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Psychological effects of the French Revolution in the story The Adventure of the German Student In the eighteenth century,

specifically between 1789 and 1799, French Revolution took place, which is known as the social and political process occurred in France. During the French Revolution we can distinguish 4 stages, which are the Constituent Assembly (1789-1791), Legislative Assembly (1791-1792), the Convention (1792-1795) and The Directory (1795-1799) (Profesor en Linea. Revolucion Francesa). In the period of the Convention, better known as Reign of Terror, the use of the guillotine was implemented, and not less than 10000 people, who had been accused of participating in counterrevolutionary activities, were executed. It is during the Reign of Terror when The Adventure of the German Student, written by Washington Irving, is developed Wolfgang arrived at Paris at the breaking out of the revolution. In this paper, the psychological effects that the French Revolution may have left in the main character in the story "The Adventure of the German student" will be discussed. First of all we will define the word psychology, because the disorder suffered by the German student took place in a mental level. Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes (Diane Papalia and Sally Wendkos Olds. 1990. P. 4). Gottfried Wolfgang was a young man of good family. He had studied for some time at Gttingen, but being of a visionary and enthusiastic character, he had wandered into those wild and speculative doctrines which have so often bewildered German students He became haggard and desponding. Mental instability is a psychological disorder reflected by the German student, these disorders occur in the psyche and behavior of a person. Psychological disorders, also referred to as mental disorders, are abnormalities of the mind that result in persistent behavior patterns that can seriously affect your day-to-day function and life (Psychological Disorders). The German student idealized his own world he had an ideal world of his own around him., and he could not distinguish imagination from reality; he admired female beauty and used to dream of a beautiful woman whom he deeply wanted While his mind

was in this excited and sublimated state, a dream produced an extraordinary effect upon him. It was of a female face of transcendent beauty. So strong was the impression made, that he dreamt of it again and again. The idea of creating his own world and desire for a woman, that he never had seen, could be the only way to affront the reality of those times. For a mentally stable person it is possible to imagine anything and to differentiate this from reality, but the German student could not. Jorge Botella (2009) explains that: Desires configure the creative and imaginative space that enriches the intellectual and emotional life of a person, but must be seen as what it is: reality projects Knowing the identity of desires as wishes helps us to support an equilibrated personality. Confuse wishes with reality leads to an idealizing personality, which will promote the disturbance of social relations because the starting point of what is discussed does not understand on what it is, but what you want it to be. Symptoms presented in this character are common in people with schizophrenia, since they tend to confuse imagination with reality. According to Marcia Purse (2012), Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, incoherence and physical agitation. At the end of the story we realize that the German student was a victim of his imagination but he refuses to believe this: He was possessed with the frightful belief that an evil spirit had reanimated the dead body to ensnare him. Revolution is synonymous of change, not only political and social changes but also of consciousness and emotional. Nowadays we can observe these changes in our country, with the revolution for which we are passing. Although the German student was already mentally affected (His secluded life, his intense application, and the singular nature of his studies, had an effect on both mind and body. His health was impaired; his imagination diseased.), being this the reason why he moved to Paris. Is in Paris where he begins to have hallucinations; these hallucinations can be attributed to the violent scenes from that era, where the use of the guillotine was the order of the day As Wolfgang was crossing the square, he shrank back with horror at finding himself close by the guillotine.

Gustave Le Bon (2001), in his book The Psychological of Revolution, explains that: The people who surround us are the creatures of certain circumstances, but not of all circumstances. Our ego consists of the association of innumerable cellular egos, the residues of ancestral personalities. By their combination they form an equilibrium which is fairly permanent when the social environment does not vary. As soon as this environment is considerably modified, as in time of insurrection, this equilibrium is broken, and the dissociated elements constitute, by a fresh aggregation, a new personality, which is manifested by ideas, feelings, and actions very different from those formerly observed in the same individual. (p.42). Which I think is quite true because this characteristic is reflected in the story: the scenes of blood which followed shocked his sensitive nature, disgusted him with society and the world, and made him more than ever a recluse. Here we observe how those scenes, which occurred during the revolution, turn the young man in a recluse of his own ideals. Wolfgang arrived at Paris at the breaking out of the revolution. The popular delirium at first caught his enthusiastic mind, and he was captivated by the political and philosophical theories of the day The environment in which we live and we perform is a key factor in our personality. Under the influence of environment the old personality may therefore give place to one entirely new. (Le Bon, 2001, p. 42). Knowing the psychological aspects mentioned above and the consequences resulting from a revolution, we can conclude that the circumstances and environment surrounding us are determining factors in the possible changes that a person may suffer psychologically speaking. The changes during French Revolution were so dramatic and people of that time used to be so weak on mind that the line between reality and imagination was very easy to cross. This is what happened with the German student, he could not distinguish imagination from reality.

It is healthy to have an imaginative mind because with it we may be able to create new things and be innovative. Nor is it wrong to have dreams and want to make them come true as well as having goals and wanting to achieve them. What matters is to live the reality that everyone has without shelter or live in our imagination.


Papalia, D. and Wendkos, S. (1990). Psicologia. Mexico: McGraw-Hill Le Bon, G. (2001). The psychology of revolution. Kitchener: Batoche Books Botella, J. (2009). Los deseos y la realidad. [Online paper]. Available on:

Profesor en lnea. Revolucin francesa. [Website on line]. Available on:

Better medicine. Psychological disorders. [Website on line]. Available on: Purse, M. (2012). Schizophrenia. [Website on line]. Available on:

Repblica Bolivariana de Venezuela Universidad Pedaggica Experimental Libertador Instituto Pedaggico de Maturn Literature I

Psychological effects of the French Revolution in the story The Adventure of the German Student

Professor: Mara T. Fernndez

Student: Olmos Andrea

July, 2012