Honey Pie through the Psychoanalytical and New Critic Lens

The two approaches I’m going to contrast in this page are the Freudian dream-analysis and the New Critic analysis of “Honey Pie.” In the Conference Presentation page, I provide a .pdf file that analyzes the short story through a New Critic’s lens.

A New Critic’s approach analyzes the text and by using only the text itself for clues and meaning. This approach disregards any influence from sources outside of the text and instead studies certain elements of the text (e.g. metaphor, simile, tone, point of view, etc.) and looks for tension, ambiguities and conflicts in the text and how they are resolved (which gives significance and meaning to the text).

The psychoanalytic criticism applies a dream analysis theory proposed by Freud. Dreams consist of manifest dream content (what happens in the dream) and of dream thoughts (the “subject” of the dream which can be wildly different). Dream thoughts are not readily apparent and dream content needs to be analyzed and figured out (almost like a puzzle or riddle) to fully realize the dream thoughts. Dream thoughts are also highly condensed into dream content and then it can also further be displaced—a process that is almost euphemistic and replaces a traumatizing or uncomfortable idea for something more mild and acceptable or pleasing. Over determination is another process that happens in dreams in which the center of the dream content is actually a different focus than the center of the dream thoughts (which is the actual meaning of the dream). This produces a red-herring effect because often the real focus of the dream is not what the dream content is concerned with—often the real focus is the least significant occurrence in the dream content, which is the focus in the dream thoughts or the repressed idea.

Through a New Critic’s approach we see that Junpei’s story for Sala becomes an expression of his frustrations (Houston [please refer to Annotated Bibliography]). As shown in the Conference Presentation, this approach allows readers to draw similarities in the text between Junpei and how he is characterized and Masakichi and how Junpei characterizes it. The Freudian approach takes this to a deeper level. The very act of Junpei telling a story mirrors the Freudian approach. Something painful or traumatizing for Junpei is actively changed into something much less dramatic such as a bear and its life selling honey and its initial loneliness and later its budding friendship with another bear. It’s almost as if Junpei himself is displacing his own experience.

With the New Critics approach, we can analyze the description of Junpei’s reaction and emotional response to the earthquake and how it serves as a reminder of his fraught relationship with his parents. With the psychoanalytic approach, the earthquake has many meanings for Junpei. The earthquake serves as “a metonym for the uncertainty, trauma, and despair that characterize an atomized existence” (Lofgren). He and his family are originally from Kobe and after he had a falling out with his parents in college he became estranged from them. The earthquake, while serving as a stark reminder of his isolation from his parents, also allows Junpei to interact with Sala and Sayoko more—reinforcing existing connections, as others remain broken. He assumes his parents should still be living in Kobe when the earthquake happened and does not call to confirm if they are okay. This is a choice he makes in not contacting his parents although it would have seemed like the perfect chance to try and make amends with his parents—this speaks to the loneliness that he feels and how some of it may be “self imposed” (Welch). His relationship with his parents and his inability to contact them and the difficulty he faces in forming connections and bonds with others results in bubble of isolation and loneliness that surrounds him. His indecision with reaching out to Sayoko and confessing his feelings is another painful experience for him and all these ideas are condensed, displaced, and over-determined through his story for Sala. It isn’t until he finished telling her his story and reflects on the ending he decided for the bears and realizes that Sayoko too reciprocated his feelings back in college that he realizes he needed to change the ending for both the bears and himself. In dealing with the earthquake and reassuring Sala with the story throughout the short story he tells, Junpei slowly begins to heal. The bear story is the dream content, and Junpei’s life becomes the dream thoughts. We have to believe that Junpei is aware of the story he is telling and is deliberate in his characterizations because he is the creator of it. With that assumption, we know that Junpei realizes his pain and what he’s repressed. Throughout the story, Junpei is also bothered by the fact that everyone else in his life seems to make decisions for him and at the end we see a change in Junpei making the decision to change the story for himself and in a sense determine how his life would be from that point onwards. And the wounds that come from the earthquake are “emotional wounds, bound together by the isolating tendencies of modern life. The path to healing beings with a willingness for introspection and sympathetic shoulder or ear” (Lofgren). Sala is the one who needs reassurance after the earthquake and Junpei addresses her fears with the short story and is able to express his own pain inside the short story he tells her which becomes cathartic for him because he finds that “sympathetic should or ear” through Sala (although we do not see this explicitly in the short story and can only be determined through Freud’s reading).

The New Critic reading allows us to see directly how Masakichi is a representation of Junpei and how what happens to Masakichi is Junpei’s expression of his own frustration and failings (Houston). The psychoanalytic approach allows readers to see the many meanings the earthquake has for Junpei (analyze the ambiguity of the earthquake), how the story he tells Sala mirrors the approach itself and is a condensation-displacement for Junpei’s struggles.

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