Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fairy Tales Through a Jungian Perspective

Fairytales and Jungian psychoanalysis share a strong relationship. In order to better understand this relationship, we must first understand some of the main components in the Jungian parts of the psyche.  Listed below are some definitions that will aide us in our understanding of this relationship.

Parts of the Psyche[1]

·      Ego: the conscious component of personality; carries out normal daily actions.
·      Personal Unconscious: repository of personal experiences
·      Collective Unconscious: Repository of racial memories. Encoded in the cells and passed on genetically.
·      Archetypes: Energy centers in the unconscious. Based on universal experiences, and expressed in dreams, myths and fairytales.

Within the lines of almost all fairytales there are components of the psyche according to Jung. Starting with the first two definitions listed, ego and personal unconscious, we can see how these definitions play a role in many fairytales. We can see that personal unconscious relates to most fairytales in the sense that the main characters in the beginning of the tales usually start out performing acts on impulse or desire. For instance, in Hansel and Gretel the main characters impulsively eat the gingerbread house without any thought of the consequences. Ego is supplementary to personal unconscious in most fairytales. This is because a majority of main characters go through some sort of transformation to rid themselves of these impulsive actions or personal unconscious. Frequently by the end of the story the main characters change from a state where personal unconscious is dominate to a state of conscious decision-making or ego.  Referring back to the Hansel and Gretel example, the two children end up using ego to make informed decisions on how to escape from the witch’s house.

The last two definitions on the list help us better comprehend why fairytales from all around the world have common themes and storylines. Archetype is the term Jung and others use to sum up these reoccurring themes and experiences. For instance, the idea of the lost husband is an archetype that is seen across many fairytales from different countries. The question is then, how can we have the same themes and consequently similar storylines from cultures that had no contact with each other? Jung answered that with his concept of the collective unconscious.  Relating back to the archetype of the lost husband, we can imagine that in the past there were many wars that drove men away from their homes. Consequently, many women were left widowed and uncertain of the fate of their husbands. Therefore, the archetype of the lost husband would have been prevalent in almost all cultures and the reaction to the feeling of the lost husband would have worked itself into the collective unconscious of different cultures as well.

[1] Mazeroff. Paul. Class Lecture.

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