Friday, May 28, 2010

Freud and Jing-mei

Well, here's a bit on Freud, as promised yesterday when I gave psychology and research background on online identity (I'd still love comments!)

I want to try and explain how I view Freud's ideals in light of immigrant identity and literature. Jing-mei is probably the main character in the The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, which is a collection of short narratives from the lives of mothers who immigrated to the US from China and their American daughters. Identity is really interesting in this book. In "Ethnicity and the American Short Story," Rocio Davis states that the American daughters in this book, including Jing-mei, show an "incapacity for self-definition and the inability to make sense of their lives."

Doesn't sound like they have any identity at all, does it? But Davis does not define these characters as people unable to ever come to terms with themselves. By the end of the book, Jing-mei is able to forge her own "personal identity," and is only them capable of finding unity with her ethnic past.

Now, about Freud. Here is a pretty concise definition of his id/ego/superego.

Jing-mei's id, or most fundamental desire, might not be wholly worthwhile to discuss. Because id desires instant gratification, maybe you could say that Jing-mei's refusal to play the piano because she could see no momentary gain is id. Jing-mei's ego, or the plans that cause her to act without only instant gratification in mind, could be just the fact that she involves herself in American cultural practices--these are "plans" to be accepted by others. Her superego comes into play when she resumes her mother's place at the mah-jong table, even though she feels insufficient. She also wants her father to tell her her mother's stories in Chinese. She sees beyond instant gratification, and she sees beyond plans.

The point: Jing-mei is split into parts. She has multiple identities, and demonstrates the mutliple divisions of the mind that Freud theorized on. But at the end of the book, it is through these multiple identities that Jing-mei comes to forge one singular identity. She is an American who didn't understand her mother, but she is also part of a Chinese family. Together, these multi-faceted faces make up who she is.



  1. Heather, have you ever seen the film Spanglish? It deals with the exact issues you raise here. Again, it is the story of a mother and daughter who immigrate from Mexico to the United States. While the mother still holds on strongest to her culture and traditions, her daughter starts pulling away as she tries to identify more and more with her new 'white-bread America' environment. Because the mother and daughter have very contrasting opinions on assimilation, there builds an interesting tension between the two. The daughter seems left in a very fragmented state, wanting to assimilate, but wanting to stay close to her mother as well.

    I think these circumstances almost necessitate multiple identities. However, as you said, it is by assembeling these multiple identities that the whole of an individual is revealed. In the case of Jing-Mei, she couldn't be truly whole without her Chinese family, neither could she be whole without her American ideals.

  2. I think Freud is an interesting tool to use for different character attitudes and behaviors in The Joy Luck Club, although I think you'll want to come up with a reason why you are using Freud so literally, as opposed to another tool for psychological evaluation. For instance, you might say: "Using Freud as a proof of psychological activity would normally be a laughable cliche, and yet his theories about split, compartmentalized identities provide us with (fill in the blank) that are not found in (fill in the blank)."

    Also, here is an article I found online that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, called "Identity management in cyberspace" and it makes five basic categories of such management:

    1. Level of Dissociation and Integration
    2. Positive and Negative Valence
    3. Level of Fantasy or Reality
    4. Level of Conscious Awareness and Control
    5. The Media Chosen

  3. oh, here's the link: