Freud's Id, Ego and Superego in
Anthills of the Savannah

Jason M. Smith '94 (English 32, Fall '90)

Sigmund Freud proposed that the human psyche could be divided into three dependent parts, the id, the ego and the superego. The first of these "consisted of amoral, irrational, driving instincts for sexual gratification, aggression, and general physical and sensual pleasure. The superego constituted the external moral imperatives and expectations imposed on the personality by it's society and culture. The ego stood as the mediator between the impulses of the id and the asceticism of the superego. The ego allowed the personality to cope with the inner and outer demands of its existence." To personify the three voices their conversation would follow with the biological id constantly screaming "I want it now, I want it now" and the ego replying, "You can't have it, but try this instead" and the superego overseeing the decisions of the ego and judging either "You have done well" or "No, you have erred and done wrong!" Achebe explores these three entities by developing characters that embody each.

Ikem, freely expressing his views through his daily editorials, relentlessly criticizes the government with a disregard to personal consequences and therefore represents the id. He has become a self-proclaimed "passionate crusader." (p. 36) His numerous sexual relations mimic the id's drive for sexual satisfaction and characteristic "I want, I want."

As the head of state, Sam represents the superego, dictating societal standards. In Freud's model the the id and the superego oppose each other. Likewise Ikem and Sam oppose each other; the editor often attacking Sam's political policies and decrees. Chris, the ego, must serve as the mediator, censoring the articles printed in the Gazette and editing Ikem's editorials of their more radical elements. When Chris requests an article from Ikem before publication the clear struggle between the representative ego and id is evidenced.

"Well that's not good enough, Mr. Commissioner for Information. Not good enough for me. You seem to be forgetting something, namely that it is my name and address which is printed at the bottom of page sixteen of the Gazette and not that of any fucking, excuse my language, any fucking Commissioner. It's me who'll be locked up by Major Samsonite if the need arises, not you. It's my funeral . . ."

"Quite irrelevant, Ikem. You ought to know that. We have gone over this matter a million times now if we've gone over it once; and I'm getting quite sick and tired of repeating it. I am doing so now for the last time, the very last time. Chapter Fourteen section six of the Newspaper Amendment Decree give the Honourable Commissioner general and specific powers over what is printed in the Gazette. You know well. I will now invoke the letter of that law and send you my instructions in writing. Expect it in the next half-hour. It is clear that's how you want it, so I will oblige." (pp. 24-25)

Ikem displays the wild, untamed vigour of the id in his attack, whereas Chris, voice full of reason, slips naturally into the role of the mediator and upholder the societal standards, aiming to make Ikem's work acceptable. When an outraged Sam shreds the editorials in cabinet meetings, Chris must defended Ikem. As in the psychology, the ego (Chris) and not the id (Ikem) receives the wrath and punishment of the judgemental superego. (p. 40)

Although Achebe presents each of these Freudian personas in a separate character, they are intricately linked and together form a whole person. At one time Ikem, Chris, and Sam were all fairly similar, having attended school together, but over time they have drifted apart. Sam was the first to leave the group when he saw "for the first time the possibilities for his drama in the role of an African Head of State." (p. 48) The division of Ikem and Chris occurred with the latter's fairly recent promotion to Commissioner of Information. The interdependent relation among the three is emphasized by their flawless English and heavily underscored by their almost simultaneous deaths. A person lacking one of these three Freudian components would be mental ill and incapable of a normal life. Likewise, when Ikem is killed the other two are incapable of continuing their separate existence.

Material on Freud from:
Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner. The Western Heritage. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.

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