The work of Ian McEwan
: a psychodynamic reading of his work

  • Bernie C. Byrnes

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis traces the 'metaplot' of Ian McEwan's progress, through his professional writing. Completely unknown in 1971, his work has attracted increasing recognition, culminating in the Booker prize in 1998.
Early in his career, he gained access to elements of his unconscious through free-association, active imagination, meditation and the use of recreational drugs. These elements, which surfaced gradually and piecemeal, include strong feelings associated with the Oedipus complex, difficulties with masculine self-identification, feelings of rejection, unresolved grief, wishes to regress to the latency period of childhood, and sexuality contaminated with anal-sadistic power issues.
McEwan dealt with these themes by creating characters who expressed them through sexual deviations and violence or acted them through to their logical conclusion. Thus he was able to confront previously repressed aspects of his inner life and resolve some of his emotional problems in safety, while availing himself of rich material for his fiction.
His writing is not autobiographical, but it will be demonstrated that events in his life and his changing beliefs and values are reflected in his work. He achieves an illusion of authenticity by including real people and events, familiar to readers from recent history and the news, in vividly described settings. He shares with the reader his interest in advances in science and his concerns about the dangers facing mankind and the evils of authoritarian and patriarchal structures in the microcosm and macrocosm of human institutions. He synthesises these components under a strong narrative shelter of complex plots, dramatic suspense, unexpected thrills and shocks.
The psychodynamic interpretations offered in this thesis depend on a detailed study of McEwan's published work. Their aim is to isolate the separate threads in the fabric of his fiction and demonstrate the maturation and increasing sophistication of his work.
Date of Award1999
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Newcastle University
SupervisorJohn Saunders (Supervisor) & Kiernan Ryan (Supervisor)

Cite this