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Theory and Application of Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis - Interpreting Carol Ann Duffy's 'Psychopath'

Seminararbeit 2005 28 Seiten

Anglistik - Sonstiges


Table of Contents

Introduction and foreword

I Theoretical Part
I.1 Short Biography of Sigmund Freud
I.2 Psychoanalysis according to Freud
I.2.1 The Unconscious
I.2.2 The Interpretation of Dreams
I.2.3 Pleasure- and Reality-Principle
I.2.4 Ego, Id and Super-Ego
I.2.5 The Stages of Psychosexual Development

II Practical Part
II.1 Short Biography of C. A. Duffy
II.2 Short Summary of “Psychopath”
II.3 Unusual vocabulary and phrases
II.3.1 The “D.A.”, Jimmy Dean and “Johnny, Remember Me”
II.3.2 Woodbine, Ruth Ellis, gin-and-lime, Awopbopaloobop alopbimbam
II.4 Analysis
II.4.1 Linear Approach
II.4.2 Psychoanalytical Approach

III Conclusion

IV Bibliography
IV.1 List of Illustrations

Introduction and foreword

The aim of this assignment is to introduce the reader to the vast field of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis and give an example of its practical application by psychoanalytically interpreting Carol Ann Duffy’s “Psychopath”.

Written for a university course in “Applying Cultural Theory”, it will start with a theoretical part, giving the reader an overview of Sigmund Freud’s biography and introducing him to the vital ideas of Freud’s psychoanalytical theories. In the practical part the reader will learn about both the author Carol Ann Duffy and her poem “Psychopath” before finally approaching the text by means of psychoanalytical methods.

Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis has been widely accepted as the 20th century’s most important break-through in terms of understanding the human mind, but it has also aroused protest. The discussion concerning Psychoanalysis has not ceased[1], but it would not fit in this work anymore. Unfortunately, the SLUB could not provide secondary literature on Carol Ann Duffy and her works. The only literature I found was the poem itself. Searching the internet did not reveal much useful material either which meant that I had to do the interpretation all on my own. It therefore lacks a secondary literature foundation, but I hope that the intense research my interpretation is based on will sufficiently make up for this.

I Theoretical Part

I.1 Short Biography of Sigmund Freud

Schlomo Sigismund Freud was born on 6 May 1856, in Schlossergasse 17 in Freiberg[2], Moravia, a small town in what is today the Czech Republic. When he was three, his family flew to Leipzig due to Anti-Semitism, but shortly afterwards, they moved to Vienna where Sigmund stayed until 1938, when he and his daughter Anna were given permission to leave the Nazi-occupied city. He died in Hampstead, London, in September 1939.

Freud passed his years at high school as one of the best in his year[3] and started studying medicine at the University of Vienna in 1873. His studies took nearly eight years, due to the fact that Freud also went to other lectures, especially philosophy[4], was called up for military service in 1880 and worked for several years in a physiological laboratory under the guidance of Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke.[5] His leaving the laboratory in 1882 was certainly not on account of dissatisfaction or indifference, but only on account of the bad promotion prospects.[6] When, in August, he fell in love with Martha Bernays, his secret aim was to gain the financial means to be able to marry her.[7] In the following three years he worked in the Vienna General Hospital before he was offered a lecturing position in Neuropathology at the university in 1885. In this year he also got a scholarship allowing him to study for several months in Paris, with the famous neurologist and Professor of Neuropathology Jean Charcot. At the Salpêtière, a psychiatric clinic, he studied hysteria and got to know Charcot’s extraordinary methods, such as hypnosis[8]. These months steered his interest into Psychopathology – the scientific study of mental disorders. It was also Charcot who brought up the idea of “some sort of link between sexuality and neurosis”[9] which should later be one of the basic ideas for Freud’s Psychoanalysis.

In the same year that he opened his first private surgery, 1886, he married Martha Bernays who stayed at his side till he died. Although he already knew in 1886 that he would dedicate his future to Psychopathology[10], he published his first important monograph[11] on an organic brain-dysfunction and wrote his second work, “Die Infantile Cerebrallähmung” only on urge of his editor. Together with the physician Josef Breuer he published Studies on Hysteria in 1895. In this work, the famous case of Breuer’s patient Anna O.[12] is presented, which can be considered the first case in the history of Psychoanalysis.

In the following five years he conceptualized most of what today is known as “Psychoanalysis”, the beginning of which is traditionally dated to the publication of Freud’s most significant work “The Interpretation of Dreams” at the end of the year 1899[13]. In 1902, Freud became professor at the University of Vienna and founded the “Psychologische Mittwochsvereinigung”.

In 1920, Freud’s daughter Sophie died of influenza. Two years later, Freud himself fell ill and came down with palatal cancer. His last[14] important psychoanalytical work was “The Ego and the Id” in 1923, since his writings of the following sixteen years are mainly dominated by philosophical and cultural topics.

After Freud’s daughter Anna was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo in 1938, Freud and his family emigrated to London on 4 July. They bought a house in Hampstead (20 Maresfield Gardens), the place where the “Freud Museum London” can be found today. One year after this dramatic change of residence, on September 23rd, Freud called for his physician Dr. Schur who gave him two centigrams of morphine to ease his pain, followed by another two centigrams twelve hours later.

Der Ausdruck von Schmerz und Leiden war gewichen. […] Freud war offensichtlich so am Ende seiner Kräfte, daß er in ein Koma fiel und nicht mehr aufwachte. Er starb um 3 Uhr morgens am 23. September 1939.[15]

I.2 Psychoanalysis according to Freud

Psychoanalysis, according to Freud, is a psychological method meant for understanding and curing mental illnesses. It has a very specific idea about how the human mind works, assuming that every human is to a certain degree controlled by unconscious mental processes. Freud’s theory got more mature but also more complex in the course of time, and since he developed it continuously, its different concepts are strongly interwoven[16].

There are four basic principles on which the whole theory foots:

[T]he assumption that there are unconscious mental processes, the recognition of the theory of resistance and repression, the appreciation of the importance of sexuality and of the Oedipus complex [and] the importance of infantile experiences.[17]

The following chapters will introduce the reader to the field of psychoanalysis, starting with the structure of the mind. But to understand this structure, the terms that appear in it have to be explained separately.

I.2.1 The Unconscious

Michael Jacobs points out that the idea of “The Unconscious” had come up long before Freud, but that it is thanks to him that the term has gained “a substantive status” and is “no longer the name of what is latent at the moment”[18]. Nevertheless, it is still an abstract idea; it links to “regions in the mental apparatus”[19] and has no reference to a specific part of the brain.

The Unconscious is a kind of autonomous part of Freud’s mental apparatus which he developed when dealing with Josef Breuer’s famous case Anna O. She suffered from reminiscences of traumatic, painful or embarrassing situations, but she was both unaware (when awake) and aware (when mesmerised) of these memories at the same time[20]. Josef Breuer was able to cure her by means of hypnosis and Freud assumed that something was actively holding back her memories from the conscious part of her mind.[21] This something was what he later called the Unconscious. As Thomas Köhler points out[22], the theory of the Unconscious is first conceptualised in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). One could say, dreams are “our first glimpse of the processes which take place in the unconscious system”[23], and since it is also very well known, The Interpretation of Dreams provides the ideal introduction to Psychoanalysis in general and the Unconscious in particular.

I.2.2 The Interpretation of Dreams

Freud first thought that a dream is always the disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish[24], but he later differentiated between wish-fulfilling dreams and those that “recall recent or earlier traumata”[25].

In the field of Psychoanalysis, a ‘dream’ is understood as the individual memory of thoughts a person has while sleeping. Psychoanalysis does not try to get hold of the passed dream itself[26]. Freud knew that in the very moment of awakening, our dreams are already distorted and we selectively forget parts of them.[27] Freud divides the unconscious part of every dream into two categories: the ‘manifest content’ and the ‘latent thoughts’. The first part, the ‘manifest content’, is the memory described above – distorted and full of gaps. It normally contains images and metaphoric symbols. The so-called ‘latent thoughts’ are the words and associations the dreamer produces when thinking (or talking) about those images and symbols.[28]

The task of the analyst is to guide the clients through their sleep-memories and help them to produce the above ‘latent content’. Thus, the process that created the clients’ dream is reversed and both the analyst and the client gain access to the real meaning of the dream. Consequently, a dream can only be successfully deciphered by the dreamer, because nobody else is capable of reversing the process of association that led to the dream’s content.[29] This basic rule applies to every psychoanalytical context and is often neglected, leading to misunderstandings about the interpretation of dreams and Psychoanalysis in general.

I.2.3 Pleasure- and Reality-Principle

Having a rough understanding of the Unconscious, a closer look at its way of functioning would be expedient. The Unconscious works according to a simple set of rules, called the Pleasure-Principle. Basically, this Pleasure-Principle makes the Unconscious both strive for pleasure and avoid displeasure[30]. Freud assumed that any accumulation of tension or energy inside the mental apparatus leads to displeasure, and therefore, that the organism attempts to keep this energy-level low. Anything that is able to increase its level must therefore feel displeasing.[31]

In contrast to that, acting according to the Reality-Principle means to bear displeasure until it can be eliminated by an adequate action.[32] The Ego, explained in the next paragraph, is the part of the mental apparatus to which this principle applies.

I.2.4 Ego, Id and Super-Ego

After having defined the most important terms, we can now dare to take a look at them working together.

The terms “Ego”, “Id” and “Super-Ego” are very well-known, though translated imperfectly[33] from German. But few do know that Freud invented them very lately: he was already over 65 years old and had written all his major works before he conceptualised the human mind with the terms mentioned above.[34] The famous scheme with which Freud tries to explain the functionality of the human mind is best understood in a graphical way. The rest of this chapter will therefore mostly refer to Illustration 2.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Illustration 2: The mental apparatus – Freud’s idea of the processes inside a human mind.

The illustration shows the mental processes of an individual which express themselves in what we call consciousness and the outer factors that influence the process and provide the Id and the Super-Ego with input.

The two black arrows, pointing at the oval area in the middle, represent the two forces that influence the Ego. The first one is the Id, symbolising the dark, animal side of the mind, always longing for satisfaction or destruction. It includes everyday life’s needs and wishes: eating and drinking as well as sexual desire and defecation. The Id acts according to the Pleasure Principle, following the instincts and drives that are inborn in every human being.

The second force is the Super-Ego. Its geometrical opposition equals its functional antagonism: it is kind of a moral instance, acting in accordance with the rules the individual has learnt. If the individual does not comply with these rules, it generates a bad conscience. When in charge, the Super-Ego makes us perfectionists that are uptight and demand too much of themselves.

Those two forces are fed and formed respectively by factors that lie outside the individual’s mental apparatus, symbolised by the two grey arrows, linking the outside world with the inside world. Taking a closer look at the Super-Ego, these factors would be mother and father for instance. They educated the individual and shaped it with their ideals and moral concepts. The same applies to friends, neighbours and the rest of the list on the right hand side. They all have contributed to the shape of the individual’s Super-Ego and they punish irregularities in its behaviour with resentment. That way, they support the Super-Ego in its function as a moral instance as well as feeding the Id, providing it with numerous stimuli like making proposals or simply a good looking outward appearance.

The Ego, situated between these two forces and the reality, has to cope with the demands of either side. The struggle between the Super-Ego and the Id is fought out at the Ego’s expense. It has to mediate between them and find compromises, according to the Reality-Principle. As the Id is inborn and the Super-Ego only develops in childhood, the dominating struggle is fought between Id and Ego, the relationship of which can be “compared with that of a rider to his horse”[35]. The power of the Id expresses the individual’s actual wish to live, comprising the satisfaction of the innate needs, whereas the Ego incorporates the instinct to stay alive, protecting itself by the fear of dangers.[36]

The only thing that is never clear about Freud’s mental apparatus is “whether the ego is, as it seems to be described above, one aspect of the personality, or whether it is to be equated with ‘the self’.”[37] Naturally the whole process is way much more complex, but for this work’s purpose, a facile explanation like the above will do.

I.2.5 The Stages of Psychosexual Development

It seems impossible to come to terms with the concept of psychoanalysis without knowing about Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development. The last chapter of the theoretical part is therefore devoted to this part of his work, giving a short overview of its most important facts.

Freud claimed that all human beings are born with certain instincts, showing a natural tendency to satisfy their biologically determined needs for food, shelter and warmth. The satisfaction of these needs is both practical and a source of pleasure which Freud refers to as “sexual”[38]. He believed the maturing of every person followed the same patterns, consisting of distinctive stages, the most important ones of which are going to be explained shortly in the following paragraphs.

According to Freud, sexual life does not start with puberty, it starts with birth. In the first 18 months of life, the organ acting as the erotogenic zone, making libidinous demands on the soul is the mouth, giving this period the name “Oral Stage”. Although obviously needing to suck its mother’s breast for reasons of surviving, the child also shows a tendency to incorporate all kinds of other things by the mouth in this time. When the first teeth appear, the child already shows first sadistic impulses.

In the following 18 months, these impulses grow stronger: from one and a half years till the age of three, satisfaction is acquired by aggression and taking pleasure in gaining control over the function of excretion.[39] Thus, this phase is given the name “Sadistic-Anal Stage”.

The third stage, lasting another three years, coins both the widely-known expression “Oedipus Complex” and the closely related term “Electra Complex”[40] the impacts of which are bound to ultimately separate the boy from the girl. In this time, the child’s sexual drive is slowly directed to the parent of the other sex, the boy being attracted to his mother and the girl being attracted by her father. That way, the parent of the same sex becomes a rival, the superiority of which lets the children fear possible punishment and leads to a bad conscience for their own thoughts. The boy’s fear to be castrated by his father makes him repress his desire for the mother into the unconscious and forces him to identify with the father: the more he becomes like him, the more he can unconsciously replace him. This process of identification strongly forms the boy’s Super-Ego as he incorporates the father’s ideas and values.

When the girl realises that she, just like her mother, lacks a penis, she blames her mother for having castrated her. The girl wishes for the father to share his penis with her, longing for copulation. Similar to the Oedipus-Complex, the Electra-Complex is solved by identification. The more the girl identifies with her mother, the more likely it gets for her to marry someone like her father in later life.

Summarising, the most important feature of the “Phallic Stage” is the child’s fixation on the penis, for which reason Freud chose to call it the “Phallic Stage”[41]. While admitting the fact that, on the one hand, the woman’s clitoris may cause sexual pleasure in this phase as well, he also points out that the clitoris is the female organ biologically analogue to the masculine penis, for which reason calling the stage the phallic one is still reasonable in his opinion.[42]

With the age of six, the “Phallic Stage” finally opens out into the “Latency Period”, in which sexual energy is channelled into social relationships and the assembly of a defence against all forms of sexuality, due to the dilemma of the Oedipus- or the Electra-Complex.

Puberty finally sets an end to the distinguishable phases of psychosexual development. The time onwards, including puberty itself, is simply called the “Genital Phase” in which the previously repressed sexual impulses reoccur, being aimed at persons of the other sex, mainly in the individual’s circle of friends. The target of sexuality has finally changed to reproduction.

II Practical Part

Having introduced the reader to the most vital ideal and theories of Psychoanalysis, the next logical step is its practical application. The idea is to psychoanalytically interpret Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Psychopath”, for this poem perfectly suits the demands of a psychoanalytically interesting piece of literature.

An approach to literature by means of Psychoanalysis is always problematic, as it seems impossible to fully understand a text without deeper knowledge of its author’s childhood and life, his earlier literature and the circumstances that led to the writing of the text in question. First of all, the Analyst has to decide what the aim of the work should be: to analyse the author, the text or both.

This assignment is only meant to show the reader some fundamental mechanisms of Psychoanalysis and their application on a literary text. It would unquestionably be inadequate for its objective to collect background-information of the author in the dimension described above. The reader will therefore only shortly be introduced to the author’s life and the interpretation will be given priority. It is not intended to analyse the author, consequently analysis will be limited to the text itself.

II.1 Short Biography of C. A. Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy, British freelance writer, was born 23 December 1955, in Glasgow, Scotland. She has four younger brothers. When she was five years old, her father, Frank Duffy, got a job as a fitter with English Electric and the family moved to Staffordshire. Her father was socially and politically active; he was even a Labour Party candidate in 1983 and he also managed Stafford Football Club in his spare time.

Carol Ann Duffy attended St Austin Roman Catholic Primary School, Stafford from 1962 to 1967. In the following three years she was at St Joseph's convent school in the same city. From 1970 to 1974 she went to Stafford High School for girls.[43] When she was 16 she fell in love with the 39-year-old Liverpool poet Adrian Henri. She had her first pamphlet of poems, Fleshweathercock, published by Outposts in 1973 when she was 18. One year later she went to Liverpool University to be near to Adrian Henri and left it in 1977, completing her B.A. in philosophy. In the following years she worked for Granada Television until she moved to London in 1981 where she lived until 1995. In the early 1980s she took up freelance writing, and she held a C. Day Lewis Fellowship which enabled her to work as a writer in residence in East End schools between 1982 and 1984. She encouraged younger poets on Arvon Foundation courses. It was on one of these courses where she met her future partner, Jackie Kay.

She has been poetry editor of the literary magazine Ambit since 1983, written several plays for radio and stage and won numerous prizes such as the first prize in the national poetry competition sponsored by the BBC in 1983, the Eric Gregory Award from the British Society of Authors in 1984 and the first prize in the Peterloo Poets competition in 1986.[44] In 1995 she gave birth to her daughter Ella. Four Years later Carol was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Letters and she was widely regarded as a leading contender for an exciting new "people's" Poet Laureate which made her into a very public figure. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Tony Blair evidently did not like the idea of promoting a homosexual woman and opted for a less adventurous candidate, namely Andrew Motion.[45]

She currently resides in Manhattan with her partner, Jackie Kay, where she is working as a university professor.

II.2 Short Summary of “Psychopath”

The poem “Psychopath”, from C. A. Duffy’s collection of poems “Selling Manhattan (1987), is about a fairground worker, called Jack[46], who walked in on his mum and the rent man having sex when he was younger. Jack has treated women badly ever since and has recently killed and raped a local girl. He dumped her body in the canal after the incident, but it is debatable as to whether the murder or the rape was carried out first. Jack is depicted as a “Psychopath”, unable to cope with his childhood dilemmas.

The poem consists of eight stanzas, has no rhyme but is full of both hidden and open metaphors and uses the dramatic monologue, a specialty[47] of C. A. Duffy’s writings, to create a genuine, disturbing atmosphere. Jack’s hairstyle and the song “Johnny remember me”[48] as well as the reference to Ruth Ellis[49] in the last paragraph clearly indicate that the story is set in the late 50s.

II.3 Unusual vocabulary and phrases

As the text is rather difficult, the reader will be provided with explanations for the most complicated passages of the text before entering a deeper interpretational level. Even the advanced learner or a native speaker may come across some things that seem odd or not understandable. The following list includes the most important items.

II.3.1 The “D.A.”, Jimmy Dean and “Johnny, Remember Me”

“I run my metal comb through the D.A. […]”[50] – The D.A. is an abbreviation for the “duck’s arse”, a colloquial name for a very popular haircut in the 1950s. It was also called “Duck’s Butt”, but as politeness called for a better name, “Ducktail” was invented. Illustration 3 shows Henry Winkler, wearing a ducktail. It is now very important to understand that the ducktail was much more than only a haircut:

The ducktail hair style contributed to the term "greasers." To accomplish this look, lots of hair grease was required to hold the hair in place. […] Of course, "real men" did not use sprays anyway.

To insure that the hair was just so, the wearer often touched up the DA many times during the day by running his greased comb through it.[51]

The image in this citation is a good depiction of Jack or the way he would like to be.

In line 3, Jack mentions “Jimmy Dean”[52] to describe the situation and his feelings. Dean was both an actor and a musician who also owned a sausage brand.[53] As an actor he holds “connotations of misunderstood, violent adolescence”[54] which is again very telling for the construction of a better image of Jack.

Later in the first paragraph he tells the reader that “the air sang Johnny, Remember Me.” This song by John Leyton from the year 1961 foreshadows the death of the girl since it deals with the loss of a beloved person.[55]

II.3.2 Woodbine, Ruth Ellis, gin-and-lime, Awopbopaloobop alopbimbam

“My reflection sucks a sour Woodbine”[56] – Here we can only reasonably guess what a Woodbine is. The first idea would of course be a sour kind of wine. But a research on the internet did not reveal any wine of such name. The more reasonable possibility is a whisky brand. Whisky sour is a very common drink and as there actually is a Whisky of that name[57] we will assume Woodbine to be a whisky.

“[…] a dead ringer for Ruth Ellis […]”[58] – Ruth Ellis was the last woman who had to face death penalty in Great Britain. She died in 1955, convicted for having murdered her boyfriend David Blakely. Ellis owned a bar, where she also got to know her lover. She is “portrayed as the victim of a cruel boyfriend who abused her” and “[i]t was known that she had suffered a miscarriage 10 days before the crime, after Blakely had punched her in the stomach.”[59] Illustration 4 shows a photo of her. She was a 28 year-old blonde and attractive girl.

“Over in the corner, a dead ringer for Ruth Ellis smears a farewell kiss on the lip of a gin-and-lime.”[60] – Gin-and-lime was the preferred tonic of the British navy,[61] therefore it is either possible that the narrator means a navy soldier or just somebody who recently ordered a gin-and-lime.

“Awopbopaloobop alopbimbam”[62] is a slightly distorted reproduction of the 1956 song “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, the correct beginning of which would have been “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom”.[63] Therefore, Jack’s exclamation is not necessarily a sign of mental disturbance, but an indicator for his feelings. He has drunk enough to twist the songs lyrics, but nevertheless he really feels cool. This is underlined by the previous sentences.

II.4 Analysis

As the most complicated pictures and references have now been clarified, the analysis itself can be carried out. We will first approach the story in a linear way and afterwards draw further psychoanalytical conclusions that concern the text as a whole.

Since this chapter only deals with the poem itself, in-text-citations will be used and the lines referred to will simply be given in brackets.

II.4.1 Linear Approach

The first two lines of the poem give us an idea what the first person narrator looks like and introduce us to his character. Although his name is not mentioned until line 50, he will from now on be referred to as ‘Jack’. He wears a ducktail[64], shining shoes that “scud sparks against the night” (4) and, as we will learn later in the text, also a leather jacket (cf. 14). As Burton’s is a men’s clothes shop, the dummies in the shop windows will doubtlessly be good looking and masculine. The fact that he “pose[s] [his] reflection between” (2) them tell the reader he thinks of himself as being a real man. His ideas of manliness are further revealed when he refers to the actor “Jimmy Dean”[65] (3) and tells the reader he feels “like a king” (6) when he has a “good-looking girl” (5) by his side. The fact that “she is in the canal” (4) does not seem to have much importance for him since he only remarks it by the way. Her death is satirically foreshadowed by the air, singing “Johnny, Remember Me” (5-6), exactly like the wind does in the original song by John Leyton.[66] Her riding a wooden horse may also be a first hint to Jack’s childhood.

The second stanza introduces the reader to the way Jack deals with girls. As he seems to be a fairground worker[67], he has lots of possibilities to come into contact with people. Apparently, Jack considers himself to be somebody else: he mentions Marlon “Brando” in line ten and uses the word as a substitute for a real explanation of what he feels like or what he is doing. The actor Marlon Brando is very similar to Jimmy Dean, who in fact tried to copy him.[68] He is known to be a womanizer and he exactly represents the kind of man Jack wants to be. Jack thinks he could have any woman he wants. For him they are objects. He just has to “woo them with goldfish and coconuts, whispers in the Tunnel of Love” (12-13), and they will “blush like candyfloss” (12) and fall for him. But he can only be like this when he wears his leather jacket, because when he “zip[s] up the leather, [he is] in a new skin” (14). Both his vanity and his exaggerated self-confidence are expressed in the arrogant sentence “Some little lady’s going to get lucky tonight” (15-16).

In this paragraph we learn that Jack “move[s] from place to place” with some other people he refers to as “we” (17). Taking into consideration that Jack talked about a “fairground” in line eleven, it is most probable that he is a fairground worker. His obsessive behaviour towards women seems to be shared partially by his colleagues or friends, because he tells the reader that every time they reach a new place, the “local girls” (18) “wear [their] lovebites on their neck” (19) when they leave. He considers himself an expert concerning women’s needs (cf. 19-20) which is of course untrue. It looks as if his way of approaching a woman is always the same because when he tells the reader that his girl said “No […], Don’t” (24), he adds “like they always do” (24). He also buys every girl a goldfish, or at least it seems so, because the fish appears three times in the poem (cf. 13, 30, 38), referring to at least two different women.

The fourth paragraph goes back to Jack’s childhood, when he was twelve (25). His first sexual encounter happened with a girl he calls “Dirty Alice” (25). When she “flicked [his] dick out”, “[s]he jeered” and “used [his hand]” instead (25-29), probably because his penis was too small at that time. The use of the derogatory attribute ‘dirty’ indicates his anger on Alice.

“A town like this would kill me.” (33) – With this comment, Jack expresses his disapproval of the city he is currently staying in. Ironically it is not this town that killed him, but it is him that killed a part of this town. But the paragraph is not about the killing, yet. It simply articulates Jacks indifference. He does not care that he is good-looking, lucky and intelligent (cf. 34-35). He simply does what he likes and that way throws away his talents. The only thing he wants seems to be sex, but as the girl rejects him (36), he gets brutal. He mentions that a “dog craps by a lamp post” (40). This may be interpreted in many ways: either he wants to emphasize his indifference towards his brutality and that way stress his manliness or he really does not care about what is happening because it is already perfectly normal for him.

The sixth stanza is a very important one as it clarifies why Jack has always treated women badly: when he was younger, he walked in on his mother and the landlord (cf. 45) having sex. This experience traumatised him. He felt as though “[t]he sky slammed down on [his] school cap” (43) and henceforth hated his mother (cf. 41) for this experience. Not being able to keep his hatred to himself he transfered it on his general attitude towards women (cf. 44.), which also resulted in the killing of the girl from the fairground who is now “in the canal” (46). He is totally unable to trust women anymore, so they have to suffer in compensation for his emotional uncertainty.

The next paragraph describes the killing and the rape and can therefore be considered the most important part of the poem. “No, don’t. Imagine. One thump did, then I was on her, giving her everything I had. Jack the Lad, Ladies’ Man.” (49-50). – Jack makes fun of the girl’s sexual refusal, making her look stupidly helpless and diminishing his brutality to something normal. This is nothing more but addictive, sadistic, malicious joy; Jack’s reaction to his childhood trauma from the sixth stanza. However, the cited passage also reveals his schizophrenia: he seemingly enjoys his temporarily repaired manhood so much that he feels as if he was “in a new skin”, exactly as in the second stanza, line 14, and he gives this feeling the name “Jack the Lad, Ladies’ Man” (51). Nevertheless, he shows small but noteworthy signs of a bad conscience. Firstly, he tries to blame the girl for his thumping her for the reason that it would have been easier for her “to say Yes” (51). That way he admits that there is guilt which has to be assigned to somebody, even though it is her and not him. And secondly he thinks she did not yet deserve death (cf. 55), making the deed “[a] right-well knackered outragement” (56). His use of the anaphora “Easier to” (51) links the two sentences in line 51 which would otherwise not have been the case. At this point of the poem, the reader would still link any childhood-allusion to Jack’s past, but as the first sentence clearly refers to the girl, the passage establishes a link between him and her. Jack longs for a second chance – he wants to be a child again, being given the opportunity to start from zero and reconstruct himself, preventing his downfall which he describes as the “helter-skelter”[69] (52). But as he tells us only in the next line, “[y]ou get one chance in this life and if you screw it, you’re done for” (53-54). This tells us that he has resigned to his fate – to be a psychopath.

Having thought about all this, Jack buys himself a drink (cf. 57), his “reflection” now being a separated part of him, addressed as a second person. Considering that this reflection drinks “a sour Woodbine” (57) already, also known as a Whisky-Sour, Jack will by all probability get drunk. His monologue now changes into a paranoid soliloquy when he speaks to himself: “Here’s looking at you. Deep down I’m talented” (57-58). His encounter with the girl he just killed seems to occupy his thoughts, making him feel uneasy, and he tries to relax by reminding himself of his good talents. The point that annoys him most seems to be that “[s]he found out” (58) about his good core and tried to “mess” with him by means of saying things like “I’m not that type” (36) and “No, don’t” (49). His situation is comparable to that of “Ruth Ellis”[70] (60), but in this case he is the murderer. When the “barman calls Time” (61) he is torn out of this train of thoughts. He is “Jack the Lad” (50) again for whom “the world’s [his] fucking oyster” (64). His mood swaps from brooding to sky-high rejoicing and he sings along with the Tutti-Frutti-Song: “Awopbopaloobop alopbimbam”[71] (64).

II.4.2 Psychoanalytical Approach

At this point the reader should have both an idea of the poem’s most essential ideas and a basic knowledge of Freud’s Psychoanalysis. The following paragraph will now try to apply the psychoanalytic principles on the poem and explain the psychological background of the first person narrator, Jack.

- As we have already found out in the linear analysis, Jack has serious mental problems. Since he does not mention a father throughout the whole text[72], we can suppose, that he lacked one. Therefore, according to the Freudian psychosexual development theory, he was unable to overcome his Oedipus-complex in the phallic stage, which would mean that he did not develop a Super-Ego in the way a normal boy would: he did not incorporate his father’s values and ideas and kept loving his mother. He stuck to the Pleasure-Principle because the Id forced him to and he had no possibility to learn and control it.

This explains a lot of things: firstly, when he saw another man, the “Rent Man” (sixth stanza), possessing his mother, he was shocked because he realised that he could never possess her. This shock made him hate her and it also explains his morbid urge to possess and control women. Secondly, his striving for a masculine identity can also be explained by means of his Oedipus-complex: Jimmy Dean (line 3) and Marlon Brando (line 10) represent his substitute father-figures. They were of course no adequate substitutes because their films could only provide a shallow image of what he thought their ideas and values would be. For this reason his Super-Ego did not reach a state of maturity and neither did Jack. He is partly aware of this fact because he says in line 51 that he considers it “[e]asier to stay a child”. Exactly which stage he is stuck in can be deciphered from the juxtapositions Jack makes throughout the text: he talks of “sex, gratuitous cruelty and excrement”[73], the latter being referred to in line 40 when he sees “[a] dog [crap] by a lamp post”. These are characteristics of the Sadistic-Anal Stage.

The poem tells us another very important memory of Jack’s: his sexual encounter with “Dirty Alice” (line 25) in the spinney. As we do not know at what age exactly he had the encounter with his mother and the Rent Man, we can also not know if it was before or after he met Alice. His wearing a school cap (line 43) tells us he was a pupil, but he supposedly still went to school “when [he] was twelve” (line 25-26). Only one thing do we know for sure: she was a second woman that had power over him and rejected his wish to possess her the way he wanted. What is more, she even jeered (line 26) when she saw his dick and contributed to his hatred concerning women. The girl from the fairground was the third woman that rejected him, but this time he had the power to have her even against her will. And as he did so, she had to take the punishment as a substitute for both his mother and Alice. That led to his killing. When he later realised that he had found a loophole for his feelings, he heard a “Bang in the centre of [his] skull [and felt] a strange coolness.” (line 61-62) The only problem is that he will have forgotten about all of this “tomorrow” (line 63). Psychoanalytically speaking he represses it and in that way puts it out of reach for a real mental work-up.

Considering the things that have been said so far, one comes to the conclusion that Jack’s Id has full control over him, and his deep-down talents (line 58), meaning his Super-Ego, have never been developed properly. He is stuck in the Sadistic-Anal Phase and may kill again, since his problems are not dealt with. Without the help of a psychoanalyst he is “done for, […] no mistake.” (line 53) And this is what makes him a “Psychopath”.

III Conclusion

The story of the poem has proven to be an adequate object for psychoanalysis and although many images and metaphors in the poem are still unravelled, the aim of this assignment has been reached: the reader should now have experienced how the principles of the Freudian theories can be practically applied on a piece of literature. Nevertheless, the profit of this method is uncertain: it is doubtful whether Carol Ann Duffy really created the protagonist by means of Psychoanalysis which would imply that the interpreted facts could carry a completely different meaning. For example, she possibly chose the masculine perspective in the poem because she wanted to show how overcome the accepted masculine stereotypes are and how little space there is between an overemphasised “real man” and a “Psychopath”. There are lots of other possible approaches to a literary text. But in my opinion, this is exactly what literature intends: to be unique for every reader and for every approach.

There are some things the reader can learn from the poem: every one of us only has one childhood and if we “screw it” (line 53), we may end up with serious mental or emotional problems.

We should keep that in mind when we take care of the next generation, be it professionally or in private. Yet we just should not exaggerate it by putting too much weight on psychological matters. The Polish aphorist Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once put it this way: “I dreamt of Freud. What does that mean?”[74]

IV Bibliography

Primary literature:

Duffy, Carol Ann. “Psychopath.” 20th-Century Poetry & Poetics: Fourth Edition. Ed. Gary Geddes. Oxford, New York et. al.: Oxford UP Canada, 1996. 649-651.

Secondary literature:

"Bertha Pappenheim - Wikipedia." Wikimedia Foundation. 17 July 2005. 6 July 2005. <>.

“Carol Ann Duffy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 11 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

Clark, Ronald W. Sigmund Freud. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1981.

“CuisineNet: Gin & Tonics.” Julie Besonen. 20 May 2001. 25 July 2005. <>.

“Ducktail – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 16 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

Freud, Sigmund. Abriß der Psychoanalyse: Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch 1972.

„Freud, Sigmund.“ Microsoft Encarta Enzyklopädie Professional 2005. Microsoft Corporation, 2004.

Hamburger, Andreas. “Der Traum“. Schlüsselbegriffe der Psychoanalyse. Ed. Wolfang Mertens. Stuttgart: Verlag Internationaler Psychoanalyse, 1993. 185-190.

Köhler, Thomas. Anti-Freud-Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis heute: zur wissenschaftlichen Fundierung von Psychoanalyse-Kritik. Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln: Kohlhammer, 1996.

---. Freuds Psychoanalyse: Eine Einführung. Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln: Kohlhammer, 1995.

Jacobs, Michael. Sigmund Freud. London, Newbury Park, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992.

“Jimmy Dean – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 19 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

“john leyton lyrics.” Gaz. 11 November 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

“Knitting Circle Carol Ann Duffy.” South Bank University. 5 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

„Marlon Brando Biography – Film and Award List – Trivia Quiz.“ Courtney Gable. 25 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

“MISCELLANEOUS DISTILLERS.” 26 October 2004. 25. July 2005. <>.

“Ruth Ellis.” Richard Clark. 7 September 2004. 25 July 2005. <>.

“Ruth Ellis.” Stephen Stratford. 5 November 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

Schöpf, Alfred. “Das Unbewußte”. Schlüsselbegriffe der Psychoanalyse. Ed. Wolfang Mertens. Stuttgart: Verlag Internationaler Psychoanalyse, 1993. 151-159.

“Stanislaw Jerzy Lec – Wikiquote.” Wikimedia Foundation. 24 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

“Title.” Claire McEwan. 1 July 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

“Tutti Frutti (song).” Wikimedia Foundation. 22 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

IV.1 List of Illustrations

Illustration 1: S. Freud

Microsoft Encarta Enzyklopädie Professional 2005. “Sigmund Freud”.

Illustration 2: The mental apparatus – Freud’s idea of the processes inside a human mind

“Der psychische Apparat nach Sigmund Freud.” Wikimedia Foundation. <>.

Illustration 3: D.A.

“The Fonz aka Henry Winkler with a "Ducktail".” Wikimedia Foundation. <>.

Illustration 4: Ruth Ellis

“ruth.” Richard Clark. <>.


[1] Cf. Köhler, Thomas. Anti-Freud-Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis heute: zur wissenschaftlichen Fundierung von Psychoanalyse-Kritik. Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln: Kohlhammer, 1996.

[2] Clark, Ronald W. Sigmund Freud. (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1981) 13.

[3] Köhler, Thomas. Freuds Psychoanalyse: Eine Einführung. (Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln: Kohlhammer, 1995) 10.

[4] Ibid.

[5] „Freud, Sigmund.“ Microsoft Encarta Enzyklopädie Professional 2005. Microsoft Corporation, 2004.

[6] Köhler, Psychoanalyse 10.

[7] Clark 70.

[8] Jacobs, Michael. Sigmund Freud. (London, Newbury Park, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992) 10.

[9] Jacobs 10-11.

[10] Clark 94.

[11] “Zur Auffassung der Aphasien”, published in 1891.

[12] Her real name was Bertha Pappenheim.

[13] It was predated to the year 1900 but already published at the end of 1899.

[14] Not taking into consideration his unfinished „Kurzer Abriss der Psychoanalyse“.

[15] Qtd. in Clark 592-593.

[16] Jacobs 30.

[17] Qtd in Jacobs 30.

[18] Jacobs 31.

[19] Qtd. in Jacobs 31.

[20] Schöpf, Alfred. “Das Unbewußte”. Schlüsselbegriffe der Psychoanalyse. (Ed. Wolfang Mertens. Stuttgart: Verlag Internationaler Psychoanalyse, 1993. 151-159.) 153.

[21] Jacobs 31.

[22] Köhler, Psychoanalyse 26.

[23] Qtd. in Jacobs 33.

[24] Hamburger, Andreas. “Der Traum“. Schlüsselbegriffe der Psychoanalyse. (Ed. Wolfang Mertens. Stuttgart: Verlag Internationaler Psychoanalyse, 1993. 185-190.) 185.

[25] Jacobs 33.

[26] Hamburger, Der Traum 189.

[27] Köhler, Psychoanalyse 29.

[28] Jacobs 34.

[29] Köhler, Psychoanalyse 29.

[30] Köhler 45.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Köhler 46.

[33] Jacobs 57.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Qtd. in Jacobs 58.

[36] Freud, Sigmund. Abriß der Psychoanalyse: Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch 1972.) 11.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Freud 16.

[39] Ibid.

[40] The term “Electra-Complex” was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung.

[41] Freud 16.

[42] Freud 16-17.

[43] “Knitting Circle Carol Ann Duffy.” South Bank University. 5 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[44] Geddes, Gary, ed. 20th-Century Poetry & Poetics: Fourth Edition. (Oxford, New York et. al: Oxford UP Canada 1996). 643-644.

[45] “Carol Ann Duffy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 11 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[46] Cf. line 50 of the poem.

[47] Geddes 644.

[48] See II.3.1

[49] See II.3.2

[50] Geddes 649.

[51] “Ducktail – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 16 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[52] Geddes 649.

[53] “Jimmy Dean – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikimedia Foundation. 19 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[54] “Title.” Claire McEwan. 1 July 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

[55] Cf. “john leyton lyrics.” Gaz. 11 November 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

[56] Geddes 651.


[58] Ibid.

[59] “Ruth Ellis.” Richard Clark. 7 September 2004. 25 July 2005. <>.

[60] Geddes 651.

[61] Cf. “CuisineNet: Gin & Tonics.” Julie Besonen. 20 May 2001. 25 July 2005. <>.

[62] Geddes 651.

[63] “Tutti Frutti (song).” Wikimedia Foundation. 22 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[64] See II.3.1

[65] See II.3.1

[66] See II.3.1

[67] This will get clearer in the next stanza.

[68] Cf. „Marlon Brando Biography – Film and Award List – Trivia Quiz.“ Courtney Gable. 25 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.

[69] Here, the choice of words also refers to Jack’s profession: a “helter-skelter” is also known as “a tall tower at a fair, with a path that winds around it from top to bottom and down which people slide on mats.” (Oxford ALD. “Helter-skelter”.)

[70] See II.3.2

[71] See II.3.2

[72] “The old man” who “sloped off, sharpish” in line 41-42 may have been his father, but if he was, he did not fill out his role. To “slope off” when his wife was having sex with the Rent Man reduces him to a very weak person, probably unable to educate his son properly.

[73] Qtd. in “Title.” Claire McEwan. 1 July 2003. 25 July 2005. <>.

[74] “Stanislaw Jerzy Lec – Wikiquote.” Wikimedia Foundation. 24 July 2005. 25 July 2005. <>.


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Theory Application Sigmund Freud Psychoanalysis Interpreting Carol Duffy Psychopath Cultural Theory”




Titel: Theory and Application of Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis - Interpreting Carol Ann Duffy's 'Psychopath'