December 19th, 2011

New Critic vs. Freud

Posted by sasha in

In two other pages on my site, the Annotated Paragraph and the Conference Presentation, I delved into two literary theories, New Criticism and Freud’s Dream Work as applied to literature, respectively, in order to analyze, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” On this page, I’m going to discuss how interpretations from these two theories compare. These were my two favorite theories during the class, and I’m actually glad I can compare the two here. I’ll take my previous assignments and extend on them here.
In my Freudian conference presentation, I talked about the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. I argued that she was the main character in the story, and that she was an equal to the great Sherlock Holmes.
In my New Critic annotated paragraph, I analyzed an early paragraph in, “A Scandal in Bohemia” and found that the word choice and the foreshadowing the text described Sherlock Holmes as an intelligent thinking machine, but the upcoming scandal will make a great change in his life – the fact that Irene Adler comes into the picture with her photograph (LOL) and proves to be his equal proves this.
If I can be honest, while comparing these two theories to the story, I found that New Criticism has a weakness to it. I wanted to interpret the story in a certain way. I wanted to discover more about the relationship between Holmes and Adler, and I really think you can use New Criticism to come to any interpretation you want – after all, you’re using solely the text and nothing else. I know that’s committing a “fallacy” – perhaps both an intentional fallacy and an affective fallacy, but it’s rather hard to get around that. That’s something I need to work on. But let’s go onto the comparison.
Both theories led to an interpretation of the main idea of the story, which is the relationship between Holmes and Adler. It’s not an obvious aspect in the short story, what’s more obvious is the fact that she’s a villain and Holmes is unable to stop her. According to Freud, this makes their understated relationship that much more important.
There are three important terms used when we’re interpreting something with Freud’s “Dream-Work.”
Condensation: things are condensed
Displacement: things that matter are displaced
Overdetermination: things can be red-herrings
Sherlock Holmes himself is a red-herring, as the story truly focuses on the character of Irene Adler. She hardly appears in the story, but she is characterized through Holmes’ wonder over her. She is condensed, and what she represents is displaced to Holmes.
Here’s a quote from my conference presentation to elaborate. “Sigmund Freud’s, “The Dream-Work,” when used as literary theory, aides in the interpretation of, “A Scandal in Bohemia” because of it’s focus on representations of the abstract and metonymic associations. It does what a theory like New Criticism cannot do for a Sherlock Holmes story, which depends so much on ideas presented through other Holmes stories. Focusing on the text itself does not delve deep enough into its meaning.”
Freud also discussed the importance of abstract representations in dreams. Holmes himself is a representation of the “eccentric Bohemian,” but so is Irene Adler. The narrator, Watson, describes Holmes as a precise thinking machine, but he does so with very passionate words, showing that Holmes does in fact have the capabilities of emotion, which he later shows for Adler, which causes him to lose the case.
I think I’ve bashed the New Critics enough. Let’s take a look at how they’d interpret Holmes and Adler. The New Critics focused on the text itself, so then let’s take a look at the text. Here are two examples from “A Scandal in Bohemia”:
“He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime”
“…excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions.”
In these two sentences from early on in the story, we can see how the word choice really affects the meaning. These words describe how a man would interact with a woman, but it describes Holmes’s work as a detective. His work is his woman. Well, he’s married to his work. But this foreshadows the arrival of Irene Adler – and it can be argued – that for a brief moment, she enthralled Holmes enough to cloud his mind a bit, and win him over. (Is that a bit of a stretch?) This sort of language prevails throughout the story. Word choice and diction really demonstrate the meaning of the story, in a subtle way.
Irene Adler is an equal to Sherlock Holmes. I’m reading this in a feminist view, maybe, but I really think through analysis through Freud and the New Critics show that there’s evidence there for a Victorian woman to be on par with the great detective in the deerstalker hat..

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