An Analysis of Ambrosio’s Sexual Pathology in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk
Matthew Lewis’ The Monk documents the spiritual and emotional disintegration and demise of Ambrosio, the esteemed abbot of the Capuchins who falls prey to demonic manipulation and worldly temptation, leaving behind him a trail of destruction including rape, incest, and murder. The basic tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis can be applied to adequately interpret the psychosexuality exhibited by Ambrosio in the novel. Specifically, Freud’s tripartite model of the human psyche and its relation to the theory of the Oedipus Complex can be successfully applied to understand the sexual pathology of Ambrosio. In this paper, I argue that a lack of maternal presence in infancy coupled with a repressive and secluded monastic upbringing fostered an abnormal psychosexuality in Ambrosio, resulting from an unresolved Oedipus complex which lead to his progression of increasingly violent behavior towards women and his ultimate self-destruction. First, it is necessary to discuss the principle tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis in order to effectively apply them to Ambrosio’s psychopathology. Freud held that an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors result from the interaction of the id, the superego, and the ego, which comprise the Freudian tripartite model of the human psyche. The normal development of this psychological division depends on the successful dissolution of the Oedipus Complex, the theory that a young child develops sexual desires for the mother and resentment of the father but eventually dissolves the impulse by interacting with the real world and recognizing societal conventions and taboos. The unsuccessful repression of the Oedipus complex, according to Freud, will gradually resurface in several displaced and abnormal ways throughout the individual’s life. According to Freud, the id is comprised of one’s instinctual and impulsive desires such as sexual urges and the desire for power. The id is primarily driven by the libido, or sexual energy and employs the pleasure principle in which immediate gratification of one’s sexual or otherwise desires is paramount and disregards any consequences of its gratification. The other instinct of the id is characterized by the desire for aggression or violence employed to eliminate perceived threats to one’s life, power, social status, and the like. The superego lies on the opposite end of the spectrum and is defined as one’s moral consciousness, cultivated by social conventions and taboos often learned during childhood. It enforces its values and morals by conjuring up guilt and self-reproach in attempt to direct one’s lifestyle toward the ideal goals instilled by society. The ego, or the conscious sense of self that experiences the external world through the senses, acts as the voice of reason, mediating between the desires of the id and the restraints of the superego. Freud represented the ego as constantly struggling to defend itself “from the external world, from libido of the id, and from the severity of the superego” (Freud 716). The ego often employs a variety of defense mechanisms to mediate between the id and superego, the most important of which is repression.
Ambrosio’s pathology can be characterized as a conflict between the id and the superego, driven by an unresolved Oedipus complex, overactive superego, and underdeveloped ego, which resulted from several external factors. First, Ambrosio’s Oedipus complex became severely repressed during his childhood because of his secluded monastic upbringing which itself warrants further investigation. It is told that at the age of two he was left at the abbey door and “was educated in the monastery where he has remained ever since” (7). The monastic life has imposed on him the ideal moral standard and the “monks, who find their count in the favor which is shewn to their establishment from respect to him, have not hesitated to publish, that he is a present...
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