The issue of arrested personality development in Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Readings inspired by Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion
Appears in the following Collection
- Psykologisk institutt 
AbstractPeer Gynt, the main character in Ibsen’s dramatic poem from 1867, has fascinated scholars since its publication. For more than 100 years, Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt has been interpreted in the light of Søren Kierkegaard. A Kierkegaardian choice has been emphasized as the necessary way for Peer to constitute a self and become an integrated person. The first two papers of this thesis challenge such interpretations by reading Ibsen’s work in light of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. The reading reveals a striking correspondence, concerning structure and dynamics, between Peer’s ways of dealing with feelings like greed and envy, and Klein’s model of the paranoid schizoid position. There is also a striking similarity between how Peer experiences sadness, guilt and remorse and Klein’s model of the depressive position. Peer is facing painful feelings throughout the play, but is not able to tolerate them and avoids pain with omnipotent fantasies, manic maneuvers, acting out and denial. Hence, no reparation through mourning takes place, his development is arrested, and he is unable to form a genuine love relationship with Solveig. The reading demonstrates a profound complexity in Ibsen’s representation of Peer’s character, and a striking correspondence to Klein’s anthropology. After a lifetime of escapades, Peer finds himself lonely, detached and with feelings of deadness. Gradually, the underlying structure of his personality confronts him. With the help of Wilfred Bion’s ideas, the third paper traces a distinct pattern, where unprocessed thoughts seem to play a decisive role in hindering Peer’s self-realization. The main female character, Solveig, spends her life waiting for Peer. Eventually she develops into a container, ready to welcome Peer’s stray thoughts. This paper demonstrates how she evolves Bionian capacities like reverie, and eschewing of memory and desire. The interpretation thus challenges a tradition where Solveig is seen as a romantic figure who, like Goethe’s Gretchen, is designed to save the male protagonist by unconditional love. This paper argues that Solveig plays a more active role towards Peer in offering significant tools for personal development, and concludes that Ibsen and Bion have uncovered elements of basic human conditions that in significant ways seem to coincide.
List of papers
|Paper I: Aalen, Marit, and Anders Zachrisson. "The Structure of desire in Peer Gynt's relationship to Solveig." Ibsen Studies 13.2 (2013): 130-160. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/15021866.2013.849029|
|Paper II: Aalen, Marit. "Tears, remorse and reparation in Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. A reading inspired by Melanie Klein." The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review 37.2 (2014): 113-124. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01062301.2014.962323|
|Paper III: Aalen, Marit. "Stray thoughts–seeking home: Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt read in light of Wilfred Bion's ideas." The International Journal of Psychoanalysis (2015). The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-8315.12440|