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Psychoanalysis in Art, Design, and Literature Report (Assessment)



Different scholars define art from different perspectives. The definitions depend on the academic and professional orientation of the scholar. However, many scholars agree that art as a concept can be defined as a wide range of human activities as well as the products borne from this diversification of activities. Shelley, Frankenstein, Bennett & Nicholai (2003) are of the view that the term may be used to describe visible and invisible creations of artists that range from tangible items such as artifacts to intangible items such as poems and songs.

Design on the other hand refers to the convention or plan used in the construction of an object. It is noted that it is an important aspect of art. In other words, the two concepts are inextricably intertwined. Design can also refer to the process of creating a plan. There is thus a great correlation between art and design. An artist must use specific criteria or designs while assembling their work of art.

Definition of Terms


The term modernism is generally used to describe the emergence of modern thoughts, characters, and practices. In the context of art and design, modernism can be used to describe the emergence of these aspects in the world of arts. Many philosophers refer to this phenomenon as the ‘modernist movement arts’ (Cronin & Beckett, 2001). Changes in the work of art produced can be closely associated with changes in the culture of western societies. Modernism is very much evident in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. This is for example when Vladimir takes Pozzo to task for mistreating his slave. The author of the play does not support slavery as is the case in the western world and most civilized societies.


Phatic is the process through which someone performs social tasks only as opposed to conveying information using social actions (Beckett, 2006). This aspect is also evident in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. For example, Lucky plays a rather quiet role in the play. At first, Lucky rarely mutters a word to the other characters. However, this is explained later when the character is depicted as dumb. The author of the play has used Lucky to show the behavioral traits of other characters. It is through Lucky that the author has successfully displayed Pozzo’s nasty attitude and arrogance as well as Estragon’s good nature. This is especially so in the scene where he attempts to wipe off tears from Lucky’s face.

The Uncanny

The uncanny is a concept used to describe a situation where something or an idea appears to be somewhat familiar and yet strange to an individual. The idea or object gives rise to a sense of unease or discomfort at the same time (Freud, 2005). Uncanniness is obvious in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is made evident when Estragon and Vladimir appear to be repeating the same activities daily. The two characters also appear to encounter the same people daily. There however appears to be minimal changes among the people they encounter. Pozzo for instance does not have any memory of their previous encounters. The boy who delivers Godot’s message appears to be carrying the same information over and over again.

Mise en Abyme

This is another term that is familiar with art and design. In art, the term ‘Mise and abyme’ is used to refer to a situation where an image has a smaller or minute copy of itself. It can also be used to describe a scenario where something or an event appears to recur infinitely (Arlow, 2004). In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Estragon and Vladimir appear to be living the same life over and over again. This can be attributed to their long wait for Godot who does not appear to come. On the contrary, he keeps postponing their meeting to the following day. Their life can thus be viewed by the audience as an endless cycle.

Psychoanalysis in Art and Design

Psychoanalysis is a popular term in contemporary society, especially within the psychological and other behavioral arenas. The term can be described or conceptualized as a detailed and rather complicated theory that focuses on personality and motivation behind the actions of individuals in society (Freud, 2005). Psychoanalysis as a concept involves a detailed analysis of an individual’s unconscious thought processes mainly through free association.

Through psychoanalysis, it is easier to learn of an individual’s attitude and behaviors without them even being aware of it. Many writers have resorted to psychoanalysis to bring out the traits and behavioral patterns of the characters they have used in their work. This practice is common especially in the field of medicine with psychiatrists employing the technique to cure mental disorders. This is through the examination of both the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the individual.

The author of this paper seeks to establish a link between psychoanalysis and literature. The two fields are related in more than one way. Using Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the author attempts to analyze psychoanalytic aspects that are evident in this piece of art. It is noted that psychoanalysis reveals some aspects of the play while concealing or overlooking other aspects. Scholars have noted that psychoanalysis can also be unconscious to the person performing it.

This is given the fact that the process is involuntary and takes place about one’s ability to interpret situations as well as one’s experience in life (Freud, 2005). Authors and scholars may use psychoanalysis to bring out aspects or traits such as the personality of the individual under focus. The individual in this case may be the characters in the story. It is to be noted that the characters are the creation of the scholar or author writing the story.

Aspects of Literature Revealed by Psychoanalysis


Personality can be described as a dynamic set of characteristics or traits that can be associated with an individual. It is a personality that influences a person’s emotions, behavior, and motivations in life (Cronin & Beckett, 2001). A close look at Estragon reveals that he is rather an impatient character. Estragon grows weary while waiting for Godot and almost leaves before Vladimir successfully convinces him to remain behind. Estragon later dozes off during the ‘long’ wait and this may be an indication of the fact that he was rather bored by the whole process. Vladimir on the other hand is the complete opposite of Estragon.

He appears to be rather patient and is seen encouraging Estragon to remain behind so that they can wait for Godot. He is also alert and does not doze off, unlike Estragon who dozes off during the wait. From a psychoanalytic perspective, a discerning observer can make logical conclusions regarding the two characters. This is even though the author has not to pinpointed these personalities for the reader. From a critical examination of the literature presented, the discerning audience can make valid conclusions regarding the characters. These are both the two characters highlighted here and others in the story.

Nature of the Individual in the Context of Art and Culture

Psychoanalysis can also help one determine the nature of the individual under consideration (Shelley et al., 2003). It is from a psychoanalytic perspective that Pozzo is viewed as a mean man among other such characters. Pozzo disregards his slave Lucky who he repeatedly refers to as a pig among other derogatory terms. Pozzo is also seen as inhuman in that he lets Lucky hold on to his load as a means of mollifying him in an attempt to make him change his mind about selling him.

His mean nature can also be seen when he enjoys his meal alone and scatters the bones for Lucky to feed on. Pozzo is not willing to share his meal with anyone including his slave. Lucky on the other hand is seen as meek and submissive to his boss. His position as a slave gives him no choice other than gracefully working for his cruel and mean master Pozzo. If he fails to submit to this man, he may risk being sold.

Vladimir on other hand is good-hearted and takes note of the unfair treatment meted out to Lucky by his master. He especially fails to understand why Lucky continues holding on to his load even when he and his master are resting. This appears strange to him. Vladimir goes ahead to enquire from Pozzo why he is mistreating his slave to that extent. He is also depicted by the author as a generous character. It is also noted that he occasionally provides his friend Estragon with carrots whenever he complains that he is hungry. Vladimir is also willing to offer radish to Estragon.

Estragon on the other hand has a troublesome and nagging character. Unlike Vladimir, he makes fun of Lucky’s condition as a slave. He for instance attempts to wipe tears off Lucky’s face but Lucky retaliates with a kick. In their next encounter, both Lucky and Pozzo fall in a heap, and Estragon regards this as an opportunity to get back at Lucky for having kicked him during their last meeting.

In literature and other forms of art, the author does not have to necessarily provide a detailed analysis of the characters used to tell the story. From the attributes or behavioral patterns of the characters (as portrayed by the author) the reader can determine the nature of the various characters discussed. Assessments or conclusions can be made based on an individual’s speech as well as his association with others in the story (Freud, 2005).

The author is charged with the responsibility of developing the characters and thus he should create them in a way that can be easily analyzed by the audience or the reader of the story. Features and aspects used should thus reflect or be at par with the audiences’ abilities and skills in terms of education level as well as other abilities. This is to enable the audience to fully understand as well as adequately analyze the work or art.


Ego in art and design is a term that is used to imply self-identity which plays a crucial role in an individual’s moralization. Ego has been viewed by many scholars as to the attempt to create a balance between reality and identity (Arlow, 2004). Pozzo for instance possesses a superego. He uses his status to justify his cruel acts against his servant. He views him as an object that can be disposed of at will. Pozzo even goes to the extent of threatening to sell Lucky if he fails to mollify him. Pozzo feels that Lucky owes him respect as well as the pleasure of following his commands at all costs.

Lucky on the other hand feels obliged to follow his master’s commands despite the many odds his master puts him into. He remains calm and respectful to his master and is willing to act upon when commanded. The author develops the characters in a way that will make it easy for the audience to automatically point out the various aspects discussed in the play (Beckett, 2006).


Many designs and styles have in the past been used by different artists to convey the messages through their works. One of the most effective styles is psychoanalysis. Through psychoanalysis, the audience can deduce various meanings from a particular work of art. More emphasis is put on the analysis of the characters used in the work of art by the author to tell the story. This is given the fact that psychoanalysis generally deals with the study of people’s behavior and personality. It also tries to explain their behavior in society (Freud, 2005).


Arlow, B. (2004). Psychoanalytic concepts and structural theory. New York: International Universities Press.

Beckett, S. (2006). Waiting for Godot. London: Allen & Unwin Press.

Cronin, A., & Beckett, S. (2001). The last modernist. London: Flamingo.

Freud, S. (2005). Project for scientific psychology: Standard edition. London: Hogarth Press.

Shelley, M., Frankenstein, A., Bennett, D. & Nicholai, R. (2003). An introduction to literature, criticism, and theory. New York: Pearson.

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1. IvyPanda. "Psychoanalysis in Art, Design, and Literature." January 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/psychoanalysis-in-art-design-and-literature/.


IvyPanda. "Psychoanalysis in Art, Design, and Literature." January 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/psychoanalysis-in-art-design-and-literature/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Psychoanalysis in Art, Design, and Literature." January 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/psychoanalysis-in-art-design-and-literature/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Psychoanalysis in Art, Design, and Literature'. 18 January.

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