The concept of comprehending an individual’s development is deep and complex, and only a small number of individuals have achieved success in tackling such a subject. Despite challenges like finding suitable test subjects and the societal taboo surrounding the study of human psychology, researchers and psychologists have managed to succeed.
Sigmund Freud, commonly known as the pioneer of modern psychology, is an exceptional success. His groundbreaking exploration into the complexities of the human mind and its development through personal experiences has had a lasting impact. Other psychologists like Erik Erikson and Karen Horney have built upon Freud’s theories, incorporating their ideas on personality development directly within Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening. This literary masterpiece prominently displays the concepts elucidated by both Freud and his followers.
Undoubtedly, Sigmund Freud’s work in personality development was both prolific and controversial. As the father of modern psychology, Freud fearlessly revealed his beliefs regarding the true motivations behind human behavior. To grasp his theories of personality development, it is crucial to initiate a discourse on the conscious and unconscious mind.
The conscious mind and the lesser preconscious mind are the known or controllable parts of the mind, despite surprisingly having the least control. The subconscious mind, also referred to as the “subconscious,” encompasses hidden instincts, emotions, and unfulfilled desires (Shaffer 26).
Freud theorized that the human mind consists of three distinct elements: the Id, the ego, and the superego. The Id represents the subconscious and includes deep thoughts, emotions, desires or “wishes,” as well as basic needs such as hunger and reproduction. It serves as a driving force for actions. Conversely, the superego opposes the Id.
The superego is an essential aspect of personality development and is influenced by parents. It consists of the conscience, which includes punishments and warnings, and the ego ideal, which includes positive rewards and role models. Essentially, the superego regulates impulses from the Id to create the ego. The ego acts as a rationalizing force that balances the tendencies of the superego and Id. It represents a compromise between them and aims to address challenges faced by individuals. The ego is visible in the mind and plays a crucial role in determining individuals’ trajectory.
Therefore, after addressing Freud’s examination of the brain, it appears reasonable to explore how the mind reacts to events that subsequently shape an individual’s growth. According to Freud, these events, including traumatic experiences, can impact one’s development and activate what he refers to as “defense mechanisms” (Shaffer 61).
One example of a psychological mechanism is suppression, which involves trying to bury and ignore negative emotions or experiences, such as the loss of a loved one. However, this suppression can resurface unexpectedly later on, causing harm to the individual. Another mechanism is repression, where the person consciously forgets about a traumatic event. Denial is another well-known mechanism, where someone refuses to acknowledge or accept the occurrence or severity of an event. All of these mechanisms have in common the potential for negative consequences in the future if the person does not properly address the situation (Cooper 73).
Freud focused on the impact of a person’s upbringing on their adult life, including the development of a child. One notable Freudian concept, particularly relevant to the story, is the absence of the mother theory. In the case of Edna, the main character in The Awakening, losing her mother results in a female child losing her female role model and potentially adopting more masculine traits.
Karen Horney, a psychologist specializing in personality, presents a slightly different perspective from Freud. She agrees with Freud’s concept of “neurosis,” but attributes it to insufficient parental affection. Horney believes that children may misinterpret their parents’ true intentions as hostile and become offended. Additionally, she examines the impact of favoritism among siblings and how it can lead to feelings of jealousy or hatred towards those who receive more love. As a result, many individuals experience inferiority and helplessness, which causes them to feel abandoned and have low self-esteem. In severe cases, some may even distance themselves from their families as a response to these emotions.
According to Karen Horney, personal development relies on one’s potential, which can be unlocked when they receive love and support. Conversely, the lack of love can hinder this development. This is why Horney emphasizes the importance of parental affection in shaping one’s personality. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that achieving the ideal self is often unattainable (Greenberg 53). Failing to recognize this may result in conflicting emotions such as contentment and anxiety, harmony and hostility.
Finally, there is the work of Erik Erikson, who builds upon Freud’s theories but also makes modifications based on his own perspectives. Erikson focuses on the intersection between society and an individual’s potential, which has sparked considerable debate. Central to his ideas is the Eight Step Development, in which each stage builds upon the previous one and impacts the trajectory of a person’s life. If any step in this progression is disrupted, it can result in enduring consequences for the individual.
Erikson emphasizes the importance of spending adequate time in each stage of development. Rushing through or hindering a stage can prevent full development and cause suffering. It is crucial not to push children into adulthood prematurely, while also not impeding their ability to remain youthful. When a stage is successfully completed, one can move on to the next stage in a healthy and strong manner, enabling fulfillment of the remaining eight stages (Shaffer 103).
Both Freud and Erikson do not extensively address women in personality development, except for discussing phallic symbols. However, Karen Horney focuses on this topic. Horney discusses how parents shape their children’s gender identity from birth by providing them with toys that are considered typically masculine (such as guns and soldiers) or feminine (such as dolls and tea sets).
The sex of an individual’s siblings can also have an impact on their behavior and preferences. For example, a girl who grows up with multiple male siblings may imitate their games and toys to seek their affection and respect. Similarly, a boy with several sisters may engage more in playing with dolls to win the love and respect of his sisters. These experiences can have long-lasting consequences, potentially leading individuals to exhibit traits typically associated with the opposite gender. Edna’s life after her mother’s death serves as an illustration of this phenomenon, as she developed more masculine behaviors. As a result, she preferred the company of men in non-sexual contexts and could never find solace in marriage.
Thus, after examining the theories of three notable psychologists, it is necessary to link them to the events that occurred in The Awakening. One such event is the death of Edna’s mother, which resulted in her adopting more of her father’s traits and becoming less feminine compared to the other Creole women. Another relevant theory is Freud’s concept of the “death instinct,” which entails feeling that life is difficult and harboring a subconscious desire to escape or die. This idea is illustrated through the foreshadowing of Edna repeatedly seeking answers from the sea.
Edna’s attempt to forget her past through marriage exemplifies repression/suppression. However, this escape from reality is only temporary. Not receiving love as a child, she is unable to love her own children. Furthermore, the unresolved stage of her mother’s death affects her progression through subsequent stages. According to Freudian ideology, Edna exhibits a phallic personality due to the loss of her mother, resulting in vanity, pride, and self-centeredness. This is evident in her suicide, as she believes her inner self is not even deserving to be known by her own children.
Despite her dissatisfaction and feelings of emptiness, Edna opts to engage in a sexual relationship with Arobin to project her frustrations onto someone else. This behavior can be interpreted as a type of sublimation, redirecting negative emotions towards another individual or object. Ironically, Edna’s aim is to inflict pain upon both her husband Leonce and her beloved Robert, who genuinely adored and supported her. However, Edna fails to recognize that by sleeping with Arobin, she ultimately inflicts harm upon herself.
Applying Freudian measures would be necessary in the case of Edna, involving various therapies such as dream analysis and free association. The goal is to identify the deficiencies in Edna’s personality development and pinpoint the exact moment when she started experiencing the consequences of losing her mother. Inadequately coping with this loss is believed to have influenced her current state.
Freud employed inkblot tests to analyze Edna’s response, which helped him comprehend her subconscious mind, fears, and desires. The use of these techniques may vary in effectiveness. However, Freud stresses that the goal of therapy is to make the unconscious conscious. Therefore, a true understanding of Edna can only be attained by comprehending her unconscious mind.
The theories and insights of Freud, Erikson, and Horney are valuable in understanding Edna Pontellier’s experiences. Her struggles can be better understood by considering the absence of her mother and how she dealt with it. These three psychologists were pioneers in a fascinating yet unsettling field, extensively documenting their efforts to understand human cognition and development. However, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge as there is still much more progress to be made in the future.
Although there is no concrete evidence supporting the patients’ accounts, it is crucial to recognize their credibility. The arguments presented in these reports carry significant importance and have practical implications in different areas like daily life and literature. However, exploring the intricacies of the human mind can either enhance our understanding of the human spirit or lead to a sense of detachment from it.
- Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books,1996.
- Cooper, Robert G., Child Development, Its Nature and Course. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992.
- Greenberg, Jerald, Managing Behavior. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1996.
- Shaffer, David R., Social And Personality Development. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1994.