Which Type of Theory is Psychoanalytic Criticism and Why

Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. It helps the readers to judge the value of a work. There are a variety of scholarly approaches to literary criticism, which focuses on different angles or perspectives. Psychoanalytic criticism is one of these approaches. The main difference between psychoanalytical criticism and other types of literary theories is the fact that psychoanalytical criticism focuses on the psyche of the author and the characters and analyses the psychological dimesnions of the work. 

Theory of Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic criticism is influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis introduced by Sigmund Freud. According to psychoanalytical theories, a person’s behaviour is affected by their unconscious and which in turn is influenced by his or her childhood events. Psychoanalytical criticism claims that literary texts are a manifestation of the author’s neuroses and therefore express the secret unconscious anxieties and desires of the author.

A critic can use this psychoanalytical criticism on the author or a particular character in the literary work; however, it should be noted that the character is a projection of the author’s psyche. 

Psychoanalytic theory differs from other literary theories such as post-colonial theory, Marxist theory, gender and queer theories, etc. since it analysis the psychological state of the author as well as the characters.

Freudian Concepts

Freudian concepts like id, ego, superego, Oedipus complex and Freudian slips may be needed to analyses the character of a literary text.

Id – part of the psyche associated with basic needs and desires

Ego – part of the psyche that senses and adapts to the real world

Superego – part of the psyche that relates to attitudes about what is right and wrong and to feelings of guilt.

Oedipus complex – a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex

Freudian Slips – a mistake in speech or memory that is believed to be linked to the unconscious mind.

The obscure symbols, dreams, actions, metaphors, and settings in a work of literature, can also be understood by using this type of criticism.

Which Type of Theory is Psychoanalytic Criticism and Why

Why is Psychoanalytical Criticism Used

Psychoanalytical criticism can help the readers to understand how the psychopathology and biography of the writer affect his writing and why characters in the literary work behave in a particular way. It also helps the readers to understand the motivation behind the characters’ actions and the unconscious of the author. For example, you can use the above mentioned Freudian concepts to interpret the actions and thoughts of a character; then you can use the same to deduce the psyche of the author.

However, this criticism method only helps to analyse the psyche of the author and the characters; many critics argue that only one approach to criticism cannot evaluate a work of literature alone. A good critic always uses a combination of literary theories to interpret and evaluate a literary work. 

Read More:

How to Write a Literary Criticism

Image Courtesy:

“Id ego super ego” By ৰঞ্জন ভূঞা – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.