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“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” Movie Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2019

Sigmund Freud’s Conflict Theory

I chose Sigmund Freud’s Conflict Theory because it shows how Gilbert Grape lived his life. Gilbert was surrounded by so many issues, which streamed from his family’s economic status. His life had not been a pleasant one. He lived in dire need of help, tried to struggle through life without a father.

His father had committed suicide, which exposed her mother to so many years of depression that led to her being obese. Gilbert picked up the responsibility as the man of the house to take care of the family more specifically to take of his immobile mother and his mentally challenged younger brother.

The responsibilities on his shoulders demanded that he had to work hard enough to provide for his family and at the same time look after his brother whose mental state made him to do stupid things such as climbing up the town water tower.

To come out of the situation, he got into a love relationship with a married woman who he broke up with and there after he dated Becky who he was compatible with. Throughout the movie, his gender dictated what he could do and what he could not do. When taking up duties in the family, his was to take care of the family while the ladies took care of the kitchen duties.

Peripheral Personality Best Fitting the Film Character

Gilbert’s personality was that one of an extrovert and probably this was so to protect his ego. After his mother’s condition got worse whereby she could not move, their farm house needed repair and his brother needed to be taken care of lest he went up to the town water tank which could have been so shameful, Gilbert took up the responsibilities to fill the gap of offering care being the eldest male figure in the family.

He could have left the responsibility to his elder sister but being the eldest male, he was left with no choice. To protect his ego, he took up a job at a nearby store whose future was threatened by the arrival of a supermarket that packed all types of goods.

He took care of his mother and brother’s needs, which included providing food for the family so that his family could not be quoted as neglected. Out of the love, he had for his brother Arnie, he chose to be his closest companion to watch him and keep him busy, lest he went up to the town water tank creating a scene that would lead to Gilbert and his family being the talk of the town.

Despite the challenge of a dying job in the shop that was operating so well before the arrival of a new chain supermarket, he stuck there for lack of a better option. He thought it wise to protect his family from any further miss comings that could have faced them, since they already had enough problems around.

In defense of his ego, and looking for console, Gilbert fell into the trap of being in an affair with a house wife (Betty). Fearless of the fact that he knew the husband to his mistress, he went on with the affair. Betty’s husband sold insurance policies.

To eliminate the risk of being caught by Ken (Betty’s husband), Gilbert broke up with Betty. After all, Gilbert could not take care of Betty’s demands and he (Gilbert) felt that Betty was not according him enough respect. She was also quite nagging to Gilbert; at one moment, she wanted them to have sex when he (Gilbert) was talking on the phone with Ken.

Gilbert fell in love again with Becky when they had gotten stuck in town with her grandmother after their truck broke down. One day Gilbert left Arnie in the bath tub hoping that he would get himself out only to find him in the same tub shivering the next morning.

Because of his love for his younger brother, he felt at fault and had to deal with the guilt of neglecting him in the bath tub; his family was disappointed with him. During the same time Gilbert got so upset with Arnie for taking the birthday cake prematurely despite him having warned him. Gilbert’s temper got out of control, and he hit Arnie.

The action made him even more guilt and to deal with the guilt he drove away from the family that was so angry with him and returned the following day with apologies for leaving Arnie in the bathtub the whole night and also for hitting him.

For his frustrations in life, Gilbert when talking to Becky, the newly found love who was getting along so well with the family especially Arnie, blamed his father for committing suicide and leaving them to suffer. All the misfortunes that had gotten to the family were blamed on his father, who Gilbert believed had he lived longer life could have been better.

When Gilbert’s mother died, his sibling did not want their mother to be a spectacle because of her big size when being moved from the house as it was the order from the police. To deal with the situation, they removed everything from the house apart from their mother’s body, and Gilbert set the house on fire.

Cleary, the mentioned examples above showed that the personality type that could fit Gilbert Grape was the ego type. He would do anything to minimize punishment and guilt and anything to maximize gratification through instrumental thought and action.

However, his personality of protecting his family was challenged when he met Becky. He became vulnerable with her, and he could share all his frustrations with her without fear of victimization.

He expressed lack of identity when he wished that his father had not committed suicide. His feelings for loving Becky overcame everything and Gilbert gave in to go with Becky one year later after his mother’s death.

The Theory’s View on Development Help

As per Freud, the psychosexual stages are:

  1. Oral Period is when a child learns to eat and to suckle.
  2. Anal Stage is when a child is taught how to use the toilet.
  3. Phallic stage is when a child discovers their sex, the difference between the two genders.
  4. Latency stage is when a child develops ego and super ego characteristics.
  5. Genital stage is the stage where a child is fully grown, and he/she gets attracted to the opposite sex.

The theory’s view on development helps in explaining why Gilbert did things the way he did them and why he did them the way he did. Considering Freud’s five stages of development, Gilbert went through all of them and the conditions that surrounded him dictated how he did react to issues.

Gilbert’s childhood was not an interesting one; he was brought up in a desolate place where the only good time was during the annual tourist trailer. That followed him to adulthood where he found himself still trapped in the same problems and living in the same house.

His father’s death caused so much pain that led to her mother going into depression. The conditions surrounding Gilbert could not allow him to get everything he needed when growing up. That life trained Gilbert to work hard to earn a living for himself and his family.

The training of his execution of duties since he was a young child made him grow being a responsible person. This was a positive trait in his development because he used it to take care of his obese mother and his mentally challenged brother.

He knew his brother needed him as a person who could overpower him in strength and who he could respect. He also knew that his sick mother needed him more because of her condition. His taking up the job at the shop was a sign that he was responsible enough to find means that he could take care of his beloved family.

Gilbert being a male and aware of his role as a male in the family took up responsibilities that were more manlike: taking care of his brother and mother while the kitchen duties were left for the ladies.

To protect his family ego and not expose its economic level, he took up a job in a convenience store which suffered threats of being closed down.

Despite Gilbert being aware of the many failures his family had gone through already, he fell into a trap of having an affair with a married woman and even had sex with her. To protect his respect which he felt had been over ruled; he broke the affair and took up another lady whom they got along so well.

To Gilbert, the way people perceived his family was very important. He would do anything to protect himself and his family from shame. He would do anything to make sure he was on the safe side of any situation. When Betty did not respect his talk over the phone, he chose to leave her.

Although Gilbert loved his brother and mother so much, when Arnie ate the cake against his wish, he hit him hard. When his mother died to protect his family from further ridicule because of her huge weight, he burnt her in the house in efforts to avoid people crowding and there afterwards have a story to talk about.

He often got ashamed of his brother when he went up the town water tower and would almost wish that he was not there. To further protect his ego, he had always wished he would one day get out of the family failures that life had on him, when he got the right person: somebody who could reason with him and challenge him out of his deep thoughts of regret, he left the town together with his beloved brother.

Gilbert had grown with time from the young boy whom the community knew to a grown-up man who could get attracted to the opposite sex and had sexual drives. For lack of a better option, he started by dating a married woman knowingly because for him, it was a way of getting a consolation from his messed up life.

The relationship was so hidden in that Ken, Betty’s husband, never suspected despite him doing business with Gilbert. The affair ended then he took up Becky. With Becky, the relationship was comfortable to him until at one moment, he forgot his duties of taking care of his brother to have a little more talk with Becky.

The relationship grew to the point where he left the town with Becky leaving his sisters behind. It was somehow liberating for him because Arnie got a friend in Becky, which was his dream that the lady, he introduced to the family would get along with the family and more specifically with Arnie, who needed extra care, since he was a special case.

The Core as a finishing Touch to the Description

Gilbert’s character is similar with that of his sisters and Becky. They all portray an aspect of maturity and the need to take care of their loved ones. Amy and Ellen were working to take care of their family needs. The family had divided duties in that Gilbert took care of their mother, and the girls took care of the kitchen.

When their mother died, Gilbert together with his sisters in efforts to avoid the shame that could have come along with the crowd to seeing their mother instead of mourning with them, compelled them to remove everything from the house and set the house on fire.

Gilbert together with his sisters loved their brother Arnie and their mother Bonnie to a level that none wanted to see them suffer. When Gilbert left Arnie in the bathtub, he was so sorry for what he did and felt bad that Arnie did not get out by himself. He was also so apologetic about hitting his brother and making everybody angry with him.

Their mother being the only parent they had, her death made the children to take measures that were so unusual. Gilbert together with his siblings agreed to put the house on fire with her body inside since they both had fears of what could have happened had they followed what the police had recommended.

How useful the Sigmund Freud’s Conflict Theory is in explaining and understanding the Gilbert Grape’s personality?

The Sigmund Freud’s Conflict Theory was useful in that it brought out clearly the traits of the main character in the movie and explained how he got to that personality he had plus the reasons why he did things the way he did them.

In Freud’s theory, the earlier identity of Gilbert, the social statue, and economic status that were surrounding him made it easier for him to go through life taking it easy though he could feel he needed to get out of the mess.

The fact that he was trapped in the mess never made him sympathize with himself instead he endeavored to make situations better than before. The many decisions he made were highly influenced by the conditions around him.

His childhood had hardened him in that there was nothing wrong with making an extra mistake of dating a married woman, life would still move on. Understanding the reason why he was not so irresponsible to abandon his family was all developed from his childhood.

He seized any opportunity to earn extra cash to take care of the needs around him. He had learnt that all things were hard earned and spent for the right purpose and what he could not meet he was genuine to say he could not.

Though, since childhood, he was never comfortable living in the same conditions they lived in, he accepted the situation and his endeavor was to be out of it and if possible his family too.

His mother’s death being one of the tragic things that happened to Gilbert exposed him so much and out of his ego he could not take it than to burn her body to cover up the shame that could have come upon him and his siblings with people crowding to see his mother who had been indoors since her husband’s death.

The theory made it easy to understand why Gilbert was outgoing in efforts to get out of the poor situation he had found himself in since his childhood. His thoughts revolved around his family and how best he could make their life easy.

He took up a job at a store though the store had no future, to raise money to take care of the family. We are not told anywhere in the movie that his dad left savings for them. It was his responsibility therefore to make sure the family was fed well and enjoyed all the basic needs.

The theory explains his attraction to the opposite sex. As a grown-up man, he needed a woman to talk to about his fears and concerns, somebody to share with his past failures and achievements and a companion to hang around with when not busy with his family.

He needed somebody to love and be loved back, somebody to sooth his spirit when he talked. His dating of Betty, a house wife was just normal of a normal grownup man who had issues that needed to be addressed by getting a comforter.

Though the relationship did not go far out of Gilbert getting upset with her demands and her behavior, he did not get discouraged. He got a room to accommodate another woman who fit well into his life. He met Becky in an unusual way, when she had gotten stuck in town with her grandmother when their truck broke down.

Gilbert was thrilled by her challenge to him about his life; he liked her tender heart to accommodate him with his many faults in life like he had explained to her those many times they met and had talked.

Becky getting along so well with Arnie, the sibling who Gilbert could not leave behind was a great encouragement for him and safety for a better future with Becky. Gilbert, Arnie, Becky and Becky’s grandmother left the town, and Gilbert was so relieved to leave his former life that was full of struggles.

Conclusively, it can be argued that the movie brought out real-life issues, which affect the society. The theory by Freud also helps to analyze the issues in a close manner. Gilbert finds himself in a very challenging position with no means of getting out of the same.

As the eldest member of the family, Gilbert is forced to put on the shoes of his father who chose to end his life. Gilbert despite being highly disadvantaged did all he could to ensure that the family had enough to live comfortably.

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