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Ego Defense Mechanisms
The Unconscious and Conscious Mind
Throughout centuries humans have been studying the mind and behaviors of animals and human beings. There have been countless people to attempt an explanation, but the name that stands above all others is Mr Sigmund Freud. He is the most famous psychoanalyst in the world. His theories are used in everyday life by doctors, psychologists, teachers and authors as well
In the novel Life of Pi, the author, Yann Martel proves many Freudian theories through the use of Pi, the protagonist.
Life of Pi is a story of a young Indian boy named Piscine Molitor Patel who practices many religions. His life is turned upside down when the ship that is transporting his family and their zoo to Canada sinks and he is put in a life or death situation. Pi is forced to spend 227 days at sea on a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
The author, Yann Martel incorporated many psycholoanalytic theories into his story, such as; Freud’s iceberg theory, the conscious and unconscious mind theory, and Freud’s famous defence mechanism theory all demonstrated by Piscine himself.
The iceberg theory is arguably Freud’s most famous theory of all.
Martel used the iceberg theory to depict the real survival struggle Pi had to go through, adding depth and texture to the novel.
The iceberg theory divides the human mind into three parts; the id, which is said to be the only part of the mind in which humans are born with. It is instincts and the primitive part of the human mind. It is always searching and striving to meet immediate human needs. Survival.
The second is the superego; this is the part of the mind which is acquired through life, from parents, friends and society. It is the part of the mind that does everything to make the person have perfect, socially acceptable behaviors. It is the opposite of the id; it fights the urges of the id.
Finally the last piece of the iceberg of the mind is the ego. It is the mediator between the id and the superego; it searches for balance between the two and a person’s personality. When a person is put in a life of death situation such as the one of Pi’s, the superego disappears, the id and the ego take over and put the mind into complete survival mode.
July 11th 2013
“Tears flowing down my cheeks, I egged myself on until I heard a cracking sounds and I no longer felt any life fighting in my hands. I pulled back the folds of the blankets. The flying fish was dead. It was split open and bloody on one side of it’s head, at the level of its gills.” (Martel 203).
In this moment it is Pi’s superego, his conscience fighting his id. His superego is wanting so badly not to kill an innocent animal, but his id is saying you need to do this to survive. This is the point in the novel where Piscine’s superego is being used less and less, until it is not used what so ever.
Pi’s ego is reality, it is rational thinking and his true personality. “I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway's worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one's life away.” (Martel 186).
Finally, last part of freud’s iceberg theory, the id. In this story the id is essentially Richard Parker. “I held on to one thought: Richard Parker. I hatched several plans to get rid of him so that the lifeboat might be mine. ” (Martel 210). Pi wants to get rid of the feeling of being an animal. His superego is coming out in this quotation, attempting to fight the primitive behavior, although is ego knows that this is whats best for him.
Richard Parker is Pi’s instincts, he symbolizes the animal inside Piscine, that needed to come out in order for him to survive in the ocean. His survival skills are not all that Richard Parker (id) gave him; the id took complete control of Pi’s mind, pushing the superego and ego away, meaning his moral values and his strict upbringing was disregarded and Pi became a wild beast. It is quite interesting how Martel includes Freud’s the id, superego and ego into Pi’s character.
Ego defense mechanisms are another one of Freud’s inventions. They are used by all humans to protect and defend itself. It is the act of distancing ones self from harsh realities or memories to avoid unpleasant behaviors. Yann Martel gives human-like qualities to all his characters, the emotions and feelings seem all too real, one of the reason the story seems believable. Pi experienced defense mechanisms in his life as well. Regression is the act of returning to a previous stage of development.
. In Pi’s case this was on the ship as he realized it was sinking. He went into full fledged panic mode, a tantrum almost like a young child. This was his defense mechanism. “The water didn't look to be eighty feet away. The ship was sinking. My mind could hardly conceive it. It was as unbelievable as the moon catching fire.” (Martel 114) Fear took over and his rational mind let go. The second example of a Freudian defense mechanism experienced by Pi is suppression. Suppression is the act of trying to forget or store away a painful memory.
When Pi realizes there are sharks in water that he is swimming in he must suppress his utter fear for tigers, and the memory that was put in his mind when he was eight years old; the goat being fed to the tiger.
“Ravi was right. Truly I was to be the next goat. I had a wet, trembling, half-drowned, heaving and coughing three-year-old adult Bengal tiger in my lifeboat. Richard Parker rose unsteadily to his feet on the tarpaulin, eyes blazing as they met mine, ears laid tight to his head, all weapons drawn. His head was the size and colour of the lifebuoy, with teeth” (Martel 98)
Authors often use psychological theories and scientific facts in attempt to make their work seem more credible and real to the readers. Which is exactly the reason Yann Martel included so many of Freud’s theories into Life of Pi. Freud’s theory on the conscious and unconscious mind is also present throughout the novel. The unconscious mind is the greatest part of the mind is unseen and for the most part, humans are unaware of the unconscious minds presence.
The unconscious mind alters behaviours and personality without being noticed, because it stores information, memories, feelings, inner conflict and painful experiences. The conscious mind is the active, aware part of the mind. Pi demonstrates in many examples, this theory
Pi’s conscious mind carefully and tactfully planned his survival, which as his unconscious mind had transformed him into a stronger, independent, confident, fighter. He was unaware that his past experiences, like when he was young and his father fed a goat to a tiger in front of his face to prove the brutality and danger of the animals would later affect him and turn him into an animal himself.
“Without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” (Martel 164).
Richard Parker saved Pi in more ways than one. He was a sign of hope, he was a companion, and his survival instinct and his unconscious mind.
Freud was a complete genius and his theories and thoughts are used all over the world in everyday life. Yann Martel story seems so much more credible with the use of these psychoanalytic theories embedded in his writing of the Life of Pi.
The theories such as the Iceberg theory, defense mechanisms and the unconscious and conscious mind are well known theories used by not only authors, but teachers, doctors and people of all sorts of professions. Does the use of these theories make the story seem more realistic by giving Pi even more real human qualities, or does it stray to far from reality?
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2001.