A Jungian Approach to Ford Madox Ford's the Good Soldier; John Dowell Meets the Shadow

By Gordon-Dueck, Julie | Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, March 2004 | Go to article overview

A Jungian Approach to Ford Madox Ford's the Good Soldier; John Dowell Meets the Shadow


Gordon-Dueck, Julie, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology


In The Good Soldier John Dowell, as narrator, struggles to understand what has transpired in his relationships with his wife, Florence, and their friends, Edward and Lecnora. Ashburnham, over a nine year period. Dowell's quest for this knowledge is precipitated by discoveries of infidelity and suicide which challenge his long-standing belief that the upright appearances of these individuals represented their genuine natures. Baffled by the incongruence between appearances and internal motives, Dowell desires to know what truly lurks in the "heart" of human nature. More specifically, however, Dowell is struggling to come to terms with Carl Jung's concept of the "shadow." The shadow is broadly known as the deepest, most primitive part of the psyche, an archetype inherited from prehuman ancestors which exists in the unconscious and contains all the animal instincts and respective tendencies toward immorality, aggression, and passion. This essay will explore aspects of Dowell's arduous journey with the shadow by discussing his initial encounter with the shadow, his experiences with the shadow in others, and the gradual synthesis of his own shadow into his psyche which provides him with greater insight into himself and others.

The nine year Dowell/Ashburnham friendship provides a natural catalyst for Dowell's encounter with the shadow, for it is a ',young-middle-aged affair" which occurs while Dowell is 36-45, Florence is 30-39, Edward is 33-42, and Leonora is 31-40(12). Jung posited that middle-age, which he believed begins between the ages of 35-40, marked the time of life when one most fully encounters the shadow. Prior to mid-life, the individual is typically focused on establishing a role in society in order to survive. Most of one's energy is consciously invested in building the "persona," the archetypal public self, while stifling the instincts of the unconscious shadow. Although the shadow is frequently identified by its destructive/ aggressive potential, it equally serves as a dynamic reservoir of creativity, passion, and imagination. By making the shadow conscious enriching opportunities for improved insight, awareness of the larger world, and personality synthesis are possible. As a result, prior ideals and beliefs are often challenged and replaced by new ones. Jung compares middle-age to the sun's position at noon: "At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all ideals and values that were cherished in the morning. The sun falls in contradiction to itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays, instead of emitting the" (Jung 106).

As he begins to write his story, Dowell, at 45, is overwhelmed by his encounter with the features of the shadow he has discovered through Florence's and Edward's affair. Being confronted with the primal in these persons forces him to begin considering his own shadow, even if initially at an unconscious level. While this encounter would be difficult for anyone, it is especially difficult for Dowell, for he presents with what Jung referred to as an "inflation of the persona," the over-identification with the persona at the expense of under-developed parts of the personality, such as the shadow. John Sanford discusses the harmer in which Jung compared initially facing the shadow With alchemy. When one first perceives the shadow, it is like the stage of "melanosis" in which "everything turns black inside the vessel containing all the alchemical elements" until eventually there is movement toward the creative center of the self, a more realistic self-awareness is gained, and the "false persona" begins to dissipate (qtd. in Miller 23). Dowell reflects this process through the repeated phrase, "it is all darkness," which is especially prominent toward the beginning of the story but resurfaces throughout the narrative along with continual images of darkness and light as Dowell plunges deeper into his encounter with the shadow. Dowell also acknowledges that meeting the shadow is a type of "paradise lost" when he describes the date of Florence's suicide as "the last day of absolute ignorance and perfect happiness" (95). …

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