“The Cavemen in the Hedges” is a short story that contains many underlying themes of psychoanalytical theory. Themes of the “id,” a selfish, primal, version of one’s self concerned only with physical desires; the “superego,” part of a person’s psyche that is only worried about ideals and morals; and the “ego,” the rational part of the brain that attempts to satisfy both the id and superego natures make up an immense proportion of the breakdown of this story.
Repression and other psychological defense mechanisms are also very important in the analysis as well. The first display of the id is that of the cavemen themselves. Our cavemen are impervious to pain or discipline. They don’t seem to have any kind of mental sense at all (demonstrated by the college students trapping them by the usage of shiny objects). Kim describes them literally as “mother fuckers”, without any kind of sexual taboos or restraints. This means that if something amused or felt good to the cavemen, nothing else mattered.
According to Sigmund Freud, our id is our primal nature, pleasure driven and without consideration of the reality of any situation. This embodies our cavemen as perfectly as is possible. The id is also shown unrestrained again in the very unlikely character of Kim, the anal retentive housewife. In the beginning of “The Cavemen in the Hedges”, Kim is shown as very prim and proper. She is frightened and reproachful of the cavemen. Her house is always spotless and she is constantly reorganizing things, such as her furniture and spice rack.
In her younger days, Kim was a rocker/delinquent and almost as wild as the cavemen. Somewhere between hocking spit on rich kids’ cars, doing drugs, and throwing rocks through corporate glass windows, Kim grew up and settled down. However, when our main character, (who remains unnamed throughout the story) claims he is not ready for marriage after 10 years of dating, Kim’s id regains control. She begins to have an affair with one of the cavemen. She lets the cleanliness of her once perfectly kept house go to pot.
She no longer cares about reality or morals and becomes lost to the raw desires of her primal nature. The next theme that is displayed in “The Cavemen in the Hedges” is the superego. This is seen in several of our characters at times, but it is without a doubt personified in the annoying neighbors, the Schaefers. Evan and Winsome are described as New Age hippies and “over-friendly”. Their dress reminds me of how a choir robe would look. These two are the type of people that believe everything has a spirit and every creature should be cared for.
While having dinner with our main characters, Winsome begins to get teary-eyed over having found a newborn cavebaby that had died in their backyard. She shows compassion for this abandoned creature, one of the greatest emotions expressed in terms of the superego. When Kim declares that she doesn’t understand how Winsome could possibly cry for these “things” and that they are “disgusting”, Winsome thinks Kim is being judgmental. This is an archetypal viewpoint of the superego, as she says this with almost a condescending tone in her voice.
The Schaefers appear to be a moral, sensitive couple that cares deeply for all manner of peoples and this supremely annoys Kim and the narrator. The reason they are so put off by their neighbors is that they are uncomfortable with themselves in comparison to the Schaefers. The Schaefers are happily married and appear to be genuinely good people and, let us face the facts, our couple (more so Kim) lashes out at their company because they become aware that they are not as good nor happy as their neighbors. The superego can be detrimental to a person physically, in the opposite way of the id.
If the superego is in complete control of a person, they no longer care about material needs, social adeptness, and possibly other people’s varying viewpoints. The Schaefers embrace all of these ideals. However, they seem to be the most content people in this story, so the superego may be the best way to go in the matter of psychological control. The ego is the dominant theme that prevails in nearly all humans. Though displayed in several characters, Kim and her husband, prior to the dinner with the Schaefers, best exemplify this trait.
The job of the ego is to provide alance between the id and superego, satisfying both of these ideals and keeping reality in focus. This is exactly what our narrator and Kim are attempting to accomplish through this suburban existence. When our couple was younger, they were wild and free-spirited. They were reckless with their bodies, didn’t give a damn what others thought of them, and had no respect for the law. Their id was in complete control of their lives. With age, their egos begin to conform them to what society expects them to be. They purchase a house together, have tattoos removed, and get real jobs.
They become normal, boring, law abiding citizens. The only thing keeping them from being completely reformed is the fact that our narrator isn’t ready for marriage. He feels as though doing this will “destroy the last shred of rebel in him”. This last piece of his rebellious youth ultimately becomes our narrator’s downfall. Though our narrator and Kim have seemingly adjusted to society, something is not right. They have fully repressed their id. Boiling just beneath the surface of their successful jobs, spotless house, and normal lives, is the primal side within them.
Using repression to solely contain your id is very dangerous, because there is no safe release. With these primal sexual and rebellious desires being repressed for so long, eventually something is going to explode. Our narrator’s refusal of marriage is the light to the fuse of this metaphorical bomb and once it is set off, there is no return to the way things once were no matter how hard our narrator tries. Our narrator uses several defense mechanisms against the cold hard fact that his girlfriend of ten years is having an affair with a caveman.
The first is denial. He puts the thought out of his mind, saying that Kim just needed “time to herself”. When he can no longer deny the affair, he attempts to rationalize the situation out. He decides that he must win Kim back with his suavity and cleanliness. No amount of cleaning, washing, or cooking he does is sufficient to bring Kim to her senses, however. When this fails he begins to displace his anger by drinking away the fact that his woman had “thrown him over for the missing link”. This too is futile and nothing good comes from this behavior.
Finally, the cavemen eventually exterminate themselves because they aren’t smart enough to survive in our world. This destroys Kim and she leaves home, never to be seen again. In an ending note, my interpretation of “The Cavemen in the Hedges” is that if you don’t find suitable release for the id behavior (that is encrypted into every human being), things can turn disastrous very quickly.
- Unknown. Psychology 101 Chapter 3 Section 5, 21 March 2004, 16 March 2011
- Unknown. Psychology 101 Chapter 3 Section 6, 21 March 2004, 16 March 2011
- Richter, Stacey. The Cavemen in the Hedges, 12 March 2007, 28 October 2