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A Psychoanalytic Reading of Behind Closed Doors Novel

The main argument of the paper is to prove that the novel is based on psychoanalysis

The relationship between psychoanalysis and literature
Stating that the novel could be read from a psychoanalysis point of view depending on the application of psychoanalysis theories

1-Freud's and other psychologists' theory of sadism and masochism or ( sadomasochism) and how that is demonstrated in the novel

2--Freud's theory of psychopath and how that is demonstrated in the novel

3-Freud's theory of escape from the self and how that is demonstrated in the novel
4- re-enactment of trauma

5-The psychology of battered women as the wife in the novel is affected psychologically
Each point should be given examples from the novel itself with direct quotations and the definition of each theory should be cited

The relationship between psychoanalysis and literature

Psychoanalytic criticism is a type of psychoanalysis, it is a science that concerns itself with interaction amongst unconscious and conscious process along with mental functioning. Psychoanalysis founded by Sigmund Freud on the basis of believes that people can be cured by making  conscious  of  their  unconscious  motivations  and  thought  processes (Wright, 2013, pg. 56).

Thus, it can be said that the relation between psychology and literature is mutual as literature is a mirror of the psyche of characters and and psychology is also used in interpreting literature.  

The relation of literature   with   that   of   psychoanalysis   remains   as   old   as   psychoanalysis.   Post-Freudian psychoanalysis provides basis for concepts in European intellectual traditions. Relation between literature and psychoanalysis is traditional in nature based on productive exchange on contents. In one approach that was initiated by Freud, based upon psychoanalytic emphasis. In this case literature was referred to being the material for explanation of concepts. However, this practice often led to difficulties in critical establishments as it acted as an aid to character in critical study for discussing essential issues internal to the text. Currently psychoanalysis has a subsidiary role to play, only being used in occasions where it can be considered appropriate in nature (Pile, 2013, pg. 78). It is only considered in case a motive or an effect is considered to be intractable without it. “Every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance”-Sigmund Feud.

In the novel Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, characters Grace and Jack Angel had seemed to have a perfect life.  Jack is a handsome, successful attorney with a picture perfect home at Spring Eaton, England. However, appearance can be deceiving as Jack emerges to be a sadistic psychopath.  After  marriage,  the  beautiful  home  of  Grace  becomes  her  jail  as  she  is refused to unsupervised contact with the outside world and gets punished cruelly on her escape attempts. Grace would have attempted suicide but her sister Millie comes to live with them after finishing her school. Grace discovers that she needs to free herself in order to save her sister. The novel progresses creating a sense of suspense in every alternating chapter. Jack as a boy had battered his parents to death and in the novel goes onto torture his wife. He also killed her dog and planned to murder her sister. The family dog called Molly was purchased by him.

Though Jack  reveals  himself  as  a  perfect  host  in  parties  and  social  gatherings  and  also  devoted  to  his wife. He apparently acts sympathetic to the problems of his sister-in-law. During his legal work, he is seen to defend a battered woman but acts in a contradictory manner at home. He is seen to have built a room at the basement without ventilation, which can be opened from outside. The room is painted in red and made in such a manner that if someone is locked then he or she will die without having anything to eat or drink or without air. In the end Grace ends up murdering Jack (Fairbairn, 2013, pg. 208).  “We go downstairs and in the hall, he takes my coat from the cupboard and holds it open while I slip my arms into it. In the drive outside, he holds the car door for me and waits until I’m in. As he closes it behind me, I can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s such a sadistic bastard, because he has wonderful manners.”-From the novel.

Summary of the novel

The  novel  Behind  closed  Doors  can  be  read  from  a  psychoanalytic  point  of  view .    Psychoanalytic   theory    provides   personality organization and dynamics of personality development (Rank, 2012, pg.97). It is often used as a way of treatment in psychopathology. Theories of psychoanalysis have undergone various refinements post Sigmund Freud   and   there   are   two   prominent   Freud’s   theories   of   psychoanalysis,   which   includes psychosexual development and neo-analytic theory.  Freud provided basis of personal psyche development as occurring through stages of libido. In this theory he revealed that an individual who  does  not  meet  progress  of  a  certain  stage  becomes  fixed  onto  that  stage (Fink, 2009, pg. 108).  

In  neo-analytic theory,  there is importance  of  unconsciousness,  defense  interpretation,  defense  mechanism  along with influence of childhood experience. Other theorists of psychoanalysis that can be considered in this paper are Anna Freud, Carl Jung, Karen Homey, and Alfred Adler along with the school of object relations.

Krafft-Ebing coined the theory of sadism and masochism to refer to sexual perversions by inflicting pain on others for sexual satisfaction (Fedoroff, 2008, pg. 311).  Ebing  does not  integrate  sadism  and masochism  as  he  believes  they have  varied  psychological  roots.  

German  physician  Johnann Heinrich  Meibom  first  introduced  the  theory  of  masochism  in  his  Treatise  on  the  Use  of Flogging  in  Medicine  and  Venery  (1639).  He said that flogging was associated with warming blood, which leads to sexual arousal. While other theorists suggested warming of blood led to sexual arousal which in turn mitigated physical pain (Fenichel,   2014, pg. 31). Lacan established sadism and masochism being related to invocatory drive (Stark, 2011, pg. 78).  

An  integral  part  of  Freuds’s  finding  states  that  sadism masochism   exist   often   in   the   same   individual.   Freud's      theory   established   an   intrinsic connection   between   masochism   and   sadism   being   active   and   passive   aspects   for   single perversion. He emphasized receiving and inflicting pain during intercourse being a common type of perversion and is an outcome of incomplete development in early childhood (Newmahr, 2011, pg. 95). The depiction of sadomasochism can be seen in Jack as he inflicts pain upon his wife Grace. Jack has a successful career and a great house to live in. After marriage he discovers his great sexual appetite which he uncovers his perverted side. Jack enjoys as he inflicts pain on Grace his pretty wife and keeps her confined within the house.  He  keeps  her  available  to  himself  only  and  limits  her  contact  with anyone in the outside world, which reveals his sadomasochism nature. “I can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s such a sadistic bastard, because he has wonderful manners.”-From the novel.

Sadist Jack in this case drives pleasure by feeling power; authority and control from the suffering of masochist. ”The unconscious is the true physical reality; in its inner most nature it is as much unknown to us as as the reality of the external world, and it is incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs.”- Sigmund Feud. He reveals his unconscious desires to punish his wife, who becomes an object of sexual attraction by arousing his desires.  

Sigmund  Freud  defines  psychopath  being  someone  who  inflicts  misery,  pain  and  even death on others without empathy or conscious. He assumes psychological problems being rooted deep  within  the  unconscious  mind  which  manifest  into  symptoms  by  certain  disturbances (Kline, 2013, pg. 85). Typical causes of psychopathy involve unresolved issues during early developmental stages or any repressed traumas (LaHaye &  Jenkins, 2011, pg. 64). Freud analysed a psychopath’s behaviour from biological and clinical grounds. His understanding of the psychopath revealed that there are two traits that are essential for a criminal, boundless egoism and a strong destructive urge. Along with these two traits exists a common expression of absence of love and lack of emotional appreciation. A psychopath’s personality can be defined as pathological narcissism and cruel aggression; these characters are generally connected by an absence of emotional attachment to others, which hinders a person from physically harming the one whom he loves. Freud’s trends of psychopath are also included and demonstrated in contemporary science through empirical measurements, this leads to identifying two factors for construct of psychopathy such as interpersonal/ affective deficiencies and social deviancy. Freud’s early development of psychopath’s concept was focused on no attachment, under-arousal and minimal anxiety. Though these characteristics seem to be related, they are insufficient characteristics which include some biological predisposition from development of a psychopath’s character.          

Stating that the novel could be read from a psychoanalysis point of view depending on the application of psychoanalysis theories

In the novel, Jack had been seen to kill his parents at an early stage. “Stunned, I sat down on the bed, reading the message over and over again; convinced I had misunderstood it in some way. I couldn’t believe that Jack would have written something so cruel or been so cutting. He had never spoken to me in such a way before; he had never even raised his voice to me. I felt as if I’d been slapped in the face. Surely I deserved some explanation and, at the very least, an apology? I needed to talk to someone, badly, so it was sobering to realize there was no one I could call. My parents and I didn’t have the sort of relationship that would allow me to sob down the phone that he had left me by myself and for some reason I felt too ashamed to tell any of my friends. Where had the perfect gentleman I’d thought him to be gone? Had it all been a facade, had he covered his true self with a cloak of geniality and good humour to impress me?”- A quote from the novel. There is no emotional attachment that has been seen in Jack’s character, which makes it easier for him to minimal anxiety in case of taking extreme decisions for his wife and also sister-in-law. Attachment is biologically-based behavioral system that provides survival since infancy by maintaining closeness to the caretaker. The concept of attachment can be defined as a strong emotional present in both adults and children and can be measured by proximity seeking to an object, experiencing distress when the object leaves and certain behavioral characteristics when the object returns. This is a pre-requisite of human characteristics to biologically dependable and lovable which is able to provide secure attachment in the lifespan (Eysenck & Wilson, 2013, pg. 116). This can be seen to be grossly absent in Jack as he having planned and killed his parents, experienced almost nil attachment. Therefore, for a psychopath like Jack it was easier for him to not feel biological connection and have no attachment. This might be due to some developmental stage disorder.  As an adult and married, he continues to inflict pain and misery upon his wife. He also plans to kill his sister-in law to inflict further pain upon his wife.

Analysing Jack’s character from the second foundation of psychopath’s under-arousal which can be linked particularly to punishment. The measure of cortical under-arousal includes three variables-slow wave (theta) EEG activity, poor skin conductance and lower resting heartbeat, which are predictive power for habitual criminals. In Jack these features these characteristics can be seen which override the influence of the environment. Lower levels of cortical arousal can be linked to the callous-emotional traits depicted in Jack.    

The concept of self has a high place in psychology as it includes familiar and colloquial meaning (Mannoni, 2015, pg. 46). The meaning of self is similar as has been used in speech and self-comprises of one’s physical body and set of meanings that surrounds it creating one’s identity (Ewen & Ewen, 2014, pg. 31). Masochism has a paradoxical nature especially from the perspective of psychology of self. Masochism reflects an unusual probable and powerful effective means of escape form self (Fuss, 2013, pg. 178). Escape from self includes motivated loss of self-awareness as during masochistic episode a person forgets one owns identity. According to Freud during escape from self, the ongoing activity and reality from self remains suspended (Boothby, 2014, pg. 200). The sense of self is reduced to bare minimum and is deconstructed. It includes an engrossing game or drama where normal activities remain suspended as a masochists ceases to be their normal selves and become someone else (Lacan, 2013, pg. 66). This depiction can be seen in Jack’s character too as he reacts in a different manner when he is playing the host and becomes someone else when he is alone with his wife. The theory does not state that a masochist removes all characteristics from self-awareness altogether. Also some features of masochism such as embarrassment in the presence of audience to promote self-awareness has been seen, which is also seen in Jack’s character.               

Freud's and other psychologists' theory of sadism and masochism or (sadomasochism) and how that is demonstrated in the novel

Evaluating Freud’s theory regarding self, it can be said that human thinking and awareness takes place on various systematical levels and can be extended to self (Siegel, 2008, pg. 27). There are varied ways in which people might think about particular things as sometimes they think about the high levels and sometimes they think in terms of low levels, depending upon their personality differences (Horney, 2013 pg. 133). People generally prefer to think in high levels or move to higher levels whenever possible. Through learning they are able to attain higher levels of self. In masochism, self-awareness can take place at various levels as highly constructed self-awareness includes knowing regarding oneself through various relationships with multiple goals, ambitions and responsibilities. As can be seen in the novel, Jack acted in a different manner being successful at court and professional life, being ambitious in nature and being torturous when reacting with his wife.         

In psychoanalysis, it has been seen that a victim experiencing trauma often experiences a wide range of psychiatric symptoms. This includes intrusive recollections of trauma, avoidance and numbing of stimuli that can be seen associated with hyper vigilance, anxiety and other symptoms which can indicate enhanced arousal (Cowls & Galloway, 2009, pg. 121). The factor can be seen in Jack’s wife, who has faced traumas multiple times and has stimuli facing the traumas. In psychoanalysis, it can be seen that most individuals recreates such traumas in the lives which is referred to as reenactments (Gobodo?Madikizela, 2008, pg. 107). In Jack’s life as well, he recreates such traumas that he faced earlier in his childhood and he in his mind recreates such traumas and reinforces on his wife. Experiencing traumatization and victimization is common phenomenon, with several ideas which reflects phenomenon of reenactments. Reenactments can be seen as spontaneous behavioral repetitions from past traumatic events though it has never been verbalized or remembered. Jack’s wife’s case can be considered to be reenacted as she experiences several internal stages of physical action. Freud in his theories states that individuals, who have experienced trauma in their past are more likely to repeat their repressed emotions as their contemporary experience (Daud, Klinteberg & Rydelius, 2008, pg. 225). In some cases, obligatory repetitions of past experiences might have several impacts. Trauma survivors are often psychologically vulnerable. In the current novel evaluation, it can be said that Jack had faced some past stigmas which he was prone to repeat during his current life events with his beautiful wife as well. He was inflicting pain and even planning murder of his sister-in-law who had come to reside with them. He tried to inflict as much physical and mental pain as possible, reconstructing possibly from his past experiences. His infliction of pain on his wife affected her mental health. She in turn became more likely to repeat the trauma in her life. This can be seen as she plans to murder Jack and planning her escape having received physical and mental pain from him. These reenactments often come in a conscious or an unconscious manner, as the outcome includes quality of involuntariness. Most importantly it can be said in the theory regarding reenactment that an individual attempts at mastering past events in order to resolve it through mastery (Gerbode, 2013, pg. 17). “When I remember how I had truly believed on the strength of a beautiful yellow bedroom, that somewhere deep inside him laid a tiny shred of decency, I wept at my stupidity.” –Quote from novel.                         

Freud's theory of psychopath and how that is demonstrated in the novel

Evaluating theories of psychoanalysis, reenactments can be seen having a different dynamics with having variant outcomes. The psychology of the battered women as the wife in the novel can be seen to have been mentally affected in a deep manner. When married, she saw her life differently as she saw a well-settled life with a loving husband with a stable career at a posh location in England. She started off her life with some of the greatest promises and with a great future only to end up in misery that Jack was a psychopath. When she was locked up in the room with thick curtains and was physically abused with her calls being overheard, her entire dreams shattered. She felt imprisoned within her own life. She saw her life being trapped inside a house and not being able to do anything in free will, this caused her greatest pain. At every step she was monitored and found all her freedom to be curbed. She was battered almost regularly in case she failed to abide by Jack’s orders. From the psychological trauma that she received her entire mental framework changed and she wanted to undertake reenactment herself having faced the mental trauma. As impacts from reenactments have several impacts and individuals often react to become masters of the same. Jack’s wife having faced so many traumas at the end can be seen to plan murder of Jack, which can be seen to be an act of reenactment. She wanted to recreate her past experiences and recreate the same punishment for Jack. In short it can be said from analysis of Jack’s wife’s mental state that she had become a psychopath herself from the inflicted trauma. She could undergo medical intervention in order to re-stabilize her condition and become normal again. “The door opens and he stands in the doorway, my handsome, psychopathic husband.” – quote from the novel.               


Analysis of the novel Behind Closed Doors revealed the spin-chilling experience of Jack’s wife and Jack’s murder. The story started off quite normally reflecting the normal life of a couple well settled at a posh location. But the turning point in the novel arises when Jack’s wife discovers his psychopath nature and his punishment styles. The story takes quite a turn when Jack’s sister-in-law appears and subsequently his murder is planned. The entire story is based on the life of a psychopath and his instigation to reenact the same incidents in his life. The various psychoanalysis theories have been applied at each stage to understand the situation of each character within the novel. Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, which includes psychosexual development and neo-analytic theory. The theories that have been used to understand the novel includes, Freud's  and  other  psychologists'  theory  of  sadism  and  masochism  or  (sadomasochism), Freud's theory of psychopath, Freud's theory of escape from the self and Re-enactment of trauma.     


Boothby, R. (2014). Death and Desire (RLE: Lacan): Psychoanalytic Theory in Lacan's Return to Freud. Routledge.

Cowls, J., & Galloway, E. (2009). Understanding how traumatic re-enactment impacts the workplace: assisting clients' successful return to work. Work, 33(4), 401-411.

Daud, A., Klinteberg, B. A., & Rydelius, P. A. (2008). Trauma, PTSD and personality: the relationship between prolonged traumatization and personality impairments. Scandinavian journal of caring sciences, 22(3), 331-340.

Ewen, R., & Ewen, R. B. (2014). An introduction to theories of personality. Psychology Press.

Eysenck, H. J., & Wilson, G. D. (2013). The Experimental Study of Freudian Theories (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.

Fairbairn, W. R. D. (2013). Psychoanalytic studies of the personality. Routledge. Accessed from

Fedoroff, J. P. (2008). Sadism, sadomasochism, sex, and violence. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(10), 637-646.

Fenichel,   O.   (2014).   The   psychoanalytic   theory   of   neurosis.   Routledge.   Accessed   from

Fink, B. (2009). A clinical introduction to Lacanian psychoanalysis: Theory and technique. Harvard University Press.

Fuss, D. (2013). Essentially speaking: Feminism, nature and difference. Routledge.

Gerbode, F. A. (2013). Beyond psychology: An introduction to metapsychology. Loving Healing Press.

Gobodo?Madikizela, P. (2008). Trauma, forgiveness and the witnessing dance: Making public spaces intimate. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 53(2), 169-188.

Horney, K. (2013). Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization. Routledge.

Kline, P. (2013). Fact and Fantasy in Freudian Theory (RLE: Freud). Routledge.

Lacan, J. (2013). The ethics of psychoanalysis 1959-1960: The seminar of Jacques Lacan. Routledge.

LaHaye,  T.,  &  Jenkins,  J.  B.  (2011).  Left  behind:  A  novel  of  the  earth's  last  days  (Vol.  1).

Mannoni, O. (2015). Freud: The theory of the unconscious. Verso Books.

Newmahr, S. (2011). Playing on the edge: Sadomasochism, risk, and intimacy. Indiana University Press.

Pile, S. (2013). The body and the city: psychoanalysis, space and subjectivity. Routledge.

Rank, O. (2012). The double: A psychoanalytic study. UNC Press Books.

Siegel, A. M. (2008). Heinz Kohut and the psychology of the self. Routledge.

Stark, L. (2011). Behind closed doors: IRBs and the making of ethical research. University of Chicago  Press.  

Tyndale   House   Publishers,   Inc.   

Vickery, A. (2009). Behind closed doors. Yale University Press.

Wright, E. (2013). Psychoanalytic criticism. Routledge.

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