A Psychoanalytic Study of "Witches and other night fears" by Charles Lamb

Academic Paper, 2018

7 Pages

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1. Introduction
1.1. Research questions.

2. Methodology

3. Literature Review

4. Application of psychoanalytic theory on Witches and Other Night Fears



This study aims to discuss psychoanalytic analysis of Charles Lamb’s Witches, and Other Night Fears. It offers an interpretation of the text through Freudian psychoanalytical approach with the focus on dream analysis and biography of Charles Lamb. A brief description of Lamb’s life together with a concise history of psychoanalysis has been inked so as to determine the psychology behind Lamb’s essay. Unconscious, an important part of human mind, is storage house of suppressed conflicts and a writer’s works are portrayal of his unconscious. When it comes to Lamb’s works it is related to his own psyche and biography. Qualitative framework is adopted in order to seek answers for the designed research questions. Text samples are taken from the original text of Essay Witches and the Other Night Fears by Charles Lamb and analyzed.

Key words: Psychoanalysis, Charles Lamb, unconscious, suppressed conflicts.

1. Introduction

Charles Lamb led an isolated and tragic life. He had to take care of his sister and remained unmarried for whole of his life. His essays are biographical in nature and display his unconscious.

Charles lamb in his essay witches and the other night fears talks about his dreams, In Lamb’s days, people hardly knew the phenomenal terms-preconscious, semi-conscious or unconscious. According to them dreams are rooted in and channeled from divine or demonic spheres. Then Freud introduced these concepts.Psychoanalysis is based on the Freudian concept of unconsciousness. He believes that all actions of an individual are outcome of suppressed unresolved conflicts and desires. Freud underwent self-analysis and devised models of psyche. According to Freud psychic structure consists of three parts conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Unconscious governs a large part of our mind. (Bressler, 2013, p.125)

In his book The interpretation of dreams, Freud asserts that unconscious expresses its suppressed wishes and desires even though conscious mind has repressed them.(1900 Further Freud suggested three interrelated structure of mind and personality Id, ego and super ego.“The id is the raw, unorganized, inborn part of personality, it operates on pleasure principle in which the goal is the immediate reduction of tension and the maximization of satisfaction.”(Feldman, 2011, p.440)

In contrast to the pleasure seeking id, the ego operates according to the reality principle. it can differentiate between right and wrong. Super ego operates on morality principle. The superego includes the conscience, which prevents us from behaving in a morally improper way by making us feel guilty if we do wrong. The superego helps us control impulses coming from the id, making our behavior less selfish and more virtuous. (Feldman, 2011, p.441)

This article endeavors to analyze Witches, and the other Night Fears through Freudian perspective.

1.1. Research questions.

i. What unconscious motives are present in Lamb’s essay Witches, and the other Night Fears.

ii. What is the significance of Dreams in Essay Witches, and the other Night Fears.

2. Methodology

Qualitative framework is adopted in order to seek answers for the above questions. Text samples are taken from the original text of Essay Witches and the Other Night Fears by Charles Lamb and analyzed in the light of Psychoanalytical framework designed by Sigmund Freud.

3. Literature Review

G. Harris Daggett (1942) in his article “Charles Lamb's Interest in Dreams” discusses the role of dreams in Lamb’s essays. He further mentions that four of the essays of Elia are on the subject of dreams. Witches and the other Night fears is one of them. This essay distinguish between dreams of children and of adults.

Cassie Hillerby (2006) in his essay Mind-Style in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart talks about the complex psyche of the narrator. The narrator tells the story to express his desires and motives.

Keith Paxton while psychoanalyzing The Tell Tale Heart says the narrator is egocentric. Sometimes the reader feels that his action is controlled by id but his ego is exhibited the way he talks about this deeds and it also makes him to confess his crime.

Irvin I. Edgar, M.D in his article The psychoanalytical approach to Shakespeare’s Hamlet elaborates Hamlet's hesitation in accomplishing the task of revenge assigned to him and that this hesitation is based upon Hamlet's own guilt surrounding infantile wishes and consequent identification with his father. These are the concepts of Freud’s psychoanalytical model.

Dr.hc Puja (Sarkar) Chakraberty in his article “A Freudian View of Charles Lamb's “Dream Children. A Reverie” endeavors to analyze Charles Lamb’s “Dream Children- A Reverie” from the amazing prospect of the unconscious.

4. Application of psychoanalytic theory on Witches and Other Night Fears

The unconscious is a storage house of mysteries- hidden joys, anxieties and sorrows. The title “Witches and the other Night -Fears” leads reader to the authors unconscious. Author retrieves from his unconscious the memories of his childhood when he used to listen stories of witches. According to Freud the personality of an individual is framed in early five years. The fears, he later expressed in his essay, are inscribed in his mind and unconscious from early childhood.

“From my childhood I was extremely inquisitive about witches and witch−stories. My maid, and more legendary aunt, supplied me with good store.”

Further he refers to the Stack house’s Bible containing many pictures, one of those pictures showing a witch raising Samuel, left an unfathomable impact on the mind of Charles lamb.

“In my father's book−closet, the History of the Bible, by Stackhouse, occupied a distinguished station. There was a picture, too, of the Witch raising up Samuel, which I wish that I had never seen.” (Charles Lamb, 1823)

As this essay is biographical and is a true picture of Lamb’s unconscious so the motive behind this essay Witches and other Night fears is the time period of Lamb’s life when he was between four to eight years of age. Lamb was extremely sensitive to terrors of darkness, night and solitude. Whenever he was alone at night he used to see figure of witches raising up Samuel on his pillow.

“I was dreadfully alive to nervous terrors. The night−time solitude, and the dark, were my hell.” (Charles Lamb, 1823)

These images and stories are merely symbolic for innate terror of human mind. This terror exists in the mind before the stories are invented. Expression gives a concrete shape to this abstract unconscious. This essay throws light on how mind works.

The central features of lamb which require Explanation are his dreams. Dreams are royal roads towards unconscious. So to speak Lamb has talked about his dreams in the essay.

Freud expounded his theory further and elaborated it is his book, “The Interpretation of Dreams”. In this book, he claimed that dreams are a significant part of the unconscious. Some of our drives, impulses and desires get collected in the unconscious and find expression in our dreams.

According to Freud latent content of dreams is unconscious. Lamb dreamt of buildings and architecture. He laments that he does not have dreams like S.T Coleridge. Psychoanalytical view shows that Lamb was Londoner he was fond of buildings and towns.

I am almost ashamed to say how tame and prosaic my dreams are grown. They are never romantic, seldom even rural. They are of architecture and of buildings—cities abroad, which I have never seen, and hardly have hoped to see”. (Charles Lamb, 1823)

In his Book interpretation of Dreams Freud says that dream reflects one’s unconscious. Dreams of lamb are clear picture of his unconsciousness but he calls his dreams poor.

“The degree of the soul's creativeness in sleep might furnish no whimsical criterion of the quantum of poetical faculty resident in the same soul waking. An old gentleman, a friend of mine, and a humorist, used to carry this notion so far, that when he saw any stripling of his acquaintance ambitious of becoming a poet, his first question would be,—“Young man, what sort of dreams have you?” (Charles Lamb, 1823)

In these lines reference to dreams is given such a way to know the tendency and inclination of a person. What sort of elements a person have may represent his unconscious and personality.


Feldman, R.S. (2011). Understanding psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY. The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Bressler, C.E. (2011). Literary Criticism: An introduction to theory and practice (5th ed.).Pearson Education, inc.

Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams (3rd ed.). (Macmillan, trans). Austria: Deuticke, Leipzig & Vienna.

Retrieved from: https://keithpaxton.weebly.com/.../psychanaylitical_analysis_of_the_tell- tale_heart.


Lamb C. (1823) Essays of Elia

G. Harris Daggett, Charles Lamb's Interest in Dreams Vol. 4, No. 3 (Dec., 1942), pp. 163-170


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A Psychoanalytic Study of "Witches and other night fears" by Charles Lamb
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psychoanalytic, charles, lamb, analysis
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Aqsa Awan (Author), 2018, A Psychoanalytic Study of "Witches and other night fears" by Charles Lamb, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/415474


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