Bernard J. Paris


Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature

This book is a product of the continuing evolution of the psychological approach to literature I have been unfolding since 1964. It illustrates some of the applications of the approach that I have discussed before, but it emphasizes some things that my previous books do not, such as plot and narrative technique; and it applies the approach more systematically and to a wider range of literary issues and texts. It provides distinctive readings, I think, of a dozen major works of Western literature.

I have entitled the book Imagined Human Beings because it is largely about mimetic characters who can be understood in motivational terms. As the subtitle suggests, it is also about various kinds of conflict. There are conflicts, first of all, within and between the characters. In Part 2, I analyze the inner divisions of the central characters and the dynamics of their relationships in works by Sophocles, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Barth.

There are other kinds of conflict that I explore as well. I argue in Part 3 that in realistic literature there is usually a conflict between plot and rhetoric on the one hand and mimesis on the other. When concretely drawn characters are understood in psychological terms, they tend to escape their roles and to subvert the view of them advanced by the rhetoric. I look at two patterns of action in particular, the education and vindication plots. When I examine the protagonists of education plots from a Horneyan perspective, they do not seem to have matured but to have switched from one defensive strategy to another. In vindication plots, noble characters are unappreciated at the outset but eventually receive the admiration they deserve. When we understand them psychologically, these characters appear less admirable than the vindication pattern requires them to be.

There is almost always a conflict between an author's interpretations and judgments, which are part of what I mean by "rhetoric," and the mimetic portrait of a character. Authors tend to glorify characters who embody the defensive strategies they favor while accurately portraying their behavior as damaging to themselves or others. A Horneyan approach helps us not only to see disparities between rhetoric and mimesis but also to understand the forces in the implied author's personality that generate them. There are sometimes inconsistencies within the rhetoric itself, as the author presents conflicting interpretations and judgments. A Horneyan approach can help us to make sense of such inconsistencies by seeing them as products of the inner divisions of the implied author.

The conflicts between rhetoric and mimesis that are a consequence of realistic characterization can be either exacerbated or reduced by the choice of narrative technique. In Part 3, I compare six novels that employ a variety of narrative techniques and try to show that the problems created by both omniscient and first person narration are illuminated by a Horneyan approach and resolved by the use of multiple narrators, such as Emily Brontė employs in Wuthering Heights.

Table of Contents


Part I: Introduction

  1. Applications of a Horneyan Approach
  2. Horney's Mature Theory

Part II: Characters and Relationships

  1. A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler
  2. The End of the Road
  3. "The Clerk's Tale"
  4. The Merchant of Venice
  5. Antigone

Part III: Character, Plot, Rhetoric, and Narrative Technique

  1. Great Expectations
  2. Jane Eyre
  3. The Mayor of Casterbridge
  4. Madame Bovary
  5. The Awakening
  6. Wuthering Heights

Comments on this book:

"This is literary criticism at its most perceptive. Theory is subservient to a deeply engaged reading of works Professor Paris clearly loves. To read his analysis of Emma Bovary or Hedda Gabler is to gain an enriched insight into characters whom we thought we knew so well." Phyllis Grosskurth, author of Byron: The Flawed Angel and many other books. Emeritus Professor of English, University of Toronto.

". . . a majestic tapestry -- a curtain that, when opened, reveals a stage in which literary criticism operates at a level both profound and enjoyable." Stanley Krippner, Professor of Psychology at Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, in AHP Perspective.

"He transcends his theory, just as he feels that great writers are intuitive psychologists who transcend their theories. Horneyan theory becomes for Paris merely a scaffold on which he can hang his own psychological insights. His use of it proves his contention that while 'in a brief description, [Horney's] theory seems highly schematic, . . .when properly employed it is quite flexible." His readings of Madame Bovary, Hedda Gabler, and Doll's House are models of acute psychological analysis. And Paris, to his great credit, never succumbs to the temptation of sacrificing the literary work to his theory: his close-reading approach focuses the reader's attention squarely back on the literary text itself." Margret Schaefer in Psychoanalytic Books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews.

"Paris' narrative, I am happy to say, displays all the virtues of Horney's own style and theory -- its clarity and vividness of language, and the immediate appeal of a jargon-free presentation of different character styles. He provides a clear and concise outline of her mature theory that would be perfectly accessible to nonanalysts, and one that will remind those psychoanalysts who may have felt Horney's work has been superseded by the advances of self psychology or relational theories of the considerable virtues still to be found there." Barry Magid in Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis.

"In this excellent book, Bernard Paris looks at literary characters from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Ibsen and Barth, exploring their personalities, their devious motivations, their half-successful solutions to the eternal problems. In doing so, he takes us back to the root and profoundest appeal of literature, our response to these magnificent human beings as though they were real people. His unusually astute psychoanalytic criticism shows how the most interesting literature arises from the tension between the language and what is really -- so to speak -- going on." Norman Holland, author of The I and many other books. Marston-Milbauer Professor of English, University of Florida.

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