Freudian Psychology: Dirt, Desire, and Blame in Eden
For years I have been troubled by societies negative perception of Eve. Looking at three primary elements in this myth — dirt, desire, and blame — with a Freudian lens, I am able to find a connection between the fantasy of returning to Eden that has always seemed so incongruous to consciousness, and the demonization of Eve. The different roles played by Adam and Eve within this myth are not due to their actions but their internal motivations.
Dirt frames the story. It is the substance “the human” is made from, and must return to after a life of hard work. Only with the breath of God does this dirt animate into Eros, the drive to live (Downing 64). With the expulsion from Eden comes the fear of death, the curse of returning to dirt. This knowledge of a finite life is a by-product of being conscious and experiencing an individual identity.
Dirt is the drive towards death (Downing 65) that Snake “the unconscious,” so intimately moves through when he is cursed to slither on his belly. Having motivated the two to act on desire he is then relegated to the unconscious and cursed to be at odds with conscious humanity. Humans will try to kill the unconscious, in the form of repression (Freud 299), and the unconscious will bite them.
The Two must struggle to live in dirt after the expulsion from Eden. This is the loss of oneness with the parent (Downing 61). The struggle with the dirt outside of Eden becomes the struggle with the experience of loss.
Desire motivates the action of the story. Woman has desire for the fruit. This triggers the act of eating the fruit and in that moment knowing she is naked. The knowledge of nakedness is the separation from the other and simultaneous knowledge of self. Freud describes this as the first act of childhood consciousness (Downing 62). Yet Woman is like Oedipus, looking back to what has already occurred when she bites the apple. The separation has already taken place during the initial conversation with Snake. It is desire that marks the point of separation, the first conversation between the conscious and the unconscious that defines the existence of self.
Because of her act of desiring the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God curses Woman with longing for her partner. This second instance of desire is the result of wanting consciousness. This longing is not the wish to merge with an “other,” but the active Eros drive (Downing 64). It is a longing for love and connection with a specific partner. The curse is directly related to the transgression. Woman’s curse of longing for connection is due to Woman’s desire for the fruit, a wish to awaken to a connected self. If consciousness brings a self that is able to love (Downing 63), then love is the curse. Her desire for knowledge is akin to Oedipus’ need to know the truth about the oracle (Downing 61). With knowledge comes the punishment of knowing.
Blame defines the resolution of the story. When Adam blames the woman it is an act of Narcissism. He is fearful of God’s displeasure and wishes to avoid the pain of separation (Downing 63). He blames the woman because he was following her active desire. His action was out of a need to merge with Woman (Downing 63). Since he did not act from a place of truth seeking, Adam will never fully own his separation with God. He must struggle with the dirt of Death (Downing 65), because he is repressing his desire for self-knowledge. As a result of this repression he is cursed to live in a state of struggle not fully illuminated by his unconscious (Freud 299). His ego will act like a policeman keeping down truth and he will have to toil for the honest response.
Snake is Woman’s unconscious. The moment Snake arrives is the moment of Woman’s separation from the oneness with the parent (Downing 62). But when Woman blames Snake, she denies having an active role in following the voice of her unconscious. She is saying her unconscious made her do it. Because of this her curse is to know her unconscious, but be in constant threat of being swept up by it into intense Eros, desire, longing for a specific partner (Downing 63). This longing will exist even in the face of such an unacceptable consequence as domination of another. She is given a gift for having heard the unconscious, in that she will experience the benefits of the unconscious, her ability to create, but will have intense pain in the process.
It is the Adam nature in society that has relegated Eve, and in consequence woman, to the role of villain and temptress. The wish to be removed from the shackles of consciousness and merge back into Eden, the death drive, has placed many western thinkers at odds with the desire for Eros that Eve represents. Perhaps if we could overcome the ambivalence of Eve’s relationship with Snake, we could more easily revel in her gift of consciousness.
Downing, Christine. “Freud’s Mythology of Soul” The Luxury of Afterwards: The Christine Downing Lectures at San Diego State University 1995-2004. New York: iUniverse, 2004.
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.