Mental Illness and Its Complexities

The mentally ill psyche: always alluring, always a question in itself. Fowles dives into hyper-reality and those who live within its bindings, thus creating an air of curiosity and intrigue within “The Collector.” The entirety of the novel revolves around the main character’s rationalization for kidnapping a girl, divulging his internal logic behind his thoughts and actions. But once you hear the kidnapper’s, Clegg’s, explanation, it creates an essence of sympathy and empathy for his situation: falling in love with a beautiful, alluring woman and wanting to make her his partner in life.

Due to the fact that two out of the three sanctions of the book was written through Clegg’s eyes thus leading to such a connection or understanding, demonstrates the power of a novel’s point of view. It then also leads the audience to experience the character’s life vicariously. His emotions become your emotions. His rationales become your rationales. His thoughts soon become your thoughts.

His understanding of his past and his rationalization for his future, like I mentioned before, allows us to sympathize with Clegg since we believe he is mentally ill. By labeling Clegg as “sick”, we automatically create a divide between “us” and “them”, the healthy and the ill. We (the healthy) go throughout our day believing we have a superiority complex, that we do not have the chance to act upon urges much like the impulsive or unstable. But we ultimately do see his logic, yet he is blatantly kidnapping Miranda without her consent. It shares the idea that we all may possess a form of mental illness if we can see the rationale behind such a travesty. But then is there a range of mental illness? Or is this notion of mental illness nodding to our society’s fabric? Always acting upon impulse. Always rationalizing bad behavior. Always finding shades of gray, and not steering towards pure morals. It then prompts the question, is humanity inherently bad or inherently good? Do we act and think upon morals, or do we disregard them to find pleasure elsewhere? Is that what constitutes mental illness?

The American Psychiatric Association, known for its prestige in the realm of psychiatric and psychology, has tried to define mental illness, and its origins. They have said that mental illnesses are rather common; the more severe the disorder – the more rare it is, suggesting many people suffer from light mental instabilities. Statistically speaking, one fifth of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, which can also be seen within the younger generations of school children. And those who suffer continue to function in their daily lives, although with varying impairments. The APA considers the causes of mental illnesses can not be traced. While there are no specific origins to be recorded, research has led to the belief that there is an interaction between genetic dispositions and environmental factors, poverty and stress (Stein et al).

Also, the Canadian Mental Health Association has taken it upon itself to describe mental illness as accumulation of “[altered] thinking, mood or behavior, and impaired functioning over an extended period of time” (“What is Mental Illness?”). The circumstances of each person’s mental illness effects the symptoms, depending on the severity of mental disability. The onset of a mental illness is considered to be a combination of biology, social environments, genetics, and physical places. And traumas of any kind can start and restart symptoms, or the mental illnesses.

In relation to “The Collector,” many of the characters can be considered part of the realm of mental illness. First and foremost, Clegg embodies instability, convolution, and utter narcissism. While he was never diagnosed with a disorder, we do see the oddities that make up his behavior throughout his everyday life. He is challenged with anxiety when dealing with true, raw reality, never willing to accept it for its whole being. Also, his perspective of himself and of others lacks any truth or light, for he is the only one to “see” others for their disgusting sexual tendencies and nothing more. Due to the fact that he has never groveled in such distasteful frivolity, Clegg is then above the masses. He “hate(s) the uneducated and the ignorant. (He) hate(s) the pompous and the phoney,” clearly displaying his lack of understanding that those who considers to be in said class are all of humanity (Fowles).Continually looking down upon others if they exhibit poor behavior or habits, all the while it being socially acceptable for the average man.

To look further into the origins of mental illness, specifically Clegg’s, we can uncover theories that try to explain its complex being. George Engel, a psychiatrist of many forms, created the biopsychosocial model which helped to pinpoint the causes of any mental illness, and the possible relationships between different factors. The creation of such a model was not based off of his sole work, but an accumulation of research taken over decades, even centuries of time. Engel saw the importance of “biological contributions, thoughts and perceptions, social pressures, and environmental stressors, the presence or absence of nurturing and consistency of love, core values, and self-worth” upon an individual’s psyche. He believed that there was not one factor that could be blamed for mental imbalances, rather it is a cumulative effort of life itself. And to best heal the illness, there needed to be recognition of all that could influence the psyche (Smith). To fully understand the complexity of its influences, Engel created a hierarchy of factors, alongside the biopsychosocial model.

 

The top of the hierarchy begins with the largest element that could possibly influence: the biosphere, which can be seen as the physical environment. It moves down to society and cultures, the social implications that can be found wherever you may step foot. Gender roles, sexual stigmas, racial differences, ultimately complete misconceptions. Further, it goes to community (influences in public) and then family (influences in privacy). Then, it filters down to two person, meaning interactions with others. One person then means your own thoughts and perspective on people, things, life in general. The latter half of the hierarchy comments on the anatomical influences that can and cannot be seen (Engel).

The application of the biopsychosocial model to Clegg’s character shares the notion of his insanity and how it comes to be. The most striking of influences can be seen through society and cultures, especially due to the fact that Clegg is a heterosexual male. Throughout time, men were given the sole task of providing a life, and thus a home, for their child-bearing woman. And if not, those are considered to be ‘failures’, and not worthy of respect and appreciation as individuals. All males can see such influences when deciding which career path to take and which woman to put a ring on. And Clegg succumbed to the pressure of finding the woman of his dreams, by choosing a girl through a window.

The community and family determined why he chose Miranda as his partner for life as well. The community stresses the idea that one must find a woman who shares the same values and morals that are wished to be taught to children. Since Clegg never out-rightly witnessed Miranda’s sexual or impulsive side, he held the perception that she was an upstanding individual, following a just life and never falling into desire. His family molded the choice as well, by Miranda being the antithesis of Clegg’s mother. His biological mother was “floozy” as she decided to give birth to a child, and never commit to raising it to the best of her abilities. She lacked any sense of nurture, of love, of compassion, of care. When all the while Miranda embodied all that the mother was not – continually helping others when need be, and earning respect by displaying demure, feminine characteristics.

The anxiety displayed whenever Clegg interacts with others makes one wonder if there is an underlying reason for such odd behavior. Since it was never divulged in the book, the audience can only assume that the abandonment of his parents played a large role. The absence of a loving mother and a protective father prompted the thought that he was not worth the time or the effort, further creating fear with every interaction that the abandonment may occur once more. And growing up in an unconventional household did not allow Clegg to fully and freely express himself. The over-swelling of anxiety, and fear of oppression and depression led to his choice of kidnapping an innocent girl. Forcing the “cell” to be in his home would allow him to progress into a relationship at his own speed, that way he can gain comfort ability without the fear of Miranda leaving.

Also, the thoughts Clegg share within his “diary” or “autobiography” do not evoke a sense of stability or comprehension of others and their emotions. Instead, he clearly focuses on his needs even if they disregard the livelihood of others; for his wants are much more prevalent and important. Clegg’s weapons of choice were “selfishness and brutality and shame and resentment,” and they were outward representations of his ideas, values, morals, or lack thereof (Fowles). His superiority was only a figment of his imagination since, realistically, he was a kidnapper of the innocent and he saw no need for any repercussions. It was love or the want of love that drove Clegg to act out and kidnap Miranda, and in his mind, he was doing what hyper-reality told him to do: find a woman and make her yours.

Then if Engel’s model is applied to Miranda, we can easily see the development of her mental illness through the circumstances she was faced with. The family strata, or private setting, she was forced since being kidnapped without any consent brewed a stir-crazed woman, living in a four-walled basement with a make-shift bathroom, one bed, and similar settings as a magazine, as fake and unrealistic as it may be. Without seeing the break of day for months and months on end, she could only surmount to the shell she was bound to be. She lost all tangible connections to the outside world, creating a void in community, society and cultures, and two person interactions. The only outward interaction Miranda truly had was with her kidnapper, a deranged sociopath, and herself. But her sole companion being herself, especially when seen through her writing. The reflection seen through her words was the only true friend she had, since she lost all that held personal validity and reality. The last remnant of life beyond being books of different genres, but all manufactured and falsified. Being completely removed from all that creates any influence strips Miranda of any identity. And biologically, Miranda’s illness took a toll on her to where her psyche then accepted her kidnap, when no one ever should.

Another psychologist by the name of Sigmund Freud created a theory that described the structural psyche, and where possible illnesses can manifest themselves. It can be characterized best as an iceberg, the very bottom being the unconscious mind. The unconscious is clearly a compilation of suppressed socially-unacceptable urges and outbursts, the id. It also can be seen as the storage of unwanted, oppressed thoughts and memories that are viewed as traumatic and/or shunned within society. The brooding portion of the iceberg is considered the pre-conscious where the super-ego is primarily located. It is the embodiment of morality and values as it critiques actions time and time again. The conscious mind can be see at the tip of the iceberg, mediating between the impulses of the id and the morals of the super-ego to construct the ego. The ego can be seen through one’s actions since it is simply a negotiation of sorts, sacrificing desires to please the masses (Freud).

Clegg’s psyche development could be based on his childhood, or lack thereof. Instead of living in frivolity and innocence, he lost both of his parents at a very young age, essentially making him an orphan. His mother was best described as “flousy”, which only adds to the Freudian idea of mother abandonment issues. The lack of motherly attention fuels the absence, leading to anxiety and pressure of oral fixation and anal control. Then Clegg wishes to overcome these traumatic experiences that are repressed in the unconscious, and he consciously decides to kidnap a girl to deal with his female issues. Yet his impulse to kidnap Miranda was not delegated with the super-ego. No morals were taken into play, and the ego did not justly decide a healthier form to cope with womanly abandonment, thus festering a seed of mental disorder.

Miranda never truly divulged her past in the novel, but we can assume that her super-ego played a large part in her psyche development. It can be seen with the nature of her kidnapping that she was never truly comfortable with sexuality and bodily freedom. Her mind then “suppresses” the urges that were most likely formed by childhood experiences, as she was taught that “it” was distasteful. But once she is placed in an unconventional setting, referring to the basement, Miranda begins to have unconventional thoughts that disrupt her usual pattern of chaste thinking. The constraints of her kidnapper forces her id to be placed in survival mode, the most primitive of states. She tries to use her sexual charm to control Clegg, but it does not work due to his oppressed experiences as well (Fowles 232). But it makes you ask “why does she have difficulty expressing her sexuality? What happened? And why use sex as a tool to escape?” Mental instability can be easily seen once personalities change, as well as ideas of good and bad. 

It can be seen through the definitions found and the theories uncovered, that those who walk these very halls, who consider you as a friend, or who stare back at you in the mirror suffer from a mental illness, severity varying from minimal to insufferable. And most of the time, it will go completely undetected, only claiming that there is something off or odd. In my deepest belief, I believe we all are a little mad. But who wouldn’t think that same notion? As a whole we are human beings, with no divides. And as a whole, we purposely hurt others for our own enjoyment, wish for others’ demises, and wish to benefit ourselves on our rise to success. We are humans, ego, greed, and all. But those main components that make up our manly composition our what makes us sick in the head, for our morals do not coincide with such monstrosities.

Be aware of the next interaction or even the next thought that passes through your conscious mind, and consider the madness that can ensue. And hopefully we can resurrect such a devastating reality, but if its truly engrained in our beings, how so? That is what we will just need to wait and see. 

GROUPS WHO DETERMINE  “MENTAL ILLNESS” (** referenced beforehand):

**American Psychiatric Association –

http://www.psychiatry.org/about-apa–psychiatry

**Canadian Psychological Association –

http://www.cpa.ca/

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