Children’s literature

Part I. Theory and critical approaches


9. Psychoanalytical criticism


Hamida Bosmajian


Psychoanalytic theory and the feminist critique


The patrimony psychoanalytic criticism received from Freud has exerted a deep ‘anxiety of influence’ on the feminist critic (Gilbert and Gubar 1979: 45-92; Gallop 1982), primarily because of Freud’s definition of female sexuality and his centring of the male myth of Oedipus, both of which reduce the female to an addendum. Revisionary readings of Freud, particularly those by French feminists influenced by Lacan, both appropriate and retain his powerful influence. Feminist readings of Jung underwent less radical revisions (Lauter and Rupprecht 1985). Even without specific reference to ego-relations and object psychology, the feminist critic, by delineating the struggle of the female in a patriarchially constructed world, finds in the concept of self-actualisation an ally in her attempt at social transformation.

While not denying the existence of the subconscious, feminist psychoanalytic criticism, including the feminist criticism of children’s literature, privileges the concept of social construction in the development of the female. Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering has been especially influential in its synthesis of psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender where ‘the reproduction of mothering occurs through social structurally induced psychological processes’ and is ‘neither a product of biology nor of intentional role training’ (1978: 7). Here the critic of children’s literature finds a female focus, especially for the mother-daughter relation (Barzilai 1990; Murphy 1990; Natov 1990). The focus on the body-self relations allows the feminist critic to explore unique female experiences that have been neglected in the study of literature. The focus on the social construction of female and male children, especially since the nineteenth-century middle-class self-definition of gender roles and the family, has guided feminists to valuable contextual insights into the history of children’s literature and its readers.

A major issue in feminist criticism is the problematics of the female writer’s precursors which has led Gilbert and Gubar to revise Bloom’s ‘anxiety of influence’ (Bloom 1973) with ‘anxiety of authorship’ by which the female writer questions her claim to be a writer (Gilbert and Gubar 1979: 48-9). It remains to be seen whether the important role of female writers in children’s literature and the status of children’s literature as a field of study might be understood as defences against the pressures of the male-dominated literary and critical tradition.