Guide to Week 3: Thursday

        After reviewing Tyson's brief demonstrations of the psychoanalytic method in action (33-37), we will discuss thoroughly ways to use psychoanalytic analysis of "Cat" to produce insights that would be unavailable to readers using neoclassical formalist theory and methods.  Your writing assignment will require you to apply the method to "A Very Short Story."  Click here for a survey of common psychoanalytic interpretive terms necessary to using the theory's methods.  As you read "Cat," look for examples of characters acting in irrational fashions, and look for evidence that their unconscious minds are driving their behavior by transforming their perception of the world into symbols and symbolic behaviors which satisfy their repressed drives and respond to their repressed traumas.

        Be aware that interpretations which argue that a psychoanalytic approach reveals a hidden truth about a work of literature bear a hidden burden of proof that becomes obvious the moment the readers ask, "Why does this behavior/speech/event have to be the product of hidden psychological causes rather than obvious rational causes?"  Two tests will help you determine whether your psychoanalytic insight will withstand that scrutiny:

  1. Is textual evidence you are explaining part of a larger pattern of behavior that is not likely the product of rational processes?  (and why not?)
  2. Can you predict non-rational events elsewhere in the text based on that pattern?

The first question involves weeding out the likely proposed rational counter-explanations, and doing that succinctly in your introduction will put your readers' minds at rest regarding your thoroughness--you are not merely following an irrational hunch, yourself.  The second tends to clinch the argument, since the ability to predict non-obvious traits of the text is a quasi-scientific test of an interpretation's legitimacy.

        Psychological analysis of narration depends a great deal upon knowing to which characters to attribute what observations and opinions.  The psychological drives shape how characters see and interpret events, as well as the way characters act and speak.  Hemingway often uses a style of narration which rhetoricians call "free indirect speech," in which an apparently third-person narrator (no quotation marks) speaks from the point of view of one of the characters, representing events colored with the emotional point of view of that character rather than remaining indifferent.  In "On the Quai at Smyrna," for example, after the first sentences, the narrative almost completely takes on the speech mannerisms of a British naval officer, though clearly this is a second person's memory of stories the officer once told.  "Cat in the Rain" also appears to "channel" for the emotional point of view of one character over all others, and identifying this effect can help you use the narrator's free indirect speech patterns as evidence of that character's state of mind.  Click here for Ellen Moody's (George Mason U.) discussion of "free indirect speech" in Jane Austen.  Hemingway does not use quotation marks to distinguish it, but "FIS" often appears to shape the psychological perspective of his stories' third-person narrators.  This could help you see and hear more clearly which characters' psyches are being reflected in the unquoted passages.

        Worried about your ability to use psychoanalytic criticism's terms of art to analyze a short story?  Hey, if Vova Galchenko can juggle like this, you can do psychoanalytic criticism!