Super-ego versus IdIn The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells touches on many interesting themes in few words. One theme that we have repeatedly seen in our readings is the danger of man trying to play God or interfering with nature. In this story, Wells adds another dimension to the man versus nature conflict, which is whether a code of moral values is more powerful than natural instinct.
In his structural model, Freud identified Id as the uncoordinated instinct and Super-ego as the critical and moralizing aspect of the psyche. The third element, Ego, tries to find a balance between the two. Wells’ story depicts the conflict of Super-ego and Id without the presence of a strong ego. On the island, the beast folk are shown as instinctual creatures(Id) who are controlled by the law or Dr. Moreau (Super-ego).
In the initial part of the story, it is the super-ego which is stronger. Dr. Moreau, banishes all natural instincts (not to suck up drink, eat fish or flesh, etc.), and uses punishment to silence the Id. The beast folk are scared and curb most natural instincts. This creates an imbalance, which Prendick as an outsider is able to perceive as threat. It is interesting that in this phase Prendick is more scared of Dr. Moreau than the beasts.
In the second part, the Id takes over when the beast (Puma) escapes and attacks the super-ego. In the Reversion, beast folks begin protesting against decency and monogamy and fall back into disorganization and chaos. In this environment too, Prendick feels threatened, though this time it is the bestiality which scares him. In both cases, the absence of Ego can be seen as a destabilising factor. It seems that Wells concurs with the views of his contemporary Freud that for a psyche to function well, Ego should be its strongest element.
This is what my reviewer pointed out: “The only point I think you’ve missed is rationalizing the absence of the Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle and it’s absence could signify a suspension of reality denoted by an isolated island.”
I cannot claim that I fully understand the critique as I dont understand the relationship between Ego and Reality principal very well, but I am working on it.
The atmospheric work from Bram Stroker reads like a Biblical tale in a modern setting. With use of modern symbols and interesting art forms (journals, multiple narratives, mystery), Stroker attempts to deliver key themes of Christanity to a modern audience who might feel disconnected from the ancient stories.
The strongest Biblical symbol is Dracula, shown as a metaphor for Satan and described both as tempter and deceiver who uses people’s weakness in order to deflect them from the path of good. This can be seen in how he entices Renfield by falsely promising him eternal life, convincing him to let him enter the hospital. He (with other vampires) fosters sinful desires: Jonathan Harker is tempted by the three women in Dracula’s castle, while Lucy calls out to Arthur in a voluptuous voice to kiss her, before her fall.
Like in the Bible, Bram Stroker illustrates that Dracula’s temptations can be resisted by being alert, by prayer and by relying on God’s faithfulness. In the story, characters struggle to stay awake; many a tragedies occur while they are asleep or in trance. Dr Van Helsing strongly advocates keeping a crucifix on person when in proximity of Dracula. This crucifix, a symbol of God, saves the party from harm. Mina constantly resorts to prayer, never wavers in her faith, and is thus saved from the influence of Satan.
Stroker’s technique is very similar to the technique of Biblical story-telling in modern theatre – perhaps an influence from his theatre background. He tries to internalize the story for his audience by keeping the script simple, breaking up the story into scenes or chapters, keeping fixed locations (the castle, Whitby, hospital), and tracking the emotional journey of the characters. This keeps the reader interested and imprints the Biblical teaching of virtue over desire very vividly in his mind.
Alienation appears as a dominant theme in Mary Shelly’s novel. The three narrators- Walton, Frankenstein and the monster, are all disconnected from the society around them and experience angst on account of this alienation. This alienation mirrors the feelings of the 19th century European society which was witnessing rapid industrialization.Before Industrialization, people produced for self-subsistence and therefore had a direct relationship to their labour’s fruit. However, in Industrial era, because the product would belong to capitalists, workers felt alienated from their work and therefore not in control of their lives. Frankenstein’s labour, though frenzied, is still dissociated from its final outcome (He never thinks about the life he is creating). Upon completion, he runs away from it. Mary Shelly has captured the worker’s estrangement with his work very succinctly through this analogy. Frankenstein, like Walton and like the modern man, spends a lot of time away from his family and natural surroundings to pursue secondary relationships with his work. They all work in alien environments (a cottage, aboard a ship, a factory). Their isolation causes them anxiety and dissatisfaction with life.The monster’s alienation is of a different nature, but still relates to the working man. He feels powerless to do what he would like to do: find friends and lead a peaceful life. He finds “human senses as insurmountable barriers” to achieving his natural state. He struggles against this powerlessness and seeks revenge. The working man similarly feels powerless to determine his fate, which is increasingly dependent on the decisions of the capitalist. He either submits to this power and feels unhappy, or adopts unlawful means (robbery, thieving, murder) to protest and regain his lost power.With her theme, Mary Shelly seems to endorse the Romantic view that Science, Modernization and Industrialization have created antagonism in human nature.