The Psychology of Literature

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Christian Ørslev Nielsen
4. term, Danish, Master (Master Programme)
This master’s thesis seeks to examine the correlation between psychology and literature. In doing so this paper makes use of Hubert Hermans and Erik Erikson to shed light on the beneficial use of psychological theories in an analysis of short stories written by H.C. Andersen, J.P. Jacobsen, H.C. Branner, and Karen Blixen. The first part of the thesis will, by using psychological and literary theories, seek to shed light on how the two complement and benefit from each other in an analysis of four different short stories.
By using the theories of Hermans and Erikson it was showed how the psychological and the literary aspects of the analysis complemented each other well. The theory of Hermans gave insight in communication and the relationship between the different characters. By looking at the text through the lens of the dialogical self and voice, it became clear, that some of the characters were not capable of establishing dialogical relations between different positions, to make an intersubjective exchange between them, and by that reflect on their Me. The theory of Erikson was used to see how unsuccessful completion of psychosocial stages affected the characters' social skills, their relationships, and their way of living. In regard to Felski, the most used theory was recognition, and how recognition of the characters might help the reader to help themselves. Additionally, the usage of Felski’s theories also included Knowledge, Enhancement, and Chock in the second part of the thesis.
The second part of the thesis is a discussion revolving the use of literature in psychology, more specifically how reading might help people who are suffering from anxiety, depression, or the feeling of loneliness and/or social isolation. The discussion will take psychologists as Svend Brinkmann and Niels Møller into account, and try to understand, how literature can be seen as more than just an aesthetic experience. Furthermore, bibliotherapy will be presented, to show how literature is already used in the treatment of mental disorders. Finally, the aspect of Theory of Mind will be discussed as a way of showing, how psychology and literature are dependent on each other.
The discussion showed how recognition presented by Rita Felski, was able to conduct a change in people’s difficulties. It helped them to see, that they were not alone and that there were others in the same position as them. Additionally, it was shown how people using literature were able to lessen the feeling of loneliness by reading books either in reading groups or by themselves. Thus, the participants became more susceptible to talking about what they were experiencing and addressing their feelings compared to before. Finally, the aspect of Theory of Mind was presented to understand, how literature is depending on our ability to read people from their body language. Without our ability of Theory of Mind, we would not be able to understand the fictive characters and put ourselves in their position and ultimately learn from it. Thus, proving that literature benefits from psychology, as it is possible to address certain aspects of social skills, relationships and communication.
Publication date2 Jun 2020
Number of pages76
ID: 333388842