Comparison and Contrast Using Jungian (Archetypal) Literary Criticism of Extracts from Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Forster’s A Passage to India



UnknownIn the context of Jungian (Archetypal) Literary Criticism, I suggest that both these pieces are structured using the archetypal motif of a journey toward individuation. But while Forster’s piece makes significance progress by grappling with the conflicting psychological tensions presented, Eliot’s piece never gets off the ground.

One of the primary purposes of Jungian Literary Criticism is to uncover the unconscious dynamics underpinning the work so as to gain a better understanding of their function (Dawson, 277). Hence Jungian Literary Criticism often begins with the question: “What psychological factor (whether image or complex of concerns) might have been responsible for this text?” (Dawson, 274).

Both pieces are structured as important, personal journeys through the countryside which, by the very nature of journeys, provides passage from one point to another; Eliot uses the highly personal and inclusive first person narrative point of view through which to invite us to join her narrator’s journey and although Forster uses the more distancing third person narrative point of view, the piece remains so highly subjective that readers are encouraged to believe they are privy to his narrator’s most personal thoughts and observations.

One explanation of the psychological factor (whether image or complex of concerns) responsible for such journeys might be that which was coined by Jung as the archetype of ‘individuation’ (also known as the Hero’s Journey) – the process by which the unconscious (collective and personal) is brought into consciousness (Jung, Symbols, 301). Individuation suggests the fullest possible awareness of the disparate or conflicting parts comprising one’s personality. Furthermore, it is achieved only by steady, honest, and demanding self-discipline (Hart, 91). It is worth noting that true wholeness such as that required by individuation is never achieved unconsciously, but only in the context of becoming conscious of those conflicting elements making up one’s psyche (Hart, 94).  images

With individuation, the goal is to “overcome the monster of darkness”; to experience the “triumph of consciousness over the unconscious” (Jung, Archetypes,167). Dark, fertile, moist things (especially those found in nature) are often used to represent the unconsciousness (Jung Archetypes, 27, 82), while consciousness is often suggested through religious symbology (Ualnov, 279). Thus for a successful journey toward individuation we should expect to find imagery suggestive of both.

At least in part, we are not disappointed for the archetypal motif of water, the most common symbol of the unconscious (Adams, 114), is employed in both pieces – and not just any water – but the running water of a river suggesting the flow of libido or psychic energy (Salman, 69). While the libido runs freely, the process of individuation is underway. However, when the free flow of the libido is checked or inhibited (suggesting conflicting psychological tensions) the process of individuation is stopped or even reversed (Salman, 69). Hence we might expect both pieces to evidence restricted libido (for the process of individuation is never easy).

Again, we are not disappointed for immediately upon setting out with Eliot’s narrator along her river on its way to ‘the sea’, symbol for the collective unconscious (Jung, Dreams, 122), the ‘broadening Floss hurries’ straight into the ‘impetuous embrace’ of the ‘loving tide’, which ‘rushing to meet it’, immediately ‘checks its passage.’ On this ‘mighty tide’ are also borne ‘black ships’ – black symbolizing the unconscious (Jung, Archetypes, 185). These ships – perhaps suggesting safe passage from one shore to another – (Fontana,112) – are on their way to ‘red-roofed town’ of St Ogg’s or the reality of the material world (Fontana, 174). That these ships may carry something of value is recognized; ‘fresh-scented fir-planks’,  ‘rounded sacks’ bearing ‘seed’,  or the ‘dark glitter of coal’ (diamonds being, like coal, constructed of carbon crystal – Jung, Dreams, 292). Yet no attempt is made to reach the ships. Indeed they and their cargo remain ‘distant’ – perhaps so ‘distant’ it is not even possible to really see (much less smell) what they carry? Likewise St Ogg’s is kept similarly at bay; Eliot’s narrator chooses not to see it directly but only through its ‘soft purple’ (watery) reflection.  Instead, she luxuriates in the reality of her own unconscious as suggested by numerous ‘loving’ references to fertility (‘rich pastures’ and patches of ‘dark earth’ made ‘ready for the seed’). Indeed, the only ‘living companion’ wanted is the river which, not surprisingly, is ‘deaf’ thus ensuring that no uncomfortable questions need be answered.

Likewise in Forster’s piece, the river does not flow freely. It is ‘scarcely distinguishable’ from the ‘rubbish’ it leaves and the very wood of the buildings lining the river seems made of ‘mud’ – a mixture of water and soil, which are both symbols of the unconscious (Fontana 114). This suggests impeded – but not checked – progress (i.e. the mud remains ‘moving’). Not only is the Ganges not holy here, but it might ‘be expected to wash the excrescence (i.e. morbid, abnormal or disfiguring outgrowth, OED, n. 3a) “back into the soil”. This reference intensifies the sense that this libido’s progress endangered. Luckily, Forster’s narrator is able to see his city (i.e. the reality of the material world) of Chandrapore more realistically than did Eliot’s narrator her St Ogg’s. For although the ‘streets are mean’ and the ‘temples ineffective’, suggesting blighted spiritual striving (Fontana, 77), there are still a ‘few fine houses’ that are ‘hidden’ away in ‘gardens’ (perhaps suggesting the Garden of Eden – Fontana, 105).  Make no doubt about it; in Chandrapore, bad things do happen (‘houses do fall’ (into the river) and ‘people are drowned and left rotting’. Luckily, however, the ‘general outline of the town persists’ and life goes on (even if ‘low’, it is ‘indestructible’). Although Eliot’s narrator is unable to bear witness to any conflicting psychological tensions encountered during her journey (all remains ‘lovely’ and ‘dreamy’), Forster’s narrator does and thus keeps moving.

When in Eliot’s piece, a ‘stone bridge’ (suggesting fixity) is reached, the tone changes dramatically; no longer is everything ‘lovely’ and ‘dreamy’. Now there are ‘threatening’ clouds and we are ‘far in the afternoon’ (darkness is about to fall). Despite the initial promise of fertility, it is now ‘leafless’, ‘chill’, and ‘damp’. It would appear that this bridge – symbolic of dangers on the path of psychological or spiritual development (Fontana, 77) – represents a serious unarticulated threat. Eliot’s narrator ‘must stand’ there ‘a minute or two’.  Will she summon the courage and cross it?

It would seem not.  Instead, she allows the ‘rush of the water’ to bring a ‘dreamy deafness ‘like a great curtain of sound shutting one out from the world beyond’. ‘I am in love with moistness’. She ‘envies’ the ‘white ducks’ – suggesting virginity (Fontana, 52, 67) – as they ‘dip their heads far into the water’ and remain ‘unmindful’ of their ‘awkward appearance’ in the ‘drier world above’. Only the horses – the subhuman or animal side of the psyche (Jung, Dreams, 107-108) – cross the bridge. Yet even they are reluctant to do so and require the ‘crack’ of whip’.

Meanwhile, Forster’s narrator moves ‘inland’ (to the ‘drier land above’, which made Eliot’s ducks seem so ‘awkward’). As the river is left behind, the ground continues to ‘rise’ and another ‘garden’ is encountered. Because gardens are symbols of nature under the control of the human soul, which like the garden, must be cared for and cultivated (Fontana, 105), we get the impression this libido has been purposefully directed toward higher ground – perhaps all the way to the Garden of Eden – because it is only through nature – the work of God, (the ‘toddy palms’, ‘neem trees’, and ‘mangoes and pepul’) that heretofore was ‘hidden’ behind the ‘bazaars’ (the work of man) that hope survives. ‘Endowed with more strength than man or his works’, nature reaches beyond the ‘disillusionment’ of man.

At the end of Eliot’s piece, we discover the whole of our narrator’s journey was accomplished as she ‘dozed off’ and sat ‘dreaming’. Although in Jungian terms, dreams can be highly revealing, it is only through steady, honest, and demanding self-discipline that this is achieved (Jung, Dreams, 3-7). We see no evidence of such an attempt here. When this narrator wakes, she is aware only that her arms are ‘benumbed’ and that she had been planning to reveal what others (Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver) had been talking about as they sat in front of their ‘bright fire’ of consciousness (Fontana, 110-111).

By contrast, while Forster’s piece begins and ends with those ‘caves’ – ‘fists and fingers thrust up through the soil’ – perhaps associated with the consciousness sought in Plato’s allegory of the cave (Kugler, 78).  Instead of being trapped in a cave of ignorance taking the shadows on the wall as ‘truth’, Forster’s narrator seeks the sunlight – ‘strength comes from the sun’, which symbolizes the unity and divinity of Self (Jung, Dreams, 157).  This lofty ideal is further suggested by caves being located in the Marabar Hills, which, like mountains, symbolize the meeting place between heaven and earth – consciousness and the unconscious (Fontana, 114). Not only that, but the ‘sky settles everything’. Perhaps this is a reference to heaven and with it, spiritual consciousness, as the ultimate prize? It is most certainly possible, reinforced as it is by more religious imagery – ‘glory’, ‘benediction’, ‘prostrate’ and blessings from heaven in the form of ‘rain’ (Fontana, 113).

In summary, Jungian (Archetypal) Literary Criticism asks what psychological factor (whether image or complex of concerns) might be responsible for this text. The primary purpose being to uncover the unconscious dynamics underlying the work. In regards to the two pieces by Forster and Eliot, I suggest that the image responsible for both is that of a journey toward individuation.

Further, I suggest that Eliot’s narrator fails to complete her journey because she is either unwilling or unable to grapple with the conflicting psychological tensions represented by that stone bridge. However Forster’s narrator makes the transition from the waters of the unconscious to higher ground because his is both willing and able to deal with his conflicting psychological tensions (‘mud’, ‘disillusionment’, ‘ineffective’ as well as ‘unconsidered temples’, ‘gardens’, ‘fine houses’, ‘mean streets’  and ‘rotting’ bodies).




Adams, Michael Vannoy. “The Archetypal School” (101-118). The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Dawson, Terrence. “Jung, Literature, and Literary Criticism” (255-280). The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Fontana, David. The Secret Language of Symbols: A Visual Key to Symbols and their Meanings. London: Piatkus, 1997.

Hart, David L. “The Classical Jungian School” (89-100).  The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Ulanov, Ann. “Jung and Religion; the opposing self (276-313). The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Jung, CG., The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, trans. RFC Hull. New York: Princeton University Press,1990.

Jung, CG. Dreams, Crucial Texts on the Meaning of Dreams by One of the Greatest Minds of Our Time. trans. RFC Hull. New York: MJF Books (1974).

Jung, CG. Symbols of Transformation: An analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia, trans. RFC Hull. New York: Harper & Brothers (1962).

Kugler, Paul. “Psychic Imaging” (71-86). The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Salman, Sherry. “The Creative Psyche” (52-70). The Cambridge Companion to Jung. ed. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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