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Elements of Freudian Psychology in A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

In Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head, the novel’s protagonist Martin Lynch-Gibbon sustains a series of revelations which force him to become more aware of the realities of his life. This essay will examine how Murdoch infuses the novel with elements of Freudian psychology to develop Martin’s movement from the unconscious to reality. Shifting Relationships

With the novel’s opening and rapid progression from one event to the next, the reader quickly comes to realize that its narrator, Martin Lynch-Gibbon, is not completely aware of the realities regarding himself or the people around him. Although he considers his marriage to be “perfectly happy and successful” (p14), he nevertheless has kept a young mistress, Georgie Hands, for several years. With his wife’s confession that she is having an affair with her psychoanalyst (and Martin’s good friend) Palmer Anderson, Martin slowly begins to realize that his life may not be what it once had seemed; further plot twists give emphasis to this, and Antonia reveals to Martin near the novel’s end that she has been deeply in love with his brother, Alexander, since before their marriage. To add to this convolution, Martin falls desperately in love with Honor Klein, who has been having an incestuous relationship with her brother Anderson. A Severed Head, then, is certainly a permeated with somewhat confusing and constantly changing relationships, but the central reality of Martin’s life for much of the novel is his relationship with his wife, Antonia. His marriage, in fact, defines all of the other relationships in his life. Antonia tells Martin precisely why their marriage has failed: “It’s partly my being so much older and being a sort of mother to you. I’ve kept you from growing up. Al…

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…tening at last out of irony. “So must you, my dear!” (p205)

With their love now out from the unconscious, Martin and Honour move toward a relationship based on reality and not the falseness that is often accepted as happiness. Conclusion

Iris Murdoch’s use of elements of Freudian psychology in A Severed Head is masterful. (Indeed, there are many elements in the novel which parallel Freud’s own desires: there has been some debate about Freud’s childhood incestuous desires and his possible bisexuality.) In her centering of the novel around Freud’s Oedipal complex and castration anxiety, and in the use of symbolic dreams, Murdoch creates a novel that is brilliant in its depiction of one character’s movement from the shadows of the unconscious into the bright reality of real life.


Murdoch, Iris. A Severed Head. New York: Penguin, 1986.

People Fall Apart in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

People Fall Apart in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Karl Marx believed that all of history could be reduced to two tiny words: class struggle. In any period of time a dominant class exploits a weaker class. Marx defines a dominant class as one who owns or controls the means of production. The weaker class consists of those who don’t. In Marx’s day, the age of Almighty Industry, the means of production were factories. But as a literary theory Marxism needs no factories to act as means of production. All that are needed are words, specifically chosen to justify an Official View of a dominating class, in our case, in a society guided by capitalism. This Official View is sometimes disguised as what we might otherwise call culture. Marxist Theory can be applied to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in two ways, one from inside the story, and the other from outside. First let’s examine the story itself.

It would be inaccurate to claim that the Igbo society of Things Fall Apart is no different from a western society in its representation of capitalism. But that?s because the Igbo culture does not represent capitalism as we may think of it. There are no factories in turn-of-the-century Africa, but there are similarities between a capitalist society and the Igbo society. For example, they both emphasize the importance of strength and competition amongst individuals. In Igbo culture competition is presented more as a game than a business. The opening pages of the novel explain Okonkwo?s notoriety to his village. ?As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten…? (3). On page eight, at the end of the first chapter…

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…village. The damage was done before the British even arrived. His society was complacent to change, content to surrender its traditions to a different culture. In killing the messenger at the end of the novel, Okonkwo was looking to save the culture that had fell apart long before that moment. And like his culture before him, he fell apart when no one else resisted. Whether or not he had hanged himself, under British rule, he would have still been dead.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York, NY: Anchor Books: Doubleday. 1959.

Appiah, Anthony. ?Topologies in Nativism.? Literary Theory: An Anthology. Edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers Inc. 1998.

Said, Edward. ?Orientalism.? Literary Theory: An Anthology. Edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers Inc. 1998.

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