- My So-Called Life (Pi... - #1 »
- Dancing in the Dark - #2 »
- Guns and Gossip - #3 »
- Father Figures - #4 »
- The Zit - #5 »
- The Substitute - #6 »
- Why Jordan Can't Read - #7 »
- Strangers in the Hous... - #8 »
- Halloween - #9 »
- Other People's Daught... - #10 »
- Life of Brian - #11 »
- Self-Esteem - #12 »
- Pressure - #13 »
- On the Wagon - #14 »
- So-Called Angels - #15 »
- Resolutions - #16 »
- Betrayal - #17 »
- Weekend - #18 »
- In Dreams Begin Respo... - #19 »
Chasing Angela: Multiple Perspectives on the Personality of Angela Chase
by Crystal Huff - June 5, 2008.
Angela Chase is a fifteen-year-old adolescent girl living in the town of Three Rivers, a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA. She is the daughter of Graham and Patricia “Patty” Chase, and four years older than her sister Danielle Chase. Angela’s family appears to be white, upper-middle-class. She is of average height, with smaller-than-average breast development for her age (much to her dismay), and wears loose clothing such as is common with her peers and the local fashion (MSCL:TCS, “The Zit”). She has recently dyed her medium-blonde hair a vibrant red called “Crimson Glow,” based on the recommendation of her new friend Rayanne (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”).
Angela is a sophomore in attendance at Liberty High School, where she is becoming close friends with Rayanne Graff and Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, two rebellious outcasts from the social hierarchy of the school. She is also distancing herself somewhat from childhood friends Sharon Cherski and Brian Krakow, although the influence they have on her life remains substantial (Wikipedia, 2008, “My So-Called Life”). In addition, Angela is developing an on-again-off-again romantic relationship with the main object of her obsession, an older boy by the name of Jordan Catalano. Angela is not sexually active, although she kissed three different boys before her relationship with Jordan Catalano began (MSCL:TCS, “Dancing in the Dark”). Sexuality is a contentious issue in Angela’s life, in part due to her decision not to have sex before she’s ready (MSCL:TCS, “Pressure”).
In interpersonal situations, Angela can be variable. She is reticent when talking about personal matters other than with her good friends, and she cuts short any conversation with an adult in her life, but she strikes up conversation with strangers about Anne Frank’s diary (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”) and can boldly initiate discourse even with boys she is enamored of (MSCL:TCS, “Self-Esteem”; “Betrayal”). Angela has an often-inharmonious relationship with her mother and is beginning to have conflict with her father, as well (Blais, 1997; MSCL:TCS, “Father Figures”) Angela rarely discusses her life honestly and openly with her parents at this stage in her life, but on the infrequent occasions that she does, it has great impact on her and them (MSCL:TCS, “On the Wagon”). She has been a good student in the past (MSCL:TCS, “Self-Esteem”), but currently chooses to spend time developing socially rather than prioritizing her scholastic goals (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”; “Dancing in the Dark”; “Self-Esteem”).
Angela is a very introspective person, with an ongoing inner dialogue about the world around her. She has a tendency to examine and analyze in depth, although she often keeps her analysis to herself. It is this introspection that she prizes in herself (MSCL:TCS, “Resolutions”), which also occasionally separates her from her peers, such as when she decides to leave the yearbook staff without giving the real reason for her departure. This action is one of many that drives a wedge between Angela and her former best friend, Sharon (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”). At one point, Angela considers making a New Year’s resolution to stop “getting so caught up in [her] own thoughts,” but she almost immediately reconsiders the decision because “what if not thinking turns me into this shallow person?” (MSCL:TCS, “Resolutions”).
Angela also has a wry sense of humor. For example, she says to herself, “This life has been a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received instructions on where to go and what to do” (MSCL:TCS, “Why Jordan Can’t Read”). There are many such examples of Angela’s sense of humor about her life, which often utilize cultural references (such as this one referring to the Emergency Broadcast System).
FREUDIAN PSYCHOANALYSIS & ANGELA CHASE
Dr. Sigmund Freud developed the first comprehensive theory of personality psychology. Freudian theory is based upon his topographical model (conscious, preconscious, and unconscious), structural model (id, ego, and superego), and the psychosexual stages of development (Sogg, Feb 2008).
Freud’s topographical model is a map, the details of which we cannot fully view in a person. According to Freud, conscious thought is what you know, preconscious thought is what you’re not aware of but could retrieve with little difficulty, and the unconscious is not accessible because of its content, which is unacceptable according to the standards of society. However, the inaccessible unconscious is the key to most everyday behaviors (Burger, 2008).
Freud’s structural model is of significant use to in the task of analyzing Angela Chase. Freud’s theory is that at birth everyone is born with only an id, buried within our unconscious, which is motivated only by selfish desires. The id’s actions are motivated by the pleasure principle, or “what brings immediate personal satisfaction regardless of any physical or social limitations” (Burger, 2008, p.45). When the id’s desires cannot be gratified due to practical or social constraints, the id can use wish fulfillment to satisfy its needs, imagining that the id possesses what it desires even if such can’t be attained in real life. Freud also argued that dreams are a form of wish fulfillment (Burger, 2008).
The ego of Freud’s structural model develops during the first two years of an infant’s life. The job of the ego is to “hold the id in check … and achieve gratification within the confines of reality,” much as a prime minister would do in the politics of the mind (Sogg, Feb 2008). Within the next few years of development, the third and final structure of personality forms, the superego. The superego “represents the ideals and values of society as they are presented by parents” or other figures of authority (Sogg, Feb 2008). Striving for perfection, the superego is comparable to a high priest in the mind, which is balanced out by the desires of the id (the “king” in the political analogy), and both of these are mediated by the ego (Sogg, Feb 2008).
Freud’s theory also involves two major drives, or instincts, of the psyche – libido (the sexual, life instinct) and thanatos (the aggressive, death instinct) (Burger, 2008). Freud initially asserted that the two instincts were in competition, but later concluded that they could work in concert. Angela herself ponders these aspects of her life aloud to Jordan, as they are breaking up, when she says:
“It is a big deal. I mean, because sex made your whole life start, and if you think about life as like a circle or something, then sex and death are the same -- look, I'm not I'm not saying they're the same, I mean, I've thought about having sex with you, and-and-and … God, I've never seriously thought of killing you, but …“ (MSCL:TCS “Pressure”).
Freud would argue that this is Angela asserting her libido and thanatos inclinations. Freud discussed libido as an attraction to all things pleasurable, rather than narrowly focused on sex, but Angela Chase primarily and explicitly concentrates on the sexual aspects of her interest in pleasure. Before they are dating, Angela declares herself interested in “either sex or a conversation – ideally, both” (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”). Angela is interested in sex with Jordan, but persuaded by her superego to postpone the loss of her virginity because it is unclear whether she is old enough to have sex, according to the standards of her society. Her friend Sharon has had sex and regrets it (MSCL:TCS, “Pressure”), while her parents send obvious messages of disapproval regarding sexuality by describing Angela and her peers as “children,” inherently incapable of sexuality (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”).
She regrets the decision not to have sex with Jordan at a later point. “I feel so stupid” Angela says, “My entire relationship with Jordan Catalano, every minute of it just completely sucked. And now it's over. I should’ve just had sex with him. Why not? It would’ve been so simple” (MSCL:TCS, “Pressure”). According to Freudian theory, Angela’s superego is battling with her id over the agonizing decision. The id wants to have sex, and the ego justifies it as a “simple” thing to do, but the superego affirms that Angela isn’t ready for sexual intimacy on that level.
When Jordan betrays the nebulous romantic relationship between Angela and himself by having sex with Angela’s friend Rayanne (MSCL:TCS “Betrayal”), Angela employs multiple Freudian defense mechanisms. She rejects the news initially, in unambiguous denial. Once the knowledge of the betrayal sinks into Angela’s consciousness, she withdraws from social situations with Rayanne for a period of time and displaces her anger with Rayanne and Jordan by lashing out at Brian Krakow, a much safer target for her outrage. The Freudian defense mechanisms of denial, withdrawal, and displacement temporarily protect Angela’s ego from knowledge with which she cannot initially cope. Rather than develop pathological levels of ego defense, however, Angela eventually faces the truth of the situation and moves on with her life (MSCL:TCS, “Weekend”; “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”).
Later, Angela becomes excited by the possibility that she’s beginning to get over the relationship with Jordan. She begins having sexualized dreams about another boy at school, Corey Hellfrick, in addition to her dreams about Jordan Catalano (MSCL:TCS, “Betrayal”). Angela describes her dreams about Jordan vividly:
“In the dream I keep having about Jordan Catalano, I'm trying to catch up with him... but it's hard, because there's something wrong with the floor. Sometimes my father's there. Sometimes my Great Aunt Gertrude's funeral kinda gets mixed in with it. The end of the dream is always the same. I catch up with him. I yell and scream -- how he hurt and betrayed me, how I can never forgive him. He just stands there, like someone caught in a storm who's stopped caring how wet he gets.” (MSCL:TCS, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”).
Angela’s association with her father and Jordan in her dreams is a combination of Freudian repression and wish fulfillment. Repression is a defense mechanism whereby Angela’s ego keeps the unthinkable desire for sex with her father out of Angela’s conscious thought by replacing him with Jordan, a more appropriate sex partner. Wish fulfillment is what Angela is doing by dreaming the actions she can’t take in her waking life. Angela, in the dream, punches Jordan and likens her attacks on him to a wet storm. In her unconscious, however, the latent content of the dream is her desire to be aggressive toward her father and the association between her father and the purported object of her sexual desire, Jordan. In addition, the death in of her great aunt is an allusion to the thanatos desire, and the wet storm is an association with childbirth, according to Freudian symbolism.
At times, Angela’s relationship with her mother Patty is very contentious. As she puts it, “Lately I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her... repeatedly” (MSCL, “Pilot”). Angela never acts violently toward her mother, but Freud would likely argue that this sentiment is an expression of Angela’s unconscious desire to oust her mother from her standing, toward resolution of the female version of the Oedipus complex. It is particularly interesting in light of Angela’s later thought, “My dad and I used to be pretty tight. The sad truth is, my breasts have come between us” (MSCL, “Pilot”). This reflection of Angela’s could be an example of the Freudian defense mechanism of projection. According to Freudian theory, Angela’s assertion that her father sees her in a sexual light could be her own sexual desire for her father.
Such discussion is related to the final major portion of Freudian personality theory, the psychosexual stages of development. According to Freud, adult personality is formed based on the experiences of infancy and early childhood. Angela, fifteen years old, is at the genital stage of development, post-puberty. Freudian theory suggests that her major task at this point should be finding an appropriate sexual relationship, assuming she has not previously developed a fixation due to frustration at an earlier stage of development (Sogg, Feb 2008). Because Angela exhibits little sign of fixation at previous stages (due either to frustration or overindulgence), for the purpose of this paper it is assumed that she successfully resolved all previous stage challenges. The possible exception to this assumption is Angela’s aforementioned consideration of her father sexually, which indicates potentially that Angela did not fully repress her sexual desire for her father or become identified with her mother in the phallic stage (age 3-6 years). This could explain why Angela’s clothing is often androgynous (although that is also somewhat the fashion of her peers), and why she argues so often with her parents, most frequently with her mother. If Angela’s psychic energy is partially bound up in this continuing Freudian conflict, she is actively working to resolve it by reconciling with her mother, pushing away her father, and developing appropriate sexual desires (MSCL:TCS, “Father Figures”; “Other Peoples’ Daughters”).
As a footnote, Freud’s theory regarding humor stated that most humor was based on jokes regarding either sex or aggression or both (Burger, 2008). Angela’s sense of humor seems largely wry and self-effacing, which could be considered a sort of self-aggression. Freud posited that humor is a method of catharsis, or tension reduction (Burger, 2008). One conclusion we can draw from Angela’s behavior is that she uses both wry humor and occasional bursts of singing to create catharsis for herself (MSCL: TCS, “Betrayal”).
ROGERIAN HUMANISTIC THEORY & ANGELA CHASE
The humanistic perspective on personality was developed to respond simultaneously to the negative, pathologizing view of human nature taken by Freud, and the scientific, conditioned view of behavioral psychology (Sogg, April 2008). There are four main elements of the humanistic approach to human personality theory: “1) an emphasis on personal responsibility, 2) an emphasis on the ‘here and now’, 3) a focus on the phenomenology of the individual, and 4) an emphasis on personal growth” (Burger, 2008, p. 290). Carl Rogers, the humanistic psychologist whose work this paper will utilize, postulated that humans naturally endeavor to gain a superlative sense of satisfaction with their existence (Burger, 2008). Rogers called individuals who reach this goal “fully functioning,” and described them as creative, self-guided, confident in their own judgments and perceptions (Sogg, April 2008).
Rogers’ work examined the difference between what he called the “social self” (or “ideal self”) versus the “true self” (or “real self”) using the “person-centered approach.” The true self, according to Rogerian theory, refers to a person’s state at birth. The social self is developed as a reaction to parental and social responses to the person’s behavior. Conditional positive regard (indications that you’re loved only when exhibiting behaviors desired by your parents or society) encourages an individual to reject the parts of the true self that don’t receive the positive response. Rogerian therapy involves reconciliation between the social self and the true self. Such harmony can be discovered through unconditional positive (self- and other-originating) regard (Sogg, April 2008).
Angela Chase receives both conditional and unconditional positive regard from her parents. Her father often encourages her and compliments her with unconditional positive regard, while her mother is sometimes prone to conditional positive regard and occasional negative comments (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”). As Angela matures, however, she learns to cope with her mother’s negative commentary without denial or distortion, and she gradually elevates her own opinion on matters over the high esteem she has for her father’s opinions and regard (MSCL:TCS, “Father Figures”). In this way, Angela approaches Rogers’ definition of a fully functional person – namely, someone who is open to all experiences, even painful ones.
Rogers theorized that it is incongruity, or dissonance, between the true self and social self that causes anxiety and the use of psychological defenses. If one is incapable of being open to all experiences and instead employs distortion and/or denial, Rogerian theory suggests this person is not fully functional. Rogers describes distortion as a defense mechanism by which the individual distorts their perceptions until they fit with their self-concept. Denial is a more extreme defense mechanism similar to the Freudian conceptualization of denial, through which a threat to the person’s self-concept is denied completely. The knowledge of the threat remains contained at a level below consciousness, which Rogers called subception (Wikipedia, 2008, “Carl Rogers”).
Angela Chase is keenly aware of her true self and social self. “It just seems like you agreed to have a certain personality, or something,” Angela says, “For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, how do you know if it's even you?” (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”). In terms of Rogerian theory, Angela is perpetually on the brink of her own reconciliation between the two selves. She occasionally submits to social pressure, such as when she allows untrue rumors about her sexual history to remain unchallenged when they afford her social benefits (MSCL:TCS, “Guns and Gossip”).
Eventually, however, Angela always decides in favor of her true self and prioritizes reality. In the face of social pressures great and small, Angela prefers to view the world as it actually is. For example, Angela quits the yearbook staff because, as she says,
“It's like everybody's in this big hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened, but it's not even what really happened, it's what everyone thinks was supposed to happen. Because if you made a book of what really happened, it would be a really upsetting book” (MSCL:TCS, “Pilot”).
Angela’s confidence in her own judgment is strong enough that she opts not to buy into the social pressure involved in creating a fraudulent yearbook. In order for Angela’s growth to proceed, “she must define herself in terms of her individuality and not in terms of her relationship with another” (Blais, 1997, para. 3). This is in line with Rogerian congruence. Although Angela momentarily uses the Rogerian defense mechanisms of denial and distortion when learning about Jordan and Rayanne’s betrayal (MSCL:TCS, “Betrayal”), even in such a crisis, Angela reevaluates her relationships with both parties and decides to accept their actions and prioritize her own needs rather than create additional dissonance between her social and real selves.
Angela is also able to perceive her own beauty despite having acne on her face, which society tells her is ugly. Rather than bow to the pressure of social values, Angela reflects,
“Sometimes it seems like we're all living in some kind of prison, and the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It's good to get really dressed up once in a while, and admit the truth -- that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they're actually beautiful. Possibly even me” (MSCL:TCS, “The Zit”).
Additionally, Angela has a healthy respect for the “here and now” aspect of Rogerian theory. As she muses,
“People always say how you should be yourself. Like your self is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you know what it is, even. But every so often, I'll have, like, a moment when just being myself, and my life, like, right where I am, is, like, enough” (MSCL:TCS, “Pressure”).
Angela is constantly searching for the existential discovery of her true self, and at the same time, it is essential to her growth that her self continue to evolve and change, making it an elusive target. At times, however, Angela could meet Rogers’ definition of fully functional, by virtue of living in the moment, having confidence in her own judgments over the opinions of others, and creating at least momentary congruencies between her true self and social self.
EVALUATIONS & CONCLUSIONS
Freudian theory describes many aspects of Angela Chase’s life. Angela’s use of defense mechanisms, her conflicts with her parents Patty and Graham, and even her humor can be easily explained by Freudian theory.
The trouble with Freudian theory is, however, that it pathologizes every thought, every action. There is no “fully functioning person,” according to Freud, which means that there is little room for the concept of Angela Chase as a well-adjusted teenager. Angela is, nonetheless, a reasonably good sample of just such a one. She negotiates the treacherous environment of high school with mistakes, and she often comments internally on how conflicted she feels about her life, her role in others’ lives, etc. One could argue, however, that it is precisely this internal awareness that keeps Angela from becoming pathological. Even during her crises, Angela retains perspective on the events of her life, such that she successfully withstands each trial. Freudian therapy would do little to help her discover herself, one concludes, and that is the apparent goal Angela aims to reach.
Humanistic theory is able to encompass more of the positive aspects of Angela’s personality. Rogers’ work embraces the independence and introspection that are Angela’s key traits. However, it doesn’t cover the full range of who Angela is because it’s such a nebulous theory with little practical opportunity for application. The complexity of Angela’s behaviors and personality is lost in Rogerian theory. In addition, Rogerian theory does not have a clear response to Angela’s feeling that her budding sexuality has come between her and her father.
The fundamental problem with the theories under consideration is that they apparently can’t encompass the whole person. Freud’s theories are neither parsimonious nor comprehensive. Rogers’ theories are comprehensive but unscientific, difficult to test or prove. Both theories have aspects which are obviously applicable to Angela’s life, but by definition they can’t both be fully correct. Freudian theory concludes that Angela’s libido is partially fixated on an unresolved (feminine) Oedipal complex. Rogerian theory views Angela as nigh fully functional, having at least momentarily reached the peak of health.
It is logical to conclude that no one discipline in the field of psychology can encompass the entirety of human experience, particularly as the depth of human experience expands daily. Angela Chase is one such example of human experience, whose “so-called” life cannot be defined in this way.
Blais, William. “The Geometry of Angela’s World.” 1997. Online essay. MSCL.com. Retrieved May 4, 2008, from http://www.mscl.com/angelasworld/0202_geometry.html
Burger, Jerry M. (2008) Personality. Blemont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Seventh ed.
Carl Rogers. (2008, May 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:41, June 4, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Carl_Rogers&oldid=212443916
My So-Called Life: The Complete Series. Dir. Scott Winant. Perfs. Claire Danes, Jared Leto et al. 1994. DVD. BMG Special Products, 2002.
My So-Called Life. (2007, December 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1:42, June 3, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=My_so-called_life&oldid=176582243
Sogg, Stephanie. Freudian Theory Lectures. February 14th and 21st, 2008.
Sogg, Stephanie. Humanistic Perspective Lecture. April 24, 2008.