Psychology Impact on Children in Dysfunctional Family

‘The Other’ by David Guterson is a novel that is psychologically deep and meaningful as absorbs in the inner world of its characters. The author absorbs in the ways of living a good life, adulthood and its compromises, youth and their idealistic principles. ‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson is a classic story that depicts the challenges of the adult life and the price of survival and loss. It means that the author also penetrates characters’ mentality to understand their psychology of life. Consequently, psychological issues of the main characters are the consequences of the dysfunctional entity of their families, the lack of love, mutual understanding, and warmth that make them the outsiders in the communities and searchers of the harmony with nature.

The main characters of ‘The Other’ are Neil Countryman and John William Barry. Although they have differences in social status; there is the unity between them based on their perception and vision of life. John William had a high social and economic status as his family was elite. Neil Countryman was from the family of the working class; therefore his family faced the financial issues. One should mention that both men are influenced by the family backgrounds and their attitudes to the materialistic things. It is evident that John is not pride of his elite origin and looks for the satisfaction in nature. Thus, love for nature and remote backcountry unites both Neil and John as this environment gives them the opportunity for the struggle and survival.


However, soon they should make their life choices that prove the differences in their psychological worldview. Neil decides to devote himself to family and become a schoolteacher. As to John, he wants to run from hypocrisy; therefore, he moves deep into the woods. Consequently, the differences in their life paths prove that Neil and John are different personalities and even their friendship cannot unite them further.

The behavior and motivation of Neil in making his life choice can be explained by his desire for calm and comfortable life. As his family is not rich as John’s one, he sees this comfort and satisfaction in materialistic things (career success, money earning). His psychological issue refers to fear, uncertainty, and dependence on the social stereotype of ‘American dream.’ It means that Neil is brave enough to overcome these clichés in his mind. The relationships of Neil with other people (friends, family) prove that his formula of happiness is living in the society full of comfort and innovative technologies. Thus, his psychological issues encourage him to choose materialistic American life. As Neil’s family had problems with money, this aspect has influenced his psychology making him obsessed with materialistic values.

The behavior and motivation of John show that he is ready to rebel against materialism, comfortable life, and even his personal values. Although John was raised up in a rich family, he does not strive for the similar life. The character rebels against the technocratic society so he lives in the cave and shows his love and admiration to nature. His psychological issue is the struggle in his minds as his actions are strange and odd for other people. John feels lonely and isolated among people; therefore, he looks for understanding far from civilization. As his family paid much attention to their social and economic status, John feels the lack of warmth and understanding.

Since childhood, John has been committed to the belief that there can be ‘no escape from the unhappiness machine’. The psychological challenge of John is that is looking for happiness not where other people see it. Thus, he regards Countryman as ‘a loyal citizen of the hamburger world’. Moreover, John William thinks that building a cave is more important than building the life as he supposes everything related to the family creation, entertainment, making money hypocrite’s values. Thus, living far from civilization is John’s way of running from hypocrisy. It means that this man pursues purity of thoughts and actions that was absent in his life and can be found in the natural surrounding. John William realizes that life is imperfect. However, he is an idealist; he is not ready to accept it. John William belongs to these others who can replace comfort, richness, and traditional values with life far from civilization. Mechanization is the progress of the society. However, the problem is that it makes people identical like zombie. Thus, John William rebels against this promoting his way of living. It is evident that his raising and childhood, family values have influenced him as a personality.

‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson is the novel that also touches the psychological issues of the personalities. The main characters here are Ruth and her younger sister Lucille and Sylvie who is looking after them. One should mention that Sylvie is a principal character who is an inventor of her life without any assistance. It is evident that deals with many psychological problems. First, the role of mother was imposed by her sister who abandoned her daughters. It means that moral and social obligation is like the milestone preventing from living her life. ‘Because, once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery’. It means that Sylvie is not afraid of her loneliness as it opens her many opportunities especially to remain with nature.

Lucille and Ruth do not understand Sylvie as they have the absolutely different values. They are afraid that she can leave them. It means that worry about personal comfort provided by her aunt. Consequently, another psychological problem of Sylvie is that she cannot find the mutual understanding with other people. The character runs to nature and finds the answers on her questions there. Sylvie does not always sleep in the house sleeping on the lawn. It is evident that this character does not feel protection, safety, warmth, and love. Thus, she unites with nature admiring with her lawns, valleys, and landscapes at different times. Sylvie believes that people who build houses cannot achieve the harmony with nature because the sun never reaches the grounds or houses.

John, the character of ‘The Other’ by David Guterson and Sylvie, the character of ‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson have a lot in common. First, one can say that their psychological state is the same as both characters are not satisfied with the traditional life in a comfortable community and look for the isolation. John William escapes the machine holing up in the woods. Sylvie goes out of the house and finds the satisfaction in dark evenings and walking in beautiful valleys. It means that both characters deal with the psychological problem of escapism, loneliness in the society with people, and dissatisfaction with a current state of affair. Moreover, both characters did not receive happiness and satisfaction from family life.

Second, both John and Sylvie do not see happiness in traditional American values like marriage and family. One can say that they get married to nature and its beauty. Both characters are outsiders as they are locked in their personal world created by them. It means that John and Sylvie are writers of their lives. Not without reason, John William states: ‘Satellites can see your thoughts, but not through rock’. It means that nature is his psychologist that can support, penetrate into mind, calm, and provide the shelter from the monster living in his head. Third, loneliness is the psychological issue that unites John William and Sylvie. It is evident that they are reserved while communicating with other people but open in the relationships with nature. They are not afraid of their loneliness as they can deprive of it escaping from traditional American life. Both characters have their values, attitudes, and behaviors that contradict to generally accepted social principles.

Another similarity between John William and Sylvia is the obsession with nature. One can say that it is like the psychological addiction that is in their minds as their thoughts are only in the environment. It is obvious that both characters feel the lack of love, warmth, respect, and necessary treatment from people. Thus, they receive them from nature and its eternal beauty. Other people think that they are odd and even crazy. However, John William and Sylvie do not care of their opinions. Another similarity between characters is their inability to socialize and integrate. John William fails to understand his friend Neil. As to Sylvie, she cannot find the common language with her nieces. One can say that these protagonists are locked in their world and do not allow other people coming there. Moreover, their psychological problems are the consequences of their childhood. Ruth states addressing her memories from childhood:

Then there is the matter of my mother's abandonment of me. Again, this is the common experience. They walk ahead of us, and walk too fast, and forget us, they are so lost in thoughts of their own, and soon or late they disappear.

Thus, the experience of Sylvie’s nieces has also influenced her attitude to life and family values. She realizes that the happy and rewarding family or dysfunctional one would leave the impact on their life.

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that psychological issues are the central aspects of both books ‘The Other’ by David Guterson and ‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson. First, both novels address such psychological issues as the problem of the outsider in the community full of people. Second, they describe the challenges of isolation that makes other people regard the outsiders as the odd strangers. The psychological problems of John William are loneliness, inability to socialize, and being an outsider. The psychological issues of Sylvie are related to nature addiction, inability to live a family life and find the mutual understanding with her nieces. It is evident that these psychological issues unite both characters. John William and Sylvie symbolize the pure minds that are tired of people who are obsessed with materialistic values. Moreover, both characters are the outsiders who have created their world confortable for the living. Furthermore, they were raised in families that did not bring them satisfaction and encouraged them to isolation and loneliness.

Apr 27, 2020 in Socioligy
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