PSYCHOLOGICAL DIMENSIONS IN CHIGOZIE OBIOMA’S THE FISHERMEN AND CHIKA UNIGWE’S ON BLACK SISTERS’ STREET
1.0 Background to the Study
This work undertakes a psychoanalytic literary critique of select characters in Igoni Barrett’s Blackass and NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. It investigates the roles and influences of the characters’ minds on their behaviors. However, scholars have different views on the matter of the mind and whether human behaviors are motivated by conscious or unconscious thoughts. This is because while Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm argue that human behaviors are influenced by conscious motives or thoughts, on the one hand, some others like Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, on the other hand, propose that unconscious motives influence human behaviors. More so, Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) describes a discovery that is now the centerpiece of a discipline called psychoanalysis.
The discipline fundamentally undertakes a treatment in which the patient talks about dreams, childhood, and relationships with parents and authority figures. Using free association, a slip of language, and dreams, Freud finds ways for an analyst to help a patient uncover the painful and threatening events that are repressed in the unconscious to make them accessible to the conscious mind. Thus, in psychoanalytic criticism, the same topics and techniques form the basis for the analyses of literary texts, although not all of Freud’s explanations on how the human mind operates are applicable to literary criticism (Tyson and Tyson, 20). Hence, this work focuses on interpreting the select novels in the light of Freud’s oedipal model as well as in the light of dreams and slips of the tongue.
With the deployment of psychoanalytic theory, African writers have been able to explore the minds of characters in post-colonial societies in order to understand them as neurotic beings. In this way, African writers have been able to illuminate those maladies which characterize post-colonial African states, two of which are mainly corruption and bad leadership. The maladies have bred oppression, mass poverty, and untold hardship, a massive movement of people from their original homes to foreign places, gender inequality, and the general failure of the leaders to fulfill their promises. All these are experienced by those caught up in the post-independence disillusionment of the state in the most personal ways. Hence, social strife, a break in human relationships, and the crisis of the human personality arise.
Since “the motive of human society is in the last resort an economic one” (Freud, 284), certain tendencies to pleasure and gratification must be repressed, postponed, or diverted in order to carry out the harsh necessity of labor on which survival relies even though these tendencies may resurface. Psychoanalytic literary criticism, thus, becomes a viable approach to analyze the minds of characters in literary texts as a means of building a bridge between the fictional and the real worlds which they represent. Within this context, African writers recreate post-colonial socio-political abnormalities into literary works. Psychoanalytic literary criticism becomes instrumental in explicating the influencing aspects of the psyche that unfolds in characters’ actions and inactions. Hence, examining the psyche serves in understanding an abnormal life, poverty, trauma, loss of identity, and sexuality in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Igoni Barrett’s Blackass.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
In modern African states, post-colonial issues like religious intolerance, tribalism, economic deficiency, and gender inequality rise with the massive number of people migrating to the urban areas from the homelands, due to poverty, corruption, bad leadership, unemployment, and deprivation. Nevertheless, many others are deluded and crave more for the elusive abundance of foreign lands, while leaving behind the demanding realities of their society. This among other social realities are prominent in We Need New Names and Blackass. Hence, psychoanalytic criticism is deployed to examine the psychological dimensions of the characters in terms of how they respond to or act upon the given post colonial realities portrayed in the novels.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of the study are to:
i. identify and analyze dreams, symbols and Freudian slips in the select novels and note how they add to the psychological aesthetics of both novels
ii. explore the tripartite psyche (that is, the id, superego, and ego) of the characters in We Need New Names and Blackass and highlight how they respond to the risen post-colonial maladies evident in both select novels, and
iii. assess the narrative technique(s) adopted by both Bulawayo and Barrett and examine how these respective techniques aid to draw readers close to the psychological dimensions in the two novels.
1.3 Significance of the Study
This work is significant in three ways: it draws attention to the human (unconscious) mind and the vital role it plays in constructing human existence. It introduces the reader to Blackass and We Need New Names as well as instigates an appreciation of the themes and the linguistic inventiveness of both select novels. Lastly, the work contributes to the corpus of psychoanalytic criticism and motivates other researchers’ interest in psychoanalytic studies.
1.4 Research Methodology
The study draws its analytic contents from the original copies of Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and Barrett’s Blackass. Also, the study is library-based and draws from secondary materials such as past theses or research projects, journals, textbooks, and various other documented literary works for the literature review. This study also depends on information from the internet for relevant secondary materials such as PDF documents. Online interviews of the two authors have also been done so as to obtain first-hand information for this study.
1.5 Delimitation of the Study
This study uses psychoanalysis to consider the behaviors of the human characters in We Need New Names and Blackass. By studying Sigmund Freud’s theory of Psychoanalysis which pays apt attention to the unconscious mind as a reservoir of the repressed desires, the work investigates the unconscious minds of the characters as a way of unraveling their repressed wishes, and analyzing their actions that constitute the plot of the select novels.
1.6 Theoretical Framework
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a Viennese psychologist, evolved psychoanalysis in the late 19th century. He is reputed as the father of psychoanalysis. The theories and practice of Sigmund Freud provide the foundation for psychoanalytic criticism. Freud started his mission in the world of psychology with the treatment of hysteria which according to him was caused by sexual desires. Unfortunately, his proposition of sexual desires as the cause of hysteria was not acknowledged by his mentor Dr. Joseph Breuer under whose guidance Freud learned about hysteria (Rahim, 98). This presupposition about psychological diseases was one of the bases of Freud’s sex theories. Besides, he had a guess or assumption of the division of the human brain and its functions. He strongly believed and popularized the idea of the conscious versus the unconscious minds. In his hypothesis, the conscious mind is what one is aware of at any particular moment, like one’s present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, etc. The preconscious mind is what closely works with the conscious mind or it constitutes the memories that are not presently conscious but can be made conscious easily (Ahmed, 70). According to Freud, these two are the smallest parts of the brain (150). In Freud’s view, this unconscious level of the mind is the source of man’s motivations such as desires for sex, food, and so on (Rahim, 63). Furthermore, Freudian psychology is largely based on objects that are guided by needs: hunger, thirst, the avoidance of pain and sex. Boeree comments that “when everyone thought of male and female as roles determined by nature or God, he [Freud] showed how much they depended on family dynamics” (Boeree, 192). Hence, Freud’s thoughts are ever supposed to be guided by desires. To Freud, these desires are fundamental factors of human life and psyche other than any spiritual and moral functions.
While working with patients who he diagnosed as hysterics, Freud theorized that the the root of their problem was psychological, not physical. He believed that his patients had suppressed incestuous desires that they had unconsciously refused to confront (Eagleton, 121). He developed his theories about the formation and organization of the human psyche. His students and followers, such as Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung, Otto von Rank, Northrop Frye, and Jacques Lacan, etc. later built on Freud’s ideas on probing the workings of the human psyche to understand why people act the way they do and to provide new ways of viewing people.
In an effort to describe the conscious and the unconscious minds, Sigmund Freud divides the human psyche into three parts: the id, the superego, and the ego. Each acts according to different, even contrasting principles. According to Bressler:
[The id contains] our secret desires, our darkest wishes, and our most intense fears; the id wishes only to fulfill the urges of the pleasure principle [since the libido – which is the source of psychosexual desires and psychic energy – is rooted in the id] (123).
Notably, the id is considered to be an irrational, instinctual and unconscious entity. Hence, the id operates on impulse, wanting immediate satisfaction for all its instinctual desires.
The second part of the psyche which Freud names the ego serves as a regulating agency. According to Bressler:
The ego is the rational, logical, waking part of the mind, although many of its activities remain in the unconscious. Whereas the id operates according to the pleasure principle, the reality principle is operated upon by the ego. It is the ego’s job to regulate the instinctual desires of the id and to allow these desires to be released in some non-destructive way (123).
In order to prevent the crisis of an untamed id, other parts of the psyche must be checked and balanced. Those are the roles of the ego. It bases its operations on the reality principle. It suppresses the power of the id either by postponing the gratification of pleasure or by diverting it into socially acceptable actions (Bressler, 123). Guerin notes that of all the three parts of the human psyche, it is the ego that is closest to the human consciousness, for it mediates the inner self and the outer world, which is why it remains subject to the reality principle (94). Nevertheless, as Eagleton also observes, “We only come close to knowing [the ego] when it is relaxed by hypnosis, sleep, or unintentional slips of the tongue” (53). Thus, dreams and slips of the tongue become important means through which repressed desires manifest. Furthermore, as Tyson and Tyson add, “the ego… comes to serve in a signal capacity to anticipate danger, whether it be related to driving impulses or to external reality” (295).
The third part of the psyche, which Freud calls the ‘superego’ is, according to Eagleton, “the awesome, punitive voice of conscience [within]” (136).The superego operates according to the morality principle; it gives a sense of moral and ethical wrongdoing, thereby working against the id and repressing socially unacceptable desires back into the unconscious. Tyson and Tyson note also that “through processes of internalization and identification, the superego forms and then supports the ego in the task of adapting to the demands of inner and outer reality” (296). Wilfred Guerin et al aver that:
The id is dominated by the pleasure principle, and the ego by the reality principle; the superego is dominated by the morality principle. In figurative terms, we might say that the id would make us behave like angels (or, worse, creatures of social conformity), and it remains for the ego to keep us healthy human beings by maintaining a balance between these opposing forces (90).
This explains the psyche as a determining factor responsible for conditioning the being of an individual. Anthony Easthope also posits that “the complexity of human minds can be studied to show the influence of the unconscious on their motivations and everyday actions” (69).
Another important aspect of Freud’s psychology which this study proposes is a dream. In 1900 Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in which he exposed his original and new theories for the analysis, interpretation, and therapeutic usefulness of dreams (Tyson and Tyson, 2). In this book, in which the basis of the theory was illustrated by means of the interpretation of several isolated dreams of different people and of Freud himself, Freud called readers’ attention to the distinction between the manifest and the late
1.7 Bio-data of the Authors
1.7.1 Chigozie Obioma
Chigozie Obioma was born on 1986 in Akure, Nigeria. She attended Njube and Mzilikazi High Schools, before moving from Zimbabwe to the United States, eighteen years after. In the United States Bulawayo attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Philadelphia, and then transferred to Texas A /M University for her bachelor’s degree in 2009. She obtained a master’s degree in English from Southern Methodist University, Ohio in 2010, and a master’s also in Creative Writing from Cornell University, Princeton, in 2010.
Obioma’s debut novel, The Fishermen were published in 2015 to immediate critical acclaim and were translated into seventeen languages. Obioma’s debut novel was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize in 2015. He won the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction in 2015. he was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, United States, from 2012 to 2014 and a Studded Fellow at Princeton from 2016 to 2017. She also teaches at Stanford University, California, United States, as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction.
1.7.2 Chika Unigwe
Chika Unigwe was born on in Enugu, Nigeria. He was born to the Jamaican novelist and poet Linsday Barrett. She studied Agriculture at the University of. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leiden, The Netherlands.
Her first novel, De Feniks, was published in Dutch in September 200. She is the recipient of Commonwealth Short Story Award and a Flemish literary prize in 2003 for De Smaak van Sneeuw, her first story written in Dutch. She was shortlisted in 2004 for the Caine The prize for African Writing.
no contents in dreams (Spinelli, 172) and he considered the contrast as indispensable for the understanding of dreams. He also pointed out the fact that dreams are constantly the open or disguised satisfaction of desires proscribed by the dreamer (Spinelli, 136-145). Freud believed dreams to be important in shaping human behaviors and constructing human existence. As he (Freud himself) puts it, dreams represent “a (disguised) fulfillment of a (repressed) wish” (Rivkin and Ryan, 131). According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), dreams are “a succession of ideas, images, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep” (1134). In parallel, Freud considered dreams as the “royal road” to the unconscious, trying to prove to others in his own way, empirically, and the psychic reality of the existence of an unconscious part in the human mind (Schredl, 182).
Being the pillars for the psychoanalytical doctrine of Freud, the notions of sexual drives or life instinct (libido) plus the Oedipus complex (which is constantly present during the practice of psychoanalysis) have an unconscious source; dreams would be the revelations of them. Nevertheless, the language of dreams remains obscure and bizarre because of the existence of censorship, an activity that would correspond to the execution of the work of dream (Hobson, 276-277). The purpose of this sensor was supposed to be the preservation of sleep while we are dreaming, in order to prevent crude emotions from disrupting sleep, and consequentially the aim is to disguise these crude emotions by associating them with anodyne mental representations.
Dreams have a manifest content, which is the consciousness experienced during sleep, and also the latent content, considered to be conscious (Rivkin and Ryan, 132). The latter is composed of three elements: the sensory impressions during the night, the day’s residues, and the id instinctual drives. These elements of the latent dream tend to wake the individual. According to Ricoeur, “during sleep, due to the total absence of the voluntary motor activity, the repression is weakened, which increases the possibility of drives reaching consciousness” (31). Nevertheless, the dream works as “the guardian of sleep” (Rivkin and Ryan, 121). Thus, because of a compromising solution between the id and the ego – which is the instance responsible for repression – a partial gratification of the instinctual drives is allowed, reducing their force and, consequently, allowing the individual to continue sleeping Ricoeur (35). He (Ricoeur) adds that “such gratification takes place through a visual fantasy (the manifest content of the dream), which is the result of a regressive process: the flow of the psychic energy, instead of going towards the motor pathways, returns to the sensory pathways” (35).
Still according to Freud, the manifest content of dreams is apparently incomprehensible, because it consists of a distorted version of the latent content. Such distortion occurs because in sleep there is a deep regression of the ego functioning, which makes the primary process of thought prevail. This is characterized by the predominance of visual images (instead of verbal language) and by the mechanisms of condensation (fusion of two or more representations) and displacement (replacement of one representation by another) (Rivkin and Ryan, 134-135). Furthermore, there would be an instance of censorship between the conscious and the unconscious, which would deliberately disguise the content of the dream, so that the dreamer does not recognize its instinctual prohibited origin.
As William Guerin notes, “characters in literary works of art can be explained in terms of internal rather than external circumstances” (94). Thus, a critical look at the psyches and dreams, which describe the internal circumstances of the characters in works of art, helps to reveal the wish-fulfilling world of the author’s imagination and the reality critical to his society. Readers are also enabled to interpret the work. Hence, characters in the two select novels can be described as manipulative elements by the author and as realistic individuals (Guerin, 96).
1.7 Bio-data of the Authors
1.7.1 Noviolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo is the pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele, born 12 October 1981 in Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe. She attended Njube and Mzilikazi High Schools, before moving from Zimbabwe to the United States, eighteen years after. In the United States Bulawayo attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Philadelphia, and then transferred to Texas A /M University for her bachelor’s degree in 2009. She obtained a master’s degree in English from Southern Methodist University, Ohio in 2010, and a master’s also in Creative Writing from Cornell University, Princeton, in 2010.
Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names, was published in 2013 to immediate critical acclaim. She received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 2013. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, The United States, from 2012 to 2014 and a Studded Fellow at Princeton from 2016 to 2017. She also teaches at Stanford University, California, United States, as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction.
1.7.2 Igoni Barrett
Adrian Igonibo Barrett was born on 26 March 1979 in Rivers State, Nigeria. He was born to the Jamaican novelist and poet Linsday Barrett. He studied Agriculture at the University of Ibadan.
His first book, a collection of short stories entitled From Caves of a Rotten Teeth, was published in 2005 and reissued in 2008. A story from the collection, The Phoenix, won the 2005 BBC World Service Short Story competition. His second collection of Short Stories, Love is Power, or Something Like That was published in 2015, which was long-listed for the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards in New York. In 2010, he was awarded a Norman Mailer Center Fellowship as well as a Bellagio Center Residency. He is the founder and the organizer of the Bookham Series in Lagos, Nigeria. He lives in California where he dedicates his time to writing..