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Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism In Harry Potter

4230 words - 17 pages

Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism in Harry Potter

The inhabitants of a faraway country known for its ivory towers and for its export of literary monographs were forever quarreling over who might best represent them. One day two tiny factions decided to join forces: the adherents of the Princess Childlit and the followers of Prince Psychian, the great-great-grandson of Empress Psyche. Both groups had for a long time felt themselves unduly spurned… by the powerful Board of Canonizers who had ruled Arkedemia for over a century. Might not a wedding between the two claimants strengthen their status?... just as the engagement was about to be announced, the whole affair was abruptly called off. What had happened?…Their cohorts had begun to quarrel most bitterly with each other… The wedding did not take place…Soon the board of Canonizers issued an edict pronouncing both groups to be out of the system. Hereafter, their passports would be stamped with the word “marginal” in red gothic print. (Knoepflmacher, 131-132) [1]

U.C. Knoepflmacher’s wonderful parody of the current situation of children’s literary criticism and the psychoanalytic approach to literature perfectly sums up what will be the major obstacle of this critical paper. It would seem that modern literary criticism has an unfortunate tendency to overlook children’s literature extensively; to relegate it to a position of only secondary importance in the critic’s glossary of “good literature.” On top of that, psychoanalytic criticism, as it is applied to children’s literature, seems to have taken on a startlingly simplistic, static approach to the analysis of the text, that does very little justice to the diversity and complexity that the field possesses. (132-133) Why is it that children’s literature has been cast aside in the eye of the critic? What prevailing modes of thought have caused it to be considered unimportant in the larger scheme of literature? And why do critics tend to oversimplify the psychoanalytic approach to children’s literature, rendering such critiques a kind of “vulgar psychoanalysis?” It is the intention of the following pages, through a discussion of some of the issues present in both the criticism of children’s literature, and the discipline of psychoanalytic criticism, to address and hopefully answer these questions. The subsequent psychoanalytic criticism of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone according to Lacanian principals will then hopefully serve as an example, illustrating that children’s literature and psychoanalytic criticism do not deserve their current big red label of “marginal.”

The first issue, then, that needs examination is the current status of children’s literature within the realm of literary criticism. Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, author of Children’s Literature; Criticism and the Fictional Child, quotes Peter Hunt’s observation that “’children’s books’ is a very curious classification, an chaotic collection of...

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