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Journal Article

"Watch and Ward": James's Fantasy of Omnipotence

Michelle D. Nelson
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Vol. 29, No. 3, Psychoanalysis: Theory and Practice (Fall 1995), pp. 375-388
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42946293
Page Count: 14
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"Watch and Ward": James's Fantasy of Omnipotence
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Abstract

In Henry James's first novel Watch and Ward, the protagonist, a bachelor, adopts a young orphan and raises her with hopes of making her his ideal wife. The plot is a narcissist's dream-come-true, and the parent-child relationships in the novel, viewed from a post-Freudian perspective, illustrate the dynamics of an unhealthy enmeshment of the parent's motives and the child's defenses. Patriarchy proves fertile ground for this exploitative relationship, and pathological narcissism results. The male protagonist, struggling to feel powerful in a society that views many of his characteristics as more "feminine" than "masculine," "mothers" the young girl with clearly selfish (and symbolically incestuous) motives of his own and encourages in her development a compliant, "false" self that will meet his needs. The girl is not encouraged to separate and individuate but rather is manipulated to stay anxiously attached to the parent. The abuse is made possible by society's gendering of females to disavow their aggression.

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