her attraction to her father; it is for this reason that she cannot pursue other lovers, or can only find lovers who exhibit traits much like her father. Eveline, indeed, finds herself in difficulty; is this difficulty truly the result of an unresolved attraction for her father, or are other cultural factors, for example a victim’s response to chronic abuse, more important? According to Leonard and other Freudian interpretations, Eveline’s paralysis or inability to act is caused by her failure to overcome her childhood attraction to her father. Consequently, the father...
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