Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Field: Literature

Watchthis video on Psychoanalytical literary criticism:

Psychoanalytic Criticism
Choose two main characters from one of the stories we have read in this unit.
Identify an important conflict these two characters share (either between each other or a conflict from outside the relationship).
Consider how psychological factors within the two people affect resolving this conflict.
Recall that the video talks not only about the Id, Ego, and Superego, but also about stress, depression, PTSD, grief, and so on.
In particular, look at different ways the characters view masculinity.
Do varying ideas of masculinity cause, or exacerbate, the conflict?
Write three paragraphs about the following, using direct quotations and paraphrases (with in-text citations) to support your claims):
First paragraph
Identify the two characters and the conflict you will analyze.
Second paragraph
Analyze psychological factors that seem to be motivating these characters, especially in what it means to be, for example, a “good” man or a “strong” father or a “loving” husband.
Third paragraph
Explain how these factors and this conflict contribute to meanings of the story..
Post a three-paragraph response to the discussion board by clicking on the title of this activity or through the Discussion Board main menu on the left.
Link for Video

They sat in the living room drinking coffee, looking out at the lake. Margret got up every now and then to check on their son. He had

fallen asleep in her arms in the living room, and she had taken him

into his bedroom and laid him down. He was sleeping peacefully,

but she kept looking in on him every few minutes to listen to his breathing. When she couldn’t hear it she put her ear to his nose and mouth. Only then could she relax.

They had started using the summer cabin just over a year ago.

Margret’s parents had a cabin farther up the hillside an_d had given

them a piece of their land as a wedding present. Oskar had built the cabin himself It had taken a long time since he was busy with so many other things. The cabin wasn’t large but it was well situated, with an uninterrupted view of the lake. A hollow with a stream run-

ning through it and some tall trees, mostly fir and birch, separated

them from Margret’s parents. Although Oskar got on well with his in-laws he liked having the stream and hollow between them.


They had come down after work on Friday. The weather forecast had been uncertain, but Margret paid it no attention,

knowing from experience that it could seldom be relied on. She had

spent many hours by the lake as a child; her mother had stayed there in the summers with the children, and her father had come

out as often as he could. She had hoped it would be the same for her and Oskar. Until this evening she had been confident that it would.

They were drinking their coffee. Oskar had his back to the win-

dow; the men who had rescued him and their son, Jonas, sat facing

him across the coffee table. Margret was sitting beside Oskar.

When she got up yet again to check on the boy, Oskar said: “Leave

it. He’s all right.” She gave him a sharp glance but said nothing. Once she had left

the room Oskar said: “I-Jow about some scotch? A man can’t live on

coffee alone.” He was filling their glasses when she returned.

“Scotch?” he asked.

She shook her head. He added a little water and ice cubes to their glasses. The water

came from the spring below the hollow. It was delicious and cold, even

on hot days, he told the rescuers while mixing their drinks. He also told them that he had built the cabin with his own hands, as well as

installed the electricity and piped the water from the spring. “The water at Margret’s parents’ place always had a muddy

taste,” he said. “But now they get their water from our spring.” Easter was behind them; it was the end of April. The earth was

gray and the air raw, but one could sense that spring wasn’t far

away. It was light till around nine and then dusky for a while before

it got dark. The snow was gone. “Not a breath of wind now,” said Oskar. “Cheers!”

Margret studied the men. One of them had bought the cabin next door to her parents’ place.earlier that year. They had seen him


in the distance but had not spoken to him until now. Her parents complained that he had a noisy boat and roared around the lake while they were trying to appreciate the silence and sound of the

Great Northern Divers. ”A banker,” said her father. “Nouveau riche.”

From time to time the new neighbor held parties with the bar-

becues pouring out smoke and people swilling beer and wine on the veranda-according to Margret’s father, who spied on them with

the binoculars that Oskar and Margret had given him for his sixti-

eth birthday. Margret had the same kind of binoculars. Her father

reported that his neighbor had two barbecues, one coal, one gas. “He’ll end up setting the whole place on fire,” he predicted.

The rescuers had introduced themselves after the boy had fallen asleep. There hadn’t been time before. The banker’s name

was Vilhelm, his friend, Bjorn. Margret had flung her arms around

them while she was still frantic. Oskar stood to one side, watching. ”All right, all right,” he had said. “No need to make such a big

deal out of it.”

The look she gave him did not escape them. The men exchanged glances and Vilhelm said: “Glad we could help.”

They were both in their thirties and seemed to be in good shape. Vilhelm was fair, Bjorn a redhead. Their hair was short.

It had been after dinner when Oskar had suggested to the boy that they should go out on the lake. Jonas was their only child,

just turned six. He was named after Margret’s father and was

thought to have his features. His grandparents had given him a fishing rod for Christmas, and Oskar had taken him down to the

shore to cast a line in the lake. A couple of times they had fished

from the boat. Jonas had caught his first fish last weekend, a small trout that Margret fried for lunch. He had been very proud of it.

Oskar had suggested the boat trip as they relaxed after dinner. They had eaten salad and lamb, drinking white wine with the salad


and red with the meat. They were content. A sense of serenity had settled over Margret, who liked to nod off over a book when in the

countryside. ‘Wouldn’t it be better to go tomorrow morning?” she asked.

“It’s already eight-thirty.” ‘We won’t be long,” answered Oskar. “I promised him.” She did the dishes, and Oskar finished his wine as’he cleared the

table. It had been a rule when Margret was growing up that people shouldn’t go out on the lake when they had been drinking, but

she decided not to bring that up now. She had mentioned it before, and Oskar hadn’t hidden his opinion that her father’s rules had no place in their home. Oskar was far from drunk, anyway, and Mar- gret made sure that Jonas’s life jacket was securely fastened before

they went down to the shore. She had been waiting for a moment to herself. She was in the

middle of a crime novel and had strong suspicions about who the murderer was. As soon as they were gone, she took a seat by the window with the book and a bowl of raisins. By the time they

reached the lake, she was already immersed. There was a breeze and the boat rocked a little as they fished.

They had no luck in the first spot and moved farther out. They got nothing there either. When the wind picked up Oskar told Jonas

they should be getting home. Jonas begged to stay just a little longer. Oskar agreed, but the trout still weren’t biting. “The fish

have gone to bed,” he said, “and so should we.”

Jonas hung his head, disappointed. “I never catch any fish with you,” he said, “and you never do

anything fun like the man in the white boat. You never spin around

or anything.” The man in the white boat was Vilhelm the banker. He some-

times amused himself by making tight turns on the lake, and Jonas used to watch him, enthralled. “Bloody fool,” said Margret’s father,


but this had no effect on Jonas, who saw the white boat sending big waves up the beach.

Oskar was hurt by Jonas’s disappointment. “Shall we do a few turns?” he asked.

“You never do,” said Jonas. “You never do turns like the man in the white boat.”

“Right,” said Oskar. “Hold tight.”

They weren’t far from land when Oskar turned around, headed

out into the lake and increased his speed. Keeping within what he

thought a safe limit, he swerved to the left and right before slowing

down again. ‘Wasn’t that fun?” he asked.

“No,” said Jonas, “not like the man in the white boat. It was boring.”

Oskar sped up again, heading for land this time. He was

feeling irritable and wanted to go home. He opened the throttle as far as he could, then thrust the tiller hard right. The boat capsized.

They went under. Oskar gasped. He couldn’t see Jonas any- where when he surfaced. Then, hearing him on the other side of the

boat, he splashed around to him. Jonas was coughing up water.

Oskar gripped the gunwale with one hand and pulled Jonas to him with the other. The water was so cold that Oskar didn’t see how he

could swim to land. The boy was crying and kept choking on water every time a wave washed over them.

Margret didn’t see the boat capsize. The murderer had struck

again, this time with good reason. She felt more sympathy for him than for the victim. Eventually she stretched, put down the book and looked out.

She screamed, snatched up the binoculars and dashed out onto the veranda. First Oskar appeared, then Jonas. There was nothing

she could do, but she set off down to the lakeside anyway. Trying to run despite the steepness of the slope, she quickly lost her footing.


When she got up again she noticed the white boat. She reached for the binoculars.

After nearly ten minutes in the water Oskar was losing strength. He had tried to hoist Jonas up on the side of the boat but

couldn’t manage it. Jonas was no longer whimpering, and Oskar was afraid he was losing consciousness. He was losing his grip on

the boy. The water was glacial. One wouldn’t last long in it.

Margret saw Oskar let go of him. Vilhelm had been careful not to get too close so the boat wouldn’t bump against them. He and

Bjorn were leaning over the side, holding out their hands. Oskar set off with Jonas, but being unable to hold on to him, he used the last

of his strength to get to the rescuers himself. They quickly hauled him aboard, then peered around for Jonas. A wave washed over him

and he vanished briefly, but then his head appeared again. Vilhelm

jumped into the water, grabbed the boy and swam back. Then they returned to land, towing the capsized boat.

Margret watched the whole thing through the binoculars. She

had been standing halfway down the slope but now sprinted to meet

them. Without waiting for the boat to land she waded into the water and took Jonas in her arms. Speechless, she collapsed on the shore.

As soon as the men got out of the boat she stood up and set off up the slope with the boy. Bjorn and Vilhelm followed her with Oskar

between them. He was still weak and couldn’t walk without help.

When Margret reached the steepest pitch she stopped to gather her strength. Vilhelm let go of Oskar, went over to her and helped her

up the last stretch. There was a hot tub by the cabin, and Margret stripped off

Jonas’ s wet clothes and held him in the hot water. Vilhelm and

Bjorn borrowed some old swimming trunks from Oskar, and they all got into the tub with Jonas. They didn’t say much. Oskar just

stared out at the lake. From a distance the waves looked insignifi- cant, and when the setting sun broke through the clouds they were

struck with gold.


Vilhelm borrowed some dry clothes, jeans and a sweater, from Oskar. The jeans were too big, so Oskar fetched some rope from the

toolshed. In an attempt to put a good face on things, he joked: ‘We’ll make a country boy of you yet.”

Oskar drained his glass. Bjorn and Vilhelm were taking their time,

and Oskar decided not to have another until they had finished. He

started talking about the fishing in the lake, keeping an eye on their glasses as he talked. As soon as Bjorn took his last mouthful, Oskar leapt to his feet and fetched the bottle and some ice.

‘1\.nother drop?” he asked.

Bjorn nodded but Vilhelm declined.

‘We haven’t eaten,” he said. “The steak was on the barbecue when you capsized.”

Margret, who had been silent until now, looked up. ”You didn’t see it happen?” Vilhelm asked her. “No,” she said. “I didn’t see.”

Oskar tried to cut the conversation short.

“I bought this whisky in London last spring. We were there on a weekend trip. Glenlivet. Sixteen years old.”

“It’s good,” said Bjorn.

‘We had the steak on the grill,” said Vilhelm. “I can’t remember if we turned it off.”

“Neither can I,” said Bjorn.

“Filet mignon,” continued Vilhelm. ‘1\. beautiful cut.”

‘We’ve got some leftovers from dinner,” said Oskar. ‘Why don’t we heat them up for you?”

‘We ran out the moment you capsized,” said Vilhelm. “The steak’s probably burned to a cinder.”

”I’ll heat up the lamb,” said Oskar.

‘What happened?” asked Margret.

The men looked at one another. “I didn’t see,” said Bjorn. “I was inside.”


Margret stared at Oskar, waiting for an answer. She had hardly spoken to him since they had come in. He twisted the glass in his

hands. “I don’t really know,” he said. “I turned and must have been hit

broadside by a wave. That sort of thing shouldn’t happen. The boat’s supposed to be stable.”

He glanced at Vilhelm. Vilhelm was silent. Margret got up. ”I’ll fetch the lamb,” she said.

She checked on Jonas before putting the meat in the pan. She

heated the gravy too and divided the rest of the salad on the plates, along with the lamb.

“Here you go,” she said.

Oskar refilled his and Bjorn’s glasses. Vilhelm was still nursing

his first.

“People have died of hypothermia in a shorter time than you were in the water,” Vilhelm said.

“I tried to hold Jonas out of the water,” said Oskar. “That’s

probably what saved him. I was pretty cold myself by then.” He looked at Margret. She looked away.

‘We must have been in the water for at least twenty minutes,”

he continued. “It was less than ten,” said Vilhelm. ‘We set off the moment you

capsized. I’d been watching you.” “Really,” said Oskar.

“I was watching you while the barbecue heated up.”

‘We watch you too sometimes when you’re out in your boat,” said Oskar. “My father-in-law thinks you set a bad example.”

Vilhelm smiled.

“He’s got a good set of binoculars, your father-in-law. He doesn’t seem to have much else to do but look through them. Do

you know what make they are?” Oskar glanced around. ‘Where are the binoculars?” he asked.


“Down by the lake,” said Margret.

“Down by the lake? What are they doing there?” “I was watching,” she said. “I saw when … “

She broke off, got up and turned away from them. She was on the verge of tears but managed to bite her lip.

“It turned out all right,” said Vilhelm. “Everybody’s safe. Per- haps I will have another whisky.”

Oskar filled his glass.

“How about a game of cards?”

“Yes, why not?” said Bjorn.

‘Tm not playing,” said Margret. “Oh, come on,” said Oskar. “You can play,” she said.

‘We must be going anyway,” said Vilhelm, handing Margret his empty plate. “Thank you, I was starving.”

Their hands touched briefly and she said quietly: ”.All right, perhaps for a little while.”

“Good,” said Oskar. ‘Whist?” “Sure,” said Bjorn.

“Of course we could play bridge but that wouldn’t be fair,” said Oskar.

‘Why not?” said Bjorn.

‘Tm two-time Icelandic champion.” He began to shuffle.

“Then this should be a walk in the park for you,” said Vilhelm.

Margret sat down diagonally opposite Vilhelm. Oskar shuffled showily, unaware of his wife’s look of contempt. Vilhelm stood up and splashed some water in his glass.

”.Are you sure you won’t have any?” he asked Margret. Oskar looked up. Margret noticed. ‘Well,” she said, “why not?” “How about that,” said Oskar. “Ice?” asked Vilhelm.


She nodded. Vilhelm handed her the glass and sat down. Oskar dealt, then

suddenly looked up. ‘What were you doing when we were on the lake?” he asked.

Margret didn’t anwer. “It was just luck that I happened to be watching you,” said

Vilhelm. “She must have been reading,” said Oskar. “Give her a book and

she won’t notice ifthe house is burning down.”

He laughed. Margret looked away. Bjorn and Oskar won the first couple of games. Vilhelm noticed

that Margret forgot herself every now and then, her eyes straying

to the window. Dusk had fallen but the lake was still visible. “You’ve got better hands than us,” said Oskar, “yet you still

manage to lose.” Getting up, he fetched the whisky bottle and filled Bjorn’s and

Vilhelm’s glasses. There wasn’t much left but he took care to save a

few drops for Margret. When he went to top off her glass she

snatched it from the table and said quietly: “No.” “Right,” he said, “in that case I’ll finish it myself.” He and Bjorn kept winning. Oskar couldn’t contain himself and

pointed out Vilhelm’s mistakes as he made them. He didn’t usually behave like this, but he couldn’t stop himself. Vilhelm listened with

a half smile on his lips. ”.Are you sure the engine didn’t cut out?” he asked all of a

sudden. Oskar waited without answering.

“Just a thought,” said Vilhelm. “There’s nothing wrong with the engine,” said Oskar.

‘What made you think that?” asked Margret. “The boat slewed around so oddly,” said Vilhelm. “I thought

perhaps something had come loose. A screw, maybe.”


Margret looked at them both in turn. Oskar stared at his cards. Vilhelm smiled.

“Let’s finish this,” said Oskar. ‘Who’s out?”

‘Tm out,” said Bjorn. “Don’t you have any more scotch?” “No,” said Oskar. “It’s finished.”

He saw that he was losing control of the evening.

“It’s past midnight anyway,” he added, hoping to get rid of them. “There’s whisky at my parents’ place,” said Margret. “You

could go and get it.”

“I don’t want any more whisky,” said Oskar. “I do,” said Margret.

‘TU go with you,” said Bjorn. “I could do with some fresh air.” Oskar thought for a moment. He didn’t see a way out. ‘All right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Margret and Vilhelm stayed in their seats.

‘We’ll practice while you’re gone,” said Vilhelm. ‘We need it.”

They walked quickly. Bjorn had trouble keeping up with Oskar. The temperature had dropped, and the wind was blowing off the lake, swaying the trees in the hollow.

‘Where’s the spring?” asked Bjorn. ‘What?” said Oskar.

“The water supply you set up,” said Bjorn.

“Over there,” said Oskar, gesturing down the hollow without slowing his pace.

From time to time he looked back, though he could see nothing from this distance but a faint light in the living room window. There was a key to his in-laws’ house hanging on a nail in their toolshed. Fetching it, he opened the door. His in-laws were in the

Canaries. They usually went there after Christmas and stayed till

May. The cabin held the usual smell of damp. Oskar headed straight

for the cupboard where the drinks were kept and found half a bottle of Johnnie Walker.


He locked up in a hurry and returned the key.

“That should do,” said Bjorn. They walked back the same way. When they came to the

stream, Bjorn remembered the binoculars. “Shouldn’t we go down to the lake and get them?” he asked. “It

won’t take us a minute.” They stepped over the stream and Oskar quickened his stride

even more on the way down to the shore. After a short search they

found the binoculars lying among the rushes where Margret had sat down with Jonas. They had just set off back to the cabin when

Oskar stopped abruptly. Bjorn stopped too, and waited. Oskar hesi-

tated, then raised the binoculars to his eyes. There was no one in the living room. He searched outside the

cabin too but found no one there either.

“Is everything all right?” asked Bjorn. “Let’s go,” said Oskar, setting off at a run. Reaching the cabin before Bjorn, he opened the door.

He stopped short in the doorway, sweating and out of breath, when he saw Vilhelm and Margret in the living room, still in

their seats. He was sure they had only just sat down. He thought he could see the change in them. Margret looked at him, then away

again. “You didn’t take long,” said Vilhelm. ‘We ran,” said Bjorn. “Oskar was in a hurry to get back.”

“It’s late,” said Vilhelm, looking at his watch. ‘We really should

be going. The whisky can wait till another time.” He stood up. The door was still open. “Thanks for the lamb,” said Vilhelm. ”I’ll return your clothes

tomorrow.” When they had gone Margret remained in her seat, staring out

at the lake. Oskar still hadn’t moved. When he opened his mouth he

had difficulty talking.


‘What happened?” he said. “Tell me what happened.” She was trembling and didn’t answer immediately. Then she

buried her face in her hands.

”You let go of him,” she said in a low voice. “That’s what happened. You let go of him.”

Many thanks to Victoria Cribb for her invaluable

assistance when writing this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used

fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,

events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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