The Collector: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

In analyzing the main character of The Collector, I would like to pose a question: What causes Clegg to be able to rationalize his unethical actions and completely detach himself from society?

Throughout the story, Clegg makes decisions based solely on selfish desire, instead of clear, rational logic and moral standards. It seems as though he severely lacks morality and logic that align with typical social standards of society. Despite his mad tendencies, Clegg is able to justify each one of his actions in order to seem like his behavior is reasonable to the audience of the story. From his capture of Miranda to letting her die at the finish of the story, Clegg refuses to recognize the absurdity of his actions.

From a psychological standpoint, there are various explanations for Clegg’s mad personality characteristics and behavior throughout the story. I would like to start out with the account of his childhood. As a young child, specifically at age 2, Clegg lost his father and as a result, lacked a strong father figure throughout his life. His mother then abandoned him with his Aunt Annie and cousin Mabel, with whom he had a negative, complicated relationship. The lack of a father figure often leads to fundamental problems in personality development of an adolescent. Specifically, if there are critical family problems or negative events in a child’s life, the child is more likely to develop behavioral problems related to low self-esteem, poor social skills, rebelliousness, aggression, delinquency, etc.

According to attachment theory, infants are biologically predisposed to form emotional bonds with the caregiver(s), which will shape social and personality development later on in life. Healthy attachment is formed between the child and the parent if the infant feels a strong sense of security. Attachment requires the process of synchrony, in which there is an established mutual, interdependent pattern of attachment behaviors shared by the parent and child in the first years of life. Ethologists claim that infants who fail to establish a close relationship with their caregiver(s) by the age of 2, they are at risk for future social and personality problems.

Specifically in Clegg’s case, his father died when he was 2 years old, which preceded the abandonment of his mother. It is highly likely that Clegg never formed a healthy attachment with his parents, seeing as his mother did not care for him enough to raise him. According to psychoanalysts today, insecure attachment significantly affects how one forms relationships later in life. Both avoidant and ambivalent attachment styles in which the caregiver does not display a sufficient amount of love and care towards the child, results in security and trust issues in intimate relationships formed later in life. This theory could explain the fact that Clegg has failed to have many close relationships throughout his life and also causes him to have a very unhealthy relationship with Miranda.

Clegg’s behavior towards Miranda is peculiar in regards to normal, healthy relationships. Throughout the story, he tends to cling onto Miranda without wanting to set her free, while feeling apprehensive to be intimate with her. This behavior suggests that he has significant security and trust issues, in that he is scared to let her go and lose her forever. It is as though he has developed an abandonment complex; because he experienced abandonment of his parents at an early age, he now bases his relationships on the preconceived notion that the people he loves and cares about are going to abandon him. Thus, he feels the need to capture what he loves, and believes that they will learn to love him in return (Miranda).

Compartmentalization refers to the subconscious psychological defense mechanism, which relieves anxiety when one’s values, emotions, cognitions, etc. do not align with their behavior. This process allows a person to rationalize their behavior, even when they know that it may not be socially acceptable based on their cognitions. By using this, Clegg relieves the cognitive dissonance that he feels when capturing Miranda and letting her die. “I also thought that I was acting as if I killed her, but she died after all. A doctor probably could have done little good, in my opinion. It was far too gone.” (303)

“Whenever the collective unconscious becomes a living experience and is brought to bear upon the conscious outlook of an age, this event is a creative act which is of importance for a whole epoch.” Carl Jung

In Jungian psychology, the shadow archetype is the part of the subconscious that consists of various repressed desires, weaknesses, and instincts of the ego. It is often the hidden evil or devilish side of one’s personality. According to Jung, the shadow acts as a ‘reservoir for human darkness’ and is a source for creativity. The shadow may emerge through certain dreams or fantasies that illustrates specific dark desires of the ego. The shadow itself may be composed of personal experiences that are also repressed into the subconscious.

It is as though Clegg undergoes the process of individuation, which is the fusion of the shadow and consciousness, in which aspects of the shadow start to emerge in one’s behavior. Clegg’s dark desires to capture Miranda for his own selfish keeping finally emerge after having fantasies he has about living with her and falling in love with her. His actions in kidnapping her and forcing her to stay in the cellar for his own entertainment and happiness, as well as allowing her to die because he fears getting caught are good examples of his shadow. Miranda: “What I fear in you, is something you don’t know is in you” (75). Miranda is worried that Clegg’s shadow is stronger than it initially appears and that it will ultimately take over his behavior and lead him to do something brutal; such as rape or murder.

In Clegg’s mind, Miranda fulfills the anima “dream girl” archetype; he refers to her as the “demonic parody of Eden”. However, often times it seems as though Clegg does not acknowledge Miranda as a woman- only a thing that he has set forth to add to his collection of beautiful items. Miranda claims: “I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful. He knows that part of my beauty is being alive, but it’s the dead me he wants” (p. 203). He recognizes her human qualities in that she needs to be fed and he buys her items that she wanted, but also keeps her hidden from the world for himself to look at, as though she is a butterfly. Once she displays human emotion/desire, ie when she tries to ‘go to bed’ with him, he loses that objective perception of her and causes him to not love her the same.

“I think we are just insects, we live a bit and then die and that’s the lot. There’s no mercy in things. There’s not even a Great Beyond. There’s nothing.” (284)

Existential theorists propose a philosophy that holds that a set of categories, ruled by the norm of authenticity, is vital to grasp human existence. Existentialism does not deny the validity of biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences; it only claims that humans cannot fully understand life in terms of them. In the context of existentialism, authenticity refers to the degree to which one is true to their values, beliefs, and cognitions. Achieving authenticity often requires one to “find oneself” and then live according to that discovered self. This way, one takes responsibility to act while letting their actual values come in to play instead of making a decision without the consideration of their “true self”. When one does not achieve authenticity, they live in denial of living in accordance with their freedom. Often, they attribute the course of their life to a form of determinism, in which they believe that they have no control over their lives.

In Miranda’s opinion, Clegg is an “empty space disguised as a human”. In her narrative, Miranda recognizes that he has lacked vital human experiences, education, and does not feel strongly about anything. It may not be possible for Clegg to achieve authenticity because he lacks strong values and beliefs all together. The values and beliefs he does hold to- certain moral standards he recognizes as important- he is never able to incorporate into the actions he takes. He is in constant denial that he is doing wrong when he kidnaps Miranda as well as when he lets her die, due to his ability to rationalize everything he does. Towards the end of the story he comes very close to recognize the gravity of his wrongdoings, but ultimately displays a sense of pride in his actions with Miranda. As a result, Clegg does not achieve authenticity by the end of the story, nor does he seem capable of ever doing so.

In conclusion, there are many psychological factors that explain Clegg’s personality and his persistence in distancing himself from society. Because he experienced negative events with his parents as a young child, it is likely that he developed a complex relating to abandonment. As a result of insecure establishment of attachment as a baby, his social relationships as an adult are based on severe insecurity and distrust. Because he is also able to continually make excuses for his bad behavior, he allows himself to get away with capturing and ultimately killing Miranda. While he does recognize the absurdity of life, he refuses to achieve authenticity in his actions upon his established ideals. Instead, Clegg continues to act upon the shadow of his personality; a dark part of him illustrated in his desire to kidnap beautiful women, which continues at the end of the novel even after he tragically lets Miranda die. Illustrated by the finish of the novel, it is apparent that Clegg fails to become a socially acceptable citizen of society who is unable to discover or act upon, his “true self”.

 

Additional sources:

Aronson, Wilson & Ackert (2010). Social Psychology, (7th edition). New York, NY.

Fulero, S.M. & Wrightsman, L. S. (2009). Forensic Psychology ( 3rd edition). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.