The second epigraph in the book is “Never that which is shall die” – Euripides. Robert’s final act on earth captures his essence. All the characters who have a transcript in this novel remember Robert Ross in different ways, depending on their relativity of truth; some consider him a hero, and some a traitor. Although he is dead, the metaphorical footprint he leaves on the world in his final act, remains in the mind of all those who knew him.
Robert Ross’ eventual demise at the end of the novel, is a result of the reoccurring mental conflicts of his id and superego, resulting in neurosis, which takes a toll on his character, mentally and physically. Certainly, the id and superego can be burdensome at times, which is where defence mechanisms come into play; the characters in this novel use them to shield themselves from the truth and reality of the war. Defence mechanisms are used when the ego cannot effectively manage the demands of the id and superego (Bonaparte 6).
The most noticeable defence mechanisms used in this text are sublimation and suppression. Sublimation is the procedure of redirecting unacceptable impulses derived from the unconscious, into a socially acceptable outlet, and suppression is the process of hiding or controlling unacceptable emotions. Mrs. Ross is perhaps the first noticeably psychologically affected character by the war, as she experiences many psychological breakdowns due to her inability to cope with her stress. She begins to seek out storms and isolates herself from others, suppressing her emotions.
Findley explains “Mrs. Ross took pleasure in the rain and snow [… ] She never spoke to anyone she met. If someone known should come along the street, she’d close her eyes and let them pass unseen (Findley 136). Rain and snow include the element of water, which is used as a motif in the text, symbolizing change and transformation, both in Robert’s character, as well as her own. Water is also used in the novel as a sense of security. Earlier in the text, as Harris is close to death, he explains that all people come from the sea.
It is clear that Harris finds freedom and comfort in thinking about water, much like Mrs. Ross finds comfort in seeking out storms. After Robert leaves for war, Mrs. Ross alienates herself from others. She could not tolerate the fact that her son is off at war, leading himself into his own death. However she would not talk about it with anyone, which is evident when the narrator explains how Mr. Ross “became a portion of her silence. He was just another room through which she passed towards the dark” (Findley 138).
As a result of the separation and longingness for a relationship with her son, she experiences physical and mental deterioration, which she tries to conceal through the process of suppression. Another example of suppression occurs following the rape of Robert Ross, when Poole enters the room with Robert’s kit bag, unaware of the traumatizing incident that had just occurred. Robert, feeling vulnerable “wished with all his heart that men could embrace. But he knew now they couldn’t. Mustn’t” (Findley 177).
Robert does not tell him about what had happened; he suppresses his longingness for love and affection into his subconscious mind, due to the fact that he knew it would make him unmanly. Freud explains how suppression occurs when the ego is faced with a traumatic experience, idea, or feeling, causing such a distressing effect on the individual, that he decided to forget about it, because he “had no confidence in his power to resolve the contradiction between the incompatible idea and his ego by means of thought activity” (Freud 47).
It is easier for Robert to suppress his emotions than to talk about them with Poole, who he is afraid may judge him or think of him as unmanly. In the transcript of twelve-year-old Lady Juliet d’Orsey, she explains how she was in love with Robert, but he was a very private man, with a temper. She explains “Once when he thought he was alone and unobserved I saw him firing his gun in the woods at a young tree [… ] he would throw things down and break them on the ground. [… ] he had a great deal of violence inside and sometimes it emerged this way with a gesture and other times it showed in his expression” (Findley 156-157).
The readers see Robert Ross from a different perspective here, as he is normally described as fragile and innocent. Sigmund Freud explains “Sublimation is a way out, a way by which those [i. e. , instinctual] demands can be met without using suppression” (Freud 95). Robert experiences many tragic experiences throughout the novel, which he is unable to express in emotion, due to his desire to be manly. Therefore, he expresses his frustration and inability to deal with the depths of life through the defence mechanism of sublimation instead.
Characters in this novel use Freud’s defence mechanisms to alleviate their internal tension, and avoid the agony of remembering unpleasant experiences or expressing deep emotions. As time passed, Freud tried to differentiate suppression from repression in his literary text The Interpretation of Dreams, which further allows readers to grasp a greater understanding of how and why characters in Findley’s novel act the way they do. In this text, Freud explains how “the dream itself is thus the manifest content of the disguised wish.
In order to disguise the latent content, the censor makes use of a number of techniques, such as displacement, condensation, symbolization, and pictorialization” (Stevens 103). Displacement is the defence mechanism of directing a feeling or thought onto a substitute object. The first time we see this, is when Robert sees Taffler having sex with Swede. The narrator describes how “He threw the boot across the room and shattered the mirror. Then he threw the other boot and broke the water jug” (Findley 40). This is an obvious identity crisis moment for Robert, as he has to reevaluate his notions of sex and love.
The man who looked up to as mentor, was not who he thought he was. Psychologist Anthony Stevens claimed that Frued believed “the forbidden wishes responsible for the production of dreams were predominately sexual in origin” (Stevens 104). At this time in history, homosexual acts were illegal. The panicked expression on the face of both Taffler and Swede express their awareness of the taboo act in which they are committing. Robert using displacement to react to this situation, hides manifest content behind latent content: perhaps indicating that he may be homosexual as well.
His anger comes from his envy of Taffler because he is unable to do what he is doing, due to his psychological baggage holding him back. This scene foreshadows Robert Ross’s rape. His act of rage, parallels the scene following his rape, where displacement is used again. The narrator describes in broken-sentence structure, “He tipped the water jug. Water. He threw the jug in the corner. It broke into sixteen pieces. ” (Findley 176). The element of water appears again in this scene, symbolizing change and transformation, and a dark turn for his character, leading to his demise shortly after.
The manifest content here is that he threw the jug in a state of anger and frustration. However, the latent content indicates how the war has ‘raped all the soldiers of that generation, stripping them of their innocence; this becomes apparent through the process of “dream work”. Following his rape, Robert finds a photograph of Rowena in his kit bag, which he immediately burns. The narrator describes this as “not an act of anger—but an act of charity” (Findley 178). A further analysis of the text through dream work points out the latent content associated with the photograph.
Up till this point in the novel, the memory of Robert Ross’ beloved sister brought him a sense of comfort during the brutality of the war. However, he feels that the presence of her innocent soul should no longer exist in such a cruel world. The burning of Rowena’s picture symbolizes Robert’s complete loss of innocence that he once had at the beginning of the novel. Viewing the novel from the theories stated in Freud’s literary text Interpretation of Dreams, brings forth the latent content disguised behind manifest content in the novel, allowing for a deeper understanding as to what caused the downfall of various characters.
Analyzing Timothy Findley’s novel The Wars from a psychoanalytic perspective surfaces many psychological theories created by Sigmund Freud, many of which include his theory of ego-psychology which is used by Robert Ross during his distressing experiences; the defence mechanisms of sublimation and suppression used by various characters in the novel to deal with the depths of life, and Freud’s text The Interpretation of Dreams in relation to the displacement displayed by Robert Ross when encountered by a traumatic situation, resulting in his psychological breakdowns.
Findley’s novel accurately depicts the mental anguish faced by individuals who lived during the time of war. Perhaps Findley never meant to directly incorporate the various works created by Freud; however, when examined through that specific psychological lens, many questions that readers may have throughout the novel are simultaneously answered in terms of why characters in the novel act in certain ways, according to their relativity of truth.
Reality at times can be harsh, however to glorify things is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Therefore, individuals often make their own reality in the microcosm of their lives, and convince the ego that their conception of reality is ideal.