Sinclair psychoanalyzes her characters through an omniscient but unobtrusive narrator who probes hidden motivations. The narrator makes the reader aware of the different layers of personality: the obvious surface actions; the more hidden, but still conscious, thoughts; and the unconscious fears and desires which are never known to the conscious mind. Consistent with Freudian theory, the characters remain unaware of their deepest motivations; for example, Steven is oblivious to his desire to avoid pain: “He ignored everything that made him feel uncomfortable.” Sinclair’s characters display many of the classic defense mechanisms: repression, sublimation, substitution, and projection. The novel’s larger purpose, however, is to show the tragedy of wasted human potential and to show how it occurs through the unnatural blockage of the sexual drive.
The author’s heaviest criticism is therefore leveled at the Vicar, who represents Victorian morality. He is the tyrannical center from which all the lines of action develop. He is subtly deceptive in that he appears ascetic but in fact hides a secret sensuality. Coupled with sexual lust is the lust for power: He makes it his business to trample on other people’s desires. Consciously believing himself to be a righteous and long-suffering man, he washes his hands of responsibility for his daughters’ sufferings. By his stroke, however, he illustrates that repression can lead to illness.
(The entire section is 547 words.)