There are multiple ways to analyze a literary work, through the basis of the critical approaches. The reader can select any of them in order to analyze his or her piece of work. Particularly in order to analyze this story I am going to use the Psychological approach.
Washington IrvingÂ´s story, “The Adventure Of The German Student”, was the one that attracted me the most, because of its enrichment content about the functioning of humanÂ´s brain, and also, about the strong influence that an unpleasant environment has in peopleÂ´s interpersonal relationships, and how this situation can produce a serious damage in anyoneÂ´s mental health.
“The Adventure Of The German Student” shows us how society and social movements can interfere in people’s normal behavior and personality. As we are by nature a social being, we cannot avoid interactions with others, as well as we cannot avoid being influenced by social events.
IrvingÂ´s story tries to focus our attention on a strong socio-political and even religious event which occurred in France between the years (1789-1799) that it is well known as “The French Revolution”, besides he does not leave behind the reaction of the storyÂ´s principal character Gottfried Wolfgang who was surprised and ready to discover a little more about this new city and that revolution that was on its height. Throughout the storyÂ´s development it becomes evident WolfgangÂ´s unreasonable behavior which was accompanied by a degraded state of mind that was increasing at the time the story was developing, finding himself in an awful situation at the end of the story which leads him to spend his life in a madhouse.
This story begins giving us a brief orientation about which is going to be the plot in where the story will be developed. This first paragraph gives us important information that will lead us to better understand the story and to be more familiarized with the events that will be involved on it. At the end of this first paragraph the narrator stops the narration, and there is an intervention of the storyÂ´s writer who considers important to reveal the type of life that the principal character of the story “Gottfried Wolfgang” had before going to Paris, by saying: “-but I should first tell you something about this young German”.
Gottfried Wolfgang is presented as a “young German man of good family” also as a “visionary” and “enthusiastic” character; these qualities are common in young people, especially in those who are studying and throughout the acquisition of knowledge they also acquire new ways to perceive the world.
Studies are productive, but is there any possibility to become nuts after studying so hard? The answer might be relative, but it is important to say that the capacity of humanÂ´s brain is endless, and that there is a discipline named Psychology which its principal role is to analyze human behavior, as well as, motivation, personality and interpersonal relationships.
We have to consider that GermanyÂ´s education system was and still is considered admirable for its strict and organized strategies toward teaching, and because of this, students should have an intense dedication, if they really want to succeed.
But sometimes that intense dedication to something can produce mental break downs. Now days, the term “mental breakdowns” is not commonly used by experts in this area, in fact, they see this term as a popular term invent by society, but no matter what the real name is, “mental breakdowns” are considered mental illnesses, that can lead people to a complete mental disorder, if it is not treated properly. “We know that under enough pressure, continued over a long period of time, anyone can be overwhelmed, and bend. All of us have a breaking point” (Dr. William C. Menninger, 1959 U.S.A) As it is shown in the second paragraph of the story: “His secluded life, his intense application, and the singular nature of his studies, had an effect on both mind and body.” A secluded life is not good for anybody; people should have time for everything, especially to enjoy being with others and to share. Eventually, a person who since a young age, like Wolfgang, is situated away from people; this will cause different psychological damages, and if we are not okay mentally is reasonable that our body cannot work in a good way. People who are isolated perceive and make their own deductions of the world around them. In the same second paragraph, Wolfgang is compared with Emanuel Swedenborg, “like Swedenborg, he had an ideal world of his own around him”. Swedenborg was a Swedish inventor and scientist who lived between the years (1688-1772).
Swedenborg entered into a spiritual phase in which he experienced dreams and visions. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, where he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits.
Taking into account the comparison made between Wolfgang and Swedenborg, I can assume that maybe Wolfgang was inspired by SwedenborgÂ´s literature, and that, if we investigate about this literature we can see that, most of the things that Swedenborg wrote had a strong influence in WolfgangÂ´s behavior, at the point that we can find similarities between them. Wolfgang thought that “there was an evil influence hanging over him; an evil genius or spirit seeking to ensnare him and ensure his perdition”. I am completely sure that, when a person reads something, any literary text, in some way this person is influenced by the text, and psychologically if this person finds something that can be productive or just something that he or she likes, it will be introduced and used by his mind, consciously or not.
The truth is that our character’s mind started to get weaker rapidly, at the point that WolfgangÂ´s friends started to worry about him “His friends discovered the mental malady preying upon him, and determined that the best cure was a change of scene”. It was evident that WolfgangÂ´s friends started noticing his disordered condition, maybe because he was acting differently at the point that his friends could not feel comfortable with him anymore.
“he was sent, therefore, to finish his studies amidst the splendors and gayeties of Paris”. Thinking that the principal problem was the environment in where he was, he was sent to Paris in order to finish his studies, just imagine, to send a young boy to explore a new city by himself without any friends or family. Maybe for him it was a kind of adventure and from what he had heard about that city, it was going to be a fascinating trip for him. “Wolfgang arrived at Paris at the breaking out of the revolution”
The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the history of France, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights. <
The French Revolution was a time of complete chaos in Paris. Popular, as well as, military confrontations and decapitations where the principal events of the day. WolfgangÂ´s expectations about that new and fascinating city were different from reality. Despite, his enthusiasm was strong enough to become amazed with those radical socio-political changes. But then, his perception of those events, started to change, now he was another citizen who disliked those political movements and was against assassinations. He felt in some way trapped and the only way he had to escape of those horrible scenes was through reading.
He is described as a “literary ghoul”. A “ghoul” by means represents something disgusting that shows morbid interests in things. This description tells us that his mental faculties were in manner unhealthy, as well as his behavior. He was trying to find a safe place between all the horrible things occurring on the street. He shut himself up physical and mentally. Although, he is described as a boy of “ardent temperament”, was imagination his reigning ability. Imagination works with the unconscious mind, and leaves aside consciousness and reality, in order to help the person to protect himself of an unwanted situation.
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In the Psychoanalytic world, was Sigmund Freud the one who first explained and developed this theory. “Freud postulated that there were a number of defense mechanisms-including repression, reaction-formation, regression, displacement, and rationalization-that protect the conscious mind from those aspects of reality it may find difficult to accept.” <
In WolfgangÂ´s case, was throughout imagination, where he found a way to repress all the events that were happening around him, in order to be in some way calm and focused in something else. “he was a passionate admirer of female beauty”, is common that a boy of his age starts admiring female beauty, but results difficult to understand, how he might think about something beautiful in middle of such horrifying events?, maybe he needed a couple or just somebody to talk with. I do not know for sure, but it was evident that Wolfgang started to lose his mind little by little. “a dream produced an extraordinary effect upon him. It was of a female face of transcendent beauty. So strong was the impression made, that he dreamt of it again and again.”
We do not know exactly what WolfgangÂ´s age really was, but considering the description made by the narrator at the beginning of the story, he was a “young man”. Is completely natural for young man to be delighted by a girl, maybe for him it was about time to experience to be with a girl, but just because of the kind of life he had and all the things that were happening around him, he could not experienced that at the moment.
“Dreams are an insight into our emotional preoccupations” <
The way in which WolfgangÂ´s dreamed with this female face again and again, shows his desperation for having a couple and maybe for calming down his sexual appetite, in a manner he was obsessed by her or maybe he was sexually obsessed. Obsessive’s disorders “involves obsessions-unwanted thoughts or images that are unsettling or interfere with an individual’s life, followed by compulsions-actions that temporarily relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions” <
“Our sexual function is an important component and indicator of overall health and well-being; sexual problems or dysfunction may result from, or even cause, physical or mental illness or deterioration in important social relationships.” <
According to Dr.: Sadie Sheafe sexual problems can cause mental illnesses, maybe this is what was happening with our character, just imaging, being surrounded with all those horrible scenes of death, with nobody to talk with, and if that was not enough being in some way trapped physically and mentally. It was evident that he was starting to lose his mental qualities. At the time you experience a dream, is your unconscious mind the one which works the most, for this reason Wolfgang could not do anything about those dreams that he was having, in fact they were consuming his life and taking possession of him, by the time that he was “passionately enamored of this shadow of a dream”, can you imagine yourself being in love of a dream?. Results difficult to think about that, but that was WolfgangÂ´s situation, and when the narrator says “it became one of those fixed ideas which haunt the minds of melancholy men, and are at times mistaken for madness.” Here, the narrator describes WolfgangÂ´s personality as a melancholy man, which means that he was sad, and maybe sank into a prolonged depression that was destroying his mental health.
One night when Wolfgang was passing through “Place de Graève” which was the square in where executions were performed, “he shrank back with horror at finding himself close by the guillotine” A “guillotine” was a machine used to cut peopleÂ´s head off, and was used by the times of the French revolution, that was the political movement our character was experiencing. For a person that does not know what a guillotine is, and it is not informed about what was happening in that city, is not going to shrank back with horror, that is for sure, but as Wolfgang did know what was happening there and the purpose of that scary instrument, he felt in that way, and his first reaction was to feel scared and step aside. Obviously his nerves impulses were extremely sensitive. “Wolfgang’s heart sickened within him, and he was turning shuddering from the horrible engine” he was shaking horrified by this monstrous instrument, here is evident the level of nervousness that he had and how tormented he was by all the horrible things that were happening there, the involuntary action of shaking is common in nervous people.
At the same square he found a woman seating on the scaffold, “He approached, and addressed her in the accents of sympathy” even though he was passing through a bad situation, he never lost his well mannered behavior, remember that he was a man of good family, so he knew how to be a gentleman and how to speak with a lady. His surprise was that this woman was the same that have been haunting his dreams; he was amazed and a little bit confused. “the very face which had haunted him in his dreams”.
“Trembling with violent and conflicting emotions” here is shown again that Wolfgang was a nervous and insecure person. “the student, for the first time, blushed at the scantiness and indifference of his dwelling”. When a person blushes, shows that he is feeling embarrassed about something, in this case Wolfgang felt ashamed of his shelter, because he was worried about what his female companion might think or say about it. He was fascinating by her beauty, but still “he thought of abandoning his chamber to her, and seeking shelter for himself elsewhere”, although, his attraction to her was infinite, he knew what was the right thing to do in that case, he was an educated young man and he felt right to give her his dwelling, and find a new place to live. But her beautifulness and the attraction that he felt about her was strong enough to prevent such thing.
She is described as an enthusiast like Wolfgang “She was evidently an enthusiast like himself”, so maybe we can speculate that she had approximately WolfgangÂ´s age. No matter the age, any person can be an enthusiast, but this quality is more observable in young people.
“our hearts are united; in the eye of reason and honor we are as one”. Wolfgang did not believe in the liberal theories of the day, but rather, he had his own theory and even his own way to see marriage. We have to considerate that during the French Revolution, was established a new constitution, where the assembly whished that “Catholicism should cease to be the religion of the State and that liberty of worship should be established.” The Catholic Church was confiscated by the state. It was a complete religious chaos, mean while people were fighting for their religious rights. So, imaging what could a young couple do amid all that confusion. For Wolfgang, the thing that he was doing was reasonable and honorable, maybe in some way he was criticizing the unreasoned strategies that the state was taking against religious institutions.
At the end of the story the mind of our principal character returns to reality, when he finds out that his “beautiful bride” was dead, and that she was already dead from the first beginning. “Horrified and frantic, he alarmed the house. A scene of confusion ensued.” The student fell into an uncontrolled behavior, which started to get violent “The student burst into a frenzy. “The fiend! the fiend has gained possession of me!” and again he remarks the presence of an evil spirit that was possessing him, that might be the devil. The story never shows us the physical presence of the devil or some other evil figure. All those thoughts were just in WolfgangÂ´s mind. Maybe for protecting his consciousness he was imaging the presence of an evil spirit, but at the end he could not do that anymore and is when his degraded mental state is completely reveal.
Many people are used to shut themselves away mentally when they are passing through an unwanted situation, but at the end, when they experience a more difficult situation is when the brain cannot protect them anymore, and is when the person collapses. Is important to maintain our brain in good shape, social as well as personal problems are never going to cease, so an intelligent way out is in the use of healthy techniques to improve our mental faculties.
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