Individuation and A World Elsewhere

Interpreting a text through literary lens can often yield some pretty interesting, yet almost assuredly unintentional parallels with various ideologies and schools of thought. I chose to look at A World Elsewhere through a psychoanalytic lens for a presentation in English class recently. My focus for the presentation was Carl Jung‘s theory of Individuation, explained in the video above. In case anybody is interested, my analysis of the text through a psychoanalytic lens can be found below.

What is the text trying to communicate?

The novel is essentially an insight on the development of individuality. The various characters struggle with what it means to be an individual as they try to reconcile the often conflicting facets of their identities. The most obvious example of this “quest for individuality” would be Landish. He struggles with the idea of succession and of being the sole heir to the Druken name, as well as his own desire to forge his own path through life. Jung would refer to this process as Individuation: the development of the individual Self.

Landish and Deacon

Although Landish and Deacon, being the protagonists, are the most fully developed characters in the novel, neither of them feels complete without the other. In a sense, if you were to read two different books, one focusing solely on Landish and the other on Deacon, you would most likely come to the conclusion that they are both incomplete. Landish and Deacon complement each other and could very well be considered as being one entity. The reason their relationship is so strong is because one cannot exist without the other: they share an unbreakable bond.

This bond could be seen as being akin to the relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds. Although they are separate, the human psyche would not be as we know it were it to consist of one and not the other. tripartite-personality

Landish could be considered as the unconscious portion of the mind, whilst Deacon could be considered as the conscious portion of the mind. Landish is much bigger in stature then the undersized Deacon, and he often carries Deacon on his shoulders. This could very well allude to Sigmund Freud’s iconic iceberg diagram. In fact, Landish is often driven by his primal desires: he likes to keep the neighbourhood courtesans company and he usually proceeds with bold, sometimes criminal acts to get what he wants. Landish’s Super-Ego (morality) and Ego (reality), as the diagram suggests, also kick in from time to time to repress his Id (pleasure). Deacon’s actions however are usually reasonable and moral. He, as the conscious, tries to suppress the primal desires of the unconscious with reason and morality. Although, because the unconscious (Landish) directly influences the conscious, Deacon is sometimes overtaken by the desire to do something characteristically irrational (such as his decision to enter the lake near Vanderland). The unconscious also has a lot of influence on the conscious, which is perfectly mirrored by the respective sizes of Landish and Deacon.

Jungian Archetypes

  • The Animus: the male component of the unconscious. Captain Druken’s seal hat could be seen as being Landish/Deacon’s Animus. It is quite emblematic of masculinity in general. The seal fur could represent strength and the victory of the strong (man) over the weak (seals). It is also a direct product of the destruction of life; a remnant of a formerly living, breathing organism. Landish’s Super-Ego causes him to reject the profession his father lead as he simply cannot live a life that revolves around the destruction of life. However, because power and violence are so intrinsically linked to the concept of masculinity and his own identity, his primal desires make him cling to Captain Druken’s hat.
  • The Anima: the female component of the unconscious. Gen of Eve (the painting) could be seen as being Landish/Deacon’s Anima. It is not only a symbol of femininity, but also of fertility; or the creation of life. Landish holds his mother in much higher esteem than his father because of her ability to nurture life. He attempts to do the same thing with Deacon by being both a mother and father to the boy, albeit with mixed results. The Anima directly opposes the Animus.
  • The Persona (Mask): what we wish others to perceive us as. Deacon’s innocence and charm could very well represent Landish/Deacon’s persona. Landish’s biting wit doesn’t make him a very likable fellow, whereas Deacon receives nothing but sympathy and goodwill from others (such as the articles of clothing they receive on the ship). Alternatively, Landish’s wit and strength could be the persona. He might just be using his intelligence and his strength as a cover for his innermost fears.
  • The Shadow: what we wish to hide from others. Landish’s repressed weaknesses and fears (conflicted identity, abandonment, succession, failure) could represent Landish/Deacon’s shadow.

What does this all mean?

Landish’s progress throughout the novel is indicative of Individuation: all of the various fragments of the conscious and unconscious come together to form one whole individual. At the closing of the novel, his relationship with Deacon becomes stronger than ever, he manages to keep the seal hat and Gen of Eve in his possession, and he is finally able to start writing his book.

Landish (the unconscious) comes to terms with his animus, anima and shadow. He realizes that, although Captain Druken had fathered him, he does not have to match up to him or rise up to any challenge he may have left for him in death. He puts aside all of the contempt and animosity he had harboured for his “father” all his life, and, in doing so, he is finally able to pursue his writing career. Writing ceases to be his defiant stand in the face of his “father’s” harsh disapproval, and instead becomes something he truly enjoys. The seal hat, once the embodiment of his “father’s” control over him, loses the significance it once had for him. With his animus in check, his anima takes on a bigger role.

The love and adoration that his mother had shown him as a child renews his life with a sense of purpose. His mother was the one that raised him: through her endearing love and her strong will, she nurtured his creative spirit and his compassion. Through his anima, he realizes that his life does not have to be centered around the taking of life, but can instead be geared towards the nurturing of life.

Deacon (the conscious) is therefore his life’s work: his ultimate purpose. Overcoming all of his identity issues allows him to become the guardian that Deacon needs. During their stay at Vanderland, he starts to suffer from terrible nightmares (psychoanalytical psychologists believe that dreams are windows into the unconscious) and Landish is unable to come to his aid. However, after they leave Vanderland and Landish reaffirms his love for him, Deacon’s nightmares stop. What this means is that the Deacon’s well being is directly linked to Landish’s mental state. Therefore, in order for the conscious to be healthy, the unconscious needs to be healthy as well.

The reaffirmation of their bond marks the point at which Individuation is achieved. Only after all of the different elements of the human psyche are in harmony with one another can the individual Self flourish.

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Captain Druken’s Hat

seal fur hatThe concept of succession and bloodlines is central to A World Elsewhere.

Landish, for example, constantly looks back on the lives that his parents lead and then compares them to his own. He refuses to follow in the footsteps of Captain Druken and become skipper of the Gilbert because he wants to dissociate himself from his father. He sees his father as being the ultimate embodiment of immorality and selfishness: Captain Druken killed a million seals in order to build up his reputation, and he sent Carson of the Gilbert to his doom in order to preserve his already considerable fortune. Landish wants to prove that he is different from his father, despite the Druken blood that runs through his veins (although we later learn that this is not the case). He wants to prove that rather than destroying life, he can nurture it.

This fuels his desire to write: he wants his characters to be meaningful and alive. However, he can never seem to write a sentence he is satisfied with, so, every night, he destroys the pages he has written. Landish also resorts to an act of charity by saving Deacon, perhaps the ultimate symbol of goodwill and virtue, from the orphanage. Of course, he proves to be a less than stellar father figure for the young boy, so he is never really able to fully redeem the evils of his father through his own actions.

Why is he so unsuccessful? Because of his pride. Just like his father, he is a proud man. All of his efforts to be a better man aren’t for the sake of making a positive and lasting contribution to society and to those around him, but merely for the sake of besting his father. It is out of pride that he attends Princeton, and tries to become a writer, and saves Deacon from the orphanage.

The seal hat that Landish receives from his father is a symbol of their rivalry and their contempt for one another: Captain Druken challenges his son to be a better and greater man than he was, and Landish, out of pride, readily accepts this undertaking. However, instead of being the enlightened and nurturing man he wanted to be, he instead becomes self-destructive and shameless, just like his father. His pride pushes him to endanger everything he holds dear in order to steal back the seal hat from Mr. Nobleman. Ironically, in stealing back the hat, Landish proves that the hat is exactly where it belongs. Druken blood or not, Landish is exactly like the man he called father for so long.

Lotus Land

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“Land of the Lotus Eaters” by Robert S. Duncanson

Perhaps Robert S. Duncanson’s most famous landscape painting, Land of the Lotus Eaters is based off of Alfred Tennyson’s poem, The Lotos-Eaters, which also inspires Landish and Van to call their club Lotus Land.

As Tennyson explains in his poem, Lotus Land is a haven for those that wish to free themselves from the troubles and torments of society; almost like “a world elsewhere”. Notice the dream-like quality of the painting? How pristine the water is, how upright the trees are, how bright the sky is? It’s quite similar to Van’s vision of Vanderland.

Tennyson describes the Land of the Lotus Eaters as being a self-destructive escape from reality. Since Van states on numerous occasions that it is his intention to have Vanderland become the spiritual successor of Lotus Land, it is quite clear that Wayne Johnston (the author) was alluding to the Land of the Lotus Eaters in his descriptions of Vanderland in his book.

A Brief Character Analysis – A World Elsewhere

[Spoilers Ahead!]

Landish Druken: Outlandish qualifies something as being foreign or belonging to another land. Landish therefore qualifies something as belonging to a land in particular.

Does that mean that Landish symbolizes Newfoundland? It’s quite possible, since he returns to Newfoundland several times during his time at Princeton, and he initially refuses stay with Van in Vanderland, preferring his place of birth. Deacon also clings to Landish constantly, and picks him over Van in the end. This further evinces that Landish represents Newfoundland, or home in general.

Landish is for the most part alone at the beginning of the novel. He loses his mother at a young age, his friendship with Van proves to be quite spiteful and artificial (as they spend their time denigrating their fellow Princeton class mates), and his father disowns him after he refuses to follow in his footsteps. His dissatisfaction with anything he writes could be attributed to this loneliness. He uses his wit to attack other people (as well as other fellow writers), but he can’t use it to write anything meaningful on paper. His life lacks any meaning or sense of purpose. He is (quite literally) a lost orphan trying to find his way. However, at the end of the novel, as he, Miss Esse and Deacon are leaving Vanderland with the intention of returning to Newfoundland, he is finally able to being writing his novel.

Deacon Carson Druken: A deacon is defined as “an ordained minister of an order ranking below that of priest” (Christianity). Religion is strongly associated with morality, and religious figures are often seen as being moral people. Therefore, Deacon could represent morality.

He often acts as Landish’s moral compass while Landish is “decks awash”.

Deacon is also very innocent, as he only sees the good in people, and he is very forgiving, as he never retaliates when Goddie insults him. Landish alludes to his this when he tells him the story of Deaco, Draco’s merciful brother.

Due to his small frame, Deacon receives a lot of sympathy from people and is universally liked.

Padgett “Van” Vanderluyden: No particular meaning. Vanderluyden comes from Van der Luyden, a fictional upper-class New York family in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.

Van, like Landish, is also disowned by his father. After Vivvie’s death, he is ostracized by society and becomes alone. Much like Landish, he is an orphan trying to find his way. However, instead of dedicating his life to something meaningful (like Landish), he spends his entire fortune building Vanderland, a massive yet empty country estate.

Van could represent all that is artificial and meaningless. He chooses money over the thing he loves the most and as a result becomes unhappy for the rest of his life. The choice Van makes is similar to the choice Deacon is faced with towards the end of the novel.

Van could also represent immorality, as he doesn’t have any religious beliefs nor does he have any moral decency. He is generally dismissive of religion and faith, yet he eventually takes a strange liking to Deacon.

Gertrude Vanderluyden: Gertrude is a Germanic name meaning strength or spear.

Gertrude is very strong-willed and even questions her husband’s masculinity. She retaliates against her husband in a very bold and decisive way at the end of the novel.

Godwin Vanderluyden: Godwin is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “friend of God” or “good friend”. She is good friends with Deacon, who could be seen as being a representation of God (or morality in general).

Miss Esse: Simply the way the letter “S” is written phonetically (Miss S). Miss Esse’s real name is Siobhan, an Irish and Hebrew name meaning “God is Gracious” (pronounced shivawn).

The not so great Alexander?

220px-AlexanderTheGreat_Bust

Bust of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great has been heralded as the greatest conqueror of all time. Stretching from the ancient cities of Greece, to the deserts of Egypt and all the way to the Himalayas, his empire was one of the largest ever created. He was a brilliant strategist (having never lost a single battle) and an even better leader. Declaring Alexander to be one of the greatest human beings to have ever lived would be quite a reasonable claim to make.

However, in the following passage, Hamlet makes a very interesting remark regarding Alexander the Great.

209   [...] Alexander died, Alexander was buried,
210   Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
211   earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
212   was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?

– Hamlet (V, i, 209 – 212)

Hamlet is basically saying that despite all of the great things that Alexander the Great achieved, no special regard was given to him in death. He returned to the earth in quite the same way ordinary people do. His remains could very well be part of some brick house in Egypt (after all, the whereabouts of his sarcophagus become hazy after 200 A.D. ). None of the actions he took in life made a difference in his death. Now, of course, one could talk about legacy, but that is all external. Hamlet is more interested in individual existence rather than mankind at large. What truly troubles Hamlet is the finality of death. No matter how bold or beautiful our actions may prove to be, we must inevitably return to the earth.

215   O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
216   Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

– Hamlet (V, i, 215 – 216)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great

Reflection

Hamlet does much of this; too much in fact. He reproaches himself for his lack of gall on several occasions, declaring that “conscience does make cowards of us all” (III, i, 83). Unable to exact his revenge on Claudius, his inaction eats away at him and prompts him to reflect even further.

56   To be, or not to be: that is the question:
57   Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
58   The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
59   Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
60   And by opposing end them?

– Hamlet (III, i, 56 – 60).

Is it preferable to act, and, by extension, to be? Despite reality’s little concern for petty ideals such as justice and morality, regardless of the antipathy that our struggles and hardships are met with, do we seek meaning in that which is meaningless? Sense in that which is senseless?

70   For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
71   The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
72   The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
73   The insolence of office and the spurns
74   That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
75   When he himself might his quietus make
76   With a bare bodkin?

– Hamlet (III, i, 70 – 76)

Hamlet faces arguably life’s most agonizing dilemma: “Is there a purpose to my existence?” He sees no order, no sense, no coherence in his existence.  He therefore looks to the afterlife for the solace and peace that he so wishes he had. The potential he sees in death excites and scares him. He considers suicide, and poetically relates it to falling asleep. His reflections, however, once again prevent him from translating his thoughts into actions.

Hamlet’s psychological state can be seen as being akin to a pendulum, continuously swinging from one extreme to another. On the one hand, he desires passion and fulfillment. On the other, he wants peace and respite. It is from this very conflict that his agony stems from. His inability to decide upon a proper course of action terrorizes him and perhaps even causes him to go mad. The sad irony in this is that the more he deliberates and the more he philosophizes, the greater is his hesitation and the deeper is his melancholy.

If anything is to be taken away from this play, it’s that reflection is a most awful thing. Ignorance truly is bliss.

Friedrich Nietzsche and Morality

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249 Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing
250 either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

– Hamlet (II, ii, 249 – 250)

The above speech, arguably one of Hamlet’s finest, completely dismisses Christian and European notions of morality and idealism. Similarly, Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, argues that in this new era, morality must be reexamined. The above documentary shows how he strives to return meaning to the human existence as we gradually move away from traditional theology and increasingly towards (in his perception) a total absence of values and morals.