A Secret History by Donna Tartt – A Psychoanalytical Approach

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a mind-boggling novel about 6 students studying Greek at a college in Vermont where two of the students actually die. There is a lot going on from a mental standpoint in these characters, which Freud’s theory can help with. Despite how horrific the events that happen are, a psychoanalytical approach to the novel allows the reader to really understand the characters presented because it helps one to see into the mind of the characters. The best place to start analyzing would be around the end of chapter 4.

Henry, Francis, and the twins performed a bacchanal party where they went into a “Dionysiac frenzy” (Tartt, 163) and Henry admitted to killing someone after Richard guessed at it. As for why, Henry says that being able “to escape the cognitive mode of experience, to transcend the accident of one’s moment of being” (Tartt, 164) was good enough to attempt the endeavor. Using Freud’s theory, one can asses that this “obsess[ion] with the idea” (Tartt, 164) could potentially be due to an unconscious desire to perform the deed. Henry, throughout the novel, is a quiet gentleman that Richard seems to be able to read well. Given that information of his character, it seems almost as though Henry would be the last person to partake in such an act, giving the sense that it was an unconscious desire that even Henry did not know about.

The novel also contains a good amount of foreshadowing to Henry’s admission of killing someone. Throughout the novel, Richard remarks about how certain things would make sense in the future and how “it is easy to see things in retrospect” (Tartt, 93). This leads one to see how Richard may have repressed some of the events he witnessed. He never quite dwelled on anything until the admission. He would dismiss the events indifferently but his future self would mention how he had wished he knew what was to come. With how fond of the group Richard was, it isn’t difficult to understand why he may have repressed anything questionable or why he tried to keep himself out of issues, such as when Richard witnessed Julian and Henry talking discretely and Richard decided to leave and never mention it (Tartt, 71-72).

Talking about the killing of the man during the bacchanal, Henry discusses how “duality ceases to exist; there is no ego, no ‘I’” (Tartt, 167). In regards to ego, Freud describes it as the way we, as humanity, are most tied down to reality. With Henry’s apparent lack of ego in that moment, it raises the question of how we could even begin to function without ego. In accordance with Henry, we could lose all sense of morals and realities of the world and people around us. Henry describes that losing ego and himself altogether was “like being a baby” (Tartt, 167), which would confirm that it would be like having no moral compass whatsoever.

With all of this in mind, there was really none of the defense mechanisms Freud describes in either Henry, Francis or the twins regarding the bacchanal. All four of them didn’t remember what lead up to the event but very much understood that they had killed a random man somehow. There was no repression or denial of it, except when dealing with Bunny for obvious reasons. None of them presented any projection or displacement of any kind. They simply understood what they had done and didn’t take it out on anyone else. They only wanted to move past it without facing consequences, so they decided to take care of Bunny.

Continuing on with the novel in chapter 5, the group decide to kill Bunny off and stage it as an accident when Bunny begins to blackmail the others. In figuring out how to carry out this plan of killing their friend, Henry’s demeanor begins to change in front of the readers’ eyes. He begins to care less about his own life, which is apparent when Henry mentions how “the more I hear about luxury barges, the less terrible death begins to seem” (Tartt, 235). These subtle things Henry mentions can give the reader a sense of foreshadowing to Henry’s suicide.

Leading up to the suicide was the arrest of Charles for drunk driving. While Richard was attempting to diffuse everything, they started talking about Henry and Richard posed the question of “not why he tells us what to do. But why we always do what he says” (Tartt, 447). It creates the idea that the other characters depend on Henry much more than they let on, especially when Charles can’t come up with a reason why. However, Charles starts to display an example of defense mechanisms onto Henry for why they’re currently in that situation. “I blame every bit of this on him” (Tartt, 447) Charles has said, showing how he has started to use Freud’s defense mechanism of projection.

In conclusion, The Secret History by Donna Tartt displays many instances of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory in regards to the models of the mind and also defense mechanisms. I realize that there are many more just in his psychoanalytic theory along with different theories, but these were the ones I most noticed throughout the novel. It was an overall interesting novel that shows how important the mind and its processes can be in all types of situations.

When Writing Becomes Content Analysis

Like everything else in our modern day society, things are changing and evolving to adapt in the world. The article When Writing Becomes Content by Lisa Dush is a wonderful example of how even writing is changing. Dush ultimately describes what exactly content writing is in this new context and how to varies to that of traditional writing. She makes a lot of great points about where writing in this new digital age is going and how we as writers fit in. Dush also states in the article that we cannot disregard what content has become but rather to embrace the change and change with it.

The article focuses on how writing is no longer seen as just art but rather something called content. Content, in this new context, is described as “conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (pg  174) and contains important skills needed for this generation. Dush’s rhetoric of defining content writing could easily be its own essay as it is chalk full of important information that is explained so clearly. She even goes into detail about why she has defined content in this way.

The term conditional is used to describe content in its latest context because so many different things can have an impact on the content being produced. It’s also conditional because it can be easily accessed by so many people all over the globe and can provide a variety of uses to readers. She uses computable because content writing is digital and can be easily accessed and found in a computer’s database. The term network is similar to that of computability; content writing is linked to different networks in order to gain visibility. Lastly, commodified because content writing is in constant circulation.

Simply having these terms to define content helps us as readers have a better understanding of what writing is evolving to. Her arguments of why they describe content writing is just as sound. While her descriptions of the definition plays an important part, Dush also describes the main argument of her article.

The differences between writing and content is where her main argument of the article lies. Dush included a Figure on page 182 of the differences between writing and content, which includes some important differences like the audience and the availability of that work. Her argument is plainly written on page 183 when Dush says ” However, my Screenshot (13)argument is not that the writing metaphor should be erased or superseded, but rather that we should acknowledge writing’s unavoidable status as content, keeping the two metaphors simultaneously in mind both in individual rhetorical acts and in our understandings of the field concerns of writing studies.” She encourages readers to adapt to the change in writing without forgetting our roots. She argues that blatantly rejecting this new content can result in many people losing moments to grow as creators and as people. I personally find this train of thought very wise, as the author has a greater understanding of what content can do than most people would.

Dush also touches upon what types of professions have adopted content in their daily routines, such as journalism and literary publishing. She also puts the reader at ease by explaining how to approach content through skills the reader may already have. Content can be applied using skills learned from marketing and requires something called a “core strategy” (pg 186). A core strategy is divided into four quadrants and can be used by most companies to adapt to content creation. By covering all of the bases for content writing in our era, it allows the reader to fully understand what exactly content is and how to adapt to it in one’s own life from here on out.

In conclusion, Dush provides a lot of insight to something that may be intimidating to some people. She coherently describes what it is, how it is used, and how we can adapt as writers to creating content for employers and/or companies. When I initially read the title, I had thought that content was taking over all forms of writing. However, Dush dismissed that initial thought by describing how we can exist coincide with content while sticking true to what we know. This article would be a great source for anyone looking into creating content and wanting to learn more about content.



Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” Dec. 2015, http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0672-dec2015/CCC0672When.pdf.