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Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature

Bernard J. Paris
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Imagined Human Beings
    Book Description:

    One of literature's greatest gifts is its portrayal of realistically drawn characters--human beings in whom we can recognize motivations and emotions. In Imagined Human Beings, Bernard J. Paris explores the inner conflicts of some of literature's most famous characters, using Karen Horney's psychoanalytic theories to understand the behavior of these characters as we would the behavior of real people. When realistically drawn characters are understood in psychological terms, they tend to escape their roles in the plot and thus subvert the view of them advanced by the author. A Horneyan approach both alerts us to conflicts between plot and characterization, rhetoric and mimesis, and helps us understand the forces in the author's personalty that generate them. The Horneyan model can make sense of thematic inconsistencies by seeing them as the product of the author's inner divisions. Paris uses this approach to explore a wide range of texts, including Antigone, "The Clerk's Tale," The Merchant of Venice, A Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, The Awakening, and The End of the Road.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6791-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. I Introduction

    • 1 Applications of a Horneyan Approach
      (pp. 3-16)

      It is not difficult to see why psychoanalytic theory has been widely used in the study of literature. Psychoanalysis deals with human beings in conflict with themselves and each other, and literature portrays and is written and read by such people. What is confusing is that there are so many psychoanalytic theories, each with its claims and proponents. It clearly makes sense to use psychoanalysis in literary study, but which theory should we employ?

      I do not believe that literature should be placed on the Procrustean bed of any one theory. Human psychology is inordinately complex and can be approached...

    • 2 Horney’s Mature Theory
      (pp. 17-36)

      Born in a suburb of Hamburg in 1885, Karen Horney (née Danielsen) attended medical school in Freiburg and completed her studies at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin. She married Oskar Horney in 1909, was in analysis with Karl Abraham in 1910-12, had three daughters between 1911 and 1916, received her M.D. in 1915, and became a founding member of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute in 1920. She separated from Oskar in 1926 and accepted Franz Alexander’s invitation to become founding Associate Director of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute in 1932. In 1934, she moved to New York, where she joined the...

  5. II Characters and Relationships

    • 3 A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler
      (pp. 39-63)

      The first person to look at literature from a Horneyan perspective was Karen Horney herself. She taught courses at the New School for Social Research that were focused on literary works, and she frequently used literature for illustrative purposes in her writings. An admirer of Henrik Ibsen, she cited his works more often than those of any other author. This is not surprising, for Ibsen is the greatest psychological dramatist next to Shakespeare, and there is a remarkable congruence between his plays and her theory. Many of Ibsen’s characters seem to have stepped from the pages ofOur Inner Conflicts...

    • 4 The End of the Road
      (pp. 64-81)

      While Ibsen’s plays clearly lend themselves to Horneyan analysis, it may seem that John Barth’sThe End of the Roadis a less appropriate choice. Nora, Torvald, and Hedda are mimetically drawn characters in realistic works, but Jake, Joe, and Rennie have been treated by most critics as illustrative figures in a philosophic tale. Although Barth may not have been aiming at psychological realism, his characters are brilliant mimetic portraits nonetheless. This novel is a little masterpiece that I have taught every year for the past several decades and have found to be endlessly elusive and fascinating. Jacob Horner is...

    • 5 “The Clerk’s Tale”
      (pp. 82-92)

      Among the most extreme characters in literature are Walter and Griselda in Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale.” Griselda is the archetypal submissive, long-suffering wife, and Walter goes to absurd lengths to test her. Not all mimetic characters are realized in the same degree of detail. We are provided with varying amounts of information about such things as early history, family relationships, conscious and unconscious motives. Of the characters I shall discuss, Pip and Jane Eyre are the most fully rendered. The least fully drawn are Walter and Griselda, whose behavior is so bizarre that it is usually thought to have only...

    • 6 The Merchant of Venice
      (pp. 93-104)

      Western literature is full of self-effacing women, although few so extreme as Griselda; but, as Horney observed, “self-effacement has nothing to do with femininity nor aggressive arrogance with masculinity. Both are exquisitely neurotic phenomena” (1950, 247). Horney is talking about essential femininity and masculinity, of course, which have yet to be defined, as opposed to culturally constructed gender identities. Our culture favors submissiveness in women and aggressiveness in men, but even so there are still plenty of dominant women and self-effacing males, both in life and in literature. In Shakespeare, for example, Margaret and Eleanor in theHenry VIplays,...

    • 7 Antigone
      (pp. 105-116)

      The conflict between Creon and Antigone is usually considered in thematic terms, as a contest between the claims of the state and those of family, religion, and conscience. Creon prohibits the burial of Polyneices because, in his view, enemies of the state are wicked and should not receive honors that belong to its friends. Antigone believes that she has a duty to bury her brother which takes precedence over the dictates of a ruler. The play vindicates Antigone and teaches Creon the error of his ways, but too late to prevent a tragic outcome.

      The play is not just about...

  6. III Character, Plot, Rhetoric, and Narrative Technique

    • 8 Great Expectations
      (pp. 119-143)

      Perhaps the major division among critics ofGreat Expectationsis between those who see it as a novel of growth and education and those who feel that Pip at the end is far from having attained wisdom or maturity. Whereas most critics regard Pip the narrator as a wise and trustworthy guide, some argue that he remains a severely damaged person whose interpretations and judgments are unreliable. These conflicting readings are in part the product of different perspectives, but they are also sponsored by tensions between rhetoric and mimesis within the novel itself.

      Great Expectationshas a comic education pattern...

    • 9 Jane Eyre
      (pp. 144-167)

      As we have seen, psychological analysis of realistically drawn characters reveals them to be “creations inside a creation” who are “often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book” (Forster 1927, 64). In nineteenth-century fiction, such characters tend to subvert two schemes in particular: the education pattern that we find in such novels asEmma(Paris 1978b),Great Expectations, andThe Mill on the Floss(Paris 1974), and the vindication pattern that we find in such novels asMansfield Park(Paris 1978b),Henry Esmond, andJane Eyre.

      In the education pattern, which reflects the archetype of the fortunate...

    • 10 The Mayor of Casterbridge
      (pp. 168-192)

      Critical discussion ofThe Mayor of Casterbridgehas focused on Michael Henchard, a character much admired but little understood. For some he is an epic or tragic hero who evokes comparisons with Achilles, Prometheus, Oedipus, Orestes, Lear, Macbeth, Faust, and such biblical figures as Cain, Samson, and Saul. Those who see him primarily in terms of plot, theme, or archetype either pay little attention to his psychology or discuss him in terms of traditional dichotomies between reason and passion, conscience and impulse, virtue and vice. He is often regarded as a towering figure in the grip of elemental forces who...

    • 11 Madame Bovary
      (pp. 193-214)

      At first glanceMadame BovaryandThe Mayor of Casterbridgemay not seem to have much in common, but from a Horneyan perspective they are interesting to compare. Emma and Henchard are both restless, aspiring people who demand a great deal from life and whose search for glory leads them to behave in self-destructive ways. Their sufferings are treated with sympathy, but they are criticized for the character flaws that bring misery to themselves and others. The dominant solution in each novel is detachment, with Hardy’s being expressed primarily through his celebration of Elizabeth-Jane and Flaubert’s through the narrator’s voice...

    • 12 The Awakening
      (pp. 215-239)

      The Awakeninghas frequently been compared toMadame Bovary. Like Emma Bovary, Edna Pontellier craves a kind of passion she does not find in marriage, has an extra-marital affair, and commits suicide. Some critics feel that a major difference between the novels is that “the ironic distance ofMadame Bovaryis replaced by a high degree of narrative sympathy” (Walker 1993, 144). As Chopin tells it, Edna’s is not a story of romantic folly but of a woman’s awakening. Others agree with Willa Cather that Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary both “belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring...

    • 13 Wuthering Heights
      (pp. 240-261)

      In the opening chapter of this book, I observed that a Horneyan approach has led me to see that in realistic literature there are almost bound to be disparities between representation and interpretation, mimesis and rhetoric, and that I have also come to realize that these disparities can be either exacerbated or reduced by the choice of narrative technique. They are exacerbated by omniscient narrators, who by convention are supposed to be authoritative, and diminished by first person narration, in which interpretations and judgments express the point of view of a character. First person narration may not eliminate the tensions...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 262-270)

    I have tried to show that Karen Horney’s mature theory has an important contribution to make to the study of literature. Like any other theory, it does not apply to all texts, but it fits many works from a wide range of periods and cultures, and it illuminates a variety of issues. It yields a distinctive set of insights and is a valuable critical tool.

    One use of Horney is in the analysis of mimetically drawn characters. Such characters have always been appreciated by readers, but their study is one of the least developed areas of literary criticism, in part...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 271-274)
  9. References
    (pp. 275-280)
  10. Index
    (pp. 281-286)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 287-288)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)