Psych 101

         Since I am a psychology major, it seems pertinent to discuss which film-literature combinations best represent the behavioral sciences. Henry James is an obvious choice, for instance; but, since two works by the same author seem so limiting, which one should be selected? A Doll's House and A Streetcar Named Desire both deal with bad relationships, one with physical abuse and one with intellectual abuse. I cannot think of a book in this class to compare with Wuthering Heights, so it seems like the only choice.

         There are many angles from which to approach a book as rich as Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights. The major question is, what is wrong with Heathcliff? First off, his relationship with Catherine is far from normal. Does Heathcliff have an attachment disorder whereby he, once attached, becomes obsessed? Is he obsessive-compulsive in regards to Catherine? What need is fulfilled by his revenge? Possibly Freud would say his Oedipal drive got misplaced to Hindley! Or did it become generalized?

         In Luis Buñuel's 1954 film, Los Abismos de Pasion, the biggest difficulty is the fact that Hindley is not important, so I think he is the best bet. Mrs. Roulston wondered if the spider was a hallucination. Could it be? What might have caused that? Also, what was different that allowed him to actually kill Heathcliff? One suggestion is that he does not quite develop the self-loathing he does in the book.

         Regarding William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, the most obvious question is what does the altering of Edgar accomplish? In the book, Edgar is the opposite of Heathcliff and an effective antagonist. He has the will and resolve to maintain resistance until his body gives out. In the Wyler version, he has no will. He stands as a weakling next to Heathcliff. He allows Heathcliff to dominate his wife's death. Why? What did the neutering accomplish? One obvious difference is that it makes the victims of Heathcliff's villainy so pathetic they yield no pity from us. Why might the writers have wanted Heathcliff to be more sympathetic?

         The goals of the Wuthering Heights section would be twofold--first to discuss the psychological dynamics necessary to produce Heathcliff's actions, then to discuss what in life or biology would cause Hindley and Edgar to act differently in the films. Finally, why would the writers thoroughly hate Edgar?

         Since I could only allot myself one James work, I would choose The Turn of the Screw over Washington Square, mainly because it is easier. In Washington Square, the characters are so subtly drawn it might require too much thought to really get students interested in the dynamics. I also think it would offer a Freudian reading as to why Catherine and Dr. Sloper cannot work it out. With The Turn of the Screw, it has a more obvious hook. The narrator's possible schizophrenia is the main angle. All her visions fit rather nicely into psychology. In fact, if it were being told from the maid's perspective, with no sightings and increasingly strange behavior, I think no one would doubt the narrator was schizophrenic.

         The Innocents could be used to discuss the five senses. How do they color the narrator's sense of reality? Her only proof is what she sees. Why is that so cognitively powerful? How does our sight color our perception of the veracity of the ghosts? The goal is an easy way to introduce the class to schizophrenia, while at the same time introducing sensory perception issues.

         Streetcar makes a wonderful point/counterpoint on the battered women's syndrome where Blanche and Stella are concerned. Both the movie and the play allow for a similar discussion on Blanche. This was a woman on the edge and in the throes of a breakdown. Was Blanche borderline or something else? the main issue about her sister, Stella, is whether she could have escaped. We could bring cognitive dissonance into the discussion. Stella would have had to totally change her cognition to leave Stanley. She would have had to conclude that she was almost totally wrong about him. That requires incontrovertible proof in most cases. Were her abuse and the words of her loony sister enough proof to cause her to change her cognition?

         There would be two basic goals for Streetcar. It serves as a bridge into the fundamental social psychology concept of cognitive dissonance, and secondly Blanche seems to have a personality disorder. Which one does she have?

         The goal for the course would be to hit the major concepts of Psych 101. From social psychology we get cognitive dissonance. From abnormal we get schizophrenia, psychosis, and personality disorders. We get Heathcliff, a wealth of issues in and of himself, and we could bridge from this into physiological psychology quite easily. That is a pretty impressive list of concepts for three books. Every Freud combo could be worked in.

Jerard Moxley

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