Washington Square in Psychoanalytic Criticism

One of Criticism in Henry James’ Washington Square using Psychoanalytic Theory – In such a place in America namely Washington Square, there is a story of family’s conflicts between the characters’ cauterisation towards their feeling. There are three essential characters, the young heiress Catherine Sloper, her father and her handsome and plausible suitor, though all the way through the novel a fourth character, Catherine’s aunt Mrs Penniman who tries to steal a slice of the action in drama through her imagination.

The plot of the novel is simple. Catherine is the only child of her father, a rich and successful doctor. She is courted by a charming, penniless young man who is at once assumed by Dr Sloper to be a fortune hunter, largely on the spurious grounds that Catherine is so stupid and unattractive that her suitor must have an ulterior motive. The doctor premises are faulty, but, his conclusion is correct; Morris Townsend is indeed a fortune hunter. The girl, torn between erotic and filial love, and tries to win her father over demonstrate her lover’s good faith by gentle, patient capacity to wait.

As one character in Washington Square, she cannot detached from other dominant character, Mrs Lavinia Penniman, who had neurotic symptom which called as delirium. Lavinia’s delirium is an impact of the conflict between three systems of mind they are the id, the ego, and the superego. Between the three elements of id, ego, and superego, the id becomes the dominant. The influence of id in Lavinia Penniman automatically shapes her into a peculiar character. She lives in her world, the world that created from her fantasies and imaginations. However, her fantasies that appears for satisfying her eager to channel her passion is unable to be satisfied in her real life.

Furthermore, hence, the conclusion in Washington Square Novel based on psychoanalytic criticism in 
psychological trouble that called as delirium:

  • In Washington Square, the eccentric and overly dramatic Lavinia comes to live with Dr. Sloper and his daughter, Catherine, not long after Dr. Sloper becomes a widower. Aunt Penniman functions as Catherine’s mother and when Catherine reaches late adolescence, aunt Penniman beings entertaining notion of Catherine meeting a young man, Morris, and embarking upon some form of romantic adventure. In this case, her neurotic symptom, delirium, influenced all the characters towards their relationships.

  • The neurotic symptom’s delirium is experienced by one of the characters in the novel, Lavinia Penniman. She is the character who has excessively imaginative, unrealistic, eccentric, and melodramatic attitudes. Her consciousness, cognition for thinking, reasoning and perception seemly, may have trouble towards reality. She brought her strange attitudes, behaviours and thoughts in order to entertaining herself into her romantic adventure. As a psychotic who had delirium disturbance, she could not differentiate between reality and imagination. In her personality, the ego cannot be controlling, governing with the external world and her ego is not able to tolerate the tension in order to have normal mental behaviour. However, her attitudes, then, influenced another characters towards their relationships. Mrs. Penniman invented the idea of Morris and Catherine failing in love and realized this as best she could, all the while imagining herself as the ‘manager’ or director of a ‘drama’. In Mrs. Penniman’s world, truth is beauty and beauty is relative. Mrs. Penniman does not distinguish between shades of possibility or desirability. She prefers ‘first meeting’ and ‘last partings’ and, once the end of the engagement is inevitable, Mrs. Penniman looks forward to this as well, so long as there is ‘drama’. However, as the novel progress and Catherine reached the maturation of her awareness of Penniman’s scenario, she makes the disobediences against her delirium.

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