To Anyalyze The Lord of the Flies Through a Psychoanalytical Lens

Kilanowski, J.
Analyzing Literature – A Psychoanalytical Approach
As we read The Lord of the Flies, we will be engaging in a new and exciting type of literary
critique. As with all other theories of literature, psychoanalytic theory is only meant to help
examine literature and do so through a particular lens. It is not meant to be the sole way you
understand a work of literature, only one of many possible ways. Overusing any theory of
literature is never a good idea – it skews and limits your understanding of the work before you.
Below you will find a description of one type of psychoanalytic theory – Sigmund Freud’s. This
description is a very general, albeit helpful one. You are invited to read as deeply as you would
like to about Freud and his theories. I can assist you in finding other materials that may interest
You will also find a description of how literature makes use of this theory in this packet.
What you will not find, is a specific way to analyze the literature we will be reading. You and
your group are going to determine the parameters/guidelines you will use to assess the chapter
you are assigned using the psychoanalytic theory.
So, here’s what you need to do:
1. Sign up for a chapter presentation.
2. Develop of list of questions or a chart that will inform your psychoanalytical reading of
the chapter you are analyzing.
3. Read the chapter, assessing it using the tool you developed.
4. Report back to the rest of us on the assigned date.
How will you be graded?
Here are the criteria:
Your presentation includes a journal question that is thoughtful, evokes conversation, and
makes use of concepts you will discuss in your analysis of the chapter.
15 points
Your presentation includes an explanation of the approach you took to studying this
chapter. (In other words, what tool did you create to analyze the chapter)
20 points
Your presentation of your psychoanalysis of this chapter (using this tool) is clear and
easy to follow.
10 points
Your findings make sense. (In other words, you back up your main points with textual
25 points
Your presentation is engaging and well-planned.
10 points
Id, Ego and Superego
by Saul McLeod
published 2008
Perhaps Freud's single most enduring and important idea was that the human psyche
(personality) has more than one aspect. Freud (1923) saw the psyche structured into three parts
(i.e. tripartite), the id, ego and superego, all developing at different stages in our lives.
These are systems, not parts of the brain, or in any way physical.
The id (or it)
The id is the primitive and instinctive component of
personality. It consists of all the inherited (i.e.
biological) components of personality, including the
sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido),
and aggressive (death) instinct - Thanatos.
The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our
psyche which responds directly and immediately to
the instincts. The personality of the newborn child is
all id and only later does it develop ego and super-ego.
The id demands immediate satisfaction and when this happens we experience pleasure, when it is
denied we experience ‘unpleasure’ or pain. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday
On the contrary, it operates on the pleasure principle (Freud, 1920) which is the idea that every
wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences. The id engages
in primary process thinking, which is primitive illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented.
The Ego (or I)
Initially the ego is “that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the
external world” (Freud 1923). The ego develops in order to mediate between the unrealistic id
and the external real world. It is the decision making component of personality
Ideally the ego works by reason whereas the id is chaotic and totally unreasonable. The ego
operates according to the reality principle, working our realistic ways of satisfying the id’s
demands, often compromising or postponing satisfaction to avoid negative consequences of
society. The ego considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to
Like the id, the ego seeks pleasure and avoids pain but unlike the id the ego is concerned with
devising a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure. Freud made the analogy of the id being the horse
while the ego is the rider. The ego is "like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the
superior strength of the horse"(Freud, 1923, p.15).
Often the ego is weak relative to the head-strong id and the best the ego can do is stay on,
pointing the id in the right direction and claiming some credit at the end as if the action were its
own. The ego has no concept of right or wrong; something is good simply if it achieves its end
of satisfying without causing harm to itself or to the id. It engages in secondary process thinking,
which is rational, realistic, and orientated towards problem solving.
The Superego (or above I)
The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one's parents
and others. It develops around the age of 3 – 5 during the phallic stage of psychosexual
The superego's function is to control the id's impulses, especially those which society forbids,
such as sex and aggression. It also has the function of persuading the ego to turn to moralistic
goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection.
The superego consists of two systems: The conscience and the ideal self. The conscience can
punish the ego through causing feelings of guilt. For example, if the ego gives in to id demands,
the superego may make the person feel bad though guilt.
The ideal self (or ego-ideal) is an imaginary picture of how you ought to be, and represents
career aspirations, how to treat other people, and how to behavior as a member of society.
Behavior which falls short of the ideal self may be punished by the superego through guilt. The
super-ego can also reward us through the ideal self when we behave ‘properly’ by making us feel
If a person’s ideal self is too high a standard, then whatever the person does will represent
failure. The ideal self and conscience are largely determined in childhood from parental values
and you were brought up.
All psychoanalytic approaches to literature have one thing in common—the critics begin with a
full psychological theory of how and why people behave as they do, a theory that has been
developed by a psychologist/psychiatrist/psychoanalyst outside of the realm of literature, and
they apply this psychological theory as a standard to interpret and evaluate a literary work. The
developer of the theory and the details of the theory will vary, but the theories are all universalist
in scope, positing patterns of behavior that are not dependent on specific times, places, and
cultures. Frequently invoked theorists include Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan.
Because psychoanalytic theories have been developed outside the realm of literature, they are not
tied to a specific aesthetic theory and are frequently coupled with other schools of literary
criticism (e.g., feminist psychoanalytic criticism, reader-response psychoanalytic criticism, etc.).
Psychoanalytic literary criticism can focus on one or more of the following:
the author: the theory is used to analyze the author and his/her life, and the literary work
is seen to supply evidence for this analysis. This is often called "psychobiography."
the characters: the theory is used to analyze one or more of the characters; the
psychological theory becomes a tool that to explain the characters’ behavior and
motivations. The more closely the theory seems to apply to the characters, the more
realistic the work appears.
the audience: the theory is used to explain the appeal of the work for those who read it;
the work is seen to embody universal human psychological processes and motivations, to
which the readers respond more or less unconsciously.
the text: the theory is used to analyze the role of language and symbolism in the work.
Barbara F. McManus
Readings and Assignments
October 1998