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The Danger of an Unhealthy Ego Strength

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 Self-neglection is the most destructive force to a human. In Isabel Allende’s Two Words, the dangers of a disturbed mind are explored through the character of the Colonel and his relationship with not only others but himself as well. The psychoanalytical lens consists of applying Freud’s concept of the superego, ego, and id to a character to further analyze their moral conscience, desires, and their reasoning. The ability to balance these contradictory psychological forces is defined by the term ‘ego strength’. By performing psychoanalysis on the Colonel, it is clear that he has an unhealthy ego strength as a result of his isolation from society, his despair for love, and his heavy dependence on El Mulato.

In the short story, the Colonel’s consistent use of fear to maintain power eats away at his social life, displaying his mental incompetence at handling his position as a man of authority. His intimidating reputation is described in the text as follows, “Both the Colonel and El Mulato had spent their lives fighting in the civil war, and their names were ineradicably linked to devastation and calamity. The rebels swept into town like a stampeding herd, wrapped in noise, bathed in sweat, and leaving a hurricane of fear in their trail. Chickens took wing, dogs ran for their lives, women and children scurried out of sight…” (Allende, 3). This excerpt from the story describes how the Colonel is greatly feared by everyone in town. His army’s mere presence has people dispersing in horror. The effect they have on people shows why he does not have the opportunity to interact with townsfolk and have a normal, two-sided conversation. Rather than allowing the rebels to march peacefully into town, they are compared to wild animals. As human beings, they can be ordered to enter a town respectfully and keep people from scurrying out of their path. Choosing to remain feared over admired is a decision the Colonel has implemented into his army. However, it simply leads to the Colonel never relating to the townsfolk, further sinking him into isolation. This poor social life and lack of human connection are quite destructive, as shown throughout the narrative through the Colonel’s character. For example, later on in the text, it states, “For years he had been sleeping in the open air, bitten by mosquitoes, eating iguanas and snake soup, but those minor inconveniences were not why he wanted to change his destiny” (Allende, 4). Using the psychoanalytic lens, one can trace his unhealthy, present state of mind back to his past trauma as a soldier in the war. The inhumanity the Colonel faced through his living conditions and unusual diet undoubtedly impacted his psyche. In the quotation, the Colonel appears immune to the horrible experiences he went through during his time in the civil war. To consider such unusual circumstances as minor inconveniences depicts the severity of his mental damage. His disturbing thought process is further justified through his perception of fate. The Colonel believes that his destiny is to remain this fearsome figure and continue to negatively impact normal people. Accepting such hopeless conditions displays the dominance of the man’s superego. Rather than taking action and ensuring the comfort of others around him, he continues to live his life as a daunting man. However, the Colonel’s id begs to differ. His deep desires are revealed in the text when he explains to Belisa why he wishes to become president. As it says in the text, “What truly troubled him was the terror he saw in people’s eyes. He longed to ride into a town beneath a triumphal arch with bright flags and flowers everywhere, he wanted to be cheered…” (Allende, 4). In this part of the narrative, the Colonel is describing how his appalling ordeal at war is lighthearted when set side by side his desire for society’s approval. The comparison of the Colonel’s horrible lifestyle during his war days to this longing for people’s admiration justifies the harsh reality of his state of mind. The traumatic times he endured during the civil war do not upset him as much as his lack of social life. Upon analyzing these samples from the story, it is evident that the Colonel has convinced himself that he is bound to live a life deprived of human interaction and admiration. This punishment the Colonel has inflicted on himself shows how his past experiences at war coupled with his negative impact on the community result in his secluded lifestyle. His superego is dominant during this phase of his life, as he continues to live up to his frightening reputation and further isolate himself rather than approaching people in a friendly manner. The Colonel’s inability to appropriately handle the psychological drives in his mind proves he has had an unhealthy ego strength since the beginning of the narrative.

While the Colonel’s superego is dominant at the start of the story, it quickly transitions to his id when Belisa Crepusculario enters his life. This lack of control over his emotional state further displays his weak ego strength. Upon forcing Belisa to help him out with writing a presidential speech, the Colonel falls madly in love with her. In the short story, his perception of Belisa is described in scrutinizing detail, as it is narrated “The man smelled the scent of a mountain cat issuing from the woman, a fiery heat radiating from her hips, he heard the terrible whisper of her hair and a breath of sweet mint murmured into his ear the two secret words that were his alone” (Allende, 5). The intense vocabulary used to describe the passion of his love is effective in conveying the Colonel’s feelings. However, this surge of desire, which is dominant in the id of the mind, does not pass in the next moment. In fact, the severity of his love is crucial to his character. This exact description of Belisa is repeated later on in the story as it says on page 6, “…his senses were inflamed with the memory of her feral scent, her fiery heat, the whisper of her hair and her sweet mint breath in his ear…” (Allende, 6). The terminology used here is referring back to when the Colonel first fell in love with Belisa. This use of repetition proves that his passion for Belisa is significant. The thoughts that reside in his id show how this becomes the prevailing force of his ego strength. The powerfulness of his desires takes over not only his mental but also physical health. This is proven through his downfall, as it says, “…he began to go around like a sleepwalker, and his men realized that he might die before he ever sat in the presidential chair” (Allende, 6). The Colonel’s irresponsible handling of his desires drives him to the point of almost dying. As a grown man, this shows that there is no teenage stage or hormonal change present to justify his lack of control over his desires. To switch from having a dominant superego to id after meeting a stranger for a couple of days displays the Colonel’s deranged approach to handling his yearning for Belisa, ultimately resulting in his poor ego strength as an outcome.

The Colonel’s feeble ego strength is not only a result of his unbalanced superego and id but also his dependence on El Mulato’s loyalty. When the Colonel is dying of his powerful desires, it is El Mulato who continues to check on him. In the short story, Mulato continuously asks, “What’s got a hold of you, Colonel?” (Allende, 6). El Mulato’s dedication to the Colonel as his right-hand man is bound to have an unconscious impact on the Colonel since Mulato’s constant availability results in him no longer needing to take matters into his own hands. This leads to the Colonel giving up on his health. El Mulato’s undying devotion to his boss is depicted multiple times in the story. When Belisa is kidnapped for the Colonel’s services, it is not he who comes to imprison her. El Mulato carries out this task for his leader. This is shown in the text as the following citation, “She demanded to know the reason for such rough treatment, and El Mulato explained that the Colonel needed her services” (Allende, 3). Although the Colonel requires Belisa for his life-changing decision of running for president, he entrusts El Mulato to carry out this crucial step. Such a deep dependence on El Mulato depicts the Colonel’s unwillingness to run his own errands. With this persistent laziness, the Colonel sets himself up for misery when he is lovesick, becoming a huge factor of his unhealthy ego strength. Towards the end of the story, it is El Mulato who finally brings the Colonel out of his frail mental condition as well. After he kidnaps Belisa once again, he tells the Colonel, “I brought this witch here so you can give her back her words” (Allende, 7). Although it is obvious that the Colonel misses Belisa and longs to see her, he makes no effort to do so. Fed up with the Colonel’s deteriorating health and lack of action, El Mulato finally brings a cure for him. The Colonel’s ridiculous reliance on his old friend to make things right displays how poorly the Colonel handles his own situations. This inadequacy is the final reason that pushes his ego strength over the edge and results in his overall misery. Without El Mulato, the Colonel’s inability to balance his superego, ego, and id would have led to his death.

The loneliness, lovesickness, and El Mulato’s loyalty to the Colonel ultimately prove that he has an extremely unhealthy ego strength. Through psychoanalysis, it is seen that the man is incompetent at handling his thoughts and desires. From forcing himself to be hated by society to almost dying of lust, the Colonel proves time and time again how he needs severe mental therapy. His poor ego strength causes inevitable misery to him in many stages of his life, and such a character emphasizes the importance of handling one’s with maturity, responsibility, and asking for help when needed.  

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The Danger Of An Unhealthy Ego Strength. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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