Note on Psychoanalytic criticism

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Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic criticism is the type of psychological criticism based on the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. It deals with the work of the literature as the reflection of a psychology of the writer motivated by the sexual urges. Sex is always at the center of everything that influences and determines the way of thinking, doing and treating other people. While expressing those desires, the writer does not say directly what s/he desires for but s/he often takes the help of symbols. Metaphors, images and characters as the means of his/her expression. Therefore the job of a critic is to attempt to explore and analyze deep psychological urges expressed by the writer through his/her text.

Sigmund Freud pioneered the technique of psychoanalysis. His theories are directly or indirectly concerned with the nature of the unconsciousness mind. After1950s, psychoanalytic critics began to consider the work of art and creative writing as the expression of repression. For Freud creative writing is one of the proper ways of disclosing sexual passion and desires. Among difference means of expression, writing satisfies author and well explains his unconsciousness mind. Psychoanalytical critic believed that human beings control and guided by are conscious. Unconscious origin with the process of human growth. Sexual desire is common both to male and female whereas males also wish for higher ambitions. Erotic wish is developed within a bodily organism.

Psychoanalytic criticism argues that literally text like dreams; express the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author. Literally, work is the reflection of the human mind and the human mind is filled with so many sexual desires. All literary works project human psychology. Freud had developed and idea that human mind has three different components: The Id, the ego, and the superego. The id represents the unconscious part of the human mind. The ego is a conscious part which regulates sand opposes the unconscious part. The super ego balances both id and the ego. It makes moral judgments that have been formed by our parents, our schools or our religious institutions. The ego and the superego control human desires. The repressed desires emerge only in dreams and in creative activity that produces a work of literature.


It is the branch of psychology that explores, interprets and analyzes the human psyche. It explains the inner psyche of human beings. It describes and explains its various aspects their functioning and motivation to the human behavior. It is also used as the method of treating the neurotic patients talking with them and finding out the root cause of suffering. In this way, psychoanalysis helps us to better understand the human behavior and it can be helpful to understand the literary text. It is mainly based on the psychoanalytic principle developed by Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic critics suggest that the superficial pleasure of the work releases to deeper psychic pleasure and their by liberate tension. Thus reading a text knows the psychic of the author. Among the psychoanalysis in the recent years, Lacan has had the greatest influence in literary theory. He reinterprets Freud in the light of structural linguistics and his perhaps the best known in theoretical circles. He came with the idea that unconscious is structured like a language.

Like other literary criticism, psychoanalytic criticism is useful in deriving meaning from the analysis of linguistic symbols and codes. It inspires one to view the literary text as an outlet of dream or deeper human psychic. It is revenant to argue that literary work cannot be separated from the unconscious of the human psyche. Nowadays this approach is functioning as one of the appropriates of literary analysis.

The origins of the unconscious

The pattern of human behavior and our way of thinking are determined not by our conscious thinking but by our conscious desires. The way we think and act as a whole is guided by the primordial desires. So human beings are the pack of desires and among all these desires the sexual desire is at the center. Unconscious is a reservoir of our instinctual desires, feelings, painful experience, fear etc especially related to sex. We try to avoid this experiences from us since these are taboos put by our society however they cannot go away complete from us. They are stored somewhere back at the unconscious state of mind. In fact, unconscious is formed due to the repression. So when we try to forget or avoid and reject the desires this unconscious is formed. This unconscious is always dangerous as it becomes such a dynamic force in us that always keeps influencing us. Unconscious is the storehouse of those painful experiences, emotions, those wounds, fears, guilty desires and unreserved conflict that we do not want to know about. The repression does not entirely eliminate those desires rather it gives force to them. Hence, the unconscious is not the passive reservoir of the neutral data of those desires but the very dynamic entity continuum which always influences our personality, behavior and the existence as a whole.

Sigmund Freud and other classical psychoanalyst believed that human beings are motivated and driven by desires, fears, needs and conflicts of which they are unaware. The unconscious comes into being when we are very young through repression. It results due to unhappy psychological events. People often try to repress their unhappy events. Hiding fears and conflicts do not result well. Repression does not eliminate our painful experiences and emotions. Rather it gives them forced by making them the organizers of our current experience. Our conflict feeling about the painful experience and emotion will definitely have influences on our doings. We hang on to our repressed wounds, fear, guilty desires, and unreserved conflict until we find a way to know and acknowledge to them. For example, if someone gets hurt in love from his beloved, it makes him hang onto love until he receives pleasing love from another beloved that was not achieved from the former beloved. What the person really awaits is the love that pleases him.

Every human being is the product of the role we are given in the family complex. The birth of unconscious lies in the way we perceive our place in the family and how we react to this self-definition. Thus, a family is very important in psychoanalytic theory. Oedipal attachment, sibling rivalry, penis envy and castration anxiety are considered to be the developmental stage. We all go through this experience and they are a natural and healthy part of maturing and establishing our own identities. We grow troubles when we can’t outgrow this conflict. If we can outgrow this conflict we will be trouble free. Only by recognizing the psychological motivations for our destructive behavior we can hope to begin to change that behavior.


We human beings try our best to hide our guilt, fear, and wishes. Repression alone can’t eliminate our painful experiences and emotions. The more one tries to repress such unconscious factor of life the more s/he gets influence from its organized force. Defenses are the processes by which the contents of our unconscious are kept in the unconscious. We deliberately repressed some conflicting issues because we fear to know them or the way of handling them. It is not easier to handle them the way they appear and reappear. Defenses include the processes such as selective perception, selective memory, denial, avoidance, displacement, projection, and regression. In selective perception, we hear and see only what we feel we can handle. In the process of selective memory, we modify our memories in such way that we don’t feel overwhelmed by painful events. Denial makes one believed that the problem does not exist or unpleasant incident never happened. Avoidance calls us staying away from people or situation that is supposed to make us anxious. Displacement takes something or someone out in the place of other. Projection ascribes our fear, problem or guilty desire to someone else and they condemn him an order for it.

Regression is one of the most complex defenses. Regression carries out our thoughts away from some present difficulty. It is the temporary return to a former psychological state. Regression allows one feel pleasure even in war and conflict taking him back to his pleasing days. This very process of defense works as a useful therapeutic tool.


Tyson, L. (2013). Critical theory today. Kathmandu: Ekta.

  • Psychoanalysis is the branch of psychology that explores, interprets and analyzes the human psyche.
  • The pattern of human behavior and our way of thinking is determined by not our conscious thinking but by our unconscious desire.
  • Unconscious is a reserved way of our instinctual desires, feelings, painful experience, fears especially related to sex.
  • Repression alone cannot eliminate our painful experiences and emotions.
  • Defenses are the processes by which the content of our unconscious is kept in the unconscious.




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