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Literature and Existential Psychoanalysis: "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" and "Young Goodman Brown" DENNIS BROWN In his introduction to the Twentieth Century Views casebook on Hawthorne1 A. N. Kaul writes that the Nineteenth Century author uwas preeminently a 1 psychological 1 novelist - 'burrowing, to his utmost ability, into the depths of our common nature, for the purposes of psychological romance', as he puts it himself in the preface to The Snow Image - long before the psychological novel is officially supposed to have been born." 1 Probably the most significant psychological study of Hawthorne, to date, is Frederick C. Crews' The Sins of The Fathers: Hawthorne's Psycho logical Themes 2 which represents the Freudian approach and accordingly emphasizes unconscious states, detecting the presence of such touchstones as father-figures and phallic symbols within the novels and tales. The final validity of such an approach may best be debated by psychologists themselves , for it depends on the continuing importance of Freud's contribution to psychology. However, the literary critic may legitimately enquire whether there exists a psychological approach more consonant with the overt emphases of the fictions themselves - in particular, one which is not disposed to construe "spiritual" crises as disguised projections of a far different disturbance. This article suggests that Existential psychology in general, 3 and the writings of R. D. Laing in particular,4 provide such an appropriate avenue of approach to Hawthorne's psychological insights. In the two tales which particularly concern us, "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" and uYoung Goodman Brown/' 5 Hawthorne's focus is on the characters' encounters with alien experience. Their awarenesses are characterised as conscious, whole and changing. The tendency of Freudian analysis is to discuss such awareness in terms quite different from Hawthorne 's presentation: thus for the conscious we are offered the unconscious , for wholeness, a part (""complex"), and for dramatic change, an enduring neurosis which might surface in varying contexts. Existential psychology, however, is more favourable to an understanding of Hawthorne 's psychological emphases as presented. The Existential approach "is not so much an attempt to describe particular objects of [a person's] experience as to set all particular experiences within the context of his THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. IV, NO.1, SPRING 1973 whole being-in-his-world.'' 6 "It is a method destined to bring to light, in a strictly objective form, the subjective choice by which each living person makes himself a person; that is, makes known to himself what he is." 7 Hawthorne's interest in these tales, we can say, is "ontological" in the general sense used by Laing,8 for he is not concerned with some aspect of the psyche, or with soul rather than mind, or vice versa, but with "being" in its totality. And in both tales Hawthorne dramatizes the kind of experience which can shock the "ontologically secure" person into condition of O ontological insecurity" where the original harmony of awareness has become shattered. Laing's distinction between ,,.ontological" security and insecurity is reinforced by the use of literary exempla. 9 He writes that a "basically ontologically secure person will encounter all the hazards of life, social, ethical, spiritual, biological, from a centrally firm sense of his own and other people's reality and identity" (39). Shakespeare's characters are of this kind, he believes, for they "evidently experience themselves as real and alive and complete however riddled by doubts or torn by conflicts" (40), and of this kind, we may say.,is Goodman Brown before he sets off for the forest. The "ontologically insecure" person, however, uin the ordinary circumstances of living may feel more unreal than real; in a literal sense, more dead than alive; precariously differentiated from the rest of the world, so that his identity and autonomy are always in question" (42). Laing believes that certain characters of Kafka and Beckett are of this kind, and so, I suggest, is Brown after his experiences in the forest. Laing is not concerned (as Hawthorne is) with the nature of those experiences which can transform an individual from security to insecurity., but it is clear from his clinical examples that the disorientation characteristic of the latter state may...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 65-73
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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