Elements Of Freudian Psychology In A Severed Head By Iris Murdoch

2067 words - 8 pages

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. All this has got to be faced sooner or later" (p26). Although Martin himself compares the loss of Antonia as his wife to "a pain unutterably obscure and confused like that induced by some deprivation in childhood" (p33), it is only much later in the novel that Martin finally comes to fully understand that his love for Antonia has always been more filial than sexual. Indeed, throughout the novel's progression we see more and more indications of the parent-child relationship between the two, with Anderson becoming a kind of Freudian father figure. It is only by moving through a sort of Oedipal complex that Martin can finally come to fully accept his true relationships with his wife and the other people in his life. The Freudian Mother and Father

In Freud's view, the development of a child's sense of self is advanced by movement through the Oedipal complex, the central Freudian childhood crisis. This crisis consists of sexual desire for the mother and a subsequent wish to do harm to the father: because the father has greater strength and power, however, the child fears being castrated for these inappropriate sexual desires and instead comes to identify with the father; development of the self then proceeds. Martin's...

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