The Effect of Bad Parents, Emotional Deprivation and Shame on Adolescent Characters in the Works of Alan Duff
The detrimental consequence that an inadequate, unloving and abusive childhood can have on the psychological development and psychic stability of a child or teenager is a prevalent theme in Duff’s writing. All of Duff’s characters deal with issues of lovelessness and unworthiness born from inadequate parenting. The majority of Duff’s troubled characters have two parents who are, more often than not, unemployed drunks who have always neglected their children in favour of feeding their own addictions. Some of Duff’s youths are lucky enough to have one good parent; however, in these cases, it is still apparent that one inadequate parent is sufficient to cause significant damage to a child. In his novels, Duff’s focus is on the type of adolescent into which these unloved children grow. He depicts the turmoil they experience on a daily basis; he portrays their eternal search for parental replacements and love as well as the lengths to which they go in order to ease the hurt and shame with which they struggle as a result of being unloved and unwanted in childhood. It is surprising, therefore, that critics have typically overlooked this facet of Duff’s work in favour of concentrating on more general criticism of his controversial attitude towards Maori culture and/or violence. This thesis aims to rectify this imbalance by discussing a variety of Duff’s youthful, highly troubled protagonists in terms of their abnormal emotional state and development. To address Duff’s overriding preoccupation with the catastrophic effect of a loveless childhood, I have relied on psychoanalytic insights into abnormal childhood development. By using a psychoanalytic theoretical framework, I uncover a whole dimension to Duff’s writing that has, thus far, not been adequately explored or understood. The first chapter of this thesis sets up a psychoanalytic paradigm, outlining certain psychoanalytic theories that relate to the characters I go on to discuss. This provides a lens through which to look at the thought processes, behavioural transgressions and manifestations of shame with which Duff’s characters struggle. Moreover, psychoanalytic theory is often accompanied by real life examples gleaned from the clinical material of the psychoanalysts themselves. This real-life facet to psychoanalysis gives weight and credibility to my assessment of Duff’s characters, as I am able to compare them with and contrast them, to real people and real-life situations. In chapter two, I align the psychoanalytic framework from chapter one with Duff’s early male characters, who are portrayed as doomed to self-destruction. Chapter three deals with Duff’s more recent male characters, who go through a process of enlightenment and are portrayed in a far more redemptive and optimistic light. Finally, in chapter four I look at Duff’s female protagonist, Lu, who exemplifies Duff’s interpretation of a female reaction to shame, and whose experience illustrates how Duff, in his latest novels, attains a far more hopeful vision for the future of children with unloving families. Apart from shedding light on some of the subtle insights into childhood psychology that Duff demonstrates throughout his writing, this thesis provides a substantial base for further work on this topic.
Advisor: Fox, Alistair
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: parents; emotional deprivation; shame; Duff, Alan; psychoanalytic approach
Research Type: Thesis