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Hostility Along the Path of Individuation: A Jungian Perspective Towards Understanding the Escalating Violence in D.H. Lawrence's The Prussian Officer

This essay proposes that the escalating violence in Lawrence's story

By Mark Easton

{The Prussian Officer }is a distressingly profound work. Lawrence's short story is a poignant tale of an orderly who endures escalating physical abuse at the hands of his superior. The reader may be confused about the exchange of violence in the story because it seems to occur in the absence of any external provocation, and external provocation is often used for understanding hostile motives because it is the most easily observable. But to understand the violence in this case, the reader is prompted to look beyond the characters' concrete actions in the story, and see their escalating hostile relationship as the manifestation of a psychological process.

The focus of this essay is to explore the mounting violence between the Captain and the orderly using a literary application of C.G Jung's psychological theory of individuation. The underlying psychological process characterising this violence is akin to the psychological journey towards individuation.

The choice of a Jungian approach stems from research indicating that Lawrence's literary works shared a certain parallel with Jung's archetypal psychology. Or such is the assertion in "A Strange Sapience: The Creative Imagination of D.H. Lawrence":

Even though he found Jung "soft somewhere," there is also a strong mystical-occult side to Lawrence that Jung's own pursuits roughly paralleled. Jung's emphasis on the self and individuation as a reconciliation of opposites is also-let us admit it - a Lawrencian obsession (Dervin 1984:4).

The process of individuation is defined as, "becoming a single, homogeneous being, and in so far as "individuality" embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self...or self-realization" (Snider 1984: 23). With the definition of individuation in mind, it is necessary to be aware of how this is incorporated into an explanation of literary characters. As stated by Snider in Psychological Perspectives On Literature, "...in general, the analysis of literature from the Jungian point of view explores the stages in the process of individuation" (1984: 24). While one would typically think of individuation as a positive psychological end, the process of individuation need not always be pleasant. Indeed, the journey towards self realization, becoming fully aware and accepting of one's strengths and uniqueness, also means confronting one's weaknesses, limitations, and irrevocable faults.

The initial stage of individuation is described by Snider as follows:

The encounter with the shadow is the first major stage in the process of individuation...It is the dark opposite - side of ourselves that we usually prefer to hide from others, and even from ourselves. The shadow is always personified by a member of one's own sex (1984:24).

The "shadow" is quite evident in the characters of the Captain, and Sch?ner the orderly. Here we have two characters of the same sex, poised as opposites in physical appearance and temperament. But the reader is first made aware of the Captain's shadow. Instead of accommodating and recognizing it to progress to the next stage of individuation, the Captain's shadow becomes apparent through the orderly's presence. And it is reasonable to conclude that the Captain's escalating violence towards the orderly is an attempt to repress, or avoid the recognition of his shadow. In what ways are the Captain and the orderly poised as "shadows of each other?"

For example, the ways in which these two characters are described from the beginning of the story portrays them as contrasting pairs of the same sex. The Captain is seen as very domineering, callous, stoical, and controlled. Such descriptions as "...always aware... stiff hair... brutal mouth ... haughty and overbearing ... they accepted him as the inevitable" (Lawrence 1973:312), depict a man with a definite peremptory physical presence, but there is no description of feeling and sense associated with the Captain. Conversely, the orderly is "... warm and young ... acted straight from instinct ... unthinking (Lawrence 1973: 312-13). Essentially, the orderly emanates a certain visceral quality that the Captain lacks, and the Captain possesses the brutal, disciplined qualities in appearance and action lacking in the orderly. It is in this way that the Captain and the orderly can be viewed as the shadow of each other.

Now if the orderly is the Captain's shadow, one can see from the orderly's previous description that he does not fit the common perception of a "shadow" as representing something sinister or evil. Some clarification is required on this point: "The shadow is not always negative; dark may connote the unknown as well as the menacing ... in many cases unconscious positive potentialities of the personality reside in the shadow" (1984:25). From this perspective, descriptions of the Officer's overbearing presence compounded with images of darkness like "...black helmet ... dark beads of sweat" (Lawrence 1973:312), associated with the Captain are seen as clearly menacing to the orderly's youthful and latently feminine qualities. This is later evidenced after his accidental spilling of wine was met with a penetrating stare from the Captain, for "[h]enceforward the orderly was really afraid of meeting his master" (Lawrence 1973:313).

In contrast, the descriptions of the orderly's instinctive warmth and softness compounded with images of darkness like "swarthy...soft, black, young moustache ... dark expressionless eyes..." (Lawrence 1973:312), also has a menacing effect upon the Captain, but there is something more going on. Rather, this darkness of the orderly connotes the unknown to the Captain in the form of hidden positive potentialities uncomforted in his unconscious being. This is evidenced throughout the story with several statements that describe the orderly's convivial effect on the Captain, "But the influence of the young soldier's being had penetrated through the officer's stiffened discipline, and perturbed the man in him" (Lawrence 1973:313). The orderly's presence invokes a certain irritation for the Captain, rather than an outright fear that the Captain's presence invokes in the orderly. However, it is still evident that the Captain fear's his own feelings that the orderly rouses in him.

Throughout the story, the Captain's demeanor towards the boy grows increasingly belligerent. In effect, the Captain appears to be exercising projection towards the orderly; this is an effort to subdue the shadow in himself that he sees in the orderly's presence. The definition of projection in Jung's individuation process is as follows:

An individual can avoid recognition of his shadow, or its "assimilation into his "conscious personality", by projection. He may perceive certain of his shadow traits, but he will not fully admit them to himself because the emotion of those traits "appears to lie, beyond all possibilities of doubt, in the other person" (Snider 1984:24)

Thus, the Captain's shadow was first stirred by the presence of the orderly's soft mannerisms and character. These are qualities that the Captain, being a rigid authority figure in a regimented profession would prefer to suppress. To avoid this shadow seeping into his consciousness, the Captain transfixes this into resentment towards the orderly. The Captain's disdain for the orderly is ubiquitous throughout the story, but the ultimate act of projection is completed when he becomes physically abusive. The incidents involving the military glove (pg 314), the belt (pg 315), and the kicking (pg 316), denote his attempts at suppressing his shadow, and diverting the Captain's anger as the result of something outside of himself. This is substantiated by the manner in which the captain contends with the aftermath of his kicking, "he had not done any such thing - not he himself. Whatever blame there might be, lay at the door of a stupid, insubordinate servant" (Lawrence 1973: 317). As a side note, it is interesting that the accounts of violence start from the head, in the form of stares and words, and graduate from the hand, the midsection (as represented by the belt) and end with the foot (kicking). It is almost a personification of the baseness that this violence degenerates into as a result of suppressing the shadow trait, as well as a representation of how this shadow trait is filling the body from head to toe, both trying to become the reconcilable part of the individual but concomitantly meeting greater resistance in the process.

The Captain has reached an incomplete level of psychological growth in the individuation process. Because he has not recognized his shadow and chooses to project it, he is impeding himself from the next stage of individuation, which is the accommodation of his anima. As elicited by Jungian theory, "[a]fter recognizing and accommodating his shadow, the next step in the process of individuation is, for a man, the accommodation of the anima..." (Snider 1984:25-6). There is a possible reason for the Captain's failure to confront his shadow, and hence, his anima.

The role and personal of a man in the Officer's military position would have naturally demanded a high degree of control and authority over his men, as well as emotional detachment. To show any signs of amicability would undermine his fa?ade of discipline and control in the tradition of military leadership. The unrecognized shadow in the Captain lies in the orderly's "instinctive sureness of movement" and nature of freeness" about him. To recognize these unknown elements in the Captain's consciousness would conceivably undermines the figure he must be in order to effectively command.

Furthermore, the recognition of his female side through accommodation of his anima would have portrayed him as vulnerable to himself and to those above and below his command. For the Captain and his being, wholeness of being appears to stem from complete dominance of control and discipline. There is to be no balance of masculine and feminine. This can be seen in his brutal treatment of the orderly. His seemingly sadistic pleasure in demeaning the orderly could be attributed to the relief gained in the projection of his shadow, as well as a satisfaction of beating this undisciplined object of instinct and feeling into the subservience of military life. In this way, the escalating violence becomes an outside macrocosm of the inner battle transpiring in the Captain's head.

After the Captain's brutal kicking session with the orderly the emphasis shifts more towards the orderly himself. The reader becomes aware of a change in the orderly's consciousness. He was previously portrayed with a certain zeal and vitality. He is now described as being "vacant... wasted ... inert" (Lawrence1973: 318). The Captain has succeeded in subjugating the orderly's spirit. Sch?ner's psychological growth appears to be stunted or reversed at this stage. The essence, which he previously possessed, indicated a man who had successfully accommodated his shadow. There were no indications of him projecting, which only substantiates this. He was likely at the stage of accommodating the anima. This is suggested by his instinctive and undisciplined aura about him that perturbed the Captain. He was not entirely dominated by the rational, thinking, composed male.

The fact that the orderly is described with a certain element now lacking suggests an imbalance from his previous state. The imbalance arises out of the persona the captain successfully imposes on him, one of an obedient, servile slave. "The Captain was firmer and prouder with life, he himself was empty as a shadow" (Lawrence 1973: 319). To cope with imbalances created in consciousness, Jungian psychology theorizes the unconscious will intervene:

If the consciousness is functioning too one- sidedly (for instance), emphasizing thinking at the expense of feeling), the unconscious will function in a compensatory manner, trying to balance the misplaced emphasis. It does this by providing archetypal images in dreams and fantasies (Snider 1984:22).

The orderly's unconscious does just that. His perceptions are described as, "They seemed like dream-people,...he saw this world through a smoked glass, frail shadows and unreal" (Lawrence 1973:319). These chimerical images surely indicate the orderly's unconscious effort to compensate for the imbalance in his normal instinctive self, with dream like disassociations from his present world.

The orderly's instinct is seemingly suppressed at last. However, it is the very uninstinctive, mechanical actions he is forced to do that rekindle the instinct in him. On page 318 the orderly's subjection to the perfunctory task of long marching makes him realize "...one single, sleep-heavy intention: to save himself" (Lawrence 1973). The instinct of survival is the root of all instinct. This is roused at the captain's greatest moment of vulnerability. On page 322 the orderly witnesses the Captain's exposed throat, which incites the "instinct" in him to attack. He is depicted like an animal going for the neck, and killing for its own survival.

It appears as if both the captain and the orderly have reached incomplete stages of psychological growth. The Captain is fixed upon projection as his highest level of growth. His actions adversely effect the development of the orderly. The orderly appears to regress from a balanced, confronted anima, into an imbalanced, repressed state of being in order to maintain the Captain's repressed state. The compensatory actions of the orderly's unconscious compel him to remove the cause of its imbalance, the Captain. Instead, it results in an over compensatory instinctive action that ultimately results in his own death.

On a crude and mortal level, there is a union of opposites. Although this union is supposed to take place in the mind at the stage of self-realization, the orderly and Captain are united in death with out self-realization as they lay beside each other at the morgue. Even in death they evince their own psychological development. The Captain's body "laid rigidly at rest,..." parallels with his static stage of growth, and he is characterised as still clinging to the physical tenseness that he embodied in life. He does not develop and chooses to project, as if he was capable of no more. He can rest because no more will come of him. The orderly is described as "...looking as if every moment it must rouse into life again." The orderly's potential to grow was hindered and perverted by the Officer's impositions. His death was premature because he was capable of becoming fully individuated. The Captain's interventions indirectly contributed to the orderly's own death and thus, ended his experience to grow. His animate description even in death, emphasizes the orderly's unrealized potential for growth.

Jung's individuation theory is a convincing framework from which to understand the escalating violence in The Prussian Officer. While there are observable psychological transformations taking place in both characters, one must remember that the story is entitled "The Prussian Officer" after all. This is an irony within itself, considering that the story is much more successful at invoking a pathos for the orderly through his repeated subjection to the Captain's brutality. But this title conveniently frames the whole psychological process that the Captain is enduring in his psychological development. The story is really about "him," and the more he projects upon his docile orderly, the more it becomes about him as he struggles to regain a sense of control.

The literary application of psychological theory often breeds more questions than answers. In particular, it leaves one with the following question: If there is merit to Jung's theory in that self realization is achieved through a reconciliation of opposites, is it possible that a stronger male individual with a more aggressive personality can damage someone who is on a healthy road to individuation? It would appear that in fact, a male individual, through his increased understanding of self and reconciliation of the softer feminine side, actually leaves himself psychologically vulnerable to the aggressor. Unless however, the individual is so secure in the newfound realization that he is impervious to the mental cruelty following from a less individuated man. But regardless of how individuated the person is, no secure understanding of the self will protect against the pain of physical abuse. It would seem then, that those capable of surviving are aggressors with unresolved understandings of the self, who become further belligerent because of an uneasiness about dealing with their "shadows." Are these people truly happy? Maybe they are so long as they have the strength to suppress. Brute strength ultimately suppresses the willingness or need to change. Might becomes right, and the world is truly controlled by the insane.


Dervin, Daniel. {A Strange Sapience: The Creative Imagination of D.H. Lawrence}. Amherst: Massachusetts UP, 1984.

Hobsbaum, Phillip. {A Reader's Guide to D.H. Lawrence}. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981

Lawrence, D.H., The Prussian Officer: {The Oxford Anthology of English Literature}. Ed. John Hollander and Frank Kermode, New York: Oxford UP, 1973. 311-326.

Snider, Clifton, {Jungian Theory, It's Literary Application: Psychological Perspectives On Literature}. Ed. Joseph Natoli, Hamden: Archon, 1984. 13-42.

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