Themes and Meanings
John Fowles was deeply interested in the theories of Carl Jung when he was struggling with this book—and it was a struggle, as he freely admits in his preface to the revised edition in 1977. He was continually rewriting and abandoning drafts as inadequate to the myth he wished to express. The confusion of many readers suggests that perhaps he never did get it quite right. Nevertheless, that the story is somehow analogous to what Jung called the process of individuation seems quite clear. The immature person naively assumes that the conscious Ego is the Self, the center of being. In order to be whole, such a person must explore the unacknowledged part of the psyche—in symbolic terms, a journey into the underworld of the subconscious. That world is haunted by archetypal forms, primitive drives, images derived perhaps from racial memories but intuitively perceived as applicable to one’s own emotional and moral state. Only thus can the adolescent psyche acquire mental and emotional maturity and assume moral responsibility.
The modern, empirical, pseudoscientific orientation of masses of people tends to breed individuals who look only at “things,” especially among men. (Conchis points out to Nicholas that men look at things, but women look at the relationships between things, which he implies is a better orientation.) The more poetically inclined soul, such as that of Nicholas, is aware of the symbolic forms through literature but tends to escape...
(The entire section is 425 words.)