The Collector - John Fowles : psychological interpretation
June 21, 1989

" To what extent is the novel a study in psychology? "

" However bizarre the behaviour of men, tribes, or nations may appear to an outsider, to the men, to the tribes, to the nations their behaviour makes sense in terms of their own world views ". 1 . This quotation taken from " Individual in Society " is a summation of the character of Fred Clegg, in the novel " The Collector " John Fowles' book is the extension of this idea : it is based on the behaviour of two people as they relate to each other within their forced environment.

When discussing "to what extent is the novel a study in psychology" a clear definition of the term "psychology" is needed. Psychology is the science of the mind; the study of why people, and animals, behave as they do. Contrary to popular belief, psychology does not only deal with the minds of the "mad" or "crazy" but also with those of "normal" people. In the novel " The Collector " , John Fowles has explored the minds of two people, Fred and Miranda, abnormal and normal respectively.

The novel is divided into four sections. It is Fred's retrospective account that dominates the narration of the story. Fred is an unreliable narrator: this is because he is an abnormal character who's beliefs contrast with those of society. Thus as readers we find it hard to identify with him.

His account begins with a detailed description of the woman he is in, what he would term, "love". He is obsessed by this woman "Seeing her always made me feel like I was catching a rarity" but he is cautious of her and never speaks to her. He admires her from afar. Because of Clegg's fear of approaching Miranda he dreams about what it would be like to have her as wife. He lives his life mainly in fantasy. "I used to have daydreams about her, I used to think of stories where I met her, did things she admired, married her and all that" It is these initially "nice dreams" about her, that lead to "nasty dreams" when her spies her with other men. It is this jealousy that eventually leads to Miranda's capture by Clegg.

In his introduction to Miranda, Clegg also introduces himself; his pastimes. We learn that Fred is a "collector", of butterflies, and also of pornographic magazines and photos. "I was not different, I can prove it ...I started to get interested with books of stark women and all that". In this line Clegg is showing that he has uncertainty about his behaviour. He is trying not only to convince the reader that he is not "different" but also himself. It is this line that first introduces the idea that Fred Clegg is abnormal.

Fred also has a rather perverted way of interacting with society. His initial purpose in buying a camera is to observe butterflies, one of his only purposes in life, but he soon discovers that he can take photos of " the things couples get up to in places you think that they would know better than to do it in". Clegg relates to things that are dead , or that have no animation in any way. He can only deal with things when he is in control: the photos and the butterflies are subject to his control "Photos can't talk back"

This behaviour of Clegg relates to the "id" of psycho- analysis. This concept of the subconscious was first introduced by Sigmund Freud. He proposed the idea that the personality is divided into three major systems: the id, the ego, and the superego. These three systems are theoretically in constant interaction with each other.

According to Freud's later works the id is the subconscious. It is the desire for happiness; the person's actions are impulsive. The ego was then the conscious and is the calculating of ways to achieve this happiness. The superego is another concept. It belongs to both the conscious and the subconscious: "it is something that keeps the happiness calculator within the bounds set by society". 2 The superego is something that introduces the social norms. It is the person's conscience.

When Freud's theory of the subconscious is applied to Fred it is obvious that he operates on the id and the ego of the mind. It is the missing superego and that separates him from society; from the readers. Although Fred is able to realise his desires and calculate how to fulfill them, he is not able to keep the reasoning of his actions socially acceptable and humane.

"I worked for a month or more getting my plans ready" said Clegg, during his preparations for Miranda's arrival. He has recognised what would make him happy and has calculated how to achieve this satisfaction. His first reaction after the actual kidnap was that "She was mine". He didn't even consider the implications of his act or what Miranda wanted; only that she was finally his.

His buying of the house and the actual dreaming of the kidnap are also done impulsively; subconsciously. " All this time I never thought it was serious. I know this must sound very strange, but it was so." Fred's life and plans are all fantasy, he lives in his own ideal world and wants everyone to conform to this ideal. He is constantly referring to "in my dreams".

The next section of the novel is Miranda's diary. Unlike Fred's account, it is written in the present tense and hence is concurrent with the events. Miranda represents the "normal" mind. The purpose of her diary is to contrast her views of the events with Fred's: thus we are given the "normal" mind verses the "abnormal" mind.

Through Miranda's diary we, the readers, are introduced to another character; G.P. Miranda cannot talk to Fred as she finds it hard to relate to him. He does not have the same depth of compassion as she. It is because of this that Miranda creates G.P.

G.P. is a dialectic for Miranda. Through her diary she is able to mentally converse with him about the issues she finds important: these issues are also important to the readers as well. She imagines his reactions to the topics and forms her own line of argument. By relating these issues to G.P. another point of view is given.

By capturing Miranda Fred has destroyed any chance of her being able to form a relationship with him. He has deprived her of her freedom. This is another contrast between Fred and his captive, Miranda. Although physically apart, Miranda is still able to continue her relationship with G.P. It continues to grow and it helps her to maintain her sanity. She utilizes her time to come to terms with herself, her love for G.P., and, on a broader scale, her life. " "I love being to the full, I love everything which is not sitting and watching." But I'm not being to the full at all. I'm just sitting and watching. Not only here. With G.P."

Fred the "abnormal" male who is contrasted, both structurally and thematically, with Miranda. Miranda is a "normal" female who is naive, sexually and initially mentally. Unlike Fred, Miranda grows as a person. G.P. adds another dimension to this contrast of characters. Compared to Fred he is a "normal" man, and through his behaviour the readers perceive a male should act. G.P. is also contrasted with Miranda. To her he is the parental, worldly male. He offers her a new aspect of observing life and many of her later thoughts and actions are guided by him. "He's changed me more than anything or anybody." and "List of the ways in which he (G.P.) has altered me." These quotations are taken from Miranda when she begins to appreciate the effect G.P.'s friendship has had on her.

"The Collector" is not only a study of the distinct abnormal and normal sides of psychology, but also follows the mind's deterioration. It looks at what happens when the mind is under stress. Fred is the example of the abnormal mind. Although Miranda has many escape attempts Fred's attitude doesn't change. It is not until Miranda needs a doctor that we can see that Fred can not follow things through. Fred is missing the superego system of the personality which means that he can not feel guilt.

Miranda is originally of normal behaviour and sound mind. She is able to see that everything is not clearly defined. She grows and matures and begins to empathise with others; even though they contrast her beliefs. "I'm trying to explain why I'm breaking with my principals (about never committing violence).You have to act and fight for yourself." Her thoughts are recorded in her diary. Initially her entries are long, continuous as her thoughts flow. Gradually there is a noted difference in the format. The paragraphs are disjointed, her thoughts, single lines. This shows the slow wearing down of her mind until her sickness.

During her sickness she is violated by Fred through photographs and her lack of freedom. Although determined to survive, she catches Fred's cold "I've caught his cold. It doesn't matter". Living on a false sense of hope, she is determined to survive as Fred disillusions her. Thinking she is going to be allowed to live up stairs, the cold doesn't matter.

After Fred shatters Miranda's hopes the diary entries become different. They no longer have a date. The passages are just words. There is no sense of structure or order. Her confused mind is reflected by the lines on the page. Miranda loses her sense of reason "People won't admit it, they're too busy grabbing to see the lights they have fused. They can't see the darkness. The black and the black and the black." Miranda finally despairs and her cold turns into pneumonia. "This pain, this terrible seeing-through that is in me now. Gives birth to nothing. All in vain. All wasted." Miranda can not see any purpose in anything. She despairs and although trying not to die, has lost her fighting spirit and gives up.

"The Collector" is a study of the minds of two people, and therefore is a study in psychology. It explores the thoughts of a psychotic man and the effects his radical behaviour has on an originally sane mind. By using contrasts for each thought presented, Fowles has effectively presented the two mental extremes of society.