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Suppression, Sublimation, Reaction Formation and Displacement: A Psychoanalytical

Approach to ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ and ‘Trafficked’



1:1 Background of the Study:

Literature and psychoanalysis cannot be separated from each other because they have the same

role in describing and analysing human behaviors. Freud was the first to apply this idea in the

treatment of patients with some emotional and behavioural problems. Psychoanalysis is a theory

that is rooted in the study of the way the unconscious man behaves and how it controls man’s

physical action and reaction. One of such behaviour is the ability of the conscious mind to rid

itself of any unwanted thought or emotion that seem unhealthy to its being. Freud calls it the

‘Defense Mechanism’. Defense mechanism is a conscious or an unconscious attempt of every

human to prevent painful events from entering the inner self. Some known defense mechanism

include; suppression, denial, disassociation, rationalization, intellectualization, repression

sublimation, reaction formation and many more. However, this study, will concentrate on the

analyses of Suppression, Sublimation, Reaction Formation and Displacement as a defense

mechanism in the two novels, in other, to identify how most of the characters were able to cope

uwith their pains. The study will also identify the advantages and disadvantages of this defense

mechanism and how they will help to maintain the emotional balance of a people; especially in

the present the African society where suicide attempts and other irrational behaviors is the other

of the day.

Key Words: Trauma, Memory, Anxiety, Defense Mechanism, suppression

1:2 Statement of the Problem:

Reviews on Akachi Adimora Ezigbo’s ‘Trafficked’ and Buchi Amaecheta’s ‘The Joys of

Motherhood’ reflects that the first novel is all about sexual exploitation, human trafficking,

economic oppressions and socio-political life of the modern day Nigeria while the second is an

exposition on the oppression of a childless woman, the loneliness she experiences, the suffering

of an African mother and eventually the futility of life. However, the question is, do these

characters ever think about or recollect their sad experiences? How do they handle such recall?

And does such thought have any conscious or unconscious effect on them? None of these

previous reviews studied the secret traits of defense mechanism in the characters, this may be

because these traits are hidden in the unconscious of the characters. The study will therefore

analyse the concept of repression in the two novels.

1:3 Purpose of the Study:

The intent of the research is to: 1. Study the Freudian’s concept of defense mechanism, 2.

Identify some present and past traumatic experiences of the characters, 3. Study how these

present and past experiences affected the characters 4. Analyse how the characters were able to

repress the traumatic memories, and at the end, identify a renewed thought process which will

benefit the African society and creative writers.

1:4 Significance of the Study:

The present condition of the African society is unsettling. This is caused by poor governance,

porous security, obscure cultural beliefs, religious crises and general poverty. Living under such

condition is almost intolerable in that most citizens are being seriously affected emotionally;

leading to some kind of irrational behaviors such as uncontrollable anger and to others who

could not stand it: committing suicide. (Adebanwi 407) opines that “In observing the social

process both the past and present, the creative writer, reflects and reflects on external

perspectives in understanding reality by creating new map of existence through ideas that not

only generate but also transcend existing possibilities and ways of apprehending those

possibilities”. It is on this premise that the two novels are being studied in light of Freudian

concept of defense mechanism; so as to identify and analyze how the characters in the novels,

are able to live with the traumatic experiences without doing much harm to their innermost self.

The reflection in this study is not only based on the ‘external perspectives’, but also on the

thought processes which according to Freud the control house of human behavior. The analyses,

therefore creates ‘a new road map of existence’ in the subconscious and through it, the society

will be rid of suicide attempts, hopeless thoughts and other irrational behaviors. Nwoga(39-40),

agrees with this by saying that a work of this nature may have the effect of changing men’s

consciousness and making them aware of what previously they had not even guessed (quoted in

Chinweizu and Ihechukwu). The study will therefore critically analyze the novels so as to expose

the guiding patterns of thought that can stand the difficult times and will also encourage creative

writers to create strong willed thought pattern for their characters; characters who will be created

to withstand the present and the recall of past ugly experiences in agreement to Freud idea: ‘that

defense mechanisms strengthens ones emotion and help to put in order, the present events in a

character’s life’. For instance, a recall and defense of a past painful encounter with a fraudster

will help a character to be more careful in his future dealings.

1:5 Scope of the Study:

The study will be based Freud’s psychoanalytical concept that promotes power of the unconscious

over the conscious mind. The study will emphasis on the idea of defense mechanism using Buchi

Emecheta’s ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ (1979) and Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo’s ‘Trafficked’ (2008).

Being two Nigerian novels that is set apart by time; the former representing the colonial Nigeria

and its surrounding problems of poverty, obscure cultural beliefs and other forms of maltreatment

from by the Europeans, the later representing the present day Nigeria with its surrounding

problem of poor governance and insecurity which resulted into human trafficking; the study will

identify the traumatic experiences of the characters; whether real or fake, analyse how the

characters defended themselves against the traumatic memories using the four defense mechanism,

identify the possible effect of these hurting experiences on the characters.

1:6 Definition of Terms:

a. Suppression: Rassin et al defined suppression as the process of consciously trying to avoid

certain thoughts. when some someone does not allow themselves to express feelings or

desires which they are ashamed of, especially sexual ones.

b. Trauma: trauma is defined by the Longman Dictionary for Advanced Learners, as an

unpleasant and upsetting experience that affects you for a long time. it is a mental state of

extreme shock caused by very frightening and unpleasant experience(Online dictionary)on

the other hand, Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defined it as a disordered psychic or

behavior state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress

c. Memory: memory is someone’s ability to remember things, places, experiences etc.

(Longmans Dictionary 2009). On the other hand, the online Wikipedia describes memory

as the faculty of the brain by which data and information are encoded, stored and retrieved

when needed.

d. Anxiety: is a feeling of nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

Leggs describes it as a feeling of fear and apprehension about what to come(Health line).

e. Defense mechanism: is a fight against the uncomforting, against all forms of painful

feeling to ones innermost self: such a person will in one way or the other put up an

attitude towards those encounter to defend the innermost self. Some of the defense

mechanism mentioned by Grahol J.M. Include denial, projection, regression, acting out,

disassociation, intellectualization, rationalization etc.