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Sigmund Freud’s Looking-Glass, Essay Example

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Essay

The psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud involve an exploration of the role that imagination and dreams play in disclosing repressed or unconscious drives. These drives are primarily sexual in nature but also involve repressed feelings of fear and alienation most notably in relation to death. The way that Freud looks at dreams and the language of the unconscious also relates to his interpretation of the role that symbols and symbolic language plays in creative expression. Freud, in his essay “The “Uncanny” (1919) remarks that creative expression is of tremendous importance in understanding the nature of the unconscious, particularly “when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty, but the theory of the qualities of feeling.” (Uncanny, 1). For Freud, feelings and most significantly the feeling of “uncanniness” often indicate the release of unconscious urges and drives. The following discussion will examine these ideas in relation to the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” which is, of course, included in Lewis Carroll’s famous novel: Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. (1906). The examination of this excerpt will show that the poem exhibits the same kind of dream-logic that Freud identifies as originating in unconscious drives related to sex and death.

One of the first concepts offered by Freud that is necessary to understand before examining the poem is his idea of the “uncanny.”  Freud sees the experience of the uncanny as a form of recognition, through emotion, of the unconscious. The vehicle for the connection between the ego and unconscious is the imagination. Therefore, Freud remarks that “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality.” (Uncanny, 9) What this means is that imagination is capable of exhibiting an intrusive quality that interrupts rational thought processes and causes a feeling of emotional discord in the individual. This effect is not dependant on artistic expression or narrative fiction to be operational as it occurs in spontaneous fantasy or even through the projection of unconscious contents onto empirical objects and places. However, the “uncanny” plays a highly important role in fiction and this role is very closely connected to the role that dreams play .

Another key idea to keep in mind regarding the nature of fiction and the imagination in accordance with Freud’s views is the idea of symbolic association. Freud links the emotional experience of the uncanny not only to the imposition of imaginary ideas on rational thought, but to the manifestation of symbolic association. He writes that the uncanny is often present “when a symbol takes over the full functions and significance of the thing it symbolizes” (Uncanny, 9). This is especially important in regard to what Freud regards as dream-language adn dream association. The same dynamic also applies, with slight modification, to the symbolic content of narrative fiction. Therefore symbolism in dreams of fiction is a language used by the unconscious to disturb human rationality and reveal unconscious urges.

Freud’s theory about the nature of dream-language also contains the notion that the symbols manifested in dreams indicate “dream-thoughts” which are the actual initiators of symbolic expression, whether in dreams, proper, or in fiction. He writes that interpreting dreams or symbols in fiction requires “\investigating the relations between the manifest content of dreams and the latent dream-thoughts, and of tracing out the processes by which the latter have been changed into the former.” (Freud 277). This kind of back-tracing leads logically from a symbol or experience that produces a feeling of the “uncanny” to a latent, unconscious drive, or series of unconscious drives. As mentioned, these unconscious drives are usually, according to Freud, connected to a repressed anxiety that involves a sexual or mortal connotation.

The difficulty in tracing back the symbol to the unconscious drive that gave rise to its manifestation in the imagination is that the logical association of the unconscious is oriented in a much different way than the rational orientation of the ego. This is why Freud remarks that “we are dealing with an unconscious process of thought, which may easily be different from what we perceive during purposive reflection accompanied by consciousness.” (Freud 281) Keeping this thought firmly in mind, it is still possible to trace back symbols from fiction to discover their latent meanings in just the way that Freud suggests is possible for dreams.

To begin with the poem “The Walrus in the Carpenter,” the first symbols which are present in regard to the excerpt are not the characters of the title, but Tweedledee and Tweedeledum — a pair of twins who are the orators of the poem.  Freud remarks that the symbol of twins while once being a conscious connotation toward self-preservation through duplication actually expresses the unconscious anxiety that is associated with the individual fear of death. He writes that for an adolescent or adult “the double takes on a different aspect. From having

been an assurance of immortality, he becomes the ghastly harbinger of death.” (Uncanny 9). That Alice stands on the verge of adolescent means that her  encounter with Tweedledee and Tweedledum is, symbolically, an encounter with her unconscious fear of death.

Keeping this sinister association in mind, the way that the poem is presented to Alice is also very important. She is reluctant to hear the poem  but this has no effect on the twin characters: “What shall I repeat to her?” said Tweedledee, looking round at Tweedledum with great solemn eyes, and not noticing Alice’s question” (Carroll 71). That her anxiety is ignore by the two character shows that the unconscious fear and anxiety of death is a repressed content of her own imagination. The poem that is recited to hear is, symbolically, teh revelation of this same unconscious anxiety. Therefore, in examining the poem, symbolic associations with deaths hould be of special note.

The opening lines of the poem show that the revelation of death-anxiety is also a struggle betwen rational consciousness symbolized by the sun and unconscious contents symbolized by the moon. The poem starts with “The sun was shining on the sea, / Shining with all his might:” but then quickly moves to “The moon was shining sulkily, / Because she thought the sun /

Had got no business to be there” (Carroll 73). This shows that the unconscious drives have a tendency to displace rationality just as Freud surmised. Furthermore, the poem then translates this dynamic into a pair of characters, the Walrus and the Carpenter which are symbolic of the same dynamic between rational and unconscious thought. Another significant symbol is that of the oysters which represent the life-force and sex-drive, while it is obvious throughout the poem that the oysters are being led by the Walrus and the Carpenter to a dismal fate. The oysters aware of this fact implore the Walrus and Carpenter not to eat them  “‘But not on us!’ the Oysters cried,

Turning a little blue. / ‘After such kindness, that would be / A dismal thing to do !'” (Carroll 79). By the close of the poem, the oysters have, indeed been eaten, and this is symbolic of the realization of both the rational mind and the unconscious that life leads always to an eventual death. Alice, in hearing the story, is  making a transition from childhood innocence to adolescent knowledge. The story of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is the unconscious revelation that death is the logical and unavoidable consequence of life. The poem shows this through an intrusion of unconscious anxiety over the rational mind and establishes the emotion of the “uncanny” through the manifestation of symbol in the imagination. The preceding examination of the poem shows that Freud’s ideas about the nature of the unconscious and symbolic expression are not only supportable but incisive.

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. New York: Macmillan, 1906.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. James Strachey. Ed. James Strachey. New  York: Basic, 1955.

Freud, Sigmund.  “The “Uncanny”” Imago, Bd. V., 1919.

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