Porphyria’s Lover and The Psychoanalytic Theory of Sigmund Freud

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About this sample


Words: 818 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Apr 2, 2020

Words: 818|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Apr 2, 2020

Protagonists in most of Robert Browning’s monologues are psychologically twisted individuals, and Porphyria’s Lover is arguably the one with a psychoanalytic perspective. This essay seeks to discuss and apply Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to the poem. To start with, there is a sharp contrast between the inner and outer settings of the cottage in the poem. This contrast is a reflection of the duality of the human mind- the human mind is what it is because of its duality. Duality, in this case, means the capacity to discern reality by using the opposites and this is exactly what the mind does, and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory recognizes this fact. Despite the components of the cottage’s outer setting being mostly animated and lively, the two lovebirds choose to rekindle their love in the warmth inside the cottage.

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Sigmund Freud, as the originator of the psychoanalytic theory, suggests that nearly all of the human desires reside in the unconscious. The unconscious also acts as the reservoir of thoughts and all urges which do not lie within the realms of awareness. According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the unconscious mind cannot be manipulated, and personality and behavior are largely shaped by childhood experiences. Freud’s idea of the unconscious mind plays out in Porphyria’s Lover. By virtue of being a work of art, the poem is open to different interpretations, and one could interpret it as a gradual shift from a psychotic to neurotic behavior. In the first part, the poet offers an objective description of Porphyria. He makes a careful and conscious choice of the words he uses to describe Porphyria. He uses words like ‘kneeled’, ‘glided’, ‘bear’, and ‘rose’ to describe the woman’s actions. There is the interplay among id, ego, and superego in the male lover’s mind. Id, ego, and superego are the three interacting agents in the psychic apparatus Sigmund Freud describes in his theory. Id is a constituent of the unconscious mind, and it plays the role of driving of role driving human instinct while the superego occurs unconsciously through the application of parental and societal rules and norms. Ego is the part of id which has been modified as a result of influence from the external world. Ego is rational and serves to negate both the id and the superego.

There is this moment when the male lover’s lovers repressed sexual desires could have been consummated, but because of his insecurities, he chose to wrap her hair around her neck, strangling her in the process. This violent act of the male lover exemplifies id’s triumph over superego, which is moralistic, and ego, which is realistic. The male lover has the immense desire to possess Porphyria, even in death. This is shown where he kills Porphyria after realizing that she is bound to ultimately succumb to societal pressures. The doubt is as a result of the reworking of the superego in the male lover’s mind. He has a domineering character, and this makes it difficult for Porphyria to exercise self-control. The ironical twist in the protagonist’s character is what justifies Browning’s dramatic monologue. The fantasies of the speaker in the poem had stretched to a point of no return. His ensuing actions as a result of the stretched fantasy are manifestations of an extremely ruthless id which neither appreciates neither rule nor morality.

Porphyria’s Lover also shows that divine union is the intrinsic want of all humans, and it is immortalized in the line, “And give herself to me forever”. After Porphyria dies, the protagonist remains psychologically connected and attached to her, and this is shown in his emphasis on the word "I". He becomes the active speaker in the poem, but the "I" transmigrates into "we" at the climactic point. The shift from ‘I’ to ‘we’ suggests the speaker’s permanent acceptance of the situation he finds himself in after the death of Porphyria. His killing of Porphyria may have resulted from the intense hatred he had developed for her, especially after suspecting that she might have been cheating on him with another man. Browning’s actions in this poem are intended to get the readers to appreciate the passion for sexuality which was an abominable thing to do in the Victorian society. It shows how societal norms and perspectives regarding sex and sexuality have changed over time.

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In conclusion, Robert Browning‘s Porphyria’s Lover is a monologue by which richly embodies the psychoanalytic perspectives. There is interplay among the psychoanalytic agents, namely id, ego, and superego. There are the aspects of the unconscious mind which, alongside the conscious and subconscious minds, are central ideas proposed by Freud in his theory. The protagonist acts out of anxiety, and Sigmund defines anxiety as a warning of an internal or external danger that triggers individuals to take actions which help them either cope with the external danger or activate psychological defenses that can then help them deal with the internal danger.

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Porphyria’S Lover And The Psychoanalytic Theory Of Sigmund Freud. (2020, April 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
“Porphyria’S Lover And The Psychoanalytic Theory Of Sigmund Freud.” GradesFixer, 02 Apr. 2020,
Porphyria’S Lover And The Psychoanalytic Theory Of Sigmund Freud. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
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