The Freudian Gatsby - A Literary Analysis

The Freudian Gatsby - A Literary Analysis

A Story by elizabethhowes2016

This is an essay written for my AP English class. I put so much work in it, I figured I'd publish it here for more feedback.

The Freudian Gatsby

Throughout history, there have been many influential and revolutionary times. The 1920s specifically were a time of great change in science and technology and society, both good and bad. Advances were being made in the slightly-new field of psychology, a new breed of youth were emerging, and a new phase and fashion of literature was taking over. A young writer of this new literature by the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrated a psychological breakthrough unintentionally in his writing. Freudian psychology rears its head in Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby as characters Tom Buchanan, Nick Carraway, and Jay Gatsby represent the three parts of the human psyche.
The Fitzgeralds were anything but a functional couple. Their relationship was filled with lies, financial and mental problems, and heartbreak. Fitzgerald and Zelda were both too spoiled to think about the consequences of their actions. Even at a young age, F. Scott Fitzgerald thought only of himself and the ladies. His mother - Mollie Fitzgerald - has been documented to be not-so-pretty. Once her handsome little Scott was born, he was spoiled rotten. His mother paraded him around proudly and arrogantly from day one. This treatment contributed to his narcissism, which in turn contributed to his belief that he could get all the girls he wanted. At the age of fourteen, he had his eyes on two girls and saw no need in choosing just one. He often boasted in his personal diary about how much girls seemed to like him. In one entry, he wrote "Last year in dancing school I got 11 valentines and this year 15." This flirtatious attitude lasted past adolescence and into adulthood (Donaldson).
Zelda and Fitzgerald did not keep an exclusive marriage. The both of them committed adultery, and both became broken souls. The cheating and marriage troubles became so serious that Zelda was driven into a mental hospital and Fitzgerald's alcoholism became so serious that he was reported to drink up to fifty pony kegs of beer a day. In 1935 and 1936, the couple lived in Asheville where Fitzgerald would drink and write as much as he could to raise money for his wife's hospital bills. Zelda was staying in a sanatorium in the city. Though he raised the money so she could get the help she needed, Fitzgerald rarely visited his wife (Stamberg).
While she died in a fire at the Highland sanatorium in 1948, she outlived her husband by eight years. Fitzgerald died in 1940, all the way across the country from Zelda in Hollywood, leaving an unfinished writing (Stamberg).
Twenty years before Fitzgerald's death, a famous psychologist known for his unconventional theories published a new theory. What if the mind was not just consciousness? What if there was more (McLeod)?
That famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, published his essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920 and The Ego and the Id in 1923. Freud wrote that there was not only a conscious, but also a preconscious and an unconscious. In these essays, he also stated that the psyche was three parts rather than one - the id, ego, and superego (McLeod).
The id, also referred to as "it", is the primal component of the human psyche and is mainly in the preconscious and unconscious. Impulsive and primitive, the id focuses mostly on basic needs without thinking of the future consequences and effects. It prefers immediate satisfaction and does not get affected by logic. The id is like the five year old child that one would see misbehaving (McLeod).
Though Freud said in 1923 that the ego is "that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world," it is better described as a mediator between the id and the real world. Freud stated that the ego operated on the "reality principle" and works out ways of giving the id satisfaction that are reasonable. It often compromises or postpones desires that the id has (McLeod).
The ego is like the id in that it wants pleasure and has no sense of right and wrong, but the ego differs in that it takes into account the real world and the real world's consequences. The best way to describe the relationship between the id and the ego is an analogy made by Freud himself. "'The ego is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse'" (McLeod).
The last section of the psyche that Freud had theorized is the superego, or above I, is the part of the psyche that keeps the values of one's parents and others in one's society. It is developed during the phallic stage of psychosexual development. Consequently, the superego urges the ego to take not only the realistic goals but also the moralistic goals and to work for perfection. What happens when the ego goes against the superego's wishes? The nagging voice of guilt in the back of a person's mind is a result of the superego (McLeod).
The superego not only has the system of guilt and conscious, it also has a system of the ideal self, also called the ego-ideal. The ideal self is exactly what it sounds like it is. It is a mental picture of how one thinks oneself ought to be, whether it be career goals, moralistic goals, or even behavioural goals. When behaviour that does not work towards the ideal self is performed, the superego sends out feelings of guilt to the ego as punishment. Inversely, if the behaviour that does work towards the ideal self, the superego will reward the ego with feelings of pride. Though if the ego-ideal is set at a standard that is too high, a person will see everything he or she does as a failure (McLeod).
As stated in the first paragraph, the three leading men of The Great Gatsby display Freud's ideas almost perfectly. Tom Buchanan is the humanized form of the id, Nick Carraway is the caught-in-the-middle ego, and Jay Gatsby is the illusive superego. Each of the men demonstrate key characteristics of each part of the human psyche.
Tom Buchanan, an impulsive and morally-corrupt man born into "old money", is a perfect representation of Freud's id. Being born into a rich family, Tom is a spoiled person, adopting the idea that "what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine." This contributes to his id-like behaviour. He is selfish and he is violent, not caring who he hurts by his actions. Betraying his wife and his garage mechanic - Daisy Fay Buchanan and George Wilson - Tom entertains an affair with Myrtle Wilson, purely because he desires such immoral conduct. When Myrtle angers Tom, he lashes out and strikes her so hard it breaks her nose. These actions are violent and sex-driven - behaviours associated to the id (McLeod).
Tom is the id to Nick, who is like Freud's ego. As Tom has his fun, Nick is stuck there. All he can do is try to keep his rich companion out of too much trouble. Just as Tom is the id to Nick, Nick is the ego to Gatsby, who is similar to the superego. Jay Gatsby urges Nick to do things that are beneficial to Gatsby - such as inviting a love interest over for tea. When Nick entertains Gatsby's requests, Gatsby rewards him with friendship (McLeod).
Another way that Gatsby is similar to the superego is that he obviously strives for an ideal self. He strives for a rich self. He strives for a self with Daisy. To achieve this, he works his way up to becoming a rich man. His actions are always working towards becoming his ideal self just like the superego tries to push actions that will achieve its ideal self (McLeod).
The Great Gatsby shows the psychological phenomenon of the human psyche through the three main male characters, Tom, Nick, and Gatsby. Some could argue that these three actually represent the id, ego, and superego in Fitzgerald's mind. Some could even argue that the three could represent the different parts of the corrupted 1920s society. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald's writing captures the tenor of The Roaring Twenties.

Works Cited

Donaldson, Scott "F. Scott Fitzgerald." Web. 04 May 2015.

Stamberg, Susan. "For F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, A Dark Chapter In Asheville, N.C." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 05 May 2015

McLeod, S. A. (2008). "Id, Ego and Superego." Web. 05 May 2015.

© 2015 elizabethhowes2016

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Very good essay but I found the paragraph on Nick, the ego, difficult to follow and lacking clear argument. The again, it follows that the paragraph personifies the ego. Not sure whether that makes for clever writing or a Freudian slip. Either way, the form of your argument in that paragraph is different than the preceding and succeeding paragraphs. Otherwise, well done.

Posted 8 Years Ago

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