Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Uses of psychology : characters...
 Psychology uses : Horney, Maslow,...
 Psychic structure of Vanity...
 Transformation of Julien Sorel
 Inner conflicts of Maggie...
 Withdrawn man : Notes from...
 Powers and limitations of...


A psychological approach to fiction
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00001617/00001
 Material Information
Title: A psychological approach to fiction studies in Thackeray, Stendhal, George Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Conrad
Physical Description: xii, 304 p. : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Paris, Bernard J
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Place of Publication: Bloomington
Publication Date: 1974
Subjects / Keywords: Fiction -- History and criticism -- 19th century   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Funding: Psychological study of the arts.
General Note: Item removed from public access on August 1, 2012 per request by the author, Bernard Paris. The book is being reissued by the publisher and so will be available through the publisher.
Statement of Responsibility: by Bernard J. Paris.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: Author retains all rights.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000299722
oclc - 00749725
notis - ABS6170
lccn - 73015239
isbn - 0253346509
System ID: UF00001617:00001

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page 1
        Title Page 2
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents
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    Uses of psychology : characters and implied authors
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    Psychology uses : Horney, Maslow, and the Third Force
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    Psychic structure of Vanity Fair
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    Transformation of Julien Sorel
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    Inner conflicts of Maggie Tulliver
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    Withdrawn man : Notes from Underground
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    Powers and limitations of the approach
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Full Text

A Psychological Approach to Fiction
Studies in Thackecray. Steadhal.
Geporge Eliot, Doustoevsli, y, nd Conrad

A Psychological
Approach to Fiction
Studies in Thackeray,
Stendhal, George Eliot,
Dostoevsky, and Conrad
By Bernard J. Paris

Bloomington & London

CnpIP-gh 0 974 b Idlrnr ml-n'i-` P-'i

L~lb-, ,f, C-gra C-I.,oglg P, J,1,,- Don O-

To My Mother cad Thel Memory ol My Father

Prela- ixx


11 Ti 1 2

III The Psycfi, Suomi, of 1 -ty Fa-n i 71

IV The Transformation ol'Julien Sorel 133

V The Inner Conflicts of Maggie Tulllver 165

VII The Dramatization of Interpretation:
Lordfinz 215

VIII Powers and Limitations of the Approach 75

Notes qt

Index 3.1


chapter Thn -dv s I conce-dn c nenrhe, -th aurdna-,a h,,to,,-

an~ily- nnpo t- hnlan--, and t. -ill- ff i ---u--,er

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hkme Iie Ar Rrii -d th, Bin, and Th, 11'11 o' h It-oi, th- I,,

dtdipa,y between ,p,,,centation and ucterpretation,. between
,he ua ecd a.,hc, a,., -ca'-o of a, -ic p.,ti.t, anrd he

pretation ,,, and o -lua, the adequacy F Heh of the solut ns
adoted bv cha ... -s and unphied auth,,,,

the anc Tnrut ... thatr the int-rpuctatt-n ofexpeuiene ,he,-

seen as mantfiesuat n, of a neurouic p-hec the struCLuce of

son, hcune unte, Lesve a"I aale-, of lh-.,o at e best unde,-
......d to -,ns of H-eyean P"'hnf."g

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Thn fi-e n-el, b, h d-n-srd h- h,,,,. -1,notool
b-n- d-lie are alll hclpfalllhluiiae b, H--N.,a p-h.1-l
np), bnt al- beca-, t he offe, an nn ... t,,g ,,,,,Ly fp ... onai-

-d-scr for Va ...... Stdies, Voiel, and PAilLl, such se,-, ct no

r-scved and expanded form, -th Lle kimd p-m ... run cf h,


Chapter I

The Uses of Psychology:

Characters and Implied Authors

Norman Holland finds it "hard to see how a psychology [can]
deal with a work of art qua work of art," and observes that in
practice psychoanalytic critics "do not."' Psychology cannot con-
sider works of art in themselves, he argues, because psychology
as such is concerned "not with literature, but with minds" (p.
293). "Any psychological system," therefore, "must deal, not
with works of art in isolation, but with works of art in relation to
man's mind" (p. 151). The "three possible minds to which the
psychological critic customarily refers" are the author's mind, a
character's mind, and the audience's mind. It is only the study of
the audience's mind, Holland feels, that can lead "to a bona-fide
method; the other two tend to confusion" (p 2941 II belhee that'
there are two kinds of minds within realistic novels that can be'
studied n psychological terms: the\ are the minds of the implied
authors and the minds of the leading character,.
Holl.nd argues that "%e should use pshtologs on our own
real and lively reactions" to the work "rather than on the charac-
ters' fictitious minds" (p. 308). He feels that character study is
useful and legitimate only when it is incorporated into our analy-
sis of the audience's mind. Then it is seen to "identify 'latent
impulses' of the characters which may be considered as stimuli

2 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

to or projections of latent impulses of the audience" (p. 283)
Character study is not legitimate when, as in most psychological
criticism, it talks "about literary characters as though they were
real people" (p. 296). Holland's strongest argument in support
of this position is that "Homo Fictus and Homo Dramaticus do
not so much what Homo Sapiens would do in similar circum-
stances, but what it is necessary for them to do in the logical and
meaningful realities of the works of art in which they live" (pp.
305-306). The artist "hoc\ers between tnh,",,,i making like, and
harmonia, the almost musical ordering of the events he depicts.
... The psychoanalytic critic of character neglects the element
of harmonia, the symbolic conceptions that must modify the mi-
metic" (p. 3o6). Other critics of literature have learned to avoid
this mistake: ". .. as a plain matter of fact, most literary critics
do not-any more-treat literary characters as real people" (p.
Holland is participating in what W.J. Harvey calls "the retreat
from character" in modern criticism, a retreat which Harvey's
book. Chra,o'i a,, tht, \, r. i, intended to halt. "What has been
said about character" in the past forty years, Harvey observes,
"has been mainly a stock of critical commonplaces used largely
to dismiss the subject in order that the critic may turn his atten-
tion to other allegedly more important and central subjects-
symbolism, narrative techniques, moral vision and the like."3 In
the criticism of realistic fiction this has been especially unfortu-
nate, for "most great novels exist to reveal and explore charac-
ter" (p. 23). There are many reasons for this retreat, Harvey
continues, the most important of which is the rise of the New

The New Criticism was centrally concerned to apply close and
rigorous analytical methods to lyric poetry; it is noticeable how ill
at ease its practitioners have been when they have approached the
bulky, diffuse and variegated world of the novel. What we might

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 3

expect is in fact the case; the new critic, when dealing with fiction,
is thrown back upon an interest in imagery, symbolism or struc-
tural features which have little to do with characterization. (p. 200)

The danger that the critic of novels must now be warned against
is not the neglect of harmonica, but the neglect of mimesis; for
harmonica has had its due of late, and "a mimetic intention" was,
after all, "the central concern of the novel until the end of the
nineteenth century" (p. 2o5).
No study of character should ignore the fact that characters in
fiction participate in the dramatic and thematic structures of the
works in which they appear and that the meaning of their behav-
ior is often to be understood in terms of its function within these
structures. The less mimetic the fiction, the more completely will
the characters be intelligible in terms of their dramatic and the-
matic functions; and even in highly realistic fiction, the minor
characters are to be understood more functionally than psycho-
logically. But, as Harvey points out, the authors of the great
realistic novels "display an appetite and passion for life which
threatens to overwhelm the formal nature of their art" (pp. 187-
188). There is in such novels "a surplus margin of gratuitous life,
a sheer excess of material, a fecundity of detail and invention, a
delighted submergence in experience for its own sake" (p. 188).
The result is "that characterization often overflows the strict
necessities of form" (p. 188). This is especially true in the charac-
terization of the protagonists, of "those characters whose motiva-
tion and history are most fully established, who conflict and
change as the story progresses ." (p. 56). What we attend to
in the protagonist's story "is the individual, the unique and
particular case. We quickly feel uneasy if the protagonist
is made to stand for something general and diffused; the more
he stands for the less he is" (p. 67). Though such characters
have their dramatic and thematic functions, they are "in
a sense end-products"; we often feel that "they are what

4 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

the novel exists for; it exists to reveal them" (p. 56).
The retreat from character of which Harvey complains has
been in part a reaction against reading plays, stories, impres-
sionistic novels, and other tightly structured or basically symbolic
works as though they were realistic fiction. This has frequently
resulted, ironically, in the study of realistic novels as though they
were tightly structured or basically symbolic forms. In our avoid-
ance of what Northrop Frye would call a low-mimetic provincial-
ism, we have often failed to do justice to the low-mimetic forms
Fortunately, the most recent trend in literary criticism has been
to emphasize the qualities that distinguish the literary modes and
kinds from each other. In the study of narrative art, we are learn-
ing to appreciate a variety of forms and effects; and this, in turn,
is enabling us to grasp the distinctive characteristics of each form
with greater precision.4 We are coming to see, among other
things, that character is central in many realistic novels and that
much of the characterization in such fiction escapes dramatic and
thematic analysis and can be understood only in terms of its
mimetic function. A careful examination of the nature of realistic
fiction as modern criticism is coming to conceive it will show that
in certain cases it is proper to treat literary characters as real
people and that only by doing so can we fully appreciate the
distinctive achievement of the genre.

The diversity of aesthetic theories and of critical approaches is
in part a reflection of the multiplicity of values to be found in
literature and in part a product of the varying interests and tem-
peraments with which different critics come to literature. Not all
approaches are equally valid: the most satisfying kind of criticism
is that which is somehow congruent with the work and which
is faithful to the distribution of interests in the work itself.
The approach employed here attempts to stress values which
are inherently important in realistic fiction and to make these

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 5

values more accessible to us than they hitherto have been.
The primary values of fiction can be described in a variety of
terms; I shall classify them as mimetic, thematic, and formal.
Fiction is maisinli concerned ,ith the representation, the interpre-
tation. and the aesthete patterning io experience s In different
,orks and in different fltional modes the distribution of empha-
sis varies; and in some works one of these interests may be far
more important than the others. When a work concerns itself
seriously with more than one of these interests, it must bring its
various impulses into harmony if it is to be organically unified.
From the middle of the eighteenth to the beginning of the
tientlieth hentu,\, the noiel attempted. b\ and large. to realize
all of these \Jlues. but its primary impulse seems to haie been
the_ nuilelie one Henr\ James is reflecting not cnl\ his ou\ n taste.
but the essential nature of the genre when he characterizes the
novel as "a picture" and proclaims that "the onli reason fir the
e~itenice ofa no)\el is that it does attempt to represent life "6 It
i,- st it nterpretation of life or uits loinal perfection but ais "air
of reality (solidity of specification)" that James identifies as "the
supreme virtue of a novel" (p. 14). Arnold Kettle distinguishes
between the moral fable, which is dominated by "pattern" or
"significance" and the novel, in which "pattern" is subordinate
to "life." Despite a frequently strong commitment to thematic
interests, the great realists, says Kettle, "are less consciously
concerned with the moral significance of life than with its surface
texture. Their talent is devoted first and foremost to getting life
on to the page, to conveying across to their readers the sense of
what life as their characters live it really feels like."7
The view of realistic fiction that we are developing is confirmed
by such classic works on the subject as Ian Watt's The Rise of the
No',,'t and Erichuerbach's hu.tle,i, Formnal interests cannot be
paramount in a genre that, as Watt describes it, "works by ex-
haustive presentation rather than by elegant concentration.'"
Like E. M. Forster, Watt sees "the portrayal of 'life by time' as

6 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

the distinctive role which the novel has added to literature's more
ancient preoccupation with portraying 'life by values' (p. 22).
Ihe domain (i the noLel is the individual and hi- s,,al relation-
ships. and it tends toprcent it, stibjetr less In trm.. of ethical
(,itegoi ...s than in errn. of c. hronolo, ical an.. au%. l equent .
The disunctie .hiara(lewiiMic of thlie nr el are, to-r \\an, 11i, eni-
phasis upon the particular, its circumstantial view of life, and its
full and authentic reporting of experience (pp. 31-32).
To our statement that the novel's primary impulse is a mimetic
one, we must add the qualification that the reality imitated is not
general nature or the world of Ideas, but the concrete and tempo-
ral reality of modern empirical thought. The novel came into
being in a world dominated by secularism and individualism, a
world in which men were losing their belief in the supernatural
and institutional bases of life. "Both the philosophical and the
literary innovations," says Watt, "must be seen as parallel mani-
festations of a larger change-that vast transformation of West-
ern civilization since the Renaissance which has replaced the
unified world picture of the Middle Ages with another very differ-
ent one-one which presents us, essentially, with a developing
but unplanned aggregate of particular individuals having particu-
lar experiences at particular times and at particular places" (p.
For Erich Auerbach the foundations of modern realism are,
first, "the serious treatment of everyday reality, the rise of more
extensive and socially inferior human groups to the position of
subject matter for problematic-existential representation"; and,
second, "the embedding of random persons and events in the
general course of contemporary history, the fluid historical back-
grounld ."' Throu _hLu .1 _1-, \Luerbath i, .no.erned %,ith the
(,atrdt bt l-ee lln _tie c-! l._ aI mnoraltts e anld the- pei-roblemahtle
iex ier, l H as _ot preter]plin e tcsl. a.l t I_ hd m cunatba.,t l s
between .tl._C.ae"ottentati'n iJrof life in term s, -of fsed canJnts n f
Itle ant] d1 o ttttJJal categ9!irtss whichh are a psiori and static alld

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 7

a stylistically mixed, ethically ambiguous portrayal which probes
"the social forces underlying the facts and conditions" that it
presents (p. 27). The problematic existential perception of real-
ity, which Mimesis exists to celebrate, is one that is informed by
the insights of Historicism. It is characterized by an awareness
that "epochs and societies are not to be judged in terms of a
pattern concept of what is desirable absolutely speaking but
rather in every case in terms of their own premises"; by "a sense
of historical dynamics, of the incomparability of historical
phenomena and of their constant inner mobility"; and by a "con-
viction that the meaning of events cannot be grasped in abstract
and general forms of cognition" (p. 391).
It is evident that in fiction employing the classical moralistic
perspective, interpretation will outweigh and, indeed, govern
representation, whereas in fiction written from a problematic
existential point of view the mimetic impulse will be predomi-
nant. In many realistic novels, however, the classical moralistic
perspective continues to exist alongside of, and often in dishar-
mony with, the concrete, "serio-problematic" representation of
life. Auerbach observes that Balzac, for example, "aspires to be
a classical moralist" but that "this suits neither his style nor his
temperament" (pp. 422-423). In his novels "the classically mor-
alistic element very often gives the impression of being a foreign
body." It expresses itself in the narrator's "generalized apoph-
thegms of a moral cast," which are "sometimes witty as individual
observations," but which are often "far too generalized" and are
sometimes "plain 'tripe' (p. 422).
Realism for Auerbach means essentially social realism-the
presentation of events in terms of the network of historical rela-
tions in which they exist and a concern for all of the forces at
work, not simply for a limited, class-determined set of causes. His
distinction between the categorical and the historistic views of
experience applies just as readily to the presentation of character
as it does to the rendering of society, though Auerbach himself

8 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

has little to say about psychological realism. Representation is
the primary interest of realistic fiction, and the two chief objects
of representation are character and social milieu. Some novels
are profoundly concerned with both character and society; others
focus primarily on social or on psychological reality. Novels in
which psychological realism predominates tend to present so-
ciety from the point of view of the individual; novels of social
realism often take a sociological rather than a psychological view
of character.
Though realistic fiction is more concerned with mimesis than
it is with theme and form the latter are, nonetheless, very impor-
tant elements in the majority of novels. Indeed, one of the basic
problems of the novel as a genre is that it attempts to integrate
impulses which are disparate and often in conflict. The prob-
lematic existential portrayal of reality defies, by its very nature,
authorial attempts at analysis and judgment. The great realists
see and represent far more than they can understand. And, as
Northrop Frye observes, "the realistic writer soon finds that the
requirements of literary form and plausible content always fight
against each other."'0 Form derives from generic conventions,
and ultimately from mythic patterns, which are inherently unreal-
istic; realistic content obeys the laws of probability, of cause
and effect, and belongs to a different universe of discourse. The
integration of theme, form, and mimesis is an extremely difficult
Critics of realistic fiction, even some of those who best under-
stand its nature, come to it demanding formal and thematic per-
fections which very few novels can achieve. The novel "may have
a distinctive representational technique," says Ian Watt, "but if
it is to be considered a valuable literary form it must also have,
like any other literary form, a structure which is a coherent ex-
pression of all its parts" (p. 104). The novel, Watt feels, must
"supplement its realism of presentation with a realism of assess-
ment." If the interpretive element is weak "we shall be wholly

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 9

immersed in the reality of the characters and their actions, but
whether we shall be any wiser as a result is open to question" (p.
288). Arnold Kettle recognizes that "there are writers, and great
ones, whose books have more vividness than wisdom, more vital-
ity than significance"; but he feels that "the central core of any
novel is what it has to say about life." Novels with more life than
pattern, or in which life and pattern are not integrated, are want-
ing in the quality of their perception (pp. 14-16).
It is my impression that if we come to novels expecting moral
wisdom and coherent teleological structures we are usually going
to be disappointed Surlh expettatiuns are frequently aroused b\
the oorks thereltes,. and it is natural for the reader to %%ant
them fulfilled. but the milnetic impulse that dominated most nro
els often \,orks aains total integration and thematic adequac-.
Een ,u. the noel i, a valuable Interar\ form.. As \att hinsell
says, "In the novel, more perhaps than in ant) other literary
genre, the qualities of life can atone for the defects of art .. ."
(p. 301). The novel's weaknesses are in many cases the defects
of its virtues, and its virtues are very great indeed. Some novels,
of course, are integrated: they are usually those in which the
interpretive element either is almost nonexistent or is incorpo-
rated into the mimesis. Such novels have coherent teleological
structures, but they do not provide the kind of wisdom that Ket-
tle, Watt, and many other critics seem to be looking for.
It is because they contain highly individualized characters or
extremely detailed pictures of society that many novels lack total
arltisct isntclgticon In nmels 0fl psrthologic.al realisin rorn whichh
e shall Ios us, htre there Is a (haractelr-creatlng imnpule hls h
ha, it, ora n.rt_!itlesr l-Bt alnd adhich tends tso go Its son %,a\. %%hat-
eser the implied itrrthor', Iornrtal and thematic insentlos maa be
.-\s rnlll( e demand indeed, that the central chaira.er, ol reali,-
tic fiction be like real people, that they have a life of their own
beyond the control of their author. The novelist, says Harvey,
"must accept his characters as asserting their human individuality

10 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

and uniqueness in the face of all ideology (including his own
limited point of view)" (p. 25). In realistic fiction, proclaims
Georg Lukacs, "what matters is the picture conveyed by the work;
the question to what extent this picture conforms to the views of
the authors is a secondary consideration."'o "A great realist,"
Lukacs continues,

... if the intrinsic artistic development of situations and charac-
ters he has created comes into conflict with his most cherished
prejudices or even his most sacred convictions, will, without an
instant's hesitation, set aside these his own prejudices and con-
victions and describe what he really sees, not what he would pre-
fer to see. This ruthlessness towards their own subjective world-
picture is the hall-mark of all great realists, in sharp contrast to
the second-raters, who nearly always succeed in bringing their
own t i.,[.,,,.lilt,e I "harmony" with reality.... (p. 1)

Lukacs is chiefly concerned with the portrayal of social reality,
but his observations apply also to the presentation of charac-

The characters created by the great realists, once conceived in
the vision of their creator, live an independent life of their own;
their comings and goings, their development, their destiny is
dictated by the inner dialectic of their social and individual
existence. No writer is a true realist-or even a truly good writ-
er, if he can direct the evolution of his own characters at will.
(p. 11)

The point I am trying to make has been most brilliantly devel-
oped by E. M. Forster, in his discussion of flat and round charac-
ters. "The novelist," he observes, "has a very mixed lot of in-
gredients to handle." He is telling a story ("life in time") which
has a meaning ("life by values"). His story is "about human

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors

The i har.dters jrrte ihcn t. _ked. bll full of the spirit O 1m1ili1
I -.-r the%\ h t th'.hc nu lneil -i, par lcl, %l, h pe1pl elPI llk ,urlltI ,

111 11 e...is ,ll d lJIIIIt tilt M 1111 In crnct C ,ti t he j hj,,,k I he% run ata,. '

ilt,\ kik the book ,,. pieci and it the\ are' kept tl(, icrlrl\ iln
I hc k the.\ r% inge ihenllehl-c h\ dmglll. .and dc triI it b% inttll-

What Forster has described here is the dilemma of the realistic ,.- .)
n.e... It i hl lh.r...Cter. are trul al... the% %%ill hale a ..inta-
lnalll Mie (l-I their ,%lIt and ,kll lend to sub hlcl hthe main theme -
oI tlhe. bot,ok ii hc keepps hi, characters. subordinated to the ,
aethctil and thelnme luncuoll. hot\eLer, ithe\ ll be hIlel ss
puppet- and Itli hi,_ %k all bte flaed ina dIifferent and niore
serious way.
In their excellent book on narrative literature, Robert Scholes
and Robert.L I luIg re apitullate and refine many of our most

been developing. k-ji.'-
Characters should be understood in terms of the kind of func- .
tion that they perform Ae.thetic \pes-"villains, ingenue ,
ficelles, choral character,. ,,ilt,, and ,< on"-sers mainl) t toI ,-
create Fotrial p rqn rand dramatic itmpt The\ hate little in-
netr depth or mtora! .gnlho.anct IIluototrne .haraters aret mtot
ilmnp. oortaont in ot.rk oo d letoned b\ the-a~lcal moralltc po'I.pe-

Illustration differs from representation in narrative art in that it
does not seek to reproduce actuality but to present selected as-

12 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

pects of the actual, essences referable for their meaning not to
historical, psychological, or soci,,eIlta1. l truth but II ethl( il ld
metaphli\ical truth

Illustrative characters

are concepts in anthropoid shape or fragments of the human
psyche masquerading as whole human beings. Thus we are not
called upon to understand their motivation as if they were whole
human beings but to understand the principles they illustrate
through their actiln in a narrative frtrne~co, (p .RR'

Behind realistic fiction there i> a strong psychologicall impulse"
that "tends toward the presentatton of highly\ indndualized
figures who resist abstraction and generalization, and whose
mlt,atio i V not susceptible to rigid ethical interpretation (p.
ioi). When te encounter a lull\ dra\n inmonettc character "we
are juttilied in asking uettion about his ot\atton bhsed on
ILou knowledge o( the ha\s in e\hich real people are mortaed"
Tp. 871
There are aesthetic and illustrative types in realistic novels, of
course, and in the central characters there is often a mixing of
and a tension between illustrative, mimetic, and aesthetic func-
tions. But in novels of psychological realism the main characters
exist primarily as mimetic portraits whose intricacies escape the
moral and symbolic meanings assigned to them. Many aspects of
their characterization which are of little formal or thematic inter-
est become very significant when we see them as manifestations
of the characters' inner being, as part of the author's unfolding
of character for its own sake.
The great gift of the psychological realists, then, even of the
most intellectually proficient and ethically sensitive of them, is
not in the interpretation but in the representation of the experi-
ence of their characters. Their characters may have important
functions in the thematic and formal structures of the works in

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 13

which they exist, but thematic and formal analysis cannot begin
to do justice to the psychological portraiture which is often the
greatest achievement of these works, and it frequently blinds us
to the fact that the experience represented does not always sus-
tain the dramatic and thematic effects for which the work is striv-
Ortega y Gasset contends that all of the

... psychological knowledge accumulated in the contemporary
mind .. is to no small degree responsible for the present failure
of the novel. Authors that yesterday seemed excellent appear
naive today because the present reader is a much better psycholo-
gist than the old author.13

This is true only if we judge the old authors primarily in terms
of their analyses and assessments of their characters' behavior.
Given the fact that the old authors were not necessarily gifted as
analysts and moralists, that their valuejudgments were bound to
be influenced by their own neuroses, and that the psychological
theories available to them were inadequate to their insights, it
was inevitable that their interpretations would be inferior to their
representations of experience and that the beneficiaries of a
more advanced psychological science would feel superior to
them. If we dojustice to their representations of character, how-
ever, we will see that they were excellent psychologists indeed,
and that we need all of the resources of modern knowledge to
understand and appreciate their achievement.


When Norman Holland speaks of the author's mind as one of
the "three possible minds to which the psychological critic cus-
tomarily refers," he is thinking of the author as an historical
person; and what he objects to is the study of the man through
a psychological analysis of his works. One of the most valuable

14 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

contributions that Wayne Booth has made to the criticism of
fiction is his insistence upon the distinction between the author
as an historical person and the author as the writing self, the
official scribe. Whatever may be the relation between the author
as he is implied by the novel we are reading and the author as he
was (or is) in life, outside of his creation, our concern as literary
critics is primarily with the implied author, who exists completely
in the book. Our examination of the nature of realistic fiction has
shown that it is appropriate to study mimetic characters as
though they were real people, to analyze their behavior in psy-
chological as well as in formal and thematic terms. A considera-
tion of the nature of the implied author will show that in many
works his mind, too, can be fully understood only if it is studied
by a psychological method.
The nature of the writing self is inferred mainly from his repre-
sentation, interpretation, and aesthetic patterning of experience.
So far we have been concerned with the implied author primarily
in his mimetic function. We shall now consider him as the inter-
preter of the experience he portrays, as the creator of the novel's
rhetorical structure; and we shall explore more fully the relation-
ship between theme and mimesis in realistic fiction.
In a novel which is organically unified the impulses toward
representation, interpretation and aesthetic patterning are har-
monized; and the implied author emerges as a deeply integrated
and coherent being. But there are many novels, including some
great ones, which fail to achieve such organic unity. The implied
author is not always in harmony with himself. There is frequently
a disparity between representation and interpretation: the im-
Splied author's autlttde' toward the epe eince that he epresents.
conveyed through a variety of rhetorical devices, are not always
appropriate to the novel's total body of represented life. In some
novels the thematic affirmations, though they are not validated by
the work as a whole, are nonetheless consistent with themselves;
there is a thematic structure which is coherent and intelligible in

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 15

its own terms. There are other works, however, in which the
implied author is inconsistent in his interpretations of the experi-
ence that he dramatizes; not only is there a disparity between
representation and interpretation, but there is thematic confu-
sion as well. One of the most valuable ways of studying a novel
whose implied author is inwardly divided is to combine psycho-
logical with thematic analysis. Grasping the structure of the im-
plied author's psyche can help us greatly to appreciate the values
of such a novel and to make sense of its disparities and confu-
It may seem that in emphasizing the importance of mimesis in
realistic fiction I have unduly neglected theme. Some of the very
critics whom I have cited to show the dominance of the mimetic
impulse lay heavy stress upon interpretation as an essential in-
gredient of good fiction. The "good novel," says Arnold Kettle,
"does not simply convey life; it says something about life.... It
brings significance" (p. 13). If the novel "was to challenge older
literary forms," Ian Watt proclaims, "it had to find a way of
conveying not only a convincing impression but a wise assess-
ment of life" (p. 288). According to Brooks and Warren, a piece
of fiction, "to be good must involve an idea of some real
significance for mature and thoughtful human beings."'4 Theme
is important not only for its moral value, for the "attitude" it
suggests "toward life and the business of living" (p. 81), but also
because it satisfies our psychological need "to have things put in
order" (p. 273). "Just as we instinctively demand the logic of
cause and effect, the logic of motivation, in fiction, so we demand
that there be a logic of theme-a thematic structure into which
the various elements are fitted and in terms of which they achieve
unity" (p. 274). Theme is, therefore, a "structural necessity": "If
we want a story, we are forced by our very psychological make-up
to demand a theme: No theme, no story" (p. 274).
Let me say at once that my contention is not that theme is
unimportant, but that its importance has been overestimated by

16 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

many critics, including those quoted. The most challenging dis-
cussion of thematic values to occur in recent criticism is Wayne
Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction, and a consideration of some of
Booth's leading contentions will help us at once to do justice to
theme and to put it in its proper place.
Booth's central thesis seems to be that, despite the modern
emphasis on showing and on objectivity, interpretation is an
essential ingredient of all fiction. "The emotions andjudgments
of the implied author," he proclaims, "are ... the very stuff out
of which great fiction is made" (p. 86). In some cases the author
as commentator is a person of great wisdom, charm, and intelli-
gence whose companionship is one of the chief rewards of the
book. In all cases, the author's ordering of his materials and his
attitudes toward his characters and their world give the story its
shape, tone, and significance. A story's dramatic impact derives
not so much from the matter as from the treatment, from the
author's control through his rhetoric both of emotional distance
and of the reader's attitude toward his persons.
One of Booth's major efforts is to show that the author is
always present as an interpreter, that "he can never choose to
disappear," that his "judgment is ... always evident to anyone
who knows how to look for it" (p. 20). Even when, under the
influence of the doctrine of objectivity, the author seeks to efface
himself, his "voice is still dominant in a dialogue that is at the
heart of all experience with fiction. With commentary ruled out,
hundreds of devices remain for revealingjudgment and molding
response" (p. 272). The author is present "in every speech given
by any character who has had conferred upon him ... the badge
of reliability," in "every distinctive literary allusion or colorful
metaphor," in "every pattern of myth or symbol; they all implic-
itly evaluate" (p. 19). His "very choice of what he tells will betray
him to the reader" (p. 20).
Given his insistence that the author cannot choose to disap-
pear, it is surprising to discover, as we read on, that Booth feels

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 17

the central problem of modern fiction to be the disappearance of
the author. The Rhetoric ofFiction is, among other things, an attack
upon works in which interpretation is either absent or obscure,
and a plea for a return to the clear thematic ordering of fictional
materials. Obviously, Booth cannot be right in claiming both that
the author cannot disappear and that the author has disappeared.
His confusion may stem from a tendency to regard the writing
self as a whole and the implied author as interpreter as identical
or inseparable. As he shows quite convincingly, there are works
that have little or no thematic import, in which one of the most
striking facts about the implied author is that he does not analyze
and he does notjudge. In such works the implied author has not
disappeared-we can infer many things about him from his mi-
metic and formal concerns-but he is not significantly present as
an interpreter of experience, and the works cannot be said to
have a thematic structure.
As his argument proceeds, Booth moves from descriptive to
prescriptive criticism. He begins by insisting that interpretation
is always present, and concludes by insisting that it should always
be present, even though it is not, for both moral and aesthetic
reasons. A story will be "unintelligible," he feels, unless the
reader is made clearly "aware of the value system which gives it
its meaning" (p. 12). He believes, moreover, that the aesthetic
effect of "even the greatest of literature is radically dependent on
the concurrence of beliefs of authors and readers" (p. 140), that
"the implied author of each novel is someone with whose beliefs
on all subjects I must largely agree if I am to enjoy his work"
(p. 137). The author, therefore, must not only make his be-
liefs known; but he must also "make us willing to accept that
value system, at least temporarily" (p. t12). The reader must
co-operate in the aesthetic transaction by willingly suspend-
ing his own attitudes, but "the work itself... must fill with its
rhetoric the gap made by the suspension of my own beliefs"
(p. 112).

18 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

There is much that I agree with in Booth's observations so far:
the implied author as interpreter is an important feature of much
fiction, we do have a powerful craving for thematic intelligibility,
and it is necessary to identify with the perspective of the implied
author if we are to experience a work according to its own inner
logic. Booth's development of these ideas, to which I have done
scantjustice here, leaves all students of fiction in his debt. What
I disagree with is his contention that interpretation is or should
be a major ingredient of all fiction. This position, which violates
his own injunction against general rules, is a reflection, I suspect,
of Booth's strong personal preference for novels that have com-
plex and accessible thematic structures.
Booth not only wants interpretation to be there and to be clear
and to be persuasive while we are reading the novel; he also wants
it to be true, both for the world of the book and for life in general.
His essential plea is for every novel to have a reliable narrator,
or some equivalent rhetorical device. At first this seems to be
primarily a concern for "the reader's need to know where, in the
world of values, he stands-that is, to know where the author
wants him to stand" (p. 73). A reliable narrator is defined as one
who "speaks for and acts in accordance with the norms of the
work (which is to say, the author's norms)", and an unreliable
narrator is one who "does not" (pp. 158-159). Later, however,
in discussing the possibility of a nihilistic novel, Booth argues
that in such a work "all forms of reliable narration will be inap-
propriate. If the world of the book is without meaning, how can
there be a reliable narrator? What is he to be reliable about? The
very concept of reliability presupposes that something objec-
tively true can be said about actions and thoughts" (p. 299). It
is evident that the narrator of such a novel could be a reliable
transmitter of the facts of consciousness and of the implied au-
thor's attitudes; but reliability for Booth has come to mean cor-
rectness of judgment in the light of universal values. The func-
tion of the writing self is to "plumb to universal values," (p. 395),

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 19

to see "into permanency" (p. 7o) and to convey his wisdom
clearly and persuasively to the reader through the use of such
rhetorical devices as reliable narration: "... the artist must
... be willing to be both a seer and a revelator" (p. 395). Booth
celebrates those narrators who "originally succeeded and still
succeed by persuading the reader to accept them as living ora-
cles. They are reliable guides not only to the world of the novels
in which they appear but also to the moral truths of the world
outside the book" (p. 221).
I am wholly in sympathy with Booth when he insists that novels
be inwardly intelligible (see p. 392) and when he shows the im-
portance of a skillful rhetoric to works which depend for their
effects upon the control of distance and of the reader's attitudes
toward characters and events. In the discussion of Vanity Fair
which follows, we shall see how this work is aesthetically impaired
by its lack of a coherent thematic structure, of a reliable narrator
in Booth's first sense of that term. I am sympathetic, too, with his
demand that the judgments passed be "defensible in the light of
the dramatized facts" (p. 79). Our an:al ,ct 1,. R1tl I,.t 1,, Rl,,k
and TI. 1\l ,.,, t,, Fo... will consider the problems which arise
when there is a disparity between representation and interpreta-
tion. But I am very reluctant to say, with Booth, that great litera-
ture is "radically dependent on the concurrence of beliefs of
authors and readers" (p. 14o), or that I must "largely agree" with
the beliefs of the implied author "on all subjects if I am to
enjoy his work" (p. 137). The great work, for Booth, is one to
which "we surrender our emotions for reasons that leave us with
no regrets, no inclination to retract, after the immediate spell is
past" (p. 131) If a book "is to maintain our respect," he feels,
we must continue to entertain its thematic affirmations "as
among the intellectually and morally defensible views of life" (p.
There are serious difficulties in this position. By demanding a
kind of truth that is rarely found in fiction, it leads us to reject

zo A Psychological Approach to Fiction

the vast majority of novels. As Booth himself observes, "One of
our most common reading experiences is, in fact, the discovery
on reflection that the beliefs which we were temporarily
manipulated into accepting cannot be defended in the light of
day" (p. 139). At times Booth speaks as though all novelists were
wise; what they must do is to communicate their values effec-
tively. At other times he indicates that we do not often find
authors with whosejudgments we can agree, and his appeal is for
men who write novels to be virtuous and for those who are not
to lay down their pens. In any event, he feels that novelists ought
to be prophets and that, in the face of a fragmented society, they
should "build works of art that ... help to mold a new consensus"
(p. 393). Booth is right in saying that our estimate of the implied
author's beliefs inevitably affects our feelings about a work, and
the thematic pretensions of many novelists may lead us to expect
from fiction the kind of truth which Booth demands; but we are
making a mistake, surely, if we go to fiction for ethical guidance
or make our enjoyment or judgment of it dependent primarily
upon our agreement with the author's values.
There is nothing in the gift, temperament, or technique of
the novelist which makes him also a sage; and if we go to fiction
for analytical insight or for universal values, we are likely in our
disappointment to miss the unique experiences and revelations
that hctloll m goe II, a, B),',th ats, the nooehti ha% an obli-
gation to plumb to universal values and to make his moral or-
derings clear, then he will usually fail; for as an interpreter of
experience the novelist is usually no wiser or more consistent
than other men. The real trouble with the narrative technique
of much nineteenth century fiction is that the implied author as
interpreter usually does not know what he is talking about. It
may be partially in recognition of this fact that there has been
such heavy stress in the twentieth century upon dramatization
and objectivity.

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 21

Scholes and Kellogg distinguish between "two kinds of dy-
namic characterization: the developmental, in which the character's
personal traits are attenuated so as to clarify his progress along
a plot line which has an ethical basis and the chronological,"
in which the "plotting and characterization" are "highly mi-
metic" (p. 169). In the first mode of characterization, which is
found in literature written from the classical moralistic perspec-
tive, character is presented rhetorically; in the second mode,
which is typical ofserio-problematic forms like the novel, charac-
ter is presented psychologically. "For modern writers," Scholes
and Kellogg observe,

... a great problem has been to employ the developing knowledge
of the human psyche without losing all those literary effects which
rhetoric alone can achieve. The problem has been the achieve-
ment of new, workable combinations of psychology and rhetoric,
and the great narrative artists have solved it in various ways. (p.

As my discussion of Booth indicates, I agree with this formula-
tion of the problem, but I do not believe that it has often been
solved. In works which attempt to combine realism of presenta-
tion with realism of assessment, the assessments are usually con-
fused, or inadequate, or both. This results in aesthetic flaws, for
the work cannot be satisfactorily experienced in its own terms if
there is no coherent thematic structure, and it cannot attain total
integration if its attitudes are not sustained by its representation
of life. Booth contends that failures of rhetoric are inevitable if
the author has not plumbed to universal values, and this may be
true-though I suspect that a work which reflects the reader's
values will succeed well enough, with him, whether those values
are universal or not. If interpretations that are faulty or that differ

s2 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

from the reader's impair the effectiveness of the work, the novel-
ist might be wise to avoid interpretation altogether. If he does,
however, he will be frustrating some of the strongest appetites
with which, appropriately or not, many of us come to fiction-the
appetites for clarity, for intellectually graspable meaning, for
moral order. .\' tth,,i, say Brooks and Warren, "no story. The
writer of realistic fiction may be doomed to leave somebody, and
perhaps everybody, dissatisfied.
It is appropriate to demand thematic adequacy and intelligibil-
ity of those works which promise it; but it is not appropriate to
make such demands, as Booth does, of works in which the ele-
ment of interpretation is absent. It may be a mistake, as I have
suggested, for the novel to attempt interpretation at all, though
the history of the form made it inevitable that a strong rhetorical
element would persist. As Booth points out, there is sometimes
in fiction an "incompatibilti of miteresis" (p. 134), and it may be
that the rhetorical effects for which he asks are incompatible with
the novel's dominant impulse toward representation. We will be
unfair to works in which there are rhetorical or thematic failures
if we do not recognize the subordination, in realistic fiction, of
rhetoric to psychology, interpretation to mimesis.
I am not sure that it is ever appropriate to demand, as so many
critics do, that fiction leave us "with an attitude to take toward
things in general," that it give us "not only an evaluation of the
particular experience which is the stor\. but a generali'ti eialua-
tion."15 This is to demand of art a health and a wisdom which
have nothing to do with its intrinsic nature. It is to put art
into competition with the intellectual disciplines from which so
much modern criticism has tried to distinguish it and to invest
artistic technique with a power of discovery which is almost
magical. If an artist happens to be wise or healthy, his work may
well embody a valid comment on human nature, the human
condition, and human values; but wisdom and health are not
essential to great art. Their presence supplies an illumination

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 23

which is most welcome but which is not a distinctively aesthetic

The question of what kind of illumination art--or, in our case,
realistic fiction-does supply is too large to be dealt with com-
pletely here; but it is central to our concerns, and I shall attempt
to offer a partial answer. If we have realism of presentation with-
out realism of assessment, says Ian Watt, "we shall be wholly
immersed in the reality of the characters and their actions, but
whether we shall be any wiser as a result is open to question" (p.
288). Immersion in the inner reality of characters provides a kind
of knowledge which is not wisdom, though it may be the basis of
wisdom, and which realistic fiction is especially fitted to supply.
If we understand by phenomenology the formulation of "an ex-
perience of the world, a contact with the world which precedes
all" judgment and explanation,16 we can say that highly mimetic
fiction gives us a phenomenological knowledge of reality. It gives
us an immediate knowledge of how the world is experienced by
the individual consciousness and an understanding of the inner
life in its own terms. It enables us to grasp from within the
phenomena which psychology and ethics treat from without.
As Wayne Booth has observed, when we read novels in which
there are deep inside views "that ... give the reader an effect of
living thought and sensation" (p. 324), we tend to abandonjudg-
ment and analysis. When we are immersed in the "indomitable
mental reality" (p. 323) of a character, we adopt his perspective
and experience his feelings as though they were our own. This
kind of experience, which is one of the great gifts of fiction, is
acceptable to Booth only when the character's perspective is, in
his view, an ethically acceptable one. It is very dangerous, he
feels, if the character's values are destructive, for then the reader
is liable to be corrupted by his identification with unhealthy atti-
tudes. I feel that Booth has overestimated both the danger which
the reader is in and the effectiveness of rhetoric as a corrective,

24 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

and that he has underestimated the value of deep inside views,
though he admits that they "can be of immeasurable value in
forcing us to see the human worth of a character whose actions,
objectively considered, we would deplore" (p. 378) Robbe-
Grillet's The Voyeur "does, indeed, lead us to experience intensely
the sensations and emotions of a homicidal maniac. But is this,"
Booth asks, "really what we go to literature for?" (p. 384). My
answer is, Yes.
We go to literature for many things, and not the least of them
is the immediate knowledge that it gives of variously constituted
human psyches. The novel makes its revelations not only through
mimetic portraits of characters, but also, in many cases, through
the picture that it creates of the implied author. As both Wayne
Booth and Sheldon Sacks point out, when the implied author
functions as interpreter, he often makes a multitude of particular
judgments as his characters display their temperaments and con-
front their choices. This gives rise to "a much more detailed
ordering of values" than we ever encounter in systematic philos-
ophy. Even if we cannot accept the implied author's values as
adequate either to his fictional world or to life outside, we have
a marvellously rich portrayal of a particular kind of consciousness
making ethical responses to a variety of human situations.
Through the novel's rhetoric we become aware of the meaning
which the characters' experience has for a mind like that of the
implied author, and we enter thus into his subjective world.
What I am suggesting, then, is that if we view him as a fictional
persona, as another dramatized consciousness, rather than as an
authoritative source of values, the implied author, too, enlarges
our knowledge of experience. What we have, in effect, is a deep
inside view of his mind, a view which makes us phenomenologi-
cally aware of his experience of the world. When we see him as
another consciousness, sometimes the most fascinating one in
the book, it becomes more difficult to regret the technical devices
by which he is revealed, even when they produce aesthetic flaws.

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 25

To see him in this way we must set aside the fictional conventions
which encourage us to invest him with the authority which Wayne
Booth would like him to have; but it is essential to do so if we are
to appreciate many great narrators whose wisdom we must ques-
tion and whose obtrusiveness we must otherwise regret.
As long as we regard the implied author as a kind of God whose
will we must understand but never question, it seems quite inap-
propriate to analyze him psychologically. His contradictions are
manifestations of a higher harmony which we have not yet
grasped; and his judgments, being right, require no explanation.
When we see him as a dramatized consciousness whose values
can be as subjective and as confused as those of an ordinary man,
psychological analysis becomes a necessity.

I have tried to show by an analysis of the genre that it is often
appropriate to study the characters and implied authors of realis-
tic novels by a psychological method. In the interpretations of
individual novels that will follow our discussion of Third Force
psychology, I hope to demonstrate that the approach employed
here helps us to appreciate some of fiction's most important
values and to resolve some difficult critical problems.
I am aware, however, that the very arguments by which I have
attempted to justify a psychological approach may seem to pre-
clude it. I have argued that one of the chief interests of realistic
fiction is a mimetic characterization which gives us a phenomeno-
logical grasp of experience in its immediacy and ambiguity and
that the value of such characterization lies precisely in its con-
tinual resistance to the patterns by which the author has tried to
shape and interpret it. It may be objected that the values of such
characterization are incommensurate with any kind of analysis
and that to intellectualize them is to destroy them. My reply must
be that any criticism, whether it be psychological or not, is bound
to operate with categories and abstractions which, if they are
allowed to replace the values of literature, will destroy them.

26 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

Criticism can make literature more accessible to us, but we must
use it as a means to rather than as a substitute for the aesthetic
A common complaint about the psychological analysis of char-
acter is that it does violence to the literary values of fiction by
reducing the novel to a case history, the character to his neurosis.
We must recognize that literature and criticism belong to differ-
ent universes of discourse. As Northrop Frye says, "the axiom of
criticism must be, not that the poet does not know what he is
talking about, but that he cannot talk about what he knows."17
The function of criticism is to talk about what the artist knows,
and to do that it must speak in the language of science and
philosophy rather than in the language of art. But if we are aware
of what we are doing this does not convert art into science or
philosophy. Criticism points to a reality which is far more com-
plex and of a different nature than itself; the values of which it
speaks can be experienced only in the aesthetic encounter. All
criticism is reductive. Psychological analysis is our best tool for
talking about the intricacies of mimetic characterization. If prop-
erly conducted, it is less reductive than any other critical ap-
It is extremely valuable to bring literature and psychology to-
gether. The psychologist and the artist often know about the
same areas of experience, but they comprehend them and pre-
sent their knowledge in different ways. Each enlarges our aware-
ness and satisfies our need to master reality in a way that the
other cannot. The psychologist enables us to grasp certain config-
urations of experience analytically, categorically, and (if we ac-
cept his conceptions of health and neurosis) normatively. The
novelist enables us to grasp these phenomena in other ways.
Fiction lets us know what it is like to be a certain kind of person
with a certain kind of destiny. Through mimetic portraits of char-
acter, novels provide us with artistic formulations of experience
that are permanent, irreplaceable, and of an order quite different

The Uses of Psychology: Characters and Implied Authors 27

from the discursive formulations of systematic psychology. And,
if we view him as a fictional persona, as a dramatized conscious-
ness, the implied author, too, enlarges our knowledge of the
human psyche.
Taken together, psychology and fiction give us a far more
complete possession of experience than either can give by itself.
Psychology helps us to talk about what the novelist knows; fiction
helps us to know what the psychologist is talking about.

Chapter II

S The Psychology Used: Horey.

Maslowand the Third Force

" -; J .

I ha% e tried Ito ho hat much realitic fl llon _all, h% u[l %er\
nature for psychological analyst. and that a pschol,gical ap-
proath to -uch hciion %ill help us to understand the mind- both
f nlmeuel characters and of implied authors. The question no%,
is, what ps)cholog) should be used? A ps)cholog) of persoiinaht
!. is obviously called for: but the major personality theories tend to
focus on different stages of psts hotlogitcal evolution, and no one
S thor) \ ll suffice for all occasions I shall use Third Force psy-
S chology because it works very well with the novels I have chosen;
but there are undoubtedly novels which are best understood in
S the terms of Freudian id or ego psychology, ofJungian, Reichian,
Sor phenomenological psychology, or of some other theory or
combination of theories.
Their conception of human nature has led the Third Force
psychologists to see healthy human development as a process of
self-actualization, and unhealthy development as a process of
self-alienation. Maslow is their greatest student of self-actualiza-
tion; Horney offers the most systematic account of self-aliena-
tion. Horney's main concern is with what happens when, under
the pressure of an adverse environment, the individual abandons
his real self and develops neurotic strategies for living. Since

S The PsychologN Ulsed: Hornee, Maslow and the Third Force 29

Sfictonal characters and implied authors are much more fre-
S quenl\ self-alienated than self-actualizing, it is Karen Horney's
Theories which are most immediately relevant to our study of

I ha\e found it important, nevertheless, to devote much space
Sto Ma~11 Hornev was much more a clinician than a theorist of
. human nature. though her clinical practice gao e her a deep feel-
S ing lor the const-nruc[te forces inherently in man Her understand-
ing of neurosis was built upon ideas concerning the "real self,"
the process of "self-realization," and the nature of health which
she did not have time to develop (her next book was to have been
on the "real self'). Maslow's treatment of these crucial matters
is, I think, very much in harmony with Horney's thinking and is
in many ways an extension of it. Horney's focus was upon sick-
ne's. upon the forces which block healthy growth. Maslow has
attempted a direct study of the process of self-actualization as it
occurs in the healthiest people and of the kinds of experiences
olich characterize the highest stages of psychological evolution.
In addition, Maslow has synthesized the findings of many other
workers; he is the leading spokesman for Third Force psychology
as a whole. I shall present its basic ideas about human nature and
the nature of health largely through his vocabulary.
The exposition of Third Force psychology which follows will
be divided into three parts: I shall examine, first, its conceptions
of human nature, the human condition, and human values; next,
its treatment of self-actualization; and, finally, its analysis of self-
alienation. Since these concerns are overlapping and conceptu-
ally interdependent, no strict division will be possible. Some
ideas which are introduced early may not become entirely clear
S until they are developed more fully in later sections.
Though I was drawn to Third Force psychology chiefly because
of its heuristic and explanatory power, I have come to find its
picture of man more sophisticated and more persuasive than that
of any other psychology. Jung observed that "every psychology

30 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

... has the character of a subjective confession,"' and this obser-
vation holds true for the psychologies we choose as well as for
those we construct. I do not expect anyone to be persuaded by
Third Force psychology who is not already receptive to its prem-
ises. Its value as a tool of analysis is, however, a less subjective
thing; and I hope that even those who disagree with some of its
premises will find that it does fit the experiences we shall be
examining (if only as phenomenological description) and that it
does illuminate the novels.

I. Human nature, the human condition, and human values
It is its view of human nature, more than any other part of its
theory, which unifies Third Force psychology as a movement and
distinguishes it from the other two major movements (Freudian-
ism and behaviorism) in modern psychology. This psychology
contends, in essence, that man is not simply a tension-reducing
or a conditioned animal, but that there is present in him a third
force, an "evolutionary constructive" force, which urges "him to
realize his given potentialities."2 Each man has "an essential
biologically based inner nature" which is "good or neutral rather
than bad" and which should be brought out and encouraged
rather than suppressed. This inner nature "is weak and delicate
and subtle and easily overcome by habit, cultural pressure, and
wrong attitudes toward it"; but, "even though weak, it rarely
disappears even though denied, it persists underground
forever pressing for actualization."
This view of human nature is based on the Third Force psy-
chologists' experience with psychotherapy and on their study of
exceptionally healthy people. Psychotherapy has shown that
there is a drive toward self-realization, however weak, which
makes change possible; that cure involves helping the individual
first to get in touch with and then to live from his essential inner
nature; and that this inner nature, when uncovered, turns out to

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 3

be a source of spontaneous virtues and intrinsic values rather
than a thing to be feared and repressed. The study of exception-
ally healthy people has shown that the views of human nature
which we find in most philosophies, theologies, and psychologies
are based on the observation of imperfectly developed people
(who constitute the vast majority) and that they do not character-
ize the essential nature of man. Third Force psychologists have
asked not only what are most men like, but also what is man like,
what is the essential nature of the species as it is represented by
its most fully developed individuals?
One of the most interesting Third Force contributions to our
understanding of man's essential nature is Abraham Maslow's
theory of the hierarchy of basic needs. According to this theory,
all men have needs for physiological satisfaction, for safety, for
love and belonging, for self-esteem, and for self-actualization.
These needs are not always experienced consciously; indeed,
they tend to be more unconscious than conscious. The needs are
hierarchical in that they exist in an order of prepotency; the
physiological needs are the most powerful, and so on. The needs
at the upper end of the hierarchy (higher needs) are much weaker
than the lower needs, though they are no less basic.4 The needs
are basic in the sense that they are built into the nature of all men
as a function of their biological structure and they must be gra-
tified if the organism is to develop in a healthy way. Though the
particular form in which they are expressed and the possibility of
their satisfaction depends upon the surrounding culture, they
exist prior to culture as part of the hereditary nature of the
Because they are biologically based, Maslow calls the basic
needs instinctoid. They are not like the instincts of animals-
"powerful, strong, unmodifiable, uncontrollable, unsuppress-
ible" (MP, 128); they are weak, especially the higher ones, and
are "easily repressed, suppressed masked or modified by
habits, suggestions, by cultural pressure, by guilt, and so on"

32 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

(MP, 129). Though weak, they are in a sense also very strong; for
they are inconceivablyy stubborn and recalcitrant .... Con-
sciously or unconsciously they are craved and sought forever.
They behave always like stubborn, irreducible, final, unanalyza-
ble facts that must be taken as givens or starting points not to be
questioned" (MP, 125).
Each individual presses by nature for the fulfillment of all of
these needs, but at any given time his motivational life will be
centered upon the fulfillment of one of them. Since a higher need
emerges strongly only when the needs below it have been suffi-
ciently met, the individual tends to be occupied with the basic
needs in the order of their prepotency. When he is at a given
stage in the hierarchy, the needs which have already been met
tend to cease functioning as motivators and the needs which are
higher in the hierarchy are felt but weakly. The person living in
an environment which is favorable to growth will move steadily
up the hierarchy until he is free to devote most of his energies
to self-actualization, which is the full and satisfying use of his
capacities in a calling which suits his nature. The higher needs
tend to emerge not only with the fulfillment of the lower needs,
but also with the maturing of the organism.
The hierarchy of basic needs, then, establishes the pattern of
psychological evolution. If the individual is not adequately
fulfilled in his lower needs, he may become fixated at an early
stage of development; or, if he passes beyond, he may be subject
to frequent regressions. Frustration of a basic need intensifies it
and insures its persistence; gratification diminishes its strength as
a motivating force. People who have been very well satisfied in
their lower needs early in life may develop a "frustration toler-
ance" which permits them to experience later deprivation with-
out regressing. The more fully evolved person may regress, how-
ever, if he is deprived of a lower need in a severe way or for an
extended period of time.

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 33

Maslow cautions us against understanding the dynamics of the
hierarchy of basic needs in too crude or mechanical a way. Most
behavior is multi-motivated; in any given instance there may be
several or all of the basic needs at work, though they will not all
be equally powerful. Most members of our society are partially
satisfied and partially unsatisfied in all of their basic needs at any
given time. There are decreasing percentages of satisfaction,
however, as we move up the hierarchy of prepotency. Under
especially favorable conditions we may have episodes of higher
need motivation, and under particularly unfavorable conditions
we may regress to a lower level of needing. Behavior is not solely
determined by inner needs; the cultural setting and the immedi-
ate situation are also important determinants. The hierarchy of
prepotency will determine what we want, but not necessarily how
we will act.
Movement from one stage of psychological evolution to an-
other has profound effects upon our attitudes toward the basic
needs and their satisfiers. They are:

Independence of and a certain disdain for the old satisfiers and
goal objects, with a new dependence on satisfiers and goal ob-
jects that hitherto had been overlooked, not wanted, or only
casually wanted ... Thus there are changes in interests. That is,
certain phenomena become interesting for the first time and old
phenomena become boring, or even repulsive. This is the same
as saying that there are changes in human values. In general,
there tend to be: (i) overestimation of the satisfiers of the most
powerful of the ungratified needs; (2) underestimation of the sa-
tisfiers of the less powerful of the ungratified needs (and of the
strength of these needs); and (3) underestimation and deroga-
tion of the satisfiers of the needs already gratified (and of the
strength of these needs). This shift in values involves, as a de-
pendent phenomenon, reconstruction in philosophy of the fu-
ture, of the Utopia, of the heaven and hell, of the good life, and

34 A Psychological Approach to Fiction
of the unconscious wish-fulfillment state of the individual in a
crudely predictable direction. (MP, 108-109)

These observations are extraordinarily useful in helping us to
understand conflicts and changes in values and differences
among the various psychological theories.
People at different stages of psychological evolution are bound
to have different philosophies of life and to emphasize different
values. Those at the lower stages of the evolutionary process will
be unable to understand the values of those at the higher stages,
while those at the higher stages are likely to underemphasize the
importance of some of the lower needs. Those who are still
growing psychologically will inevitably change their philosophic
orientation and will realize, on the basis of past experiences of
change, that their present position is most likely an incomplete
one. People who are fixated at a certain stage of growth will tend
to interpret everything in terms of the values appropriate to that
stage and to believe that all other values are illusory. Values come
from human needs; when they are felt in a healthy way, all of the
basic needs are sources of legitimate values. Any value system
which is based on only one or a few needs, however, is bound to
be incomplete and to involve a distortion of human nature. An
adequate conception of human nature and human values can be
derived only from the perspective of the most fully evolved peo-
ple, though, as we have seen, this perspective is likely to un-
deremphasize the importance of the lower needs. Perhaps there
is no one perspective which does not involve some distortion.
Each of the major psychological theories tends to focus on
some part of the hierarchy of needs rather than upon the whole
hierarchy. Jungian and Maslovian psychologies focus on the up-
per end of the hierarchy and are scanty in their treatment of the
lower needs. Freudian id psychology and behaviorist psychology
are strong in their treatment of the lower needs but weak in their
handling of the higher needs. Horney, Fromm, Rogers, the

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 35

Freudian ego psychologists, and the existential psychologists
focus on the middle of the hierarchy. Horney is mainly concerned
with the neurotic processes which occur as a result of the frustra-
tion of the needs for safety, love, and self-esteem.
An awareness of the partial nature of most psychologies helps
us to assess both their achievements and limitations and puts us
on guard against the problems to which such incompleteness may
lead. A psychology which is devoted to the observation and ex-
planation of certain aspects of human nature may provide excel-
lent insight into the phenomena which it studies; but it is liable
to serious error and distortion if it attempts to account for higher
or lower needs mainly in terms of the needs on which it is
focused. Many psychologies are weak in their picture of human
nature because they attempt to derive the whole of man from the
part which they know or which they feel can be studied best. The
most frequent error, of course, is reductionism in which only the
lower needs are seen as inherent motivators and the higher striv-
ings are seen as derived from and therefore reducible to the
lower ones. One of the most significant features of Third Force
psychology is that it recognizes the higher needs to be just as
much a part of our nature as the lower ones. It gives them an
autonomous status and permits us to understand them and the
values arising from them in their own terms.

As the preceding discussion has indicated, Maslow's concep-
tion of the hierarchy of basic needs and of its dynamics has a
number of important implications for our understanding of hu-
man nature, the human condition, and human values. As Maslow
sees him, man is a being whose psychological evolution is deter-
mined mainly by two factors: the structure of needs inherent in
the human organism and the degree to which these needs are
satisfied. Gratification of the basic needs produces health; it per-
mits the individual to continue on his way toward self-actualiza-
tion. Frustration of the basic needs produces pathology; it arrests

S 36. A Psychological Approach to Fiction

Sthe individual's development, alienates him from his real self,
S and leads him to develop neurotic strategies for making up his
S deficiencies. The frustration of nonbasic needs is not harmful;
S the person who is fairly well gratified in his basic needs can
handle considerable frustration in other areas. Destructiveness,
aggression, and a need to be omnipotent are not part of man's
S -essential nature; the\ are defensive reactions to basic need depri-
sation. The\ are potentralitses of his essential nature, hose\er:
for man is so constituted that he iill sicken if his basic needs are
not met. and he idll then seek lulfllment in sa%\s harmful to
himself and to others. There are valuablee as \\ell a. harmful
S frustrations. The individual must dsco\er not ,onls his potentall-
ties. but also the Imnitations imposed b\ his nature. his place in
the c-,smos. and the social character -,f his existence
There is no reason lor frustrating an\ of the basic needs. for
t the\ are not. .when experienced in the course of a health\ de\el-
S opment. In conflict %ith ci\ilization and man's higher values. The
e interests ol the individual and of society\ are in conflict onl\ under
bad condttions: the\ are snergic under good conditions The
Traditional distnctions between reason and impulse. spirt and
S- bod man's higher and lower natures are based upon false di-
: chotonnes. The higher and lower needs are in conflict only when
S there is deprivation; in the most fully evolved people they are in
S harmon\. In these people "desires are in excellent accord with
Season. St Augustine's 'Love God and do as you will' can easily
be translated, 'Be healthy and then you may trust your im-
pulses' (MP, 233)-
The Third Force psychologists seem optimistic (when com-
pared, say, with Freud) in that they believe in the possibility of
Health and find the healthy man to be a relatively happy, harmoni-
T ous, and creative being. It must be pointed out, however, that
J Maslow's self-actualizing people comprise no more than one per-
cent of the population, and perhaps less. Because their instinct-
oid needs (especially the higher ones) are so weak and the voice

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 37

of the real self is so faint, it is extremely difficult for human beings
to be impulse aware, to know how they really feel and what they
really want. Man is by nature a being who is easily self-alienated;
he is a sensitive plant who requires such special and complex
conditions for healthy growth that he rarely achieves a sound
maturity. Raising a child to health is an extraordinarily difficult
task, and the creation of a healthy society is incomparably more
It is difficult for man to know what he wants and difficult for
him to get what he needs. When he gets what he needs, he will
not be satisfied, for needing never ceases. Satisfaction of any one
need produces no more than a momentary tranquillity; other and
higher needs soon emerge and striving is renewed. The satisfac-
tion of the lower needs does not result in stagnation, as many
seem to fear. Rather it "elevates" the individual "to the point
where he is civilized enough to feel frustrated about the larger
personal, social, and intellectual issues" (MP, 119).
The more highly evolved individual, though always engaged in
a process of becoming, will frequently have end (or "peak")
experiences. These are experiences of being which are self-suffi-
cient and intrinsically valuable. They are not means to any other
ends but are the ends to which all other forms of gratification are
the means. They are moments of complete fulfillment from which
no higher strivings will emerge.5 The highly evolved individual
will have such experiences frequently; but they will not free him
more than momentarily from the condition of wanting, for hav-
ing had them will make him want them again.
Though suffering and limitation is the fate of all men, people
at different stages of psychological evolution will, to some extent,
experience different kinds of frustration and have different views
of the human condition. We will be able to see this more clearly
if we divide human problems into three kinds: personal, histori-
cal, and existential.6 Personal problems are rooted in the life
history of the individual; they are symptomatic of the interfer-

38 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

ences with his psychological evolution which have been produced
by the frustration of his basic needs. Historical problems arise
from the social, cultural, and economic development of a particu-
lar community. They are shared by all members of the commu-
nity, but not all communities have the same problems. Personal
problems are partly the result of historical problems; but temper-
ament and the immediate family situation also play large roles in
individual development. Not all members of the community are
affected by their common environment in the same way. Histori-
cal problems are partly the result of individual problems, and
they are perpetuated by the neuroses which they help to foster.
Both personal and historical problems are accidental, variable,
and, theoretically, at least, remediable. Existential problems arise
out of the disparity between man's natural wants (for life, health,
control of his destiny, etc.) and the unalterable cosmic and his-
torical conditions of his existence. They are shared by all men,
and they are irremediable.
The Third Force psychologists do not feel that man's existen-
tial problems are such as to prevent healthy development and a
reasonably satisfactory existence. The historical problems of our
society make a high degree of psychological evolution impossible
for most men. Even our most mature people are significantly
hampered by historical problems and have achieved considerably
less than full humanness. Even so, the freedom, tolerance, pros-
perity, and diversity of our society, combined with our rapidly
developing psychological insight and the emergence of effective
psychotherapies, make our environment more favorable to self-
actualization than most others which men have experienced.
Self-actualizing people are by no means free of conflict and
suffering, but they suffer mainly from historical and existential
rather than from personal problems. Their relative freedom from
personal problems makes them more accurately aware of histori-
cal and existential problems than are most self-alienated people.

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 39

They tend to work in a patient, realistic way for the alleviation of
historical problems and to approach existential problems with a
combination of resignation and humor. Their positive experi-
ences are so numerous and so rewarding that they feel generally
accepting toward the human condition, without being at all blind
to its tragedies. The fact that their lives are so full of possibilities
leads them at times to feel the limitations of time, age, and death
and the gap between aspiration and opportunity with special
poignancy. Their awareness of the impoverished quality of most
human lives fills them with an unmitigable sadness.
Self-alienated people usually see the possibilities for fulfill-
ment as fewer and the frustrations of the human lot as greater
Than do self-actualizing people. In forming an estimate of the
human condition they tend to generalize from their own experi-
ence, in which intrinsically satisfying end experiences are rare
and suffering is frequent. Because of their insecurities and their
compensatory strategies, they overreact to historical and existen-
Stial problems. They then judge the magnitude of the problems
by the intensity of their response. Because of their limited experi-
ence, their need to externalize, and their desire to avoid feelings
of uncertainty, isolation, and inferiority, they tend to see their
personal problems not as belonging to themselves, but as histori-
cal or existential in nature. They confuse neurotic anxiety with
S existential Angst, and neurotic despair with a philosophic sense
of the absurdity of human existence.
We have already seen some of the implications of Third Force
psychology for our understanding of human values. Values are
derived from human nature and its needs. Those things are good
which gratify basic needs and are thus conducive to healthy de-
velopment; those things are bad which arrest or distort man's
psychological evolution. What an individual values most will be
largely determined by the most powerful of his ungratified needs.
Just as there are higher and lower needs, there are also higher

40 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

and lower values. An individual who has been gratified in both
will place a greater value upon a higher need than upon a lower
Maslow's account of the relation of values to the stages of
psychological evolution applies mainly to people who are en-
gaged in a process of healthy growth and to the healthy compo-
nent in the neurotic person's development. As we shall see when
we discuss Homey, the neurotic person's values are determined
not only by his ungratified basic needs, but also by his defensive
strategies. Neurotic needs result from the frustration of basic
needs, but they are not the same as basic needs. The neurotic
person tends to value not so much what he needs in order to grow
as what he needs in order to maintain his system of defense.
Insofar as his defensive strategies are essential to his survival, his
neurotic values have a certain functional legitimacy and must be
respected. They are, however, in no way normative, as are the
values which derive from the needs which are part of man's
essential nature.
The "single ultimate value for mankind," the "far goal toward
which all men strive," has been "called variously by different
authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psycho-
logical health, individuation, autonomy, creativity," and "pro-
ductivity." Though they use different terms, all Third Force psy-
chologists agree that the highest value for a human being is to
realize his potentialities, to become "fully human," everything
that he "can become" (PB, 145). This is the highest good, the
summum bonum, for all men, whether they realize it or not. This
does not mean that all self-actualizing people will want the same
things or have exactly the same values. Each person has a differ-
ent self to actualize, and these constitutional differences generate
differences in values. Men are most like each other in their lower
needs and most idiosyncratic in their self-actualizing activities.
This means that some values are species-wide (though they take
different forms in different cultures), and some values are unique

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 41

to the individual or are shared only by individuals with similar
capacities and temperaments. Self-actualization, the fulfillment
of both our species-wide and our unique natures, takes many
different forms; but it is the raison detre of all men. It is the reason
for being also of our various social institutions, and the worth of
these institutions is to be measured by their success or failure in
fostering individual growth.
It should be evident by now that the Third Force psychologists
reject many of the relativisms characteristic of our time. Some of
them, like Maslow, feel that they have the solution to the modern
crisis in values.7 The values they propose are, of course, relative
to human beings; but for human beings they are absolute.
The cultural anthropologists did a great service, they feel, by
alerting us to our ethnocentricity; but cultural relativism goes too
far when it derives all values from culture and proclaims itself
unable to distinguish between good and bad cultures. In general,
says Maslow, "the paths by which the main goals in life are
achieved are determined by the nature of the particular
culture" (MP, 48). But the goals themselves are not culturally
determined. "The fundamental or ultimate desires of all human
beings do not differ nearly as much as their conscious every day
desires" (MP, 67). The former are determined by the essential
nature of man, the latter by the mores, patterns, and opportuni-
ties of the surrounding culture.
Cultures, too, operate according to the hierarchy of needs.8
They are organized around the lower needs first, and only when
these are adequately met can they respond to the higher needs
of their members. Individuals who are products of a culture
which is at an early stage of evolution will not be able to feel the
higher needs very strongly, but the needs will continue to exist
and will exert an upward pressure. Those individuals who,
through especially fortunate circumstances or contact with a
higher civilization, have evolved beyond their immediate culture
often become progressive forces within their society.

42 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

Being, for the most part, therapists, the Third Force psycholo-
gists recognize the importance of understanding each individual
in his own terms and of accepting the fact that each individual's
value system has a certain logic and validity, for him. They do not
feel, however, that there is no way of choosing between differing
value systems and ways of being in the world. Though they em-
ploy a phenomenological perspective, they do not confine them-
selves to it. To understand all is not necessarily to abandon
judgment. Some values are healthy and some are neurotic; some
are conducive to a fuller realization of human potentialities, and
some result in a stunting of human growth. All values, neurotic
and healthy alike, derive from human wants; but neurotic wants,
unlike the basic needs of the healthy man, are destructive both
of self and of others. Frustration of the basic needs so alienates
the individual from his essential nature and so disturbs the course
of his development that he is no longer aware of his own best
interests or able to pursue them.
The value theory which Maslow proposes is essentially a hedo-
nism which differs from past hedonisms in its more complete
understanding of man's essential nature and in its more sophis-
ticated approach to the problems of distinguishing between
higher and lower values, healthy and sick pleasures. No value
theory will be adequate, Maslow argues, "that rests simply on the
statistical description of the choices of unselected human beings.
To average the choices of good and bad choosers, of healthy and
sick people, is useless" (PB, 143). The values of healthy people
hold for all men, whether they believe in them or not; for "good
choosers can choose better than bad choosers what is better for
the bad choosers themselves" (PB, 143). Many men have had no
opportunity to choose higher over lower, healthy over sick plea-
sures. If both their natures and their cultures were highly enough
evolved to give them the opportunity for choice, they would
choose the pleasures of self-actualization over all else. One evi-
dence for this is that people undergoing psychotherapy tend to

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 43

change their values in a predictable direction. Maslow feels that
a naturalistic value system can be arrived at by observing what
"our best specimens choose, and then assuming that these are
the highest values for all mankind" (PB, 159).
Maslow contends, in effect, that there is an essential human
nature, that we can identify the people in whom this nature has
achieved its fullest growth, and that we can derive from the obser-
vation of these people an idea of what would be good (growth-
fostering) for all men and of what all men would want if they were
fully evolved. There are a number of difficulties in this argument.
It is impossible to establish conclusively that there is an essential
human nature; all value systems which are based on this premise
begin with a leap of faith. It is impossible to demonstrate that one
has actually identified the best specimens. Maslow derives his
scientifically based, naturalistic value system from the observa-
tion of good choosers; but, as he himself recognizes, the good
choosers must be chosen, and there is no way of establishing the
credentials of the original choosers. The possibilities of projec-
tion are great; one may just be choosing those whose personali-
ties and value systems are parallel to one's own or are the em-
bodiment of a neurotic ideal. Just when we think that we have
escaped from relativism, we realize that there is no way of validat-
ing, for those who are not already convinced, the criteria of
psychological health, the criteria by which the good choosers are
chosen. This, I think, is an existential problem.

II. Self-actualization

According to Maslow, "healthy people have sufficiently grat-
ified their basic needs for safety, belongingness, love, respect and
self-esteem so that they are motivated primarily by trends to
self-actualization." He defines self-actualization as the "ongoing
actualization of potentials, capacities and talents," as "fulfillment
of mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation)." It involves "a

44 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person's own intrinsic
nature" and "an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or
synergy within the person" (PB, 23).
This definition presents self-actualization as a process which
occurs in the later stages of psychological evolution. Maslow's
total conception of self-actualization is much broader than this,
however. His study of peak experiences has led him to see that
in such experiences "any person ... takes on temporarily many
of the characteristics" of self-actualizing individuals (PB, 91).
Self-actualization can be defined, then, "as an episode, or a spurt
in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly
efficient and intensely enjoyable way .... He becomes in these
episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualizing his
potentialities, closer to the core of his Being" (PB, 9 ). All people
can have experiences of self-actualization. What distinguishes
self-actualizing people "is that in them these episodes seem to
come far more frequently, and intensely and perfectly than in
average people" (PB, 92). Self-actualization, then, is "a matter of
degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair" (PB,
The discussion of self-actualization to be presented here will
not deal with all aspects of this complicated phenomenon; it will
focus mainly upon the real self and upon some of the chief char-
acteristics of self-actualizing people. Since all people may be
self-actualizing at times, perhaps it would be more accurate to say
that we shall discuss not simply self-actualizing people, but the
ways in which all people relate to self, to others, and to the world
when they are functioning in a self-actualizing rather than in a
deficiency motivated or neurotic fashion.
It was not until her last book, Neurosis and Human Growth, that
Karen Homey introduced the concept of the real self as a founda-
tion stone of her system. Her "theoretical and therapeutic ap-
proach" had always rested upon "the belief in an inherent urge
to grow" (NHG, 38); now she identified the real self as "the

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 45

'original' force toward individual growth and fulfillment, with
which we may again achieve full identification when freed of the
crippling shackles of neurosis" iNHG, 158) It is the real self for
which we are looking "when we say that we want to find our-
selves" (NHG, 158).
In the course of his development the child is much influenced
by the things which he learns-skills, coping behaviors, social
roles, reward and punishment associations, and so forth. "But
there are also forces in him," says Homey, "which he cannot
acquire or even develop by learning. You need not, and in fact,
cannot, teach an acorn to grow into an oak tree, but when given
a chance, its intrinsic potentialities will develop. Similarly, the
human individual, when given a chance, tends to develop his
particular human potentialities" (NHG, 17).
Under favorable conditions, the individual "will develop ...
the unique alive forces of his real self: the clarity and depth of his
own feelings, thoughts, wishes, interests; the ability to tap his
own resources, the strength of his will power; the special capaci-
ties or gifts he may have; the faculty to express himself, and to
relate himself to others with his spontaneous feelings. All this will
in time enable him to find his set of values and his aims in life"
(NHG, 17). Such a development, says Homey, "is far from uni-
form." It will be influenced by "his particular temperament,
faculties, propensities, and the conditions of his earlier and later
life But wherever his course takes him, it will be his given
potentialities which he develops" (NHG, 13).
Under unfavorable conditions, when the people around him
are prevented by their own neurotic needs from relating to him
with love and respect, the child develops a "feeling of being
isolated and helpless in a iorld concealed as potentially hostile"
(NHG. 181 This feeling of basic anxiety" makes the child leartul
of spontaneity, and. forsaking his real self. he develops neurotic -
strategies for coping with his environment. The real self, though
abandoned or suppressed, remains alive, however; and it is possi-

46 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

ble, with the help of therapy or other favorable conditions, for the
individual to get back to it and to grow from it again. The neu-
rotic person is, in greater or lesser degree, divorced from his real
self; but the real self remains as a possibility, a "possible self'
(NHG, 158)
The preceding paragraphs contain the best of Horney's rela-
tively few direct statements about the real self. There is much that
we can infer about it from her analysis of self-alienation, of
course; and our later discussion of her theories of neurosis will
deepen our understanding of her conception of the real self. To
clarify our notion of the real self we can also draw upon the work
of Maslow, who has adopted Horney's term and whose theories
are in many ways an extension of her concept.
"One's personal biology," says Maslow, "is beyond question a
sine qua non component of the 'Real Self.' Being oneself, being
natural or spontaneous, being authentic, expressing one's iden-
tity, all these are also biological statements since they imply the
acceptance of one's constitutional, temperamental, anatomical,
neurological, hormonal, and instinctoid-motivational nature."9
Each person's real self "has some characteristics which all other
selves have ... and some which are unique to the person" (PB,
179). All persons, except those who are extraordinarily stunted,
have the basic needs for physiological gratification, safety, love
and belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization, beauty, knowl-
edge, and understanding. Each person has his own talents, capac-
ities, tastes, temperamental predispositions, and physiological
As we have seen, Maslow holds that the choices or values of
self-actualizing people (or of all people in their moments of self-
actualization) are normative for the species as a whole. He calls
these values Being-values (or B-values) and lists them as follows:
truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, dichotomy-transcendence,
aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, necessity, completion, jus-
tice, order, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 47

sufficiency.10 Maslow feels that the B-values are part of the real
self; that is, all human beings by their nature have a potentiality
for experiencing these as the highest values, they must have their
desire for these values satisfied if they are to achieve full human-
ness, and they cannot violate these values without damage to
Following Horney and Fromm, Maslow affirms the existence of
an "intrinsic conscience" which generates "intrinsic guilt" and
which is also part of the real self. "The serious thing for each
person to recognize vividly, poignantly, each for himself, is that
every falling away from species-virtue, every crime against one's
own nature, every evil act, every one without exception records itself in
our unconscious and makes us despise ourselves" (PB, 4-5). Our
intrinsic conscience, which has nothing to do with local customs
or the Freudian super-ego, generates appropriate feelings of
guilt whenever we violate the B-values or betray any aspect of our
real selves.
The components of the real self, says Maslow, "are potentiali-
ties, not final actualizations. Therefore they have a life history
and must be seen developmentally. They are actualized, shaped
or stifled mostly (but not altogether) by extra-psychic determi-
nants (culture, family, environment, learning, etc.)" (PB, 178).
The real self is actualized only as a self-in-the-world; the way in
which it is actualized and the degree to which it is actualized are
determined largely by the nature of its world.
The actualization of the real self requires a culture which offers
a course of activity which is congruent with the individual's inner
bent and which permits him to realize the highest of his capaci-
ties. It requires, even more, a set of significant adults who are
interested in the child as a being for himself and who will allow
him to have his own feelings, tastes, interests, and values. The
child is a weak and dependent being whose needs for safety,
protection, and acceptance are so strong that he will sacrifice
himself, if necessary, in order to get these things. If faced with

48 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

a choice between his own delight experiences and the approval
of others, he "must generally choose approval from others" (PB,
49); and he gradually loses the capacity to know how he really
feels and what he really wants.
The person who is able to develop in accordance with his real
self possesses a number of characteristics which distinguish him
from the self-alienated person. The child who is not permitted to
be himself and who does not live in a safe, relatively transparent
world develops a defensiveness which cuts him off both from
himself and from external reality. The opposite of defensiveness
is "openness to experience," and the self-actualizing person is
characterized above all by his openness to his own inner being
and to the world around him.
The self-actualizing person's openness to himself is manifested
in his greater congruence, his greater transparence, and his
greater spontaneity. A person is congruent, says Rogers, when
whatever feeling or attitude he is experiencing is matched by his
awareness of that attitude." The congruent person knows what
he wants, feels, thinks, and values. In Maslow's terms, he is im-
pulse aware; his "inner signals" are relatively loud and clear. He
is not self-deceived or torn by unconscious conflicts. He may not
have a direct intellectual cognition of his inner depths, but there
is no significant disparity between his conscious and unconscious
A person is transparent when his acts, words, and gestures are
an accurate indicator of what is going on inside of him. Transpar-
ency is synonymous with honesty, lack of pose, and genuineness.
A person must be congruent before he can be transparent; an
incongruent person invariably transmits confusing or misleading
signals. Transparency requires self-acceptance and a confidence
that one's real self will be accepted by other people or that one
can handle rejection. It requires great strength and courage.
Spontaneity involves both congruence and transparence; it in-
volves an absence of inhibition both in experiencing and in ex-

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 49

pressing the real self Healthy spontaneity should not be con-
fused with the acting out of neurotic compulsions which often
goes on in its name. Such behavior does not flow freely from the
real self but is a product of defensiveness and involves a breaking
through rather than a freedom from inhibitions. Spontaneity can-
not exist without a profound self-trust, and it is only the psycho-
logically healthy person who can have such trust in himself.
There is no serious conflict between spontaneity and morality,
for people cannot be truly spontaneous unless they are self-
actualizing, and the self-actualizing person "is so constructed
that he presses toward what most people would call good
values, toward serenity, kindness, courage, honesty, love, un-
selfishness, and goodness" (PB, 147). Most Third Force psy-
chologists would agree with Horney that the way to become good
is to become healthy and that "our prime moral obligation" is not
to control ourselves, but "to work at ourselves" (NHG, 15).
(ljThe sell-actualizing person is a superior ethlal being partly
because he it Inh g from his inner core. uhich i, good.and partlv
because he is extraordinarily open to others and to the total
situation in which he is acting. By a process of partly conscious
and partly unconscious calculation, he seeks that course of action
which permits the maximum fulfillment of all his needs, which
offers the highest degree both of self-realization and of social
good possible under the circumstances.
The world-openness of the self-actualizing person is manifes-
ted in his ways of perceiving and of relating himself to external
reality. When they are self-actualizing, people are relatively free
of urgent needs and fears, and they have, therefore, an unusual
ability to attend to the external oorld and to pertseie it objec- ,
ticl\ In Schachel's terns. defensive people tend to be autsccin-l '
tric (suhject-centereds in their perceptions. %hhile relf-attuahlting
people tend to be allocentric object-centeredi in their approach
to reality.
In the autocentric mode ol perception the world s diided into

50 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

"objects-of-use" and "objects-to-be-avoided." Things and peo-
ple are seen in terms of how they will "serve a certain need of the
perceiver, or how they can be used by him for some purpose, or
how they have to be avoided in order to prevent pain, displeasure,
injury, or discomfort."12 Autocentric perception corresponds
closely to what Maslow calls D-cognition, that is, "cognition orga-
pized by the deficiency needs of the individual" (PB, 69).
In the allocentric mode of perception (which corresponds to
Maslow's Being or B-cognition), the perceiver exposes himself to
the object with relatively few preconceptions and protective de-
vices. The "allocentric attitude" is "one of profound interest in
the object, and complete openness and receptivity toward it, a
full turning toward the object which makes possible the direct
encounter with it and not merely a quick registration of its famil-
iar features according to ready labels" (M, 220-221). Interest is
in the whole object and the perceiver turns toward it with the
whole of his being.
Allocentric perception provides a far richer and more accurate
picture of the world than does the more usual autocentric mode.
It is more ideographic than conceptual and hence restores to
awareness those aspects of reality which our systematic knowl-
edge has ignored. It gives us "the real, concrete world" rather
than the "system of rubrics, motives, expectations, and abstrac-
tions which we have projected onto" it (PB, 38). It permits us to
see other people as they are in and for themselves, holistically,
"as complicated, unique individuals" (PB, 33).
There is a close connection between allocentric perception and
what Maslow calls Being-love.13 Those who see all human rela-
tionships as I-it relationships, in which people use each other as
objects and in which the subjectivity of the other is threatening
and must be denied, are describing as inherent in the general
human condition relationships as they exist between deficiency-
motivated, autocentrically oriented people. In the Being-love re-
lationship the other person is seen allocentrically, as he is in and

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 51

for himself; and he is loved for what he is and because he is
understood rather than for what he can give to the lover. The
B-love relationship is a non-clinging relationship in which there
is respect for the other's dignity and autonomy and a desire for
the other's growth. B-love is not confined to one partner but is
extended to all persons who are seen allocentrically; it is the
central feature of all the relationships which Carl Rogers charac-
terizes as "helping relationships." Being-love is what all men
need, more than anything else, in order to grow (see PB, 41). One
of man's profoundest cravings is to be allocentrically perceived
by another: "We all want to be recognized and accepted for what
we are in our fulness, richness and complexity. If such an accep-
tor cannot be found among human beings, then the very strong
tendency appears to project and create a godlike figure, some-
times a human one, sometimes supernatural" (PB, 88).
Allocentric perception has an "enriching, refreshing, vitaliz-
ing" effect upon the perceiver (M, 177). But it is also a frighten-
ing experience, a venture into the unknown, which requires
unusual inner strength and autonomy. The "immediate and live
contact with the ineffable objects of reality," says Schachtel, "is
dreadful and wonderful at the same time. It can be frightening,
as though it were death itself (M, 193). It is so fearsome because
it threatens our defenses and disturbs our embeddedness.
Schachtel sees human development as, in part, a conflict be-
tween our tendencies toward embeddedness and our tendencies
toward openness and growth. There is in every man's psychic .l
evolution "a conflict between the wish to remain embedded int
the womb or in the mother's care, eventually in the accustomed,
the fear of separation from such embeddedness, and the wish to
encounter the world and to develop and realize, in this encoun-
ter, the human capacities" (M, 151). In the course of healthy
development "the embeddedness principle yields to the tran-
scendence principle of openness toward the world and of self-
realization which takes place in the encounter with the world"

52 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

(M, 157). Under unfavorable conditions, such as "anxiety-arous-
ing early experiences in the child-parent relationship, the embed-
dedness principle may remain pathologically strong, with the
result that the encounter with the world is experienced in an
autocentric way as an unwelcome impinging of disturbing
stimuli" (M, 157-158). Embeddedness and openness are always
matters of degree; the conflict between them is never finally
resolved: "Man always lives somewhere between these two poles
of clinging to a rigid attitude with its closed world and of leaping
into the stream of life with his senses open toward the inexhausti-
ble, changing, infinite world" (M, 199-2oo).
The self-actualizing man is distinguished, then, not only by his
courage to be himself, but also by his courage to be in the world.
All rubricizing, says Maslow, "is, in effect, an attempt to 'freeze
the world' (MP, 271). The anxious man is "afraid that without
the support of his accustomed attitudes, perspectives, and labels
he will fall into an abyss or founder in the pathless" (M, 195). He
tries to "freeze or staticize or stop the motion of a moving,
changing process world in order to be able to handle it" (MP,
272). The self-actualizing man is able to recognize and live with
the fact that "the world is a perpetual flux and all things are in
process" (MP, 271). He trusts his real self enough to follow its
promptings without knowing exactly where they will lead, and he
trusts his ability to sustain his encounters with the world enough
to be open to an authentic experience of the out there.

III. Self-alienation

Though the concept of the real self did not become central in
Horney's thinking until her last book, she quite early began to
conceive of neurosis as a process of self-alienation, and of
therapy as a process of giving the individual "the courage to be
himself""14 In order to "restore the individual to himself, to help
him regain his spontaneity and find his center of gravity in him-

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 53

self," therapy must "lessen his anxiety to such an extent that he
can dispense with his 'neurotic trends' (NW, 11). As Horney
sees it, adverse conditions in his environment produce in the
individual a feeling of basic anxiety, which he seeks to overcome
by developing certain interpersonal and intra-psychic strategies
of defense. These, however, by virtue of the inner conflicts they
generate and the increased self-alienation they entail, tend to
create new problems and to exacerbate the conditions they were
devised to remedy. Neurotic development is characterized by a
number of vicious circles in which the individual's efforts to pro-
tect himself lead to self-betrayal and a kind of psychic death.15
We shall trace here the process by which the self is lost and a
false-self system is formed.16 As we do so, let us keep in mind that
the various aspects of the process tend to interact and to re-
enforce each other in extremely complicated ways and that in
each self-alienated individual there is a unique combination of
the patterns which Horney describes as typical of neurotic devel-
Neurosis begins as a defense against basic anxiety. Basic anx-
iety is a "profound insecurity and vague apprehensiveness"
(NHG, 18) which is generated by feelings of isolation, helpless-
ness, fear, and hostility.7 It involves a dread of the environment
as a whole, which is "felt to be unreliable, mendacious, unap-
preciative, unfair, ... begrudging... merciless" (NW, 75). As
a result of this dread, the child develops self-protective strate-
gies, which in time become compulsive. His "attempts to relate
himself to others are determined not by his real feelings but by
strategic necessities. He cannot simply like or dislike, trust or
distrust, express his wishes or protest against those of others, but
has automatically to devise ways to cope with people and to
manipulate them with minimum damage to himself" (OIC, 219).
He abandons himself in order to protect himself, but as the real
self becomes weaker the environment becomes more threaten-
ing. Environmental threat weakens the self, the weakness of the

54 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

self increases the sense of threat, and a basic anxiety takes the
place of basic trust in self and in the world.
Basic anxiety involves a fear not only of the environment, but
also of the self. A threatening environment is bound to produce
in the child both an intense hostility and a profound dependency^
which makes him terrified of expressing his hostility and compels
him to repress it. Because he "registers within himself the exis-
tence of a highly explosive affect"'1 he is extremely fearful of
himself, afraid that he will let out his rage and thus bring the
anger of others down upon him. The child's hostility is generated
not only by the unfairness of his treatment, but also by his knowl-
edge, at some level, that he is being forced to abandon his real
self and, with it, his chance for a meaningful life. He hates those
who are compelling him to the sacrifice, and he hates himself, as
well, for his weakness.
The repression of hostility has very bad consequences. It rein-
forces the child's feeling ofdefenselessness; it leads him to blame
himself for the situation about which he is angry and to "feel
unworthy of love" (NP, 84); and it makes him extremely fearful
of spontaneity. It may lead to the development of a retaliation
fear, a fear that others will do to him what he wants (uncon-
sciously) to do to them. Since the child needs to get rid of the
hostility which is so dangerous to him, he often projects his
hostile impulses onto the outside world, in which case he feels
himself in the hands of malign powers. This increases his fear of
the world and leads to an intensification of both anxiety and
Basic anxiety affects the individual's attitudes toward both him-
self and others. He feels himself to be impotent, unlovable, of
little value to the world. Because of his sense of weakness he
wants to rely on others, to be protected and cared for, but he
cannot risk himself with others because of his hostility and deep
distrust. The invariable consequence of his basic anxiety "is that

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 55

he has to put the greatest part of his energies into securing
reassurance" (NP, 96). He seeks reassurance in his relation to
others by developing the interpersonal strategies of defense
which we shall examine next, and he seeks to compensate for his
feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy by an intra-psychic pro-
cess of self-glorification. These strategies constitute his effort to
fulfill his highly intensified needs for safety, love and belonging,
and self-esteem.
There are three main ways in which the child, and later the
adult, can move in his effort to overcome his feelings of helpless-
ness and isolation and to establish himself safely in a threatening
world. He can adopt the compliant or self-effacing solution and
move toward people; he can develop the aggressive or expansive
solution and move against people; or he can become detached or
resigned and move away from people.19 The healthy person
moves flexibly, of course, in all three directions; he gives in,
fights, or keeps to himself as the occasion and his basic needs
demand. The neurotic person, however, "is not flexible; he is
driven to comply, to fight, to be aloof, regardless of whether the
move is appropriate in the particular circumstance, and he is
thrown into a panic if he behaves otherwise."20
In each of the defensive moves "one of the elements involved
in basic anxiety is overemphasized": helplessness in the compli-
ant solution, hostility in the aggressive solution, and isolation in
the solution of detachment. Since under the conditions which
produce neurosis all of these feelings are bound to arise, the
individual will come to make all three of the defensive moves
compulsively. The three moves involve incompatible value sys-
tems and character structures, however; and a person cannot
move in all three directions without feeling terribly confused and
divided. In order to gain some sense of wholeness and ability to
function, he will emphasize one move more than the others and
will become predominantly compliant, aggressive, or detached.

56 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

Which move he emphasizes will depend upon the particular com-
bination of temperamental and environmental factors at work in
his situation.
The other trends will continue to exist quite powerfully, but
they will operate unconsciously and will manifest themselves in
devious and disguised ways. The "basic conflict" will not have
been resolved, but will simply have gone underground. When the
submerged trends are for some reason brought closer to the
surface, the individual will experience severe inner turmoil, and
he may be paralyzed, unable to move in any direction at all.
Under the impetus of some powerful influence or of the dramatic
failure of his predominant solution, the individual may embrace
one of the repressed attitudes. He will experience this as conver-
sion or education, but it will be merely the substitution of one
neurotic solution for another.
As we discuss the three inter-personal moves and the character
types to which they give rise, let us keep in mind the fact that we
will find neither characters in literature nor people in life who
correspond exactly to Homey's descriptions. As Homey herself
observes, "although people tending toward the same main solu-
tion have characteristic similarities they may differ widely with
regard to the level of human qualities, gifts, or achievements

Moreover, what we regard as "types" are actually cross sections of
personalities in which the neurotic process has led to rather ex-
treme developments with pronounced characteristics. But there is
always an indeterminate range of intermediate structures deriding
any precise classification. These complexities are further en-
hanced by the fact that, owing to the process of psychic fragmenta-
tion, even in extreme instances there is often more than one main
solution. "Most cases are mixed cases," says WilliamJames, "and
we should not treat our classifications with too much respect."
Perhaps it would be more nearly correct to speak of directions of
development than of types. (NHG, 191)

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 57

If we keep these qualifications in mind, we shall find Horney's
analysis of the process of self-alienated development and of the
kinds of character structures to which it gives rise to be of great
value for the appreciation of literature. If we forget them, we are
likely to focus on identifying neurotic types, rather than upon
grasping the complexity and the phenomenological reality of
individual characters and implied authors, and our analysis will
be nothing more than a reductive labeling.
The person in whom compliant trends are dominant tries to
overcome his basic anxiety by gaining affection and approval and
by controlling others through his need of them. He needs to feel
himself part of something larger and more powerful than himself,
a need which often manifests itself as religious devotion, identifi-
cation with a group or cause, or morbid dependency in a love
relationship. "His salvation lies in others" (NHG, 226). As a result,
"his need for people ... often attains a frantic character" (NHG,
226). His "self-esteem rises and falls" with the approval or disap-
proval of others, with "their affection or lack of it" (OIC, 54).
In order to gain the love, approval, acceptance, and support he
needs, the basically compliant person develops certain qualities,
inhibitions, and ways of relating. He seeks to attach others to him
by being good, loving, self-effacing, and weak. He tries to live up
to the expectations of others, "often to the extent of losing sight
of his own feelings" (OIC, 51). "He becomes 'unselfish,' self-
sacrificing, undemanding-except for his unbounded desire for
affection. He becomes ... over-considerate ... over-appreciative,
over-grateful, generous" (OIC, 51-52). He is appeasing and con-
ciliatory and tends to blame himself and to feel guilty whenever
he quarrels with another, feels disappointed, or is criticized. Re-
garding himself as worthless or guilty makes him feel more se-
cure, for then others cannot regard him as a threat. For similar
reasons, "he tends to subordinate himself, takes second place,
leaving the limelight to others" (OIC, 52). Because "any wish,
any striving, any reaching out for more feels to him like a danger-

58 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

ous or reckless challenging of fate," he is severely inhibited in his
self-assertive and self-protective activities and has powerful
taboos against "all that is presumptuous, selfish, and aggressive"
(NHG, 218, 219). Through weakness and suffering he at once
controls others and justifies himself. His motto is: "You must
love me, protect me, forgive me, not desert me, because I am so
weak and helpless" (OIC, 53).
The compliant defense brings with it not only certain ways of
feeling and behaving, but also a special set of values. "They lie
in the direction of goodness, sympathy, love, generosity, un-
selfishness, humility; while egotism, ambition, callousness, un-
scrupulousness, wielding of power are abhorred-though these
attributes may at the same time be secretly admired because they
represent 'strength' (OIC, 54-55). Citing their possible neu-
rotic origin does not necessarily mean, of course, that these val-
ues are no good or that they are always held for neurotic reasons.
The compliant person, however, does not hold them as genuine
ideals but because they are necessary to his defense system. He
must believe in turning the other cheek, and he must see the
world as displaying a providential order in which virtue is re-
warded. He is not wholeheartedly committed to the Christian
values which he professses, for there exist in him powerfully the
very tendencies which he consciously abhors.
In the compliant person, says Homey, there are "a variety of
aggressive tendencies strongly repressed." These aggressive ten-
dencies are repressed because feeling them or acting them out
would clash violently with his need to feel that he is loving and
unselfish and would radically endanger his whole strategy for
gaining love and approval. His compliant strategies tend to in-
crease rather than to diminish his basic hostility, for "self-efface-
ment and 'goodness' invite being stepped on" and "dependence
upon others makes for exceptional vulnerability" (OIC, 55-56).
But his inner rage threatens his self-image, his philosophy of life,
and his safety; and he must repress, disguise, orjustify his anger

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 59

in order to avoid arousing self-hate and the hostility of others.
The meaning of life for the compliant person usually lies in the
love relation. Love appears "as the ticket to paradise, where all
woe ends: no more feeling lost, guilty, and unworthy; no more
responsibility for self; no more struggle with a harsh world for
which he feels hopelessly unequipped" (NHG, 240). If he finds
a partner "whose neurosis fits in with his own, his suffering may'
be considerably lessened and he may find a moderate amount of
happiness" (OIC, 62). As a rule, however, "the relationship from i
which he expects heaven on earth only plunges him into deeper
misery. He is all too likely to carry his conflicts into the relation-
ship and thereby destroy it" (OIC, 62) Because of his need for
surrender and for a safe expression of his aggressive tendencies,
the compliant person is Irequentl attracted to his opposite, the
masterful, expansive person. "To love a proud person, to merge". .
with him. to lie \icariousl\ through him would allow him to
participate in the master\ of lile uilthout having to own it to
himself" INHG. 244). This kind of relationship general desel-
ops into a "morbid dependence, in ishich "the dependent part-
ner is in danger of destroying himself, slowly and painfully"
(NHG, 243) .2 When the love relation fails him, the compliant
person will be terribly disillusioned and will feel either that he did
not find the right person or that nothing is worth having.
The person in whom aggressive tendencies are predominant
has goals, traits, and values which are quite the opposite of those
of the compliant person. Since he seeks safety through conquest,
"he needs to excel, to achieve success, prestige, or recognition"
(OIC, 65). What appeals to him most is not love, but mastery. He
abhors helplessness and is ashamed of suffering. He seeks/
to cultivate in himself "the efficiency and resourcefulness"
necessarN to his solution iOIC. 67). There are three expan-
sive types. the narcissistic. the perfectionistic. and the arrogant-i-
sindictve. The\ all "aim at mastering hise This is their hay
of conquering fears and anxieties; this genes meaning to their

6o A Psychological Approach to Fiction

lives and gives them a certain zest for living" (NHG, 212).
SThe narcissistic person seeks to master life "by self-admiration
and the exercise of charm" (NHG, 212). He has an "unques-
tioned belief in his greatness and uniqueness" which gives him
a "buoyancy and perennial youthfulness" (NHG, 194). "He has
(consciously) no doubts; he is the anointed, the man of destiny,
the prophet, the great giver, the benefactor of mankind" (NHG,
194). His insecurity is manifested in the fact that he "may speak
incessantly of his exploits or of his wonderful qualities and needs
endless confirmation of his estimate of himself in the form of
admiration and devotion" (NHG, 194). He frequently gets into
trouble because he "does not reckon with limitations" and he
"over-rates his capacities" (NHG, 195). On the surface he is
"rather optimistic" and "turns outward toward life," but "there
are undercurrents of despondency and pessimism" (NHG, 196).
Since life can never match his expectations, he feels, in his weaker
moments, that it is full of tragic contradictions.
The perfectionistic person "feels superior because of his high
standards, moral and intellectual, and on this basis looks down
on others" (NHG, 196). He needs "to attain the highest degree
of excellence"; and, because of the difficulties which this entails,
he tends "to equate in his mind standards and actualities-know-
ing about moral values and being a good person" (NHG, 196).
While he is this way deceives himself, he may insist that others
live up to "his standards of perfection and despise them for
failing to do so. His own self-condemnation is thus externalized"
(NHG, 196). He feels that there is "an infallible justice operating
in life" and that success is a proof of virtue (NHG, 197). Because
there is just order, his "virtues" entitle him to good treatment
by others and by life. Through the height of his standards he
compels fate. Ill fortune shakes him "to the foundations of his
psychic existence. It invalidates his whole accounting system and
conjures up the ghastly prospect of helplessness" (NHG, 197).
The arrogant-vindictive person is motivated chiefly by a need

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 61

for vindictive triumphs. He is extremely competitive: ". he
cannot tolerate anybody who knows or achieves more than he
does, wields more power, or in any way questions his superiority.
Compulsively he has to drag his rival down or defeat him" (NHG,
198). In his relations with others he is at once ruthless and cyni-
cal. He seeks to "exploit others, to outsmart them, to make them
of use to himself (OIC, 167). He trusts no one and is out to get
others before they get him. He avoids emotional involvement and
dependency and uses the relations of friendship and marriage as
a means by which he can possess the desirable qualities of others
and so enhance his own position. He wants to be hard and tough,
and he regards all manifestation of feeling as sloppy sentimental-
ity. Since it is important for a person "as isolated and as hostile"
as he is not to need people, he "develops a pronounced pride in
_a godlike self- sufficient" (NHG. 2o04
The philo(oph\ of the arrogant-tmndicu\e t\pe tend to be that
of an Iago or a Nietzsche. He feels "that the world is an arena
where, in the Darwinian sense, only the fittest survive and the
strong annihilate the weak ... a callous pursuit of self-interest
is the paramount law" (OIC, 64). Considerateness, compassion,
loyalty, self-sacrifice are all scorned as signs of weakness; those
who value such qualities are fools whom it is no crime to take
advantage of, since they arejust asking for it. The only moral law
inherent in the order of things is that might makes right. Just as
the compliant person must repress his hostile impulses in order
to make his solution work, so for the aggressive person "any
feeling of sympathy or attitude of compliance would be incom-
patible with the whole structure of living he has built up and
would shake its foundations" (OIC, 70). It is because his own
softer feelings are such a threat to him that he must deny them
so completely. He despises the Christian ethic and is "likely to
feel nauseated at the sight of affectionate behavior in others"
(OIC, 69) because he must repudiate anything which threatens
to rouse up his compliant tendencies.

6n A Psychological Approach to Fiction

The basically detached person worships freedom and strives to
be independent of both outer and inner demands. He pursues
neither love nor mastery; he wants, rather, to be left alone, to
have nothing expected of him and to be subject to no restrictions.
He has a "hipersentwr i to mtluener. pressure. cocrrlon or ties of any
kind" (NHG, 266). He may react with anxiety to physical pressure
from clothing, closed in spaces, long term obligations, the inex-
orability of time and the laws of cause and effect, traditional
values and rules of behavior, or, indeed, anything that interferes
with his absolute freedom. He wants to do what he pleases, when
he pleases; but, since he is alienated from his spontaneous
desires, his freedom is rather empty. It is a freedom from what he
feels as coercion rather than a freedom to fulfill himself. His desire
for freedom may take the form of a craving for serenity, which
"means for him simply the absence of all troubles, irritations, or
upsets" (NHG. 263).
The detached person handles a threatening world by removing
himself from its power and by shutting others out of his inner life.
He disdains the pursuit of worldly success and has a profound
aversion to effort. He has a very strong need for superiority and
usually looks upon his fellows with condescension; but he realizes
his ambition in imagination rather than through actual accom-
plishments. He feels "that the treasures within him should be
recognized without any effort on his part; his hidden greatness
should be felt without his having to make a move" (OIC, 8o). In
order to avoid being dependent on the environment, he tries to
subdue his inner cravings and to be content with little. He culti-
vates a "don't care" attitude and protects himself against frustra-
tion by believing that "nothing matters." He seeks privacy,
shrouds himself "in a veil of secrecy" (OIC, 76), and, in
his personal relations, draws around himself "a kind of magic
circle which no one may penetrate" (OIC, 75). He may feel an
"intolerable strain in associating with people" (OIC, 73), and he
"may very readily go to pieces" (OIC, go) if his magic circle is

The Psychology Used: Horney, Maslow and the Third Force 63

entered and he is thrown into intimate contact with others.
The detached person withdraws from himself as well as from
others. "There is a general tendency to suppress all feeling, even
to deny its existence" (OIC, 82). His resignation from active
living gives him an "onlooker" attitude toward both himself and
others and often permits him to be an excellent observer of his
own inner processes. His psychological insight is divorced from
feeling; he looks at himself "with a kind of objective interest, as
one would look at a work of art" (OIC, 74).
The detached person tries to resolve the conflict between his
aggressive and compliant trends by withdrawing from the field of
battle. Unless his warring impulses have been very deeply re-
pressed, however, he is more likely than the other two types to
entertain the attitudes and to display the moves of the subor-
dinated solutions. As a result, "his sets of values are most contra-
dictory" (OIC, 94). He has a "permanent high evaluation of what
he regards as freedom and independence" (OIC, 94); and he
cultivates individuality, self-reliance, and an indifference to fate.
But "he may at some time ... express an extreme appreciation
for human goodness, sympathy, generosity, self-effacing sac-
rifice, and at another time swing to a completejungle philosophy
of callous self-interest" (OIC, 94).

While inter-personal difficulties are creating the movements
toward. against, and a na\ from people, and the basic conflict the
concomitant miitra-pp)chtc problems are producing their oon
self-defeating defensive strategies. The destructive attitudes of
others, his alienation from his real self, and his self-hatred make
the individual feel terribly weak and worthless. To compensate
for this he creates, with the aid of his imagination, an "idealized
image" of himself: "In this process he endows himself with un-
limited powers and with exalted faculties; he becomes a hero, a
genius, a supreme lover, a saint, a god" (NHG, 22). The nature
of the idealized image is determined by the individual's predomi-

64 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

nant solution to his basic conflict; it contains all the attributes
which are exalted by the compliant, aggressive, or detached
moves. The submerged trends may be glorified, too; but they
remain in the background, are isolated through compartmentali-
zation, or are seen, somehow, as "compatible aspects of a rich
personality" (NHG, 23). In the course of neurotic development,
the idealized image assumes more and more reality. It becomes
the individual's "idealized self'; it represents to him "what he
'really' is, or potentially is-what he could be, and should be"
(NHG, 23).
The idealized image is designed to enhance the individual's
feeling of worth and to provide a feeling of identity, but it rather
quickly leads to increased self-contempt and additional inner
conflicts. As a person becomes aware of the disparity between his
idealized image and his real attainments, he starts to rage against
himself, "to despise himself and to chafe under the yoke of his
own unattainable demands upon himself" (OIC, 112). Since he
can feel worthwhile only if he is his idealized image, everything
that falls short is deemed worthless; and there develops a "de-
spised image" which isjust as unrealistic as its idealized counter-
part. "He wavers then between self-adoration and self-contempt,
between his idealized image and his despised image, with no solid
middle ground to fall back on" (OIC, 12). There are now four
selves competing for his allegiance: the real (or possible) self; the
idealized (or impossible) self; the despised self; and the actual
self, which is what he realistically is at the moment.
The increased self-hate and inner conflict produced by the
formation of the idealized image leads to further self-glorification
(with its concomitant of intensified self-contempt) and to com-
pulsive efforts to realize the idealized image, either in action or
in imagination. Thus begins the "search for glory," as "the ener-
gies driving toward self-realization are shifted to the aim of actu-
alizing the idealized self' (NHG, 24). The search for glory often
takes the form of a quest of the absolute: "All the drives for glory

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 65

have in common the reaching out for greater knowledge, wis-
dom, virtue, or powers than are given to human beings .
Nothing short of absolute fearlessness, mastery, or saintliness
has any appeal" (NHG, 34-35).
Horney does not see the search for glory, the quest of the
absolute, the need to be God as an essential ingredient of human
nature. Because he has the ability to imagine and to plan, man
is always reaching beyond himself; but the healthy individual
reaches for the possible (he dreams a possible dream) and he
works to achieve his goals within the context of human and cos-
mic limitations. He is able to take satisfaction in his achievements
and to sustain his frustrations without rage, self-hate, or despair.
The neurotic individual, however, is either all or he is nothing.
Indeed, it is because he feels himself to be nothing that he must
claim to be all. He who can be a man does not need to be God.
For the neurotic individual, the search for glory is often the
most important thing in his life. It gives him the sense of meaning
and the feeling of superiority which he so desperately craves. He
fiercely resists all encroachments upon his illusory grandeur and
may prefer death to the shattering of his dream.
The creation of the idealized image produces not only the
search for glory but a whole structure of neurotic strategies which
Horney calls "the pride system." The idealized image leads the
individual to make both exaggerated claimsfor himself and exces-
sive demands upon himself. He takes an intense pride in the attri-
butes of his idealized self, and on the basis of this pride he makes
"neurotic claims" upon others. At the same time he feels that
he should perform in a way commensurate with his idealized
The overall function of neurotic claims is to perpetuate the
individual's "illusions about himself, and to shift responsibility to
factors outside himself' (NHG, 63). "He is entitled to be treated
by others, or by fate, in accord with his grandiose notions about
himself' (NHG, 41). The general characteristics of neurotic

66 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

claims are that they are unrealistic, they are egocentric, they
demand results without effort, they are vindictive, they are based
on an assumption of specialness or superiority, they deny the
world of cause and effect, and they are "pervaded by expectations
of magic" (NHG, 62). The effects of neurotic claims are "a diffuse
sense of frustration," a "chronic discontent," an intensification
of the burdensomeness of any hardship, an attitude of envy and
insensibility toward others, an uncertainty about rights, and a
feeling of inertia (NHG, 57). Neurotic claims are extremely tena-
cious, partly because they are necessary to the preservation of the
idealized image and partly because their failure threatens the
individual with intense self-hate.
The individual's need to actualize his idealized image leads him
not only to make excessive claims upon others, but also to impose
stringent demands and taboos upon himself ("the tyranny of the
should"). The function of the should is "to make oneself over
into one's idealized self: the premise on which they operate is that
nothing should be, or is, impossible for oneself" (NHG, 68). Since the
idealized self is for the most part a glorification of the compliant,
aggressive, or detached solutions, the individual's should are
determined largely by the character traits and values associated
with his predominant trend.
The different neurotic types not only have different (predomi-
nant) should, but they also have different attitudes toward the
inner dictates. The aggressive person tends to identify himself
with his should, to accept their validity, and to try "to actualize
them in one way or another" (NHG, 76). He covers over his
shortcomings with imaginative reconstruction of reality, with ar-
rogance, or with arbitrary rightness. The compliant person also
feels "that his should constitute a law not to be questioned"
(NHG, 76); but, though he tries desperately to measure up to
them, "he feels most of the time that he falls pitiably short of
fulfilling them. The foremost element in his conscious experi-
ence is therefore self-criticism, a feeling of guilt for not being the

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 67

supreme being" (NHG, 77). The detached person, with his ideal
of freedom and his hypersensitivity to coercion, tends to rebel
against his should, especially those of the aggressive and the
compliant attitudes, which in him are rather close to the surface.
He may rebel passively, in which case "everything that he feels
he should do arouses conscious or unconscious resentment, and
in consequence makes him listless" (NHG, 77). Or he may rebel
actively and behave in ways that defy his demands and violate his
Characteristics of the should are their coerciveness, their
disregard for feasibility, their imperviousness to psychic laws,
and their reliance on will power for fulfillment and on imagina-
tion for the denial of failure. There is a good deal of externaliza-
tion connected with the should. The individual feels his should
as the expectations of others, his self-hate as their rejection, and
his self-criticism as their unfair judgment. He expects others to
live up to his should and displaces onto others his rage at his
own failure to live up to his standards. The chief effects of the
should are a pervasive feeling of strain, hypersensitivity to criti-
cism, impairment of spontaneity, and emotional deadness. The
should are a defense against self-loathing, but, like other neu-
rotic defenses, they aggravate the condition they are employed
to cure. Not only do they increase self-alienation, but they also
intensify self-hate, for they are impossible to live up to-partly
because they demand perfection and partly because they reflect
the individual's inner conflicts and are often contradictory in
nature. The penalty for failure is the most severe feeling of
worthlessness and self-contempt. This is why they have such a
tyrannical power. "It is the threat of a punitive self-hate that lurks
behind them, that truly makes them a regime of terror" (NHG,
Neurotic pride is "the climax and consolidation of the process
initiated with the search for glory" (NHG, 19o). It substitutes for
realistic self-confidence and self-esteem a pride in the attributes

68 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

of the idealized self, in the successful assertion of claims, and in
the "loftiness and severity" (NHG, 92) of the inner dictates. What
the individual takes pride in will be determined largely by his
predominant solution; anything can become a source of pride.
Pride is vitally important to the individual; but, since it is based
on illusion and self-deception, it makes him extremely vulnera-
ble. Threats to it produce anxiety and hostility; its collapse re-
sults in self-contempt. The individual is especially subject to feel-
ings of shame (when he violates his own pride) and humiliation
(when his pride is violated by others). He reacts to shame with
self-hate and to humiliation with a vindictive hostility which
ranges "from irritability, to anger, to a blind murderous rage"
(NHG, 99).
There are various devices for restoring pride. They include
retaliation, which re-establishes the superiority of the humiliated
person, and loss of interest in that which is threatening or damag-
ing. They include also various forms of distortion, such as forget-
ting humiliating episodes, denying responsibility, blaming oth-
ers, and embellishing. Sometimes "humor is used to take the
sting out of an otherwise unbearable shame" (NHG, 1o6). There
is an effort to protect pride by a system of avoidances. This
includes not trying, restricting wishes and activities, and remain-
ing detached, at a safe distance from involvement.
The pride system is in large measure a defense against self-
hate; but, as we have seen, it cannot work and only intensifies the
problem which it is designed to solve. Self-hate is a neurotic
phenonemon which must not be confused with intrinsic guilt or
healthy self-criticism. The self-actualizing person will not always
like himself, but he will not hate himself. He will handle feelings
of guilt and inadequacy in a basically self-accepting and construc-
tive way by recognizing his limitations as a human being and by
doing everything he can to repair damage and to avoid future
error. He will work at himself patiently, realistically, and without
expecting miracles. The self-alienated person will resort to the

The Psychology Used: Homey, Maslow and the Third Force 69

strategies of self-glorification, neurotic claims, tyrannical
should, and neurotic pride in order to blot out his deficiencies
and to maintain his self-esteem. It is these strategies, ironically,
which are the major source of self-hate; for the neurotic's loath-
ing for himself is generated not so much by impaired functioning
or by intrinsic guilt as by the disparity between what his pride
system compels him to be and what he can be. "We do not hate
ourselves because we are worthless," says Horney, "but because
we are driven to reach beyond ourselves" (NHG, 114).
Self-hate is essentially the rage which the idealized self feels
toward the actual self for not being what it "should" be. As the
real self emerges in the course of favorable development, there
develops what Horney calls the "central inner conflict"-be-
tween the real self and the pride system-and "self-hate now is
not so much directed against the limitations and shortcomings of
the actual self as against the emerging constructive forces of the
real self (NHG, 1 12). Living from the real self involves accepting
a world of uncertainty, process, and limitation. It means giving
up the search for glory and settling for a less exalted existence.
The proud self therefore senses the real self as a threat to its very
existence and turns upon it with scorn. Though it occurs at a
rather late stage in the development from self-alienation to self-
actualization, the central inner conflict is a fierce one. The person
who has centered his life for a long time on dreams of glory may
never be able fully to free himself from his idealized image, with
its concomitants of pride, claims, should, and self-hate.
Self-hate is for the most part an unconscious process, since
"there is a survival interest in not being aware of its impact"
(NHG, 15). The chief defense against awareness is externaliza-
tion, which may be either active or passive: "The former is an
attempt to direct self-hate outward, against life, fate, institutions,
or people. In the latter the hate remains directed against the self
but is perceived or experienced as coming from the outside"
(NHG, 15). Self-hate operates in six ways, through "relentless

70 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

demands on self, merciless self-accusation, self-contempt, self-
frustrations, self-tormenting, and self-destruction" (NHG, 117).
There is often a pride in self-hate which serves to maintain self-
glorification: "The very condemnation of imperfection confirms
the godlike standards with which the person identifies himself"
(NHG, 114-115).
Self-hate is the end result of the neurotic process. Horney sees
it as "perhaps the greatest tragedy of the human mind. Man in
reaching out for the Infinite and Absolute also starts destroying
himself. When he makes a pact with the devil, who promises him
glory, he has to go to hell-to the hell within himself" (NHG,
154). Only when self-hate abates can "unconstructive self-pity
turn into a constructive sympathy with self" (NHG, 153). In order
for this to happen the individual must have "a beginning feeling
for his real self and a beginning wish for inner salvation" (NHG,

Chapter III

The Psychic Structure of

Vanity Fair

In "every artistic creation," writes Ernst Cassirer, "we find a
definite teleological structure." Every facet of the work "is part
of a coherent structural whole."' Cassirer's remarks suggest that
all works of art are organic wholes. Indeed, critics usually begin
by assuming that in any work under examination there is an
aesthetic structure in terms of which all of the components of the
work can be understood-much as theologians assume that the
cosmos is informed by a moral order in terms of which every
event has a purpose and meaning. The work is held to have its
own telos, its own purpose or intention, the discovery of which is
the job of criticism. It is possible, of course, that a given work
lacks unity, that there is in it no coherent system in relation to
which all of its motifs have a function or meaning. What does the
critic do when he cannot discover the work's internal organizing
principle, when the work seems to have no coherent teleological
Some critics hold acknowledged masterpieces in such awe that
they find the flaw or limitation in themselves when they cannot
make sense of a work-just as theologians, when baffled, blame
the imperfection of human reason rather than the unintelligibility
of the cosmos. Their position cannot be easily dismissed, for it

72 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

is impossible to prove that a work of art does not have a coherent
structure. The flaw may always be in our understanding. We
never know.
It is my contention that Vanity Fair lacks organic unity. I have
not been able to find a teleological structure in terms of which
its various motifs are intelligible. Its thematic inconsistencies
become explicable, however, when they are seen to be manifesta-
tions of a psychic structure in which there are unresolved neu-
rotic conflicts. My thesis here is that the implied author of Vanity
SFair is not in harmony with himself because he is troubled by
inner conflicts. The neurotic personality seems chaotic and hope-
lessly inconsistent, but to the trained observer the inconsisten-
cies make sense. They are intelligible in terms of a total psycho-
logical structure which includes, and is, indeed, made up of
conflicting attitudes and impulses. Vanity Fair, I propose, while
lacking a coherent aesthetic structure, is informed by another
Kind of structure-the structure of its implied author's psyche-
in terms of which its inconsistencies are comprehensible.
The psychic structure of Vanity Fair cannot be understood in
terms of any principle of order established within the novel itself;
we can look, however, to Third Force psychology, and particu-
larl\ to the theori-es o.) Karen Horne}. lor our principle of expla-
nation. Before I can offer my psychological interpretation of the
novel, I must first show why Vanity Fair does not make sense in
sits own terms; and in order to do this I shall present some of the
difficulties I encountered when I tried by thematic analysis to
discover the novel's over-all structure. After I have discussed the
novel's inconsistencies and provided a psychological meaning
scheme in terms of which these inconsistencies make sense, I
shall show how the same meaning scheme can heighten our sen-
sitivity to many other aspects of the novel. It will enable us to
Understand the real nature of the novel's pattern of contrasts, to
grasp one of the main principles of its dramatic structure, and to
appreciate the greatness of Thackeray's achievement in charac-

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 73

terization, particularly in his creation of Becky, Dobbin, andi
When both the thematic and the psychological analyses are
completed, I shall consider some of the implications of ps\cho-
logical analysis for our judgment of the novel's worth. Wayne
Booth feels that those novels are seriously flawed in which there
is no intelligible thematic structure, in which "the author pro-
fesses to believe in values which are never realized in the struc-
ture as a whole" (Rhetoric, p. 75), or in which there is no reliable
guide "to the moral truths of the world outside the book" (p.
221). 'antly Fai possesses all of these deficencies; but the psy-
chological approach employed here will, I believe, enable us t"
affirm its greatness in spite of them.


Vanity Fair seems to ask, What is worth pursuing in life
Wherein lies happiness? Its inner purpose, its telos, appears to be
the exploration of these questions. Permeated as it is by the
phraseology and tone of the book of Ecclesiastes, the novel seems.
to be concerned, above all, with the question of the Preacher,
What is it good for the sons of men that they should do under
the heaven all the days of their life? We come to feel, as we study
the novel, that we will have grasped its theme, "the chief value
to which this implied author is committed" (Rhetoric, p. 74), when
we have discovered its dominant attitude toward this problem.
In the actions of which Becky and Amelia are the centers, two
very different solutions are proposed and tested. Becky is the
chief representative of all those characters in the novel who
spend their lives pursuing money, power, and prestige; she val-j
ues personal relationships only insofar as they are a means to
social success. Amelia, on the other hand, is indifferent to social
success; she is the chief representative, along with Dobbin, of
those characters who devote themselves to lose and friendship. I

74 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

An effort to grasp the theme of Vanity Fair might profitably begin,
then, by examining the attitudes that the novel establishes toward
these conflicting value systems.
Vanity Fair's assault upon the identification of worth and happi-
ness with money, power, or prestige is the source of most of its
satire. Addressing a society that has been taught by the Protes-
tant ethic to regard economic success as a mark of virtue and
failure as a sign of social and spiritual undeservingness, the novel
insists that the socio-economic order is not also a moral order.
The distribution of rewards in society is not an index of true
worth or a revelation of God's will. The social destinies of men
seem, for the most part, to be unintelligible, accidental, and
The gifts and pleasures of Vanity Fair are of little worth not
only because they are accidental, impermanent, and unsanc-
tioned by God, but also because, even if we can have and hold
them till death, they do not satisfy. The Marquis of Steyne, who
possesses what all yearn for, tells Becky, 'Everybody is striving
for what is not worth the having!' (Ch. 48).2 Again and again
Thackeray3 presents the image of the poor or low born poring
over the peerage or standing enviously outside of the great
houses watching the sumptuous entertainments within; and in-
variably he reminds us that greatness and luxury have nothing to
do with happiness. The prizes of the social lottery are like the
baubles that %\e tr to win at a fair. The atmosphere of the fair
Creates an illusion of joy and value, and the prizes of the lottery
seem glittering and desirable. When we return home with our
shabby winnings the emptiness and futility of our pursuits is
borne in upon us.
SBecky is the chief means by which we are introduced to the
various shops and shows of the Fair. In the story of her climb
from the bottom to the top of the ladder, almost every aspect of
society is exposed. Not only is her success very fleeting, but even
when she is at the height of her career, when she has "penetrated

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 75

into the very centre of fashion" and seen "the great George IV
face to face," she finds that this too is Vanity. "Her success
excited, elated. and then bored her" tCh 51) In Beckt %e see
the futilit of social climbing: there is nothing. really. to climb to
In Becky, too, we see most vividly the connection between
snobbery (overvaluing money, power, and prestige) and dis-r
honesty. Becky's lying, cheating, and hypocrisy are necessary toT
the fulfillment of her ambitions. The novel suggests more than
once that the entire social structure depends for its stability upon
the suspension of moral principles.
The worship of success involves the sacrifice not only of integ-
rity, but also of meaningful personal relationships. Those who
are playing the great game live in a world where all relationships
are manipulative, where one is courted or cut according to his
place or market value. Family relationships are perverted if there
is money or a title to be inherited. The rich are fawned upon and
served, but they are also terribly alone, for they cannot ever be
sure that the object of others' affection is themselves and not
their money. Though Thackeray sometimes suggests that the
poor can be more loving toward each other than the rich, at other
times he shows that acquisitiveness, envy, and resentment per-
vade all levels of society.
Of all the human relationships that the novel shows being
disrupted or perverted by social competitiveness, the marital re-
lation suffers most. Instead of being an offspring of love and a
means to emotional fulfillment, marriage, in the world of Vanity
Fair, is fundamentally a means by which money, power, and
prestige are acquired and increased. Men and women are eager
to unite themselves with partners whom they neither love nor
respect, and with whom they are bound to be miserable, in order
to make what society considers a good marriage. Much of the
action of the novel, especially in the first half, centers around the
conflict between the generations over marriage. The older gener-
ation, hoping to gratify its ambitions through the marriages of

76 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

the younger, violently disapproves of romantic attachments
which do not enhance the family's status. Rawdon and George
both make "bad" marriages and, as a consequence, are disinher-
Vanity Fair's bitterest complaint against the ways of the world
is that they inhibit the free flow of feeling and lead to starvation
of the affections. The inhabitants of Vanity Fair keep their feel-
ings strictly disciplined lest they endanger fortune or respectabil-
ity. The most intimate relationships, instead of being a refuge
from the uncertainty and injustice of the social lottery, are subor-
dinated to worldly interests. The novel's sentimentality seems, in
part, to be a defense of spontaneity and feeling in a world domi-
nated by calculation and the values of the market place.
We find in Vanity Fair, then, an attack upon the ways and
values of society which is strongly reminiscent of the book of
Ecclesiastes. The pursuit of money, power, and prestige is shown
to be vanity and a striving after wind. Like the Preacher, Thack-
eray demands justice and is terribly aware of the absurdity of
our earthly destinies. He attacks the gifts and pleasures of this
world as transitory, flawed, uncertain, and unsatisfying. The
pursuit of them it not cnlv meaningless but destructive.

What, then, should we do under the heaven all the days of our
life? The novel's condemnation of worldliness as destructive im-
plies a norm by which worldliness is being judged; and the
preceding analysis suggests that the things of worth which are
sacrificed to the false values of the world are love, friendship, and
emotional fulfillment. Gordon Ra\ finds that. esen though Beckt
is in man) \a)ys the more impressed character, it is .melia and
the values surrounding her stor that srne as a moral norm in
Vanity Fair:

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 77

Life is redeemed for Thackeray only by affection, by love, by
loyalty to the promptings of the heart.... Becky's career is admira-
bly suited to illustrate the destructive operation of the standards
of Vanity Fair, but Thackeray desired through Amelia's history to
show what he would put in their place, the life of personal rela-
tions, the loyalty and selflessness inspired by home affections. This
recurring contrast was essential to his purpose.'

As we have seen, there are many things in the novel that sup-
port this interpretation. But an equally impressive argument can
be made, I think, that the novel presents all earthly pursuits as
vain. There is certainly a strong contrast drawn between Becky's
and Amelia's ways of life, but the contrast is between two equally
imperfect and frustrated lives, and the novel seems to show that
devotion to social success and devotion to love are both unre-
warding. Hence the frequent charges of cynicism.
Vanity Fair is a novel of disenchantment. Those of its characters
who become educated learn that they have been pursuing or
valuing something unworthy of their effort or devotion. And it is
not only the gifts and pleasures of social life that prove to be
disappointing- lose and friendship in the world of the noel are
usually built upon illusion and are therefore liable to disenchant-
ment and change.
George Osborne is utterly unworthy of Amelia's devotion; Am-
elia loves not George but an image created by her romantic
imagination. When her engagement with George is broken off,
Amelia is inconsolable and longs for death. Nine days after her
marriage, she is already "looking sadly and vaguely back" (Ch.
26). Hers is the common lot: "always to be pining for something
which, when obtained, [brings] doubt and sadness rather than
pleasure ." George's death leads Amelia to forget his faults
and to idealize him further, and she spends the next eighteen
years worshipping a false idol, deliberately constricting and ster-
ilizing her existence as an act of homage to her "saint in heaven."

78 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

Meanwhile, Dobbin is blindly offering up eighteen years of his
life to his idealized picture of Amelia. Eventually he sees and
owns his delusion: "It was a fond mistake. Isn't the whole course
of life made up of such? and suppose I had won her, should I not
have been disenchanted the day after my victory?" (Ch. 67).
The mistakes of Amelia about George and of Dobbin about
Amelia seem, indeed, typical of the whole course of life. Amelia
is mistaken not only about George, but also, in different ways,
about Dobbin and Becky. Dobbin's worship of George is almost
as foolish as Amelia's. Amelia idealizes her son and little Rawdon
idealizes his mother, at first. Rebecca deceives many, for a while,
including Sir Pitt Crawley and Jos Sedley; but it is Rawdon, her
husband, who is most under love's spell and who is most stricken
by his disillusionment.
One of the chief characteristics of personal relations in Vanity
Fair is their lack of reciprocity. The narrator cites the cynical
Frenchman who said "that there are two parties to a love trans-
action: the one who loves and the other who condescends to be
Sso treated" (Ch. 13); and Vanity Fair seems again and again to
bear out this observation. In every relationship the one who loves
is in the power of his less ardent partner; the pursuer is a slave
of the pursued. This pattern prevails whether the relationship is
between friends, lovers, or parents and children. Vanity Fair
leaves us with the impression that true love and friendship may
be worth having, but that they do not exist.
Amelia Sedley devotes herself to love and the home affections,
and not one of her relationships is satisfactory. When her parents
are kind to her, she is indifferent; when she succors them they are
complaining and ungrateful. Amelia worships George, and
George condescends to be so treated. As George treats her, so
Amelia treats Dobbin: "It is those who injure women who get the
most kindness from them-they are born timid and tyrants, and
maltreat those who are humblest before them" (Ch. 50).
After George's death, Amelia devotes herself to her son; and

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 79

he, of course, comes to tyrannize over her as has his father before
him. When Georgy goes to live with his grandfather Osborne, he
leaves "smiling as the mother breaks her heart. By heavens it is
pitiful, the bootless love of women for children in Vanity Fair'7
(Ch. 50). When little Rawdon goes off to school, we have a repeti-
tion of the parting of Amelia and Georgy. His father is "sad and
downcast"; little Rawdon is "happy enough to enter a new career,
and find companions of his own age" (Ch. 52).
No less pitiful than the unreciprocated love of parents for their
children is the bootless love of William Dobbin for Amelia. Ame-
lia's dedication to her saint in heaven prevents her from recip-
rocating Dobbin's warmth, and so she retains her power over
him She rener[es Dobbin for herself and uses him at her plea-!
sure, but she is unresponsive to his love and unconcerned about
his feelings. In Pumpernickel she finally decides that she can
never marry him:

She couldn't, in spite of his love and constancy, and her own
acknowledged regard, respect, and gratitude. What are benefits,
what is constancy, or merit? One curl of a girl's ringlet, one hair
of a whisker, will turn the scale against them all in a minute. They
did not weigh with Emmy more than with other women. (Ch. 66)

Again %%e get the feeling that irrationalit% and injustice are the
prevailing qualities of the novel's world. We can no more expect
virtue and merit to be fairly rewarded in love than we can expect
our position in society to be commensurate with our deserts.
There are other important parallels between Thackeray's treat-
ment of social vanities and his vision of inter-personal relation-
ships. Love and friendship are no less transitory than fame and
fortune. The pursuit of worldly success creates many barriers
between people; but in our most intimate personal relationships
some degree of hypocrisy is usually present. If it were not, "we
should live ... in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that
would be perfectly unbearable" (Ch. 3 ). The members of fami-

8o A Psychological Approach to Fiction

lies seem naturally to hate, abuse, or be disappointed in each
other. Even the saintly William Dobbin is usually at odds with his
sisters. Even if one could imagine a family in Thackeray that was
utterly devoid of worldliness, it seems unlikely that the relations
between brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands
and wives would be characterized by "loyalty and selflessness."
If I am correct in arguing that Becky's and Amelia's stories are
variations on the theme of vanity, that social success and love
reanst;ps are equally unrewarding, then Vanity Fair presents
a devastating indictment of human nature and the human condi-
tion. The novel as a whole seems to bear out the narrator's
closing comment: "Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy
in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it is sa-
tisfied?" Thackeray does not say that life is not worth living, but
that it is universally frustrating and, therefore, no great prize.
There are pleasures and satisfactions, which we should not de-
spise, but they are imperfect and fleeting. The greatest folly/
seems to be to take any aspect of our earthly existence too seri-
ousl\. to pursue ant of the prizes of life too strenuously.
It does not seem to make much difference what the sons of men
do under the heaven all the days of their life. Becky's aristocratic
pleasures are transitory, but so are all other mortal delights. And
Vanity Fair is not a novel in which virtue is rewarded and vice
punished. It seems possible that Becky at the end is as satisfied
(or as dissatisfied) with her existence as Amelia and Dobbin are
with theirs. Out of the action of the novel there arises no moral
perspective which shows any way of life to be preferable to an-


Though much of Vanity Fair can be understood as an illustra-
tion of the vanity of human wishes, the preceding analysis does
not provide a satisfactory explication of the novel as a whole.

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 81

Some of the motifs that we have discussed do not seem to hang
together. For example: on the one hand, the novel condemns
social ambition as destructive because it leads to the sacrifice of
love, friendship, and emotional fulfillment. On the other hand,
it shows that all earthly pursuits are vain, that those who devote
themselves to personal relations are no less frustrated than those
who seek success in the social lottery. A study of some of the
novel's other motifs will reveal further difficulties in relating all
of the motifs to each other and to a total teleological structure.
The author often professes to believe in values which are not
realized in the novel as a whole. In the commentary, he extols
love and alludes to cheery lasses and hearty families and happy
husbands and wives (see the comment on Peter Butt and Rose in
Chapter g); but we look in vain to find examples of such fruition
in love and family life in the dramatized portions of the novel.
The burden of most of the novel is that the social order is not also
a moral order, that our rewards are usually not commensurate
n ith our deserts. But in an earl\ passage. commenting on Beck 's
desire for revenge upon NMiss Pinkerton. the narrator affirms the

Miss Rebecca was not, then, in the least kind or placable. All the
world used her ill, said this young misanthropist, and we may be
pretty certain that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve
entirely the treatment they get. The world is a looking glass, and
gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at
it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it,
and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take
their choice. (Ch. 2)

The implication of this passage is that kindly, cheerful people will
be well-treated by the world, whereas ill-disposed people will
suffer. If this is true, then people who suffer deserve not our
sympathy but our condemnation. I cannot arrive through the-
matic analysis at any explanation of this jarring passage. It is out

82 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

of harmony not only with the action of the novel, but also with
many other passages of commentary.
The commentary urges us "to love and pray!" (Ch. 14). The
action, however, gives us little reason to believe in either love or
prayer. And yet the religious motif is an important one in Vanity
Fair. It could be argued that the whole point of showing how vain
is the pursuit of both social success and love is to lead us to prayer
and submission to the will of God. Since there are no values
inherent in the nature and condition of man, the only source of
alues in the novel's cosmos is God. But God's values are inscru-
ble, his wisdom is "hidden and awful," and our only recourse
is to submit to things as they are, realizing our ignorance and
For the most part the human condition is judged in terms of
human cravings for rationality, justice, and fulfillment; and it is
found to be terribly wanting. But when we examine the religious
motif in Vanity Fair we find that the frustrations and miseries of
the human lot are justified in that they scourge our pride and
bring us to God in a spirit of proper humility. They make us
realize that we find in this life neither "the summit of the reward
nor the end of God's judgment of men" (Ch. 38). From this
religious point of view, all of the evils of the human condition are
not only justified, but are positively desirable. It is better to fail
than to succeed, better to be ineffectual than to be competent,
better to be wretched than to be satisfied (see Ch. 61). In the eyes
of God everything that to us humans seems desirable is evil; all
earthl\ jo\s are snares and delusions that lead us to sinful feelings
of pride and self-suiffioenm
This religious motif is logically compatible with Vanity Fair's
satire upon the vanity of human wishes, but it is quite out of
keeping with the prevailing tone of the novel. Its presence is too
intermittent and too superficial for it to act as a unifying principle
in terms of which other motifs can be explained. Vanity Fair is not
basically a religious novel. One of its frequent objects of satire,

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 83

in fact, is Evangelical Christianity, as represented by Lady South-
down and her daughter Lady Emily, authoress of "The Washer-
woman ofFinchley Common" (see Dobbin's repudiation of Ame-
lia's other-worldly attitudes in Chapter 62). The religious
position expounded in Thackeray's sermon on the death of Mr.
Sedley (Ch. 61) is essentially that of the sect which he elsewhere
Nothing is more difficult to understand in Vanity Fair than the
role of Becky Sharp. It is not hard to show, as John E. Tilford,
Jr., has done, that to the author Becky is "a 'monster' all along"
and that "in her thoughts. words. and actions he almost unremit-
tingly makes her represent evil."5 And yet, as many critics have
testified, Becky is not only the most fascinating character in the
novel, but also one who excites admiration and sympathy. It i4
this which makes it so hard to understand her function in the
novel as a whole.
The first thing we must do is to try to understand why we are
so often on Becki's side. The answer is fairly simple- the action
is so structured that in about three-fourths of her conflicts Beck)
is the protagonist. The first several chapters of the novel are
dominated b\ various forms of battle imagery. as Beck% sets out
on campaign for a respected place in society. Becks is alone and
at a disadvantage, and our sympathies are almost always ith her
as she manages to outmaneu\er her powerful enemies. %\e are
for Becky not only because she is the underdog, but also because
her enemies are often oppressive social institutions and attitudes
which are the enemies of us all. When Becky deals unscrupu-
lously with harmless people who are themselves victims-like
Amelia, Briggs, or Raggles-we are against her. But for the most
part we are in sympathy with her rebellion against an unjust
society and with her desire to conquer it, even when she is cruel
and her means are unethical.
Many of the episodes of Beckt's store are brilliantly comic, and.
as a result, our moral judgment of Becky is often suspended.

84 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

While we are, to a certain extent, empathically involved with
Becky, we are completely detached from most of her victims, who
are not persons at all but caricatures and grotesques. We laugh
at the discomfiture of a Miss Pinkerton, a Jos Sedley, a Lady
Bareacres, a General Tufto, or a Wagg; and we are not at all
concerned with the means Becky uses to gain her triumphs.
There is in Vanity Fair a world of comedy in which immoralities
cancel each other out. Our sense of Becky's viciousness often
gives way to sheer enjoyment of her cleverness, wit, and vitality.
The comedy is, as I say, brilliant; but Vanity Fair is not essentially
a comic novel; and the amorality of its comic episodes seems out
of keeping with its prevailing concern for values.
As the novel draws to a close Becky becomes less and less the
heroine of the comic action and more and more the antagonist
in the moral drama. Rawdon and Jos, whose discomfiture or
exploitation at Becky's hands we had earlier enjoyed, now be-
come true victims, the objects of our sympathy. We are somewhat
shocked by how dark the story becomes at the end, when Becky
is suspected of murderingJos, not because Becky seems incapa-
ble ol :uch an action. but because it vi a violation of the comic
nature of their relationship as tt has been depicted throughout
the nos el. We are surprised to find ourselves feeling pity and fear
for Jos, whose sufferings have always been so ludicrous.
Most of the time, Becky isjust doing what everybody does, and
somehow she seems to have more justification for doing it than
most. Many of her characteristics seem undesirable, but when we
view Becky in her situation they seemjust the weapons she needs
to win her way in an unfriendly world. The gentle Amelia is, as
Becky says, "no more fit to live in the world than a baby in arms"
(Ch. 67) and must depend upon others for protection. The only
character who can cope with the world in an honorable way is
Dobbin, but he is an imperfect foil to Becky. Besides, his image
is tarnished by virtue of the fact that he is a spooney; he is
victimized not by the world, but by the world's victim, Amelia. It

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 85

is not surprising, then, that while one critic feels that Becky is
presented as a monster all along, another argues that the passage
in Chapter 64 in which she is so described is not "quite fair to
its subject, who must pay now belatedly for Thackeray's confu-/
When our sympathies are with Becky, we tend to lose sight of
the fact that it is her unhealthy ambition that exposes her to many
of her humiliations. She participates in every vice and vanity of
the society with which she is at war. In seeking herjust place she
perpetrates as many injustices as the system against which she is
rebelling. Moreover, she is not rebelling against the system as a
whole, but only against its treatment of her. She completely at-
cepts the values of the establishment; what she wants is for the
establishment to accept her. When we see this clearly, we begin
to wonder how Becky can function in even a limited way as a
protagonist in the novel's attack on society's snobbery and un-
We are beginning to swing back to the dark view of Becky, and
I could quickly demonstrate that she is really a monster all along.
The problem, of course, is that she really is a monster all alongW
and, at the same time, she is the protagonist in much of the.
action. Until this truth is fully understood, debates among critics
will be endless.
And, as we have seen, the problem of Becky is only one of a
number of difficulties that we encounter when we attempt to
comprehend the teleological structure of Vanity Fair. Amelia's
story seems at once to show that "life is redeemed ... only by
affection, by love, by loyalty to the promptings of the heart," and
to reveal how all personal relationships are blighted by their
transitoriness, lack of reciprocity, and failures in knowledge and
communication. The narrator's attitude toward Amelia is no less
ambivalent than his attitude toward Becky; and, as many critics
have shown, the sense of Amelia's thematic function that we get
from the commentary is often at odds with Thackeray's portrayal

86 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

of her character and actions. The narrator applauds Amelia and
Dobbin as the true lady and gentlemen; but Amelia is weak,
foolish, and exploitative, and Dobbin is her slave. There is much
indignation in the novel at the absence of rationality, justice, and
fulfillment in the human condition; but, as we have seen, in one
of its religious motifs all of our humiliations are good, for they
make us needful of God and acceptable to Him.
Since I am unable to discover an overall teleological structure
within which such apparently conflicting motifs make sense, I can
only conclude that Vanity Fair lacks organic unity. Thematic anal-
ysis has revealed the implied author's inconsistencies, but it can
take us no farther. At this point we must have recourse to psycho-
logical analysis, for it alone can make sense of these inconsisten-
cies and help us to grasp what is happening in the novel.


The inconsistencies in Vanity Fair seem to be manifestations of
a basic conflict in which compliant tendencies predominate but
are continually at war with a powerful, though submerged, ag-
gressiveness. Since the implied author's aggressive trends consti-
tute a threat to his conscious self-image and world view, they
must somehow be made acceptable to his compliant value sys-
tem. This is done through disguise and displacement. Sometimes
his aggressive attitudes are so subtly expressed that it is easy to
be unaware of their presence; at other times they are put into the
service of compliant values. It is the latter device which accounts
for a large part of Thackeray's satiric impulse, and the former
which explains why Becky Sharp is so often a protagonist.
Although they are less important than either the aggressive or
Sthe compliant trends, tendencies toward detachment also figure
prominently in the psychic structure of Vanity Fair. Detachment
is an attempt to reduce inner conflict by putting feeling at a
distance, by denying the importance of the warring impulses.

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 87

Detachment is manifested in Vanity Fair by the conclusion that all
is vanity and by the narrator's irony, often unfocussed, which is
the means by which the implied author negates what he has
affirmed and protects himself from the consequences of commit-
ment. Because of his irony Thackeray cannot be accused of be-
lieving in any of these foolish values. If he is accused of being
cynical, however, he can always protest that he was only joking,
that his heart is in the right place. The effectiveness of ironic
detachment as a defense is evidenced by the fact that some critics
defend Thackeray against charges of sentimentalism, cynicism,
and inconsistency by pointing to his mocking tone.7
In our analysis of the novel's thematic structure we saw that
Thackeray's presentation of Becky Sharp is inconsistent. Becky
represents everything that the compliant value system deems
loathsome, and there is no question but that she is strongly
condemned in the novel. At the same time, however, she is the
incarnation of the submerged half of Thackeray's personality. In
her character structure, value system, and world view Thackeray
has perfectly embodied the aggressive trends that he consciously
repudiates but longs to express. Thackeray protects his compli-
ant value system and his public image by his overt condemnation
of Becky, but his tendencies to move against manifest themselves
in his structuring of the action in such a way that Becky is the-
protagonist. They are expressed in so hidden and subtle a way
that Thackeray can ignore them or can pretend innocence. But
he is disturbed by them, nonetheless, and the more effectively
Becky rules the action the more he is compelled to condemn her.-
We can see Thackeray's conflicting tendencies at work in the
well-known passage in Chapter 8 in which he announces his
intention to step down from the platform and talk about his
characters. The passage as a whole leaves us feeling bewildered
and uncomfortable: it is at once earnest and ironical, humble and
self-righteous, meek and full of rage, seemingly sincere and
smacking of cant. The placing of this passage is very important,

88 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

for it comes just after a mocking and irreverent letter by Becky
Sharp. Having expressed some of his own aggressive attitudes in
this letter, Thackeray becomes anxious and violently repudiates
them. His aggressive impulses lead Thackeray to be bitingly
satirical, but his compliant trends force him to retreat into the
pose of the amiable humorist, the humble moralist, who does not
mean to hurt anybody's feelings-unless they happen to be
wicked and heartless. This is not the only place in which Thack-
eray intrudes as narrator because his anxiety about having ex-
pressed forbidden feelings makes him want to set the record
straight. What we have in these cases is the compliant Thackeray
repudiating the aggressive Thackeray who keeps getting ex-
pressed through the structuring of the action. The ironic tone of
such passages derives from Thackeray's detachment. He often
adopts this tone when he is in the grip of conflicting feelings, and
in such cases his irony is fuzzy-we cannot say what he really
The aggressive elements in Vanity Fair's psychic structure are
so strong that they are often more vividly presented than the
opposing compliant views. The looking glass passage which is so
incongruent with the novel as a whole and even with the situation
that evoked it is a perfect expression of the moving toward defense.
The way to get along in the world is to be "kind and placable";
if we are good (compliant) there is nothing to fear, for everyone
will like us and be good in return. If we are bad (aggressive) we
will arouse the hostility of others and be punished. The world is
really a safe and just place; if we suffer misfortune it is because
we are bad, because we have frowned at the world. If we accept
everything with good humor we will have no really serious trou-
bles; but if we are bitter and rebellious, then watch out!
The compliant defense posits the world as fair, as responsive
to kindness and placability, because that is the way the world
must be if submission is to be a means to safety and power. In
this scheme of things goodness is a means of controlling, of

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 89

conquering. We see how this works when Amelia conquers Miss
Pinkerton far more easily and effectively than does Rebecca. Be-
cause she is so "humble and gentle" Amelia is adored by all, and
there is an orgy of grief at her departure from Miss Pinkerton's.
A similar scene occurs much later in the novel when Dobbin
leaves Pumpernickel:

Old Burcke, the landlord of the lodgings came out, then Francis
with more packages-final packages-then Major William,-
Burcke wanted to kiss him. The Major was adored by all people
with whom he had to do. It was with difficulty that he could escape
from this demonstration of attachment. (Ch. 66)

When Georgy, who had already "burst out crying in the face of
all the crowd," howled again during the night, the maid "mingled
her lamentations with his. All the poor, all the humble, all honest
folks, all good men who knew him, loved that kind-hearted and
simple gentleman" (Ch. 66). In these and a few other passages,
which seem like intrusions of a fairy tale world into the sordid
reality of Vanity Fair, we see the looking-glass passage borne out,
the compliant defense working to perfection. If this is the way of
the world, it is not only wrong, it is foolish to be like Becky rather
than like Amelia.
What makes the looking-glass passage seem so incongruous, of
course, is the fact that by far the greater part of the novel presents
the aggressive solution's view of the world as a jungle in which
everyone is out for himself and the weak go to the wall. As I have
said, there are times when Becky's mode of operation seems
justified by the nature of her situation. If society is unfair and
almost everyone is trying to exploit you, why shouldn't you look
out for yourself, use the weapons of the enemy, and get them
before they get you? This is the philosophy of the aggressive
type; it is Becky's philosophy; and in the context of the novel as
a whole it seems to make a lot more sense than the idea of being
kind and placable. It is the aggressive view of the world that

90 A Psychological Approach to Fiction

unquestionably receives the more effective dramatic presenta-
Even more strongly than it is presented as justified, however,
the aggressive pursuit of worldly success is presented as pointless
and destructive. Much of the novel's satire is generated by Thack-
eray's righteous anger that the world is not as the looking glass
passage describes it. Not only are the means to worldly success
shown to be sordid; its ends are shown to be worthless. And this,
I think, is not only because the compliant Thackeray cannot
afford to desire these things, but also because the aggressive
Thackeray has learned that they do not really satisfy.
Even though it manifests strong leanings toward aggressive
values, then, Vanity Fair passionately rejects the philosophy of the
moving against solution. It does so partly because a neurotic solu-
tion provides no genuine answers, but mainly because compliant
trends are dominant in its psychic structure. It endorses most
strongly that strategy for living which rejects competitiveness and
seeks safety and a sense of worth and belonging through good-
ness, submissiveness, and self-effacement. It attacks the values of
the social world as false and destructive because they lead to the
sacrifice of love, friendship, and emotional fulfillment-the
things to which the compliant solution looks for the meaning of
And yet, as we have seen, the stories of Becky and of Amelia
are but variations on the theme of Vanity: Thackeray presents
social success and love relationships as equally unrewarding.
SVanity Fair is as inconsistent in its presentation of compliant
values and characters as it is in its depiction of the aggressive
types and their philosophy. Thackeray's ambivalence towards
Amelia and Dobbin and the contempt for sentiment expressed by
some of his aggressive characters suggest that his negative atti-
tudes toward the compliant solution stem in part from his aggres-
sive trends. But the main reason for his rejection of compliant

The Psychic Structure of Vanity Fair 91

values is that they, like their aggressive counterparts, do not
What the novel shows brilliantly is the inadequacy of these two
kinds of neurotic solutions. But there is no awareness within the
novel that this is its import. Every aspect of the novel's structure
and tone reveals its striving to be a comment on man's essential
nature and condition. There is no nonneurotic character or per-
spective preser t to serve as a moral norm and thereby to provide
an internal revelation that its subject is sickness.
The concluding comment of the narrator that all is vanity and
no one is happy in this world cancels out both of the novel's
conflicting value systems and is perfectly appropriate to its actual
presentation of life. Thackeray's sense of the hopelessness of all
solutions contained within the novel, combined with his inability
to see beyond them, leads him at the end to a position of detach-1
ment. It does not matter what we do under the heaven all the days
of our life. Nothing is worth pursuing ardently and no one is to
be taken seriously: "Come children, let us shut up the box and
the puppets, for our play is played out." This statement, which
is sojarring to our sense of the novel's moral and artistic earnest-
ness, is perfectly in keeping with the resigned defense ohoh
protects us from our conflicts and from our feelings of futility and
despair by viewing the human scene from a distance, with
detached amusement.
There is one aspect of the compliant solution which is not
negated by the conclusion that all is vanity. As we have seen, it
could be argued that Thackeray depicts the frustrations and mis-
eries of the human lot in order to sho\ the necessitl ol humnlit
and submlsson to the %ill of God In this religious form of the
comlnphant solution man ,e t-io trld God It s. God alone osho
is the source of happiness (though not in this life), and the way
to win His favor is to be weak, humble, and miserable. He whow
esteems himself, he who is dissatisfied with man's fate, or he whot