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Id, Ego and Superego with Examples from Life of Pi

Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality

According to Sigmund Freud, there are three fundamental parts of the human psyche – the id, ego, and superego. Freud believed that the human soul is shaped like an iceberg, with the tip being the ego and superego, and the bottom of it being the id.


Id

The id is the personality component made up of “unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs and desires”. The main principle of the id is that it relates to pleasure. It motivates the survival instincts or even sex drives. This personality is completely and hopelessly unconscious. Our most animalistic urges such as drinking water when feeling thirsty, or (a hungry baby) crying until it is fed is present from birth, whilst ego and superego are not present from birth, and develop from around the age of 3-5.

Ego

The following scenario is going to help show how ego is developed only in later stages (after id):

Toddlers, if thirsty, would drink from the closest cup of water they could see, even if it’s not theirs. As the toddlers grow up, they start to learn to be patient and wait for a refill, no matter how tempting the closest cup of water – that isn’t theirs – is. This is the ego taking charge. In a healthy, natural psyche, your ego is always the one in charge. Everything your human psyche wants needs to go through the ego.


Superego

Superego is present in the unconscious, just like id. However, the difference is that the superego is a part of the unconscious that is the voice of conscience. Superego involves the values and morals of society, usually learnt from parents. For example, people with strong superegos and health psyches will notice that there’s a chance for them to quickly steal something. However deep down, they know that stealing is wrong, so they decided to not act on their impulsivity. In this example, both the ego and superego show up. The superego here reminds oneself that we should stay honest and refrain from stealing. The ego makes the final decision to not act on her impulsivity.


To put it simply, id creates demands, while ego and superego bring in aspects of reality and morals respectively.


When the three personalities don’t balance


One definition of anxiety is when one’s id and superego are in conflict. However, let’s take a look at what happens when the id or the superego becomes too powerful for one’s ego.


When id is too strong

  • become impulsive and uncontrollable

  • (harsher conditions) may become a criminal or theft

  • (harsher conditions) become sex addicts

  • become more self-centered


When superego is too strong

  • push others away

  • feel stagnant in (romantic, family, workplace) relationships

  • feel isolated / experience depression

  • (harsher conditions) result in drug addiction

  • produce strong feelings of anxiety and guilt


Life of Pi (movie) - involves heavy spoilers !!

Life of Pi, although mainly shines light on religions, also brings in an element of Freud’s theory of personality.

  1. The hyena on the lifeboat is an example of id, because of how it killed the zebra due to hunger. There was no superego or ego that could have stopped it from killing the zebra. This also shows what imbalance of personalities can do to us.

  2. Some researchers believe that Richard Parker, the tiger, is actually a symbolism of Pi’s id. Richard Parker is the one who kills the hyena, which is parallel to Pi killing the cook (another version of the story he tells to Japanese reports at the very end of the movie). Richard Parker is Pi’s survival instincts (id), which we are all born with the moment we are born. In both the novel and the movie, Pi tells us that Richard Parker is the reason why he had a chance to survive. This could be the hidden meaning for Pi’s natural instincts.

  3. Another example is when Pi struggled with killing the fish for Richard Parker and himself to eat. In this situation, his superego makes him hesitant to kill it. He subconsciously knows that he should not be killing a live species due to religion, and also knows that he should not be eating fish (he is a vegetarian because of his religion). However, it’s interesting to see how Pi’s id (survival instincts) is powerful enough to take charge over the superego and ends up killing the fish for the two of them.


SOURCES:

Exploring "Life of Pi" from a Freudian Perspective (December 5, 2013)



Id, Ego, Superego (2021)


Life of Pi (directed by Ang Lise, 2012)


Breaking the Chains: Finding Relief from a Harsh Superego (April 26, 2017)


McLeod, S. A. (2019, September 25). Id, ego and superego. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html


Researcher - Hailey


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