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“A good part of the struggles of mankind centres around the single task of finding an expedient accommodation […] between the claim of the individual and the cultural claim of the group” (Sigmund Freud, from Civilization and Its Discontents). Analyse two or more novels in the light of this comment.

“A good part of the struggles of mankind centres around the single task of finding an expedient accommodation […] between the claim of the individual and the cultural claim of the group” (Sigmund Freud, from Civilization and Its Discontents). Analyse two or more novels in the light of this comment.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lauren Stevenson. Originally submitted for BA Single Honours English at None, with lecturer Dr Philip McGowan in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lauren Stevenson. Originally submitted for BA Single Honours English at None, with lecturer Dr Philip McGowan in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
1
Abstract:
“A good part of the struggles of mankind centres around the single task of finding anexpedient accommodation […] between the claim of the individual and the cultural claim of the group” (Sigmund Freud, from Civilization and Its Discontents).
 Analyse two or morenovels in the light of this comment.
In his 1930 publication,
Civilization and Its Discontents
, Sigmund Freud explored thefundamental tensions within modern, civilized society
 – 
what he perceived as the result of afierce dialectic bet
ween “the claim of the individual and the cultural claim of the group”(Freud140). This conflict between the subject‟s inner desires and society‟s wider culturaldemands became a key focus of Freud‟s socio
-centred psychology and, as a consequence, hiswork had a profound impact upon twentieth-century literature. With the introduction of 
man‟s instinctual “drives” and unconscious “urges”, Freud intensified an already existing
struggle within American society; dating back to the transcendental philosophy of the earlynineteenth century, writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson had begun to grapple with theseemingly irreconcilable notions of self-reliance and social conformity. Yet, it is during theperiod between 1945 and 1960 that these antagonisms reawakened within the Americansubconscious; enhanced by post-war socio-
economic factors, the individual‟s status, during
this time, propelled to that of an entrepreneur and opportunist; yet, simultaneously, the countyunited against the threatening presence of Russia during the Cold war and in the hysteriaevoked by the rise of McCarthyism. Thus, with the influx of Freudian and Nietzscheantheory, this period of American history produced a cultural paradox: its promotion of radicalindividualism and its overriding necessity for social cohesion. It is through the dark,misanthropic and obscure themes adopted by fictional writers of the period that these cultural
anxieties come to the fore. Vladimir Nabokov‟s
 Lolita
 
and Carson McCullers‟
The Ballad of the Sad Café 
are two landmark texts of this era that, on the surface, present thematic, genericand formal disparities; however, an anthropological subtext can be located within each work that directly addresses the same cultural, political and sexual concerns. Although conductedin strikingly dissimilar ways, both novels explore the plight of the individual in relation to his
or her cultural milieu; just as Nabokov‟s early postmodern novel charts the psychologicalcomplexities of the solipsistic “anarchist” Humbert Humbert, McCullers‟ Southern Gothictale conceives protagonist Miss Amelia Evans as the victim of society‟s unremitting“fellowship” (Nabokov 2006: 359; McCullers 7). Evidently, both writers investigate theindividual‟s relationship with American society and, ultimat
ely, interpret the nature of theself as inextricably bound to the group mentality that creates it. In doing so, Nabokov and
McCullers‟ direc
tly address the fundamental thesis
of Freud‟s Civilization and ItsDiscontents, that “[i]ntegration in, or adaption
to, a human community appears as a scarcely
avoidable condition which must be fulfilled” (Freud 140). Yet, by refusing to provide thissense of fulfilment both writers poignantly encapsulate the period‟s psychologically troubled
and socially discontented zeitgeist.
 
2
“A good part of the struggles of mankind centres around the single task of finding anexpedient accommodation […] between the claim of the individual and the cultural claim of the group” (Sigmun
d Freud, from
Civilization and Its Discontents
). Analyse two or morenovels in the light of this comment.In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson radically
declared that “[w]hoso would be a man must
be a non-
conformist” (Emerson
1841:1165). Yet, by championing the individual, Emersoninstigated a cultural ideal of self-reliance. This conflict between the desire to be, at once, anautonomous individual and a participating member of the wider community became aprevailing theme within American literature that followed through to the beginning of thetwentieth century. During the period between 1945 and 1960 this diametrically opposednotion of selfhood re-awakened within the American subconscious, being further enhancedby post-war contextual factors. As the economy significantly expanded after World War IIthe
individual‟s status
propelled to that of an entrepreneur and opportunist. Yet, at the sametime, the country was united by the threatening presence of Russia during The Cold War; thehysteria evoked by the rise of McCarthyism further intensified this sense of cultural uneasethrough instilling a shared suspicion that communist ideology would infiltrate the socialstructure. Fictional writers of the period explored these cultural fears within the dark,misanthropic and obscure themes of their literature.
Vladimir Nabokov‟s
 Lolita
and CarsonMcCullers
 
The Ballad of the Sad Café 
are two texts of the period which conceptualize self-development in relation to the cultural, political and sexual anxieties of the age. Both novelsexplore the plight of the individual in relation to his or her cultural milieu, yet do so indistinctly different ways: Nabokov
‟s “foreigner and anarchist”
Humbert Humbert is craftedas a moral threat to society, whilst McCullers
protagonist Miss Amelia Evans cannot escape
the unremitting “fellowship”
within a town
“far off and estranged from all other plac
es in theworld
” (
Nabokov 2006: 359, McCullers 7). Evidently, both writers interpret the nature of theself as inextricably bound to the group-mentality that creates it. Therefore, an anthropologicalsubtext is located in writing of the period that directly addresses the pervading concern of 
 
3
Sigmund
Freud‟s 1930 essay
 
Civilization and Its Discontents,
where it is postulated that
[i]ntegration in, or adaption to, a human community appears as a scarcely avoidable
condition which must be fulfilled” (Freud 140).
Both Nabokov and McCullers present their main protagonists as isolated from thesocial environments that encompass them.
In his forward, Nabokov‟s
fictional editor JohnRay Jr. warns the reader that Humbert is
“abnormal”:
 
a “
shi
ning example of moral leprosy”
who pens
his “miserable memories” during legal captivity
(Nabokov 2006: 1-3). Not only isHumbert physically confined during the course of the novel, but he remains psychologicallyincarcerated within his own perverse world-view. By categorizing his crime-ridden past of murder, rape and paedophilia as the product of a
sordid, taciturn love-life
 
 Nabokov‟s
unreliable narrator embarks upon a notably reluctant confession (Nabokov 2006: 23). Indoing so he creates a disparity between Humbert, as
“exhibit
number one
, and hisreadership:
the “ladies
 
and gentlemen of the jury” who represent
society as a collective unit(Nabokov 2006: 7). In contrast, McCullers
omniscient ballad-voice characterizes themembers of the town in descriptive terms:
Miss Amelia‟s solitary disposition
is reinforced by
her “dim” and “sexless” features
that do not conform to specific gendered or racialstereotypes (McCullers 7). It is
Miss Amelia‟
s non-definitive sexuality that renders herprivate life a public affair within the town. When Cousin Lymon is first introduced as ahunch-backed
stranger
” who immediately claims
kinship with Miss Amelia, McCullersensures that the nature of their new-found relationship remains as vague to the reader as itdoes to the townsfolk (McCullers 11). Whilst Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon remain
“locked up inside her premises”
the narrator adopts the perspective of a town-member who
cluster[s] on the street, talking and watching the store
” (McCullers 19).
Therefore, MissAmelia
‟s character 
is partly comprised of unsubstantiated rumours that consistently seek toinvade her interior thought-
 processes. In light of this, Miss Amelia‟s
disassociation with the

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