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Monday, October 13, 2014

Classic Psychosexual and Feminine Archetypes: A Freudian and Jungian Analysis of The Paper Magician

Yep, you read the title right.

A friend of mine actually wrote an essay using Freud and Jung's theories to analyze my book. XD While I won't say it's entirely accurate to my intentions, it is a very, very amusing read.

[Spoiler Warning.] Don't read if you don't want spoilers for The Paper Magician.

~*~

Classic Psychosexual and Feminine Archetypes: A Freudian and Jungian Analysis of The Paper Magician

By Connor Hoover, M.S., B.S., A.A.

The characters of Charlie Holmberg’s “The Paper Magician” can be viewed as avatars of classic conceptions of cis woman feminine sexuality and heteronormative male/female sexual interactions. The specifics of the relation between the characters and human sexuality depend on the particular literary and psychological perspective one takes in examining them. This essay will primarily focus on two perspectives: First the Freudian perspective emphasizing the characters as individuals struggling with their own libidos and neurosis, and second the Jungian perspective which views the characters as archetypes representing more global views of sexuality.

In terms of Neo-Freudian psychology Ceony Twill, our protagonist, could almost certainly be described as having an “Electra Complex”. The Electra Complex, the female equivalent of the Oedipus Complex (Originally proposed by Carl Jung, somewhat ironically for this review) results when a child fails to fully resolve the struggles produced by their libido in the phallic stage of psychosexual development. In young girls, this manifests as a desire to kill their mothers and marry their fathers. Failure to resolve these feelings can lead to latent desires that manifest in their later choice of sexual partners.

These latent desires are expressed quite clearly in Ceony’s choice of sexual partners, her mentor who is 11 years her senior. Emery Thane is the only real paternal figure in the book expressing many characteristics that make him Ceony’s surrogate father. First, he is more than a decade older than she, second he holds a position of power, authority, and greater knowledge over her, he rewards her with attention and gifts (such as Fennel), and he several times displays nurturing fatherly qualities (At one point even delivering a baby). Ceony submits to her desires by rapidly and eagerly assuming stereotypical female gender roles, such as cooking, cleaning, and performing errands in an effort to win Thane’s affections. Thane however remains stoic, never clearly responding to the gestures made by Ceony. This withholding of affection, another common father-daughter relationship trope, only increases Ceony’s desires.

The desire for a relationship with this father figure is only half of the complex however; to fully actualize her desires Ceony must also murder her pseudo-mother, Thane’s former wife Lira. Lira is an older woman who is described as having wide hips, large bust, and beautiful face. All of these features are associated with sexuality and fecundity. These sexual characteristics also intimidated Ceony, as she comments on them frequently and compares herself to them unfavorably. Freud also theorized that failure to successfully resolve the phallic stage of development could result in a tendency towards homosexuality. As such, Ceony’s preoccupation with Lira’s figure could be a result of repressed bisexuality. Nevertheless, Thane remains her primary object of sexual fixation and when Lira literally steals his heart (highly symbolic of Ceony’s jealousy and envy of their more mature previous sexual relationship) Ceony must kill this maternal figure to retrieve it.

The gauntlet of trials Ceony must pass through while inside of Thane’s heart is ripe with sexual symbolism and metaphors for her blossoming sexuality. In each of four chambers of the heart Ceony encounters a different aspect of Thane’s psyche. This is also where her feelings for him become fully realized. The first two chambers of the heart are full of fond memories and hopes for the future, with the second two containing painful dark memories and doubts. The transitions between these chambers are through large, suffocating, fleshy valves that ooze blood. This transition from happy memories to dark, from innocence to desire, mediated by blood and vaginal imagery represents Ceony’s transition to womanhood. As young girls begin their journey through puberty, heralded by the beginning of menstruation, they become increasingly aware of their sexual desires and often experience a great amount of angst. All of these features are present in Ceony’s journey as well.
Ceony successfully kills her rival with the aid of her mentor’s spirit and reclaims his heart, a victory of her greater love and determination as well as a full realization of her repressed desires. Finally at peace with her libido she returns the heart to her mentor and foretells a happy family life in their future, finally resolving her internal conflict.

To contrast the interpretation of the story focusing on the sexual conflicts within Ceony, a Jungian interpretation focuses more on the opposing archetypes of female sexuality represented by Ceony and Lira. The perspective here is then larger than a single character but centered on the duality represented by the two primary female characters. Ceony represents a view of femininity as chaste, pure, and virginal. Her desires and actions are scholarly, domestic, and familial. She does not publicly acknowledge her sexual desires and the thought of them is highly embarrassing to her. Though initially her goals are primarily scholastic, she quickly and enthusiastically accepts the idea of creating a family. Even then, her visions and conceptions of love are those of a virgin: idyllic meadows, family picnics, sunshine and vegetation. Sex and carnality are not a part of her perception of family life. In classic literature Ceony would be the virgin or maiden archetype: innocent and pure, uncorrupted by sinful desires.

Lira conversely represents the wicked aspects of feminine sexuality, the temptress archetype. Lira openly flaunts her sex appeal and uses it to her advantage. She is seductive and manipulative, evoking the sirens of Greek myth that lure men to their deaths with beauty and song. Lira is corrupted by her sexual desires; the desire for Thane’s affections that drives her to rip his heart from his chest, the desire for sex which drives her to infidelity, and the desire for power which leads her to practice dark forbidden magics. This connection between female sexual appeal and black magic has roots going back centuries, throughout the folklore of many different cultures. Witches, sorceresses, and succubae are all associated both with unbridled female sexuality and evil. This fear of the “magical” power of female sexuality is pervasive throughout history and heightens the dichotomy between the heroine and antagonist.


Therefore when Ceony defeats Lira she not only defeating her antagonist but also the embodiment of evil she wishes to overcome. In a sense, Ceony is defeating her own lustful desires which could tempt her down the same path as Lira to become a selfish being of sexual power. The victory then is for one particular concept of femininity over the other, the pure mind triumphing over the tainted, the chaste over the impure, and the mother over the harlot. Ceony’s final vision of her family should come as no surprise then as it is the ultimate fate of the maiden to become the mother and begin the cycle anew.


2 comments:

  1. Wow. Having a paper written about your book may be almost as cool as being published.

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  2. Reminds me of this:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-hcex1NwXBh4/T5Ll3T02_kI/AAAAAAAAD2w/vmV4XKNiTPY/s1600/Teacher+Author+Meaning.JPG

    ReplyDelete