ArticlePDF Available

Utilizing the Concept of the Shadow in Fiction Writing in order to Facilitate a Dialogue between Ego Consciousness and the Unconscious

Authors:

Abstract

In the creating of fiction, the Jungian concept of the human shadow and the mechanisms of shadow possession and projection can be utilized in facilitating a dialogue between the writer"s conscious ego intent and her unconscious. This dialogue can assist in producing more psychically authentic fiction, in broadening a writer"s consciousness, and in enhancing the creative process. In Jung"s 1922 lecture, later translated and published as On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry, he distinguishes between an introverted and extraverted attitude in the creation of literature. "The introverted attitude is characterized by the subject"s assertion of his conscious intentions and aims against the demands of the object, whereas the extraverted attitude is characterized by the subject"s subordination to the demands which the object makes upon him" (p.73). In the first instance, the artist becomes "so identified with his work that his intentions and his faculties are indistinguishable from the act of creation itself" (p.72). In the second, the artist feels she is overtaken by something greater than herself, and must "follow where it leads" (p.73). In both attitudes, extraverted and introverted, Jung makes clear that "the act of creation itself" has an energy and movement, which is unconscious and separate from, though potentially identifiable with, the artist"s ego consciousness.
Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies
Vol. 2, No. 6, 2006
_________________________________________________________________________________
Utilizing the Concept of the Shadow in Fiction
Writing in order to Facilitate a Dialogue between
Ego Consciousness and the Unconscious
Madeline Sonik
In the creating of fiction, the Jungian concept of the human shadow and the
mechanisms of shadow possession and projection can be utilized in facilitating a
dialogue between the writer‟s conscious ego intent and her unconscious. This
dialogue can assist in producing more psychically authentic fiction, in broadening a
writer‟s consciousness, and in enhancing the creative process.
In Jung‟s 1922 lecture, later translated and published as On the Relation of
Analytical Psychology to Poetry, he distinguishes between an introverted and
extraverted attitude in the creation of literature. The introverted attitude is
characterized by the subject‟s assertion of his conscious intentions and aims against
the demands of the object, whereas the extraverted attitude is characterized by the
subject‟s subordination to the demands which the object makes upon him” (p.73).
In the first instance, the artist becomes “so identified with his work that his
intentions and his faculties are indistinguishable from the act of creation itself”
(p.72). In the second, the artist feels she is overtaken by something greater than
herself, and must “follow where it leads” (p.73). In both attitudes, extraverted and
introverted, Jung makes clear that “the act of creation itself” has an energy and
movement, which is unconscious and separate from, though potentially identifiable
with, the artist‟s ego consciousness.
In this paper, I wish not only to consider the creative relationship of ego intent
and unconscious psychic movement in the production of prose fiction, but also to
demonstrate how the Jungian conception of the shadow can be used in the
production of fiction. As a literary artist, I have become strikingly aware of the fact
that my writing does not issue from my ego‟s consciousness alone, that indeed,
conscious intent is only a limited function when not tied to the unconscious energy
and direction or what Jung calls “the creation of art itself.” As a creative writing
educator and former student, my concern is that creative writing continues to be
taught with reference to the conscious intention of the writer alone. In high school
creative writing classrooms, we see this particularly when the students‟ “story
outlines” become the definitive road maps for their creations. If the unconscious
should attempt to inform, and something surprising or unexpected should emerge,
Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies 2
the door is swiftly shut against it. Rather than learning to allow ego consciousness
to engage in a productive dialogue with the unconscious, or alternately learning
how to develop ego consciousness in an effort of its becoming a strong vehicle for
delivery of the unconscious contents, students learn to suspect anything they cannot
immediately own as their predetermined intentions.
Because educators neglect the important role of the unconscious in the
production of fiction and stress the student‟s ego intention, they also neglect
assisting students in developing useful tools and strategies for facilitating a good
creative relationship between the two.
One of the ways a writer may seek to facilitate the relationship between
conscious intent and unconscious content is by having, as a starting point, a
conscious intention of unearthing unconscious contentfor example, as I will
demonstrate in the following, by employing the concept of the Jungian shadow as a
tool in story production.
Carl Jung related a dream in his work Memories, Dreams, Reflections in which
he found himself in a windstorm carrying a small, flickering light while being
pursued from behind by a dark, overwhelming creature. On waking, he wrote: “I
realized at once that the figure was my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought
into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew too that this little light was my
consciousness, the only light I have. Though infinitely small and fragile in
comparison with the powers of darkness, it is still a light, my only light” (pp. 87-
88). He developed the term “shadow” as a metaphor for that part of the
unconscious that resides just beyond one‟s ego consciousness. The shadow is
composed of those qualities and traits that an individual has rejected. The collective
also has a shadow. In the collective shadow, those things that have been deemed
inappropriate in a particular society or culture reside; for example, greed, rage, and
hatred inhabit our collective shadow (Zweig, 1990).
In literature, the Jungian concept of the human shadow and the mechanisms of
shadow possession and projection can be identified in works such as The Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which a quiet, mild-mannered doctor, whose
conscious objective is to help humankind, becomes a lascivious, murdering beast.
There is a particular authenticity in this fiction, for although Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde, as they exist in Stevenson‟s text, do not exist and never could have existed in
the “real world,” the story conveys the psychic dynamic of shadow possession,
which is psychically credible, and in so being engages the reader. The same can be
said for the novel The Picture of Dorian Grey, which depicts the psychic dynamic
of shadow projection. Dorian Grey projects his shadow onto his portrait. It is his
own image that carries all the dark and unacceptable qualities of personality that he
himself wishes not to acknowledge. At the end of the novel, his desire to destroy
the portrait results from a final denial to carry his shadow.
3 Sonik
As a writer of fiction, I have found that by consciously using the concept of the
shadow in story production, I am more readily able to engage with unconscious
content. In the following pages, I will reflect upon two stories I authored in which
the psychological concept and mechanics of the human shadow were consciously
employed.
The first work in which I began experimenting with the conception and
dynamics of the human shadow is an epistolary story called “Abiding Peace.” I
began the story by envisioning the archetypal “good daughter.” I decided to conjure
such a character into being because at the time my mother had recently died; I was
struggling with my own inner “good daughter” shadow and attempting to find an
authentic place between this shadow and her opposite. Her opposite, in my case, is
what Jung might call “the resistant daughter.” According to Jung, both the “good
daughter” and the “resistant daughter” arise through a mother complex (Jung,
1982). The good daughter is unable to differentiate herself from her mother while
the resistant daughter, in order to differentiate herself, rebels against the mother.
“The motto of this type is, „Anything, so long as it is not like Mother!‟” (p.118).
Both these archetypal patterns when unconscious (as we can say of all unconscious
archetypal patterns) prevent the genuine expression of an individual. Without even
thinking, the daughter acts out of compliance or resistance to the mother, and often
it is only after the mother is dead that the daughter can begin to question her
responses and develop a stance of her own uninfluenced by her mother‟s taste,
values and attitudes.
In “Abiding Peace,” I had no preconceived notions of what this “good
daughter‟s” shadow might look like. In this story, I began with an attitude of
exploration and allowed the unconscious to supply the information. The name of
the character, “Dora,” arrived without my really thinking too much about it. Later,
when I reflected on the choice of the name, I associatively thought of “dormouse”
and considered how the name could be accentuating a diminished status. I also
thought of the French verb “dormir,” “to sleep,” and considered how this perhaps
could be telling of the great unconsciousness of this particular character. Rather
than taking control and consciously guiding the story in any given direction, these
realizations simply affirmed my trust in allowing the unconscious to inform. I
allowed Dora to reveal herself to me through the letters she was writing to her dead
mother.
The letter is a useful creative writing exercise both for fiction and non-fiction
writers and in autobiographical writing, particularly, can contain therapeutic
benefits. In fiction writing, the letter one character writes to another not only
reveals the conscious position of the character writing but also can work to reveal a
subtext or the “shadow story” that is intuitively pieced together by the reader. The
Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies 4
letter is an extremely good way of unearthing a character‟s shadow in that the
immediate subjectivity of a letter, particularly when it is directed to another
specific character, narrows the field of consciousness in a story. From a Jungian
perspective, the more limited the field of consciousness, the greater the impact of
the shadow.
In technical aspects of writing, we can consider this concept in relation to
points of view. A conventional first-person point of view will always be
immediately open to the strong influence of the narrator‟s shadow, since what the
character presents to the reader in the narrative is only ever what he/she is
consciously aware of. An omniscient third-person narrator, on the other hand,
possesses a broad and diffuse field of consciousness that can include that of the
many characters. The “shadow story” of the narrator, therefore, is absent, while that
of the characters themselves becomes more prominent.
As a writer, pursuing the shadow of the “good daughter” in “Abiding Peace,” I
attempted to remain constantly alert to the underside of Dora‟s statements. At one
point, she writes the following:
I‟ve realized for the first time in my life how much I depended on
your being here for me. When I was trying to make the
arrangements, I couldn‟t decide on the casket. It‟s crazy, but my
first response was to want to ask youand then I remembered you
were dead and I could never ask you anything again. I miss you,
Mum, and wish you were still here to tell me what to do. (p. 45)
Besides seeing the surface grief she is expressing at the loss of a maternal
advisor, I take note of Dora‟s paralysis, her seeming inability to act without her
mother. What is not directly expressed but shown in shadow is the frustration and
rage caused by being paralysed and dependent.
Again, as I wrote this story, I did not allow these thoughts to direct the course
of the story, but instead allowed them simply to inform the unconscious, taking a
position toward the story as a listener rather than a self-conscious creator. I allowed
Dora to write her letters, and I paid attention to what the letters saidboth what
they directly stated and what was indirectly shown. The concept of a writer
“listening” to her story as it unfolds rather than consciously directing the story‟s
unfolding is fundamentally opposed to what is taught in elementary and high
school creative writing curricula. Also, in university writing workshops,
approaches to the process of writing are rarely discussed, as the product itself
becomes focal.
The process of rendering by “listening,” and specifically in this instance by
listening to the character‟s conscious and shadow content of a developing work,
must be undertaken with an active consciousness; I therefore call this writing
process technique “conscious listening.”
5 Sonik
“Conscious listening” can be seen to work similarly to the “observer effect” in
quantum physics: the idea that “vigilance operating through continual observation
actually alters the physical atomic world” (Woolf, 1994, p. 70). In the instance of a
work of fiction, continual observation through conscious listening subtly delineates
a story‟s development—and it is the subtlety and the spontaneity this subtlety
produces that are of most value in this process technique.
When I began writing “Abiding Peace,” I didn‟t know that Dora had murdered
her mother and was surprised when the cumulative evidence she supplied, both in
her conscious narrative and its shadow, finally allowed me to figure it out. The
feeling, then, was not so much one of consciously directing an outcome as of
having witnessed the outcome and its inevitability.
The other story that I worked with using Jung‟s concept of the shadow is
entitled “The Black Wig.” The genesis of this fiction also has its roots in a personal
life experience. When I was a teenager, I worked as a chambermaid in various
hotels. In one particular hotel, there was a dowdy, timid maid with thinning hair
who had been cast in the role of scapegoat for all the housekeeping problems by a
rather domineering and bullying head housekeeper. The timid maid seemed to me
to have lost both her self-esteem and her self-respect. I asked myself where her
self-assertion, confidence and life force had gone. She seemed an extremely
responsible woman in regards to her work and family, but either through a martyr
complex or just a lack of self-esteem she was unable to stand up for herself.
Eventually, she was fired from this job and no one knew what became of her. Later,
when I learned about Jung‟s concepts of projection and the shadow and began
experimenting with them in writing, Lynne, the dowdy chambermaid, was a
character who came to mind as one whose unconscious must harbour many
collective and conventionally positive traits, such as assertion, animation and
dynamism. Her appearance in the world was that of the archetypal victim, who
through no fault of her own, other than perhaps an inability to believe she was
worthy of anything better, had become trapped in this great impoverishment.
When I began to ask the questions again, “Where did this woman‟s life force
go?” I thought of her thinning hair and then in my mind‟s eye saw the numinous
black wig, for things in the shadow tend to take on an eerie numinosity which can
attract and possess.
Unlike “Abiding Peace,” “The Black Wig” is written from a third-person
limited omniscient viewpoint, and therefore the shadow of the character is not
revealed so much by what she says and does not say as by what the narrator tells us
she thinks and does. As I watched, the shadow of the victim began taking shape
and taking possession through numinous and collectively loaded objects of a hotel
guest: a wig, some hand cream. It seemed inevitable that Lynne must dress herself
Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies 6
completely in the hotel guest‟s clothing. It also seemed inevitable that the head
housekeeper must catch her at it. What I was most uncertain about and what did not
reveal itself to me until the very moment was how she would respond to being
confronted. If I had tried to consciously direct the movement of the story at this
point, it is unlikely that the element of surprise achieved in the story would have
occurred. It was the character Lynne herself, in my imagination, who responded to
the confrontation by embracing the identity of the hotel guest. Her response
surprised me, yet was completely consistent with the development of her shadow
possession, which I had remained conscious of throughout.
Using the concept of the shadow consciously is a method writers and writing
educators can use that will provide greater awareness of creative writing processes
while producing psychically authentic fiction. Besides acknowledging the existence
of a discernable ego consciousness that must surrender to and/or collaborate with
the demands of the creative unconscious, such methods also promote an
opportunity to strengthen and trust the important creative communication between
the two.
Works Cited
Jung, Carl. Aspects of the Feminine. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1982.
Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Trans. C. Winston & R. Winston. New York: Vintage
Books, 1963.
Jung, Carl. The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1966.
Sonik, Madeline. “Abiding Peace.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine 577, 1990.
Stevenson, Robert L. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Hesperus Press, 2003.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Grey. New York: Modern Library, 1998.
Wolf, Fred A. The Dreaming Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Zweig, Connie. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. Los
Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1991.
Article
The novel manuscript Blue Horses (published as Dust, by Random House Australia under its Woolshed Press Imprint, July 2009) focuses on a dusty corner of 1970’s Queensland in this evocative tale of family, shadows that hang over from childhood and beauty found in unexpected places. Its protagonist, Cecilia Maria, was named after saints and martyrs to give her something to live up to. “Over my dead body,” she vows. Her battles with a six-pack of brothers and the despised Kapernicke girls from the farm next door teach her an unforgettable lesson that echoes down through the years. Now she’s heading back to where it all began, with teenagers Jed and Jenna reluctantly in tow. She plans to dance on a grave and track down some ghosts. Instead she learns a new lesson at the gravesite of an old enemy. The exegesis examines Jung’s concept of the Shadow Archetype as a catalyst for individuation in writing for young adults. It discusses the need to re-vision Jung’s work within a feminist framework and contrasts it to Julia Kristeva’s work on the abject. Alyssa Brugman’s Walking Naked and Sonya Hartnett’s Sleeping Dogs are analysed in relation to these concepts and lead into my own creative reflections on, and justification for, use of the Shadow conceptual framework. In following my shadow and establishing a creative dialogue between my conscious intent and unconscious inspirations, I have discovered a writing self that is “other” to the professional writer persona of my past.
Aspects of the Feminine
  • Carl Jung
Jung, Carl. Aspects of the Feminine. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982.
The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature
  • Carl Jung
Jung, Carl. The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1966.
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine 577
  • Madeline Sonik
Sonik, Madeline. "Abiding Peace." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine 577, 1990.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Grey
  • Robert L Stevenson
  • Mr Jekyll
  • Hyde
  • London
Stevenson, Robert L. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Hesperus Press, 2003. Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Grey. New York: Modern Library, 1998.
The Dreaming Universe
  • Fred A Wolf
Wolf, Fred A. The Dreaming Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature
  • Connie Zweig
Zweig, Connie. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1991.