Poe and Psychoanalytic Criticism

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The School of Psychoanalytic Criticism
“The Cask of Amontillado” and its author Edgar Allan Poe are excellent references for applying psychoanalytic interpretations to an author and his work. Psychoanalytic criticism uses a Freudian theory of a three level psyche, the ego, the super-ego, and the id to gain a better understanding of the deeper or hidden meaning within literature and an understanding of the psychological identity of the author, the characters or the reader.

Freud theorized that our psyche has three levels. The ego is the rational part of our psyche known as the consciousness. The super-ego is the part of our psyche that is dictated by the values of first our parents and then later society known as the conscience. The id is the part of our psyche that contains all of our desires and proclivities. The id motivates our actions in an instinctive manner known as the unconscious. Poe illustrates the levels of the psyche metaphorically through the character narrator Montresor of “The Cask of Amontillado”. An example of the ego is shown through Montresors ability to act rationally while planning his revenge, “I continued as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation” (Poe 56). In the streets of the city Montresor is the portrait of a caring friend to Fortunato. As they make their journey down from the city deep into the catacombs Montresor becomes more taunting and sinister. This is a metaphor that a psychoanalytic critic could interpret as the character traveling through his psyche from the ego to the id, where Freud believed all our unresolved conflicts, unadmitted desires, or past traumatic events lay hidden or repressed (Barry 92).

According to Barry psychoanalytic critics try to find the unconscious motives of the characters and of the author using classic Freudian conditions such as the Oedipus complex, whereby Feud says the male infant wishes to eliminate the father...
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