Test Your Psychoanalytic Methods

        Incautious psychoanalytic critics might try to apply the method to any work of literature, produced in any culture or era.  Nevertheless, the track record for critically persuasive psychoanalytic analysis tends to favor the analysis of works produced in the modern era, and works by authors familiar with the terms and concepts psychoanalysis, so that they might be likely to infuse their works with them.  Pre-Modern works of literature, and non-Western works of literature, usually require some justification for the analyst's attempt to apply ordinary or neo-Freudian methods to them, though it can be done.  Which of these works would be easiest to analyze psychoanalytically, and how would you justify your method in each case?

Eugene O'Neill, Desire Under the Elms, 1924

        Eben Cabot returns to his family farm to find his father, Ephraim, remarried to Abbie, who has been promised the farm on the condition she will give him another son.  Eben's hatred for his father combines with his growing desire for his young stepmother..  Eben and Abbie consummate their relationship and she gives birth to a son Ephraim believes to be his.  After a quarrel in which Eben realizes Abbie might have had the affair with him only to steal the farm, he tells her he wishes the child were dead.  To prove her love for him, Abbie murders the infant and tells Eben that now they can be together--Eben is appalled.  Eventually, he agrees to share the guilt and the sheriff leads them both away. 

        Between 1920 and 1925, O'Neill was in psychoanalysis and read extensively in Nietzsche and classical Greek literature.

Sylvia Plath, "Daddy," 1962 (text)

        Plath had a nervous breakdown in her junior year at Smith, and after graduation, she studied with Robert Lowell, whose manic-depression led him to psychoanalysis and other therapies.  Her father, a scholar specializing in bees, was of German ancestry, and died when Plath was young.  Her marriage to poet Ted Hughes was troubled and ended in separation.  Plath's suicide in 1963 ended her long struggle with depression.

Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Book of the Duchess," 1385(?)

        The narrator ("I") tells the reader he has suffered an illness for many years, and only one physician can heal him, but that is now impossible.  He describes a sleepless night when he turned to reading Ovid's Metamorphoses to pass the time, and was particularly impressed by the tale of Ceys and Alcyon.  King Ceys goes on a long voyage, and his queen, desperate for news of him, prays to the gods for help, and they send Morpheus to bring her a vision of her beloved who has drowned.  The narrator prays to Morpheus for sleep, and dreams he walks in the woods until he discovers a "Man in Black," who loudly laments the loss of his lady, "White."  The Man in Black tries several times to explain why he laments her loss, until finally, exasperated, he tells the Dreamer "she is dead."  With that word, the narrator tells us, he awoke.