Narrative, point of view and Freudian psychiatry in Roald Dahl's "Georgy Porgy".
What would it feel like to be swallowed by a woman? How does it feel to live in a woman's stomach? George could tell you all about it. This bizarre main character created by Roald Dahl tells us his story in "Georgy Porgy". In this short story George, a 31-year old vicar, looks back on his life. George has a major problem: he is terrified of women. George is petrified of touching them--even with a handshake. Throughout his life, George becomes more and more obsessed with this fear. At the end of the story he claims to be swallowed by a woman and thinks he is living in her stomach. What has really happened?
This short study will argue that George is not living in a woman's stomach, but in a mental hospital. George is mentally confused. Since he is the one telling his story, the borders between reality and Action fade, and the reader has to infer reality from subtle stylistic and linguistic devices employed by Dahl. The following statement will be defended in this study: In the story "Georgy Porgy," Dahl uses stylistic elements to portray the main character's mental illness that can be classified as Freudian, characterised by an experience of a childhood drama, neuroticism, sexual rigidity and female domination. The topic investigated in this paper, by means of stylistic analysis, has not been investigated before. However, it has been hypothesized that Dahl has used Freudian elements in other writings (West, 1990).
A stylistic analysis of point of view--using the frameworks of Fowler and Simpson--was conducted, investigating to what extent Dahl's stylistic elements reflect a psychiatric illness that can be classified as Freudian. The Freudian paradigm of psychiatry emphasises childhood trauma, neuroticism and a fixation in a sexual childhood phase. A microanalysis was conducted showing evidence for each of the Freudian elements, by investigating schema-oriented language, tense, value-laden expressions, temporal, spatial and social deixis.
For clarity, the background and a short summary of the story will be given first. After this, the Freudian framework for psychological disorders will be concisely outlined. Then the main stylistic analysis will be described, followed by a brief conclusion.
Background of the Story
The story "Georgy Porgy" was published in 1960 in the book "Kiss Kiss" written by Roald Dahl. This book contains various short stories of Dahl. Main character is George, a 31-year old vicar. In the story he reflects on his life and on his major problem: his fear of women.
At the age of ten George experiences a dramatic event. In the middle of the night, he and his mother go to see their rabbit giving birth. His mother explains that the rabbit is like her, and that the babies are like George. George is quite intrigued by it all. Suddenly, though, the doe starts to eat her baby. George looks up at his mother, sees her mouth and is petrified that his mother will eat him too. He runs away, screaming and yelling. His mother runs after him, and gets killed in a car accident.
At the age of 31 George is working in a vicarage. At first, the women in his church are distant and pleasantly formal. However, within a few months more and more women start to make sexual advances on George. George gets more and more neurotic. He has tics, and is generally anxious and confused. To And out who is to blame for this situation, the women or him, he conducts a self-made experiment with mice. He separates the females from the males for three weeks and then puts them in the same cage--only separated by a thin highly electric fence. When the females die--trying to get to the males--he sees this as "proof" for the fact that women are sexually obsessed creatures, trying to chase men.
When George is invited to a tennis party, with mostly women, he tries to be very distant. However, without realising it, he drinks alcohol and gets more relaxed. In his inebriated state, he takes a walk with Miss Roach, one of the single women in his church. When she tries to kiss him, he believes he is eaten by her, and living in her stomach. In reality, however, he has pulled her teeth out and is institutionalised in a mental hospital.
Sigmund Freud and the Stages of Psychosexual Development
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a famous psychologist and founder of the Psychoanalytic School, one of the main major theoretical paradigms in the field of Psychology (Van Vliet, 2006). Besides introducing concepts such as "unconscious" and "superego", Freud "conceptualized Ave psychosexual stages of development that we all pass through from infancy to puberty" (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley 2007, p. 75). In each of these stages specific life skills have to be developed in order to advance to the next stage (Gray, 2007).
According to Freud's theory, it is important to pass through all the psychosexual stages in order to become a balanced adult (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley, 2007). When a child experiences a severe trauma, the child can get "fixated" in the specific psychosexual stage he or she is in (Van Vliet, 2006 p.103). This fixation means that--to a large extent--the child stays at the emotional, psychological and sexual level of the stage in which the child is fixated (Van Vliet, 2006). The consequences range from mild mental problems to severe mental disorders, with problems depending on the fixation phase.
Freud's Framework Represented in "Georgy Porgy"
In the story "Georgy Porgy", the main character George experienced a major trauma in childhood. His mother died in a most peculiar way when he was ten--"I was exactly ten years old" (Dahl, 1992, p.112). According to Freud, at the age of ten you are in a childhood stage called "Latency period" (Van Vliet 2006, p.112). During this age "sexual motivations recede in importance" (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley, 2007, p.75). The stage after the latency period is the "genital stage" in which "deep feelings of pleasure come from sexual relations" (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley, 2007, p.75). When someone is fixated in the latency period, the genital stage is never reached, resulting in a preference for staying away form the other sex and fear of intimate contact.
Furthermore, Freudian psychiatry emphasises several elements of mental illness. Firstly, all mental disorders have their roots in childhood (Van Vliet, 2006). A childhood trauma causes internal struggles and has a great influence on the patient and is often relived. Secondly, in Freud's view, neuroticism is an important part of mental illness--this is caused by the patient's internal struggles. Lastly, the ultimate goal of Freudian therapy is to gain insight into the patient's internal life and to transmit this insight to the patient, who often does not have awareness of his problems. These elements of Freud's paradigm of mental illness are all found in Dahl's story and highlighted by several textual elements described in the following sections.
Narrator and Perspective
The narrator of "Georgy Porgy" can be classified as homodiegetic, meaning that the "narrator is one who is internal to the narrative, who is on the 'same' plane of exegesis as the story" (Simpson, 2004, p. 28). In the story, George is the main character as well as the narrator of the story. In Fowler's framework, the narrator can be put in the "Internal Type A" category of point of view (Fowler, 1996, p. 170). George is telling the story looking back on his life. Therefore, large parts of the story are written in the past tense, using first-person narration, e.g. "I was".
When George is making general remarks or when he reflects on his story, he uses the present tense. These passages, in which the narrative voice is prominent, are thereby foregrounded. Extra attention is therefore drawn to the sections in which he reflects on himself. Additionally, these passages represent a generic representation of the world through the narrator's eyes--George's reality. A clear example of this can be found in the first section on page 109: "Without in anyway wishing to blow my own trumpet, I think that I can claim to being in most respects a moderately well-matured and rounded individual. I have travelled a good deal. I'm adequately read. I speak Greek and Latin. I dabble in science ..." (p. 109). Here the narrator introduces himself--using a first-person perspective--as a mature and well-rounded individual.
The rest of this passage contains several lines of self-employed "evidence" for this statement. In the larger context of the story, this first sentence is remarkable. In reality, the narrator is hospitalised in a mental institution, as becomes clear at the end of the story.
The story's perspective is important, since "much of the feel, colour or texture of a story is a direct consequence of the sort of narrative framework it employs" (Simpson, 2004, p. 26). In "Georgy Porgy" the perspective chosen by Dahl draws the reader closer to the narrator. According to Valle (2008) Dahl does this more often and Dahl's "first-person characters and protagonists seek most of all understanding from the reader" and "win the reader's sympathies"; they "make readers see their point of view, their reasons for acting in a particular way" (p.303). This closeness is important, since the reader at first wants to trust the narrator. However, first-person narrators are often "limited" or "unreliable" (Short, 1996, p. 257).
This is the case in "Georgy Porgy", in which the narrator and main character, George, is tied to his own limited and disturbed worldview. Even though subtle linguistic cues are given throughout the story that George is mentally ill, the reader never literally receives this information: narrator George is not at all aware of his own mental state. This is textually shown from his first statement of him regarding himself as being "well-matured" and "rounded" (p. 109), to his view on his whereabouts at the end of the story as a "small chamber situated in what is almost certainly the primary section of the duodenal loop" (p. 128), which is in reality a mental hospital.
Dahl's clever use of stylistic elements highlights George's extreme fear of women. Dahl already starts at the title: "Georgy Porgy", which refers to a nursery rhyme. This nursery rhyme refers to childhood, and ironically writes about a George who is "kissing girls"--something the George of Dahl's story has never done or wanted. The rhyme portrays a boy who is the exact opposite of George.
The narrator is always present and his judgements and opinions are highlighted--a phenomenon that Fowler refers to as "foregrounded modality" (Fowler, 1996, p. 171). The strong perspective of the narrator and his coloured perception can be regarded as positive shading, since "the text is clearly dominated by personal interpretations of felt experience" (Simpson, 2004, p.124).
The narrator makes sense of events and therefore serves as a frame of perception to the reader. Many references are made to the inner-world of George, by means of verba sentiendi--"words denoting thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, as embodied in mental processes like 'I felt ...' or 'I understood ...'" (Simpson, 2004, p. 124). Throughout the story, there are many phrases like "I was very happy. I was feeling better than I had in years" (p. 116). The narrator is always present, giving his opinion on aspects of the story, by inserted lines in the present tense, for example: "I was telling you about the spinsters in my parish. It's an ugly word, isn't--spinster?" (p. 115).
Another feature of this example is that the narratee or the implied reader is addressed directly. Whether Dahl had a specific narratee in mind when he wrote the story, or whether the reader was addressed, cannot be found in the text. Often in the story, the narratee or the implied reader is asked for consent; the narrator "defends" his statements, and considers the impact of these statements on the implied reader, as in "Yes, I know. You will And this hard to believe after all that I have said, but it was perfectly true" (p. 118). Those elements could again be contributing to feelings of sympathy in the reader. Since the narrator often claims truth, many statements in the story can be classified as epistemic modality (Simpson, 2004, p. 125).
Time-line and Tense Foregrounding of George's Childhood Trauma
A clear depiction of the chronological time-line in "Georgy Porgy" has been created in the figure below. In this time-line, only the obvious points in time--as referred to in the text--are depicted, their page numbers can be found in the description underneath the line. Note that there is a large "time gap" between George's trauma at the age of 10 and George's first period as a vicar.
The main part of the story is in the past tense, when the narrator is looking back on his childhood (dot 1) and when he describes the chain of events leading to the onset of his mental illness (dots 3, 4 and 5). In addition to the remarks made by the narrator, the events in dots 2 and 6 are written in the present time. The tense change in the description of the childhood experience can be classified as a flashback or analepsis (Simpson, 2004, p. 79). This technique is most likely used to foreground this period as being traumatic.
Other linguistic elements that show this experience was traumatic can be found on page 113. When one experiences a trauma, the trauma is remembered in extraordinary detail, often relived and full of confusing elements representing intense emotions (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley, 2007, p. 176-180). In the phrases "I can still remember every single detail just as clearly as if it were yesterday", "... it never varies" and "It always ends at precisely the same place ..." "... and it always begins in the same peculiarly sudden way" (p. 113) the underlined words, mostly temporal deixis, refer to the extraordinary detail in which the trauma is remembered. In addition, later on page 113, George describes vividly, and in extraordinary detail, the surroundings outside: "I open my eyes wide and see the lawn all sparkling with frost and the cedar tree with its tremendous arms standing black against a thin small moon" (ibid). Another element of trauma--the recurrent re-experiencing of the event--can be found in the phrase "I can switch in on in my memory every time." (ibid). Additionally, the start of the traumatic flashback starts sudden and disoriented (ibid).
This can be attributed to the confusing way George's brain has remembered the trauma.
Interestingly, in Freud's theory, childhood trauma is the source of mental problems later in life (Van Vliet, 2006, p. 103). The fact that George's childhood experience is foregrounded in tense, and that deictic markers indicate that it is indeed a trauma, are therefore important textual elements for the interpretation.
Inferring Mental Illness: Schema-oriented Language
As stated before, the reader has to infer that George has mental problems and is in a mental institution. Dahl employed stylistic and linguistic elements to subtly foreground George's mental illness. Two important textual elements are the sequencing of events and schema-oriented language. Schema-oriented language is language that activates schemata: connected pieces of information in our brain "stored as packages" (Short, 1996, p. 227).
In the last scene of the story (pp. 128-9) schema-oriented language is used to activate the reader's schemata of doctors, mental hospitals and mental illness. In this scene, George believes that he has been swallowed by Miss Roach and is living in her body: "it is a small chamber situated in what is almost certainly the primary section of the duodenal loop ..." (p. 128). This already arouses great suspicion in the reader--is George dreaming? Has he--indeed--gone mad? The trustworthiness of the narrator diminishes and the positive shading of the narrator becomes foregrounded by this absurd statement.
When George describes his residence in Mrs. Roach's body, he writes: "There are several other people about, which is rather surprising, but thank God they are every one of them males. For some reason or other, they all wear white coats, and they bustle around pretending to be very busy and important" (pp. 128-9). In most people, this choice of diction will activate the schema of "doctor" and "(mental) hospital". It should be noted that the story was published in 1960, so at that point in time female doctors were uncommon.
Moreover, several stylistic cues on page 128 and 129 reflect George's mental illness. At page 128, he elaborates on his new hobby: writing. "I spend many hours each day playing with sentences". In this section his ideas and use of language are clearly disturbed. He compares sentences to wheels of radar that he wants to "spin so fast that it hums" (p. 128). His illogical reasoning represents his mental state.
The communication between George and the doctors also evokes activation of the mental hospital schema. On page 129 George explains: "Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated with them that I lose my temper and start to shout; (...) they begin backing slowly away, and saying, 'Now then. Take it easy. Take it easy, vicar, there's a good boy. Take it easy.'" The verba sentiendi in this passage mark George's loss of emotional control. This element of mental illness has been described by Freud as "hysteria" (Van Vliet, 2006, p. 90). In the second part, the doctors use soothing language to calm George down, using social deixis such as "Vicar" (honourable) and "Good boy" (soothing, yet denigrating). The doctors behave rationally but, George in his mental state considers himself to be the sensible one. He responds with: "What sort of talk is that?" (p. 129).
Later, George has a conversation with his therapist, whom he sees as "one oldish man ... [who] likes nothing better than to sit quietly in my room and listen to me talk" (ibid). This could in many people activate a "therapy" schema. In the Freudian philosophy the therapist just listens to the patient--a method known as "free association" (Butcher, Mineka & Hooley, 2007, p. 49). At the end of the conversation with his therapist, George states: "There is always some balm in Gilead." (p. 129). This is a biblical reference to Jeremiah 8: 22, roughly meaning "Everyone can be cured". Ironically, it is George--in his 'professional' role of vicar--who is saying this to his therapist.
George's Fear of Women
George avoids all physical female contact: "To be perfectly honest, up until three weeks ago I never had so much as laid a finger on one of them [women] ..." (p. 109). He is especially neurotic about closer contact. This is reflected in his choice of diction, which is repetitive and "neurotic" as in: "Skin touching skin, my skin, that is, touching the skin of a female" (ibid). He uses value-laden expressions to indicate his aversion to physical contact with females, such as in his descriptions of sexual intercourse as "repugnant" (ibid) and "vulgar passions" (p. 110). Value-laden expressions to refer to the occasions in which women tried to seduce George, are signalling fear, such as the simile "... when that arm of hers came sliding in under mine, it felt exactly as though a cobra was coiling itself around my wrist." (p. 117).
The Use of Deixis: Female Domination and Male Powerlessness
The women in George's life appear to be quite dominant. On a stylistic level, two main linguistic devices are used to portray this dominance: social and spatial deixis.
The social deixis women use to address George in the story are generally denigrating. When he is a child, George's mother calls him repeatedly "my pet", such as in "'Now just imagine, my pet ... get a better look" (114). It could be argued that this is meant as a sweet nickname, but in combination with the bossy demanding attitude of his mother, the interpretation of the term as denigrating seems more convincing. Additionally, the women of George's church call him names like "Very Reverend" (p. 117)--with capital letters indicating irony--and "Naughty boy" (p. 124).
The social deixis George uses to refer to the women in his life are all very polite, formal and distant: he calls none of them by first name, but addresses them with "Miss" and then their surname. He does this in his narration, and also in instances of direct speech, even when he is emotional, such as on page 117: "'Miss Prattley,' I cried. 'Please!'" He also uses these polite terms in his narration: "The next day it was Miss Unwinn. Now Miss Unwinn happened to be a close friend of Miss Elphinstone's and of Miss Prattley's ..." (p. 117). George's formal way of addressing women, portrays the--literal--distance he tries to keep between himself and the women. Throughout the story, though, the terms in George's narration to refer to the group of women in his church changes dramatically: from the formal "ladies" (p. 118) to "a gang of witches" (p. 127).
This change in social deixis, reflects his increasing neuroticism and fear. The temporal deixis used by Dahl also stress the dominant role of the female sex. The women either creep up from behind or are--literally--placed above him. His mother often sits on the sofa, while George watches her sitting from the floor--literally looking up to her. In addition, at the start of his trauma flashback, his mother's voice comes from "somewhere above" and "far away" (p. 113). The women who try to seduce George appear to overrule him, by suddenly creeping up from somewhere he cannot see them coming, symbolising his fear of women, such as in the phrase "she must have come tip-toeing from behind me ... all at once I felt a bare arm sliding through mine ..." (p. 117), or "all of a sudden I heard a voice beside me" (ibid).
The following statement was defended in this study; In the story "Georgy Porgy," Dahl uses stylistic elements to portray the main character's mental illness that can be classified as Freudian, characterised by an experience of a childhood drama, neuroticism, sexual rigidity and female domination. A stylistic analysis was conducted to show how the textual elements in the story correspond to the Freudian paradigm on psychiatry.
The stylistic elements analysed in this paper all seem to contribute to one overarching interpretation: George is mentally ill, as could be mainly inferred from the schema-oriented language and his value-laden expressions. The specific elements characterising his psychological position fit exactly in Freud's framework of a mental illness: George has experienced a severe childhood trauma, which is foregrounded by the use of present tense, and temporal deixis that signify that he relives the trauma often and remembers it in great detail. On page 126, the scene in which George is having his mental break-down, he clearly relives his childhood trauma; afraid that he will be eaten by Miss Roach, he screams to her: "'Don't! Don't Mummy, don't!" (ibid).
Neuroticism and sexual rigidity are stylistically represented by the use of fast-paced temporal deictic markers, value-laden expressions, and disturbed, repetitive language use. Female dominance is signified by the social and spatial deixis Dahl has utilised.
In the story Georgy Porgy, the main character George, traumatized since childhood and anxious of any female contact, falls into madness. Ironically, the reader is already informed on this, early in the story, by a linguistic cue; a statement George makes: "You see, I am actually mad about women" (p. 118).
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Inge Brokerhof was born in 1986 in Hoevelaken, The Netherlands. She graduated in 2011 summa cum laude at Roosevelt Academy, an international honours college of the University of Utrecht. Even though Brokerhof majored in psychology, she minored in rhetoric and argumentation. For her honours thesis, supervised by Prof. Michael Burke, she explored the psychological effects of language use and rhetoric by conducting a critical discourse analysis on Dutch newspaper articles. She presented a stylistic study connecting psychology and stylistics at the annual PALA conference in Windhoek in 2011.
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|Publication:||Nawa: journal of language and communication|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2012|
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