“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
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
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.