Defense Mechanisms The three books, Mrs Dalloway, The Hours and Civilization and Its Discontents all dwell upon the subject of deviance and discontent. Robert K. Merton, one of the most influential theorists of our century, developed the term deviance. Deviance is referred to as the dissension of an individual's behavior with the accepted norms of the society he is a part of.
Merton's theories concentrated on how the social structure of society influence's an individual's behavior. He argued that a particular type of structural arrangement of society contributes to the emergence of anomie, and subsequently, to crime and deviance. Anomie is a state that results from rapid social change which means that norms and values are less clear which increases the likelihood of individuals to engage in deviant behavior. Merton argued through this theory that people are deviant because they have been socialized to believe in or desire a certain set of goals and they lack the opportunities to reach these goals through legitimate means.
In like manner, Freud says that the root cause for discontent in our civilization is primary repression of the ego and Id in his controversial book Civilization and Its Discontents. The Ego relates to insatiable instincts which we have and is responsible for all for conscious desires (the reality principle). The Id can be compared to as a geyser of hidden desires and cravings (the pleasure principle). Society forces individuals to repress their Id forces and distort their sense of reality. Freud observes that's individuals created for themselves defense mechanisms which protect them from the discontent that arises from their unfulfilled desires. He identifies man's main purpose in life is the quest for happiness and civilization requires him to suppress his sexual instincts.
, which greatly limits his opportunities to find pleasure and satisfaction. Defense mechanisms serve the purpose of repressing one's true self in order to give the appearance of being a socially accepted individual. Unfortunately, defense mechanisms do not serve as a cure for physiological disorders, they act merely as a crutch to alleviate the pain and anguish temporarily. In literature, namely in Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours, there are good examples demonstrating defense mechanisms in response to the deviance and discontent that the personalities, Mrs. Brown, Mrs.
Dalloway and Virginia Woolf face. Each of these three characters, Mrs. Brown, Clarissa Dalloway and Virginia Woolf are presented in a different era and location. Both the novels of Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours are an examination of human nature. Virginia Woolf provides us with a multitude of view of social interactions in 1920's London through her novel.
The characters in the novels are plagued with a deep sense of dissatisfaction due to the conflict arising from the individual's personal desires as opposed to the individual's social obligations and expectations from society. The social obligations and expectations are external factors to an individual but they become overwhelming and become internalized. This results in an emotional breakdown and consequently deviant behavior. Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh, Mrs.
Brown and Mrs. Woolf all exhibit prominent symptoms of discontent and they all take extreme measures to alleviate themselves from the huge burden of discontent and unhappiness that they face. The degree of the deviance they experience and the discontent they feel varies as a result of the specific norms of the society. In The Hours, Virginia Woolf cleverly illustrates the different expectations that existed at the particular time period and the various ways the individuals in the novel use defense mechanisms ranging from abandonment to suicide.
The unfortunate effect of this is that individuals are forced out of society and are unable to reach their full potential. An illustration of such deviant behavior is through the character of Clarissa Dalloway, in Mrs. Dalloway. She is a middle-aged and highly social wife of a reputed member of the parliament.
She displays deviance by her homosexual tendencies. Homosexuality at that time period was considered to be very objectionable in society and was viewed as being dangerous to health as it was a 'mental disease.' In our time and age it is still not fully accepted, but is substantially more accommodating to the homosexual society. She reminisces about her childhood friend, Sally, whom she shared an intimate kiss with. Clarissa feels that she does not do things for herself, but rather so that others will like her and so that she will be remembered after she dies.
Her individuality is sacrificed in her hopes of being the perfect hostess. Denial is at large the mechanism she uses to ameliorate the situation. She denies her own selfhood by doing deeds for others and she derives her identity through her husband's personality. She is faced with the conflict that she feels delighted at being alive but however feels the shock of knowing that it will all end one day. Virginia Woolf is a well-known write from 1923.
Depressed and suicidal, she is writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway. She has frequently has schizophrenic episodes and knows what it feels like to fall apart. The writing of her novel illustrates very well the defense mechanism of intellectualization. Intellectualization is a systematic overdoing of thinking, deprived of its affect, in order to defend against anxiety attributable to an unacceptable impulse (definition from handout). She uses the writing of her novel to conceal her own emptiness in her life.
Writing is, for Virginia, a medium of replacing her own emotions and impulses. She is extremely dissatisfied with her lifestyle. She cites her source of unhappiness to be being away from London. Her form of depression was so extreme that she chose suicide as her answer to end her misery. Her discontent came from the fact that she felt alienated by society. Virginia also suffered from a mental condition which involved frequent headaches and migraines alluding to the defense mechanism of somatization.
Somatization is the defensive conversion of psychic derivatives into bodily symptoms and her deviancy may have been more related due to her clinical conditions rather than social conflict. Septimus Warren Smith is a character in Mrs. Dalloway who was a veteran of World War 1 and is a disturbed man going insane. He was shocked by the war and slowly sinks into madness. He recounts traumatic events from the past from the war and goes practically insane because of this. In this aspect, he is similar in character to Mrs.
Dalloway. They are both delusional characters and their personalities reflect one another's except that Septimus represents Clarissa's character taken to an extreme. The two characters withdraw into themselves to deal with their discontent. Withdrawal is defined, by the handout, as the removal of interest or affect from an object.
Septimus and Clarissa withdraw from the facet of withdrawal occasioned by anxiety attributable to conflict with the interest maintained. Septimus exhibits sublimation to gratify the impulses that he has, as he lets himself act upon every whim and notion that comes to him. He worries that his life holds no meaning and in the end resorts to suicide to free himself from this overwhelming burden of meaningless. Laura Brown is a pregnant Los Angeles housewife from 1949 who is planning a birthday party for her husband, who is reading the novel. She is the most obvious example of deviancy in both the novels. She has on a superficial level everything that society expects from a 1950's housewife- a good-natured, but ordinary husband and a son.
She is however sexually frustrated with her husband and a conflict arises due to her family obligations and homosexual tendencies. She displays the defense mechanism here of repression. She is repressing her instinctual impulses in this situation and according to the handout, is the primary mechanism through which her primary ego is maintained. In another instance, she displays avoidance very clearly by abandoning her family after having given birth to her child. Her abandonment was an act of turning away from conflict- laden thoughts, objects, or experiences (from handout) and it was her method of dealing with the overwhelming burden of discontent that she was faced with. In present day, Clarissa Vaughan is a lesbian book editor who is throwing a party for a friend and former love interest Richard, who is dying of AIDS and who gave Clarissa her nickname "Mrs.
Dalloway." Clarissa deals with her deviance through the defense mechanism of magical thinking. Magical thinking is used illogically as a way of avoiding danger or fulfilling needs. (refer to handout). She suffers from a megalomania fantasy in which she feels she is at one with the living and the dead. Freud states this as "a feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole." These three women come from very different backgrounds, yet have one very strong connection - they are overcome by societal pressures and expectations. In the novel Mrs.
Dalloway, the character of Peter Walsh illustrates the defense mechanisms of acting out, avoidance and detachment. Peter is Clarissa's former love and is portrayed as a slightly deviant character. He gives the appearance of being deviant to his friends but he himself feels ambivalent whether he is or not. He escaped his mundane, predictable life by moving to India and finding love there.
According to the handout, behavior is called acting out if it disrupts social adjustment. Peter Walsh found that after having come back from India he was even more out of place than before and is more unsatisfied than ever. The long separation from the society he once knew caused him to appear more deviant and he realizes this when he needed to find a job. Freud's theories in the book Civilization and Discontents are indeed relevant to my personal life. The defense mechanism he deals with in his work is deflection, where demands and desires are re-channeled into areas that can be more easily satisfied.
Deflection can be further sub categorized into substitutive satisfactions and intoxication. Substitutive satisfactions are forms of compensation for a lack of pleasure elsewhere. This includes all forms of illusion including religious fanaticism, fantasy or escape into art. I think that Clarissa uses escape into art as one of defense mechanisms. She feels emotional attachment to every trivial object and in this sense is using the defense mechanism of affectualization.
Affectualization is the overemphasis on and the excessive use of the emotional aspects of issues in order to avoid the rational understanding and appreciation for them. Freud believed that civilization's main purpose is to ameliorate human suffering and misery but in reality is it partially responsible for this suffering. We as a society, are under the misconception that social institutions promote and protect our liberty when in fact it is limiting them and hence is the cause of considerate displeasure. The main idea I concluded from this book was that one of society's main discontent stemmed from the fact of not reaching our primary goal in life- that is finding the satisfaction in loving and being loved. (p. 33) We all strive to seek acceptance in our society and being loved by somebody affirms that acceptance.
The lack of finding such love results in the use of a multitude of defense mechanism on the list such as acting out, avoidance, denial, magical thinking or sublimination. In his discussion on the role of women in society, I find evidence of his theories to relate to my life. As an engineering major, I find most of my classes to be male-dominated and it amazes me that in our time and age, after substantial advancements in gender equality, that the situation is such. Freud eludes the reason to this to be because women represent the interests of the family and of sexual life and while I do not think this is wholly accurate, perhaps women have a subconscious desire for this.
All three books, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours and Civilization and its Discontents have illustrated that the basic underlying concepts of deviance and discontent are an inescapable phenomenon of human behavior, present almost exclusively to some degree in every individual's life. They themes of the book are universally applicable to virtually every form of society that exists in our world today as every individual possesses to some degree of dissatisfaction and discontent. We live in a constantly changing society and therefore new defense mechanisms will develop to deal with new and old forms of deviancy. In spite of the dissatisfaction and suffering that the human condition incites the individual to endure, people can alleviate their hardships through self-validation and conscious acknowledgement of society's transgressions. It is only such recognition and acceptance that enables people to relinquish the crutch that defense mechanisms provide for them and subsequently walk unaided with a transcending sense of security and fulfillment..