Almost everyone has heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It was a story designed for the purpose of teaching little children that they shouldn’t talk to strangers. Much like this familiar childhood story, myths were created for a number of different purposes. Some describe the world at hand, while others teach members of the culture of origin what is right and wrong. Also, connections can be made with myths from different cultures, or can acknowledge certain fears or struggles in the culture.
Sigmund Freud, and Austrian psychologist, dealt mainly with this last function of myths. He believed that everyone had an Ego, Super-ego, and Id in his/her mind. The Id is the part of the mind that deals with emotions and primitive instincts, namely sex and violence. The Super-ego is almost like a conscience in that it advises the Ego on how to deal with the Id and punishes the Ego for allowing the Id to take control. Finally, the Ego is stuck in the middle, and has the strenuous occupation of trying to strike a balance between the Id and Super-ego.
The Indian myth, “The Tiger, the Brahman and the Jackal,” can be analyzed from this perspective. According to Freud’s theory, the Tiger would represent the Id, while the Brahman would represent the Ego. The pipal tree, the buffalo, and the road would all be examples of Super-egos.
The Tiger is a character that is completely ruled by his Id, especially the part that concerns aggression and violence. The first evidence of this is seen at the beginning of the story when he is caught in the cage. He tries to free himself, but “rolled and bit with rage” when he failed. Here, he is letting his Id get the better of him. If he had tried to rationalize a means of escape instead of losing this temper, it would have been more productive. This display of aggression is not what impairs the Tiger, though. His reaction to the imbecility of the Jackal is what finally does him in. The Jackal that the Brahman meets while he is seeking counsel doesn’t seem to understand the situation, but thinks it will make more sense if he goes to the place where it happened. He vows he will never understand, though, even after the Tiger explains it. The Tiger, “in a rage at the Jackal’s stupidity,” says he’ll make him understand. After much impatient explaining by the Tiger, the Jackal asks “what is the usual way” of getting into a trap? Disgusted, the Tiger loses his patience and jumps into the trap in order to demonstrate, at which time the Jackal shuts the door on him. Consequently, because the Tiger allowed his Id to take over, he ended up back where he started before the Brahman came along.
The Brahman is the perfect example of the Ego. He is just a typical hard-working guy who’s trying to do the right thing. However, when he lets the Tiger out of the cage, he loses control over the Id. Then, his job as the Ego in this story is to find a harmonious balance between the conflicting desires of the Id and the Super-ego. First, he must find out what the Super-ego advises, “and abide by the decision of the first three things he chose to question”: the pipal tree, the buffalo, and the road. None of them are much help, though, and the “Brahman turns back sorrowfully” to meet his death at the claws of the Tiger, but is saved by the cunning Jackal. Usually, the Ego is a simple, misled, or confused character (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being an example of misled Egos), but he/she always at least tries to do the honorable thing. Often, the Super-egos are more help than in this story, though.
Some might question the interpretation of the pipal tree, the buffalo, and the road as Super-egos. They could argue that since none of these objects actually advise the Brahman on what to do, that they do not fit the true description. However, advising is not the sole requirement for a Super-ego. Another function of it is to punish the Ego for allowing the Id to escape, which can be taken quite literally in this case. So, when the tree says, “Don’t whimper – be a man,” and the road exclaims, “How foolish you are to expect anything else!” this could be interpreted as punishment for letting the Tiger out of his cage. He goes to them for advice, but they punish his stupidity by refusing to help him and the Brahman must fend for himself.
However one chooses to interpret the characters in this story, it is obvious that they represent the many different personalities of our subconscious. According to Freud, we all have violent tendencies, a conscience-like Super-ego, and a “neutral self.” Whether or not one chooses to believe this is not wholly important. As long as the reader realizes that it is all right to have these tendencies, then the story has succeeded in its purpose.