Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wells and Freud


I have very little exposure to psychology and even lesser understanding of the various theories/advancements in the field. However, even in this limited knowledge it is difficult to not come across Freud and his structural model. There is a certain fascination in the idea of the psyche having three distinct identities fighting for control.
While reading Wells' story The island of Dr. Moreau, as part of the SF and Fantasy course on Coursera, I sensed that Wells was elucidating Freud's theories. On some research I found that they did have an acquaintance, a mutual respect for each other's ideas and exchanged some of their thoughts/ideas through letters. For the course I wrote this essay. Luckily, one of my reviewers was a psychologist who pointed out that I had missed one essential point, which follows the essay:

Super-ego versus Id
 In The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells touches on many interesting themes in few words. One theme that we have repeatedly seen in our readings is the danger of man trying to play God or interfering with nature. In this story, Wells adds another dimension to the man versus nature conflict, which is whether a code of moral values is more powerful than natural instinct.
In his structural model, Freud identified Id as the uncoordinated instinct and Super-ego as the critical and moralizing aspect of the psyche. The third element, Ego, tries to find a balance between the two. Wells' story depicts the conflict of Super-ego and Id without the presence of a strong ego. On the island, the beast folk are shown as instinctual creatures(Id) who are controlled by the law or Dr. Moreau (Super-ego). 
In the initial part of the story, it is the super-ego which is stronger. Dr. Moreau, banishes all natural instincts (not to suck up drink, eat fish or flesh, etc.), and uses punishment to silence the Id. The beast folk are scared and curb most natural instincts. This creates an imbalance, which Prendick as an outsider is able to perceive as threat. It is interesting that in this phase Prendick is more scared of Dr. Moreau than the beasts. 
In the second part, the Id takes over when the beast (Puma) escapes and attacks the super-ego. In the Reversion, beast folks begin protesting against decency and monogamy and fall back into disorganization and chaos. In this environment too, Prendick feels threatened, though this time it is the bestiality which scares him. In both cases, the absence of Ego can be seen as a destabilising factor. It seems that Wells concurs with the views of his contemporary Freud that for a psyche to function well, Ego should be its strongest element.

This is what my reviewer pointed out: "The only point I think you've missed is rationalizing the absence of the Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle and it's absence could signify a suspension of reality denoted by an isolated island." 
I cannot claim that I fully understand the critique as I dont understand the relationship between Ego and Reality principal very well, but I am working on it.

2 comments:

The Islamic Empire said...

Hi there,
your blog has become a frequent stop for me. I really enjoyed my virtual journey through your posts, words and ideas. I guess my passion for books and literature is the vehicle that visits your blog almost weekly.
keep posting.
I appreciate your effort.

Madhuri said...

Hi, Thanks for your encouraging comments. I am glad you like the blog.