Secrets of the Soul

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Eli Zaretsky’s Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis presents a unique and well-researched history of psychoanalysis from Victorian times to present day society. In Victorian times family and societal position determined how individuals defined themselves. With the Enlightenment came the belief that individuals could have a personal, private identification. Psychoanalysis was a powerful tool for self-discovery, which had significant implications. Gender roles, race, and sexuality were no longer socially decided, as men and woman began to determine their own personal beliefs around social roles and sexual partners. Because of its encouragement of individual expression, psychoanalysis went against accepted psychological thought.

Freud constructed his theory of sexual development in part to gain acceptance from the scientific community. After World War I, men who were shell-shocked and woman who worked reinforced the psychoanalytical goal of exploring social roles. The consumerism that flourished after the war also linked well with psychoanalysis; individuals were encouraged to buy what they, not society, desired. Some of Freud’s followers expanded and disagreed with some of its constructs, most notably Carl Jung and Karen Horney.

After World War II, Western society was focused on the family, especially on a woman’s role of wife, mother, and keeper of the home. Because of this societal change, psychoanalysis began to shift its emphasis to the individual’s relationship with the mother. The popularity of psychoanalysis soared during this time and continued until the 1960’s.

The 1960’s saw an end of the dominance of the family, and the rise of feminism, sexual freedom, and social recognition of racism. Freud, although in some respects supporting difference and individual freedom, was seen as old-fashioned for the modern era as individuals who did not fit social mores might be diagnosed with a neurosis or complex. However, psychoanalysis became deeply woven into Western society.

Words and phrases such as “collective unconscious,” “ego,” and “Freudian slip” have remained in language and metaphoric usage. Additionally, today’s problems and challenges will require individuals to look deeply within themselves to discover their own motives, biases, and solutions. Psychoanalysis will continue to be an important tool to enable humanity to become its best collectively through individual introspection.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 17 (May 1, 2004): 1526-1527.

Library Journal 129, no. 10 (June 1, 2004): 162.

The New York Times Book Review 153 (September 5, 2004): 9-10.

Publishers Weekly 251, no. 21 (May 24, 2004): 52.

The Wilson Quarterly 28, no. 3 (Summer, 2004): 125.