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The Character: Cultural and Psychological Perspectives

One of the fascinating aspects of analyzing literature is using critical lenses. Through the use of such lenses, the reader is able to not only focus his or her attention to one theme within the many that tend to thread through a piece, but also to expand his or her horizon when it comes to viewing the world through the “lens” of the “other”; this “other” being the character within the literature. Character behaviors and actions, indeed, are better critiqued when observed through a lens since the lens allows an explanation as to why the main character or any other character within a narrative makes the choices and decisions that may otherwise have no meaning to an outsider. As an example, using a critical lens may reveal the characters motives. Two particular lenses that allow the reader access to the characters thoughts and processes in a more meaningful way are the psychoanalytic and cultural critical lenses.

The cultural lens seeks to highlight relationships between different cultures and these cultures’ “beliefs systems, values, hierarchies, or laws” (Barton & Hudson, 2011, p. 54). In addition, analyzing the narrative through these lenses allows the reader to look at the relationships between, for example, the subordinate culture and “the dominant and competing” (p. 54) culture, and its ideologies (Barton & Hudson, 2011), revealing certain dogmas that reflect unconscious repression of a sense of irrelevancy towards that “other.”

When analyzing through the Jungian psychoanalytical lens, the reader looks for signs of psychological struggles faced by the main character or any other character that is indicating individuation struggles, which will be explained. The character’s conflict drives the plot through the following psychological processes: The persona suddenly confronts the shadow and guided by the anima/animus, embraces it, resulting in what Jung called individuation. The persona is the mask individuals present to society; the shadow is the secret self with respect to whether repressed or not repressed, conscious or not conscious, secret or not secret desires. To face one’s shadow side and accept it is to individuate or to become a whole being. The inability to do so leads to a neurosis where one projects the unresolved conflict onto others (Barton & Hudson, 2011; Ewen, 1998), differing only in degrees. This is but a simplified version of a very complex personality theory–but it captures its gist.

Three narratives where both the psychoanalytic/Jungian and the cultural critical lenses may be used, allowing the reader to delve deeper into the character’s cultural and psychological make-up are James Joyce’s (1914) “Araby,” Katherine Mansfield’s (1922) “The Garden Party,” and D.H. Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” Through these lenses, the reader understands the stream of consciousness each character undergoes when making certain decisions pertaining to both his or her cultural class as well as psychological state.

When critiquing Joyce’s (1914) “Araby” through the cultural lens, the reader sees the main character trapped in what appears to be the plight of youth living amongst relatives of the working class just above the line of poverty. The setting reveals that although the people in the neighborhood live comfortably, the state of the neighborhood conveys possible ruin if the working-class individual does not continue hard work; idling is not productive nor is it conducive to survival within the culture/class of this character. The neighborhood shows signs of poverty in the one “uninhabited house of two storeys…The other houses of the street,” were “conscious of decent lives within them…” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2503). The conflict we find is that this boy is also limited by the cultural boundaries or beliefs practiced by his aunt and uncle; these are people of the working class where the female stays home and the male works hard to make an earnest living. The young man’s uncle states that “he believed in the old saying: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'” (p. 2506) and because of his uncle’s cultural belief, the character feels cognitive dissonance and so emerges this psychological conflict in the plot.

The cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens because it seems one creates the other; the former creates the latter. Before this new love, the main character appears to have led a cultural belief similar to his uncle’s–his persona or public mask. His shadow side, his secret desire, however, is to frolic in love with a young mistress. But, doing so only leads to “not” doing what his uncle and culture deems fit: hard-work, duties and obligations. In fact, the main character finds himself in such a position and states, “What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2505). In other words, all he does is think about her and nothing else, avoiding his obligations and responsibilities.

The nameless boy has admiration for a female character; the anima begins the rising of the action, moving the plot through the conflict. The conflict that drives this plot: His shadow desires to break free from the restraints of his culture, to do something foolish as fall in love–to waste time for it. His persona keeps him trapped and unable to see this. When the anima arrives, in the form of this young lady, he is faced with the fact that there are two ways of living: Following his cultural ways (persona) or following his desires (shadow); it does not appear as though he sees an in between perhaps because of youth. He doesn’t seem to realize there is a balance between the two as anger and anguish overcome him.

At the end when his persona, led by the anima, finally faces the shadow, it appears the young lad does not embrace his desires and finds such views vain as he states in a stream of consciousness: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2507). The resolution of this narrative: A brilliantly ambiguous ending that may mean that this limited and sad creature realizes the folly in love, the folly in the time he has wasted, and that makes him angry as well as upset, according to his cultural upbringing. His conclusion appears to be one that has not accepted his shadow; the boy has not accepted the foolish behaviors led by love, behaviors such as the ones plotted in the narrative. If this is so, the young protagonist will end up with a neurosis, according to Jung, one where he will end up just as his uncle–a worker with no time to idle; no love; coming home late at night after supper. And we come full circle and end up back with the cultural lens.

When critiquing Mansfield’s (1922) “The Garden Party” through the cultural lens, the main character is trapped in what appears to be the plight of youth living amongst relatives of the well-to-do upper-middle class who happen to live just above a working-class neighborhood. The setting reveals that the people in the neighborhood below live uncomfortably:
for the little cottages were in a lane to themselves at the very bottom
of a steep rise that led up to the house. A broad road ran between. True,
they were far too near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they
had no right to be in that neighborhood at all. They were little mean
dwellings…. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty
stricken. Little rags and shreds of smoke, so unlike the great silvery plume
that uncurled from the Sheridan’s chimneys. (p. 2651)

Through the cultural lens, it is obvious one culture is the dominant, unconsciously demeaning the lower one based on class–those undesirables should not live there. What is interesting and revealed through this critical lens is that most of the times, the dominant culture does not realize their oppressive and indifferent nature toward the oppressed because they view the “other” as a “creature.”

The conflict we find in this narrative plot is that this young protagonist, similar to the young protagonist in Joyce’s piece, is also limited by the cultural boundaries or beliefs practiced by her family and cultural kind. These are snobbish upper middle-class people who are indifferent to the lives of the oppressed working class as illustrated in this piece, if viewed through the cultural lens. Just below in the working class section of town, a father of five, a husband, had just died. Yet, right above in the excessive house, an extravagant garden party was to begin. “And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden part if they had ordered it” (Mansfield, 1922, p.2646). The young main female is limited in the sense that she is not required to show respect or mourning for those who are not in her cultural class and this confuses her.

Her persona conceals her real self, the shadow part, who she really is in the world of social class and culture: She is of the dominant class, yet feels akin to the working class. “She felt just like a work-girl” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2647). Because of this, the death of the strange worker, a lower social cultural class, upsets her; she believes “a man has been killed” (p. 2650) in the sense of a man of her culture and class. In that logic, of course, the garden party will not go on. This is not the case. The man killed is not a man in her culture but “a drunken workmen” (p. 2651). The character is left muddled as she is told of course the party will not stop! “Of course we can’t do anything of the kind. Nobody expects us to” (p. 2651). This conflict creates the psychological conflict within the young main character’s being, creating an overlap similar to the one found in Joyce’s piece. Just as with the main male youth in Joyce’s “Araby,” the main female youth in Mansfield’s piece also feels cognitive dissonance and so emerges this psychological conflict in the plot.

Once again, the cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens because it seems one creates the other; the former creates the latter. As with the young man in Joyce’s piece, the young lady in Mansfield’s piece is confused. A man died just below but the “Garden Party” is on because those below don’t count for the well-to-do. What does this protagonist ask? “Mother, isn’t it really terribly heartless of us?” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2652). The main female character’s persona is faced with the shadow through the death of the worker, the animus, from the “eyesores” below her lavish bliss above. To this point in the plot, the character believed she was good; that her life was wonderful and charitable; that she was pure and full of heart. Now she faces the shadow or secret self: That she is only these things in her cultural class. What enlightens the main character to the truth is the insight that she would rather forget “it” and attend the party–and then to make her conscience guilt free, remember and mourn after the party. Up to this point in the plot, the character found this act heartless.

It is heartless and that thought arising from the animus, the dead working father and husband, causes the young lady’s persona to face her shadow. She is lost as she cannot understand why she rather forget about what happened just for the party and begin thinking about it again after the party. “I’ll remember it again after the party’s over” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2652). It is this choice that causes the conflict, creating the rising action to the point where the character realizes she is as heartless as she had thought her culture and class were earlier that day; she discovered that “charming girl in the mirror” (p. 2652). Through the horror of experiencing the worker’s world, she embraces the shadow since she does not want to be in the place where the dead man lays or where his family lives. “Oh, to be away from this!” (p. 2654) is all she could think.

Towards the end of the falling plot after the climactic moment when she meets the dead worker, she has the ability to see who she really is, a creature that was dealt an excellent deck of cards in life compared to the creature who was helping her around, “‘Em, said the little creature who had let her in,” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2654). She saw! She saw the dead worker at last liberated in a peaceful sleep called death. “He was given up to his dream. …He was wonderful, beautiful” (p. 2655).
She sees life for what it really is all about–back to the cultural lens again–it is all about what cultural class you belong, in this narrative’s case. Once again we have an ambiguous brilliant ending, through the Jungian lens, one may say that the young maiden may have possibly individualized as she realizes and accepts her place in society–she will probably now appreciate life that much more–and empathize that much more.

In D.H. Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” when viewing the narrative through the cultural lens and focusing on one of the main characters, Dr. Ferguson, it is obvious he is from the upper class and that he is a well-known travelling physician with working-class patients whose homes you could reach “by following the black cinder-track” (p. 2595) to the town full of iron-workers.

As we the previous pieces, in this piece, through the cultural lens, it is known that Ferguson is part of the dominant culture. This main character unconsciously has an air of superiority about him as he sees the iron workers his patients as uppers or speed-drugs! This young protagonist, he is a crazy scientist playing god and the iron workers are his patients. For this crazed doctor, it is “a stimulant to him to be in the homes of the working people, moving, as it were, through the inner most body of their life” (p. 2595). The doctor appears to be flying high on drugs, each worker another pill that make him feel a rush of what it must feel like to be god. In fact, it seems that in the doctor’s world, he is god and the workers are his creatures whom he saves, and whom he can pervade at a whim.

When viewed through the cultural lens, the conflict within this narrative plot is that this young protagonist doctor, similar to the young protagonist in Joyce’s and Manfield’s pieces, is also bound by his cultural class as he is expected to follow a certain protocol and maintain a distance from these working people who drive his inner mechanisms. The problem is that he falls in love with one of these working class patients. In a stream of consciousness the reader finds out that the main character:

He had never thought of loving her. He had never wanted to love her
When he rescued her and restored her, he was a doctor, and she was a
patient. He had had not a single personal thought of her. (p. 2598)

Note that he “restored” her as God restores his people. Besides, the doctor is having a difficult time breaking the barrier of not only patient and doctor relationship, but also the barrier of cultures. The conflict is that the doctor sees himself as the savior of these people and cannot see himself capable of falling in love with one of these creatures who are pure lab creatures for him. He is repressing his true feelings for this working class girl due to the cognitive dissonance created by his cultural upbringing and this now leads us to the Jungian psychoanalytical lens.

Yet again, the cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens almost seeming as though one causes the other. As with the young man in Joyce’s piece and the young lady in Mansfield’s piece, in Lawrence’s piece we also find this young physician confused. In fact, this young physician is terrified. When this character faces the anima, his patient of many years and sister of his a friend, Mabel, the persona or mask he wears suffers a crack as the shadow tries to emerge, tries to make the doctor realize his true feelings for the young girl, but his persona is strong. “Mabel looked at him steady, dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease” (p. 2593). Indeed, the shadow has attempted to disrupt the persona so that it can embrace the shadow side: The side that wants to embrace Mabel. Yet, the doctor fights the shadow. That is until fate interferes and makes it impossible for him to turn away the shadow side since vanity overtakes him: He is a savior and opportunity provides him with a chance to save Mabel.

It is not until Dr. Ferguson saves Mabel from drowning that, guided by the anima, he finally faces the shadow, so it appears. In the plot, there begins a rising action to a climax where we find the young physician cannot “extricate himself. Or perhaps he did not want to” (p. 2597). We know he finally embraces the shadow since the point in the plot arrives when “He could never let her go away from the clutch of his arm. He wanted to remain like that forever”(2599).

Has the protagonist in this complex plot really individualized? Or has he reached a neurotic adaptation? As the plot resolves and leads to the resolution, the young doctor realizes that the pains in his heart are pains of love–but they may be that he seemingly embraced the shadow neurotically as a means to bring life and excitement to his “Nothing but work, drudgery, constant hastening from dwelling to dwelling….” (p. 2595). After all, the working-class were “a stimulant to him” (p. 2595). Another hint at this neurotic adaptation is when he first sees Mabel just before she tries to commit suicide, her image “suddenly” makes him come alive and attentive (Lawrence, 1922).

Due to the many variables, it appears the doctor may have a neurotic adaptation where there has not been a true embracing of the shadow side but a seeming one where the action is based on the reward received: Stimulation from knowing Mabel is from the working-class. Now god has a toy he can wind him up–Mabel–and a toy that needs saving. With this said, we once again come a full circle and back to highlighting the possible connection and overlap between the cultural and psychoanalytical lenses.
Using critical lenses allows the reader to view the literature in a way that enriches the piece and enhances critical thinking. Both the use of the psychoanalytical and the cultural lens yields an interesting read when applied to Joyce’s (1918) “Araby,” Mansfield’s (1922) “Garden Party, ” and Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.


Abrams, M.H., et al. (Eds.). (2006). The Twentieth Century and After. In Abrams, M.H., et al (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2293-2316). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Barton, E.J. & Hudson, G.A. (2011). A contemporary guide to literary terms. (3rd ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lawrence, D.H. (1922). The horse dealer’s daughter. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2590-2600). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Ewen, R.B. (1998). Carl Gustav Jung: Analytical Psychology. In Ewen, R.B., an Introduction to Theories of Personalities (pp. 81-119). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Joyce, J. (1914). Araby. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2503-2507). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Mansfield, K. (1922). The Garden Party. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2646-2655). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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Nature of Human Nature: The Civilized Savage Gone Wild

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Book will be available on Kindle soon…

“This book explores virtual reality and social networking sites, in particular Facebook to illustrate the nature of human nature and how the civilized have gone wild in front of the entire world who watch and share. The author presents the reader with an interesting view of social behavior of the 21st century by writing a fictional narrative embedded with an essay that delves into Rousseau’s civilized savage as well as amour propre and amour de soi as a means to understand this new nature of human nature in post postmodernity.”

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Human Condition in Literature: An illustration of fragmentation and reorganization

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Six essays about the human condition in post modernist literature, using the cultural and psychological lenses as analyzing tools. The focus is on character fragmentation and attempt at reorganization. What makes the book unique is the use of lenses to narrow in and highlight the cultural and psychological phenomenon experienced by the character(s). Never read through theoretical lenses? This is your chance as the author describes the use and how implementing such a technique enriches the reader’s experience.

Copyright 2014 by Hakes Publishing

Available now on Kindle!


Filed under Cultural Perspectives, Essays, Fragmented Psyche, Human Condition, Jungian Lens, Literary Approaches, Literature, Literature and Philosophy, Mind and Body, Psychological Analysis of Literature, Reorganization of the Human Organism