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Simon Powers-Schaub ACF Abstract FY11

"His Dream, Her Reality: Two Principles of Mental Functioning in E.E. Cummings' Him"

American Literature Association Conference

Simon Powers-Schaub

This paper analyzes E. E. Cummings' three-act play Him in a Freudian manner. It takes the male lead, Him, as a representative of the pleasure principle, and the female lead, Me, as a representative of the reality principle. It begins with the biographical background of the play as described in Richard Kennedy's Dreams in the Mirror, and denies Kennedy's claim that Cummings was unable to unify the material of the play into a cohesive whole. It regards the play as unified along psychoanalytic principles, the two most prominent of which are the pleasure and reality principles. In true Freudian fashion, it begins with an analysis of a dream  Him's dream, as he recounts it in Act III, Scene V. This dream, in which Him confronts the daughter with which Me may or may not be pregnant, is the play's best example of Him's subordination to the pleasure principle and his inability or unwillingness to face reality, particularly the reality of Me's wanting to leave him, and not wanting children. It also reveals Him's refusal to grow up, a refusal that in some sense mirrors Cummings' own, and his anxiety about not being able to communicate with the child, and by extension, her mother. Ultimately, this anxiety leads to one final attempt, in the play's concluding scene, to communicate with Me, whose breaching of the fourth wall is here interpreted as a sign of her ability to embrace reality where Him cannot. This leads Him to realize the most painful reality of all: that nothing he has believed up to this point is real.