Wild Things: Literature, Childhood, Psychoanalysis

The details
Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
31 March 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA C890 Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies,
BA C89A Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA C89B Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA C89C Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA L520 Childhood Studies,
BA L521 Childhood Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA L522 Childhood Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA L523 Childhood Studies (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

In his essays on psychoanalysis and literature, child analyst Adam Phillips observes that, for post-Freudian child psychoanalysts, the figure of the child helped make the unconscious more intelligible--a source of coherent narratives… describing the child was to describe the unconscious. The child was as it were the unconscious live: you could see it in action.

Taking Phillips assessment of the new importance accorded to the child in psychoanalysis, this module explores the connection between childhood, narrative, and psychoanalysis. To do so, we will examine the world of children's fiction broadly conceived--that is, we will read books not only for children, but also about children, from literary classics like Lord of the Flies to popular texts like Where the Wild Things Are.

Sourced across the 19th and 20th centuries, and depicting many different kinds of settings, these stories speak to the kinds of hopes and fears, desires and anxieties that have been projected onto childhood in the past two centuries: savagery, innocence, power, naturalism, animality, vulnerability, and unconsciousness.

Throughout this module, we will thus explore narratives about children and childhood with an eye to how these "childish fictions" might tell us something quite profound about how we narrate the unconscious of our selves.

This module builds further on the study of childhood and psychoanalysis that you have encountered in PA403, but aims to broaden your sense of how the unconscious emerges, and can be illustrated, in the field of children's literature. Texts will be used in part to index the increasingly close tie between childhood and unconsciousness throughout the 20th century, showing how literary narratives illustrate concepts important for childhood like the Oedipus complex, the Id, dreams, fantasy-life, and sexuality.

Students will also be encouraged to grapple with the conventions of literary study in its own right, understanding that narrative is the basis of psychoanalytic knowledge production and thus entertaining that even psychoanalytic accounts of childhood might be read as pieces of childhood literature.

Questions we will explore throughout the course include: How do different genres of children's literature construct fantasies of the child differently? What might these changing fantasies tell us about children's lived realities? And how might the skills of literary analysis help us re-encounter psychoanalysis as a narrative science, as a method based on better understanding the stories we tell about our own childhoods?

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

1. To introduce students to the rich field of children’s literature, focusing especially on the 20th century.

2. To use literary texts to think comparatively about the diversity of representations of children’s experience.

3. To help students better understand the different ways that literature and narrative interact with children’s lived psychosocial reality.

4. To prompt students to think critically about the relation between children’s fiction and the unconscious, imagining both how children’s fiction is used to elicit unconscious material and how narratives about childhood increasingly come to stand in for the unconscious.

5. To engage students in considering the problem of how to represent the unconscious in literature.

6. To introduce students to the field of literature and the work of literary criticism with the aim of helping them improve their skills as “close readers” of a variety of different texts.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module:

Students will become aware of the way that “childhood” is imagined and produced through literature.

Students will gain experience with the diversity of different representations of children and childhood and will be able to think critically about the relation between these representations and the psychosocial contexts in which they are produced.

Students will develop their abilities to reflect on the formal properties of fiction and literature from multiple genres, ranging from the fairy tale, to the novel, to the case study.

Students will become more knowledgeable about the theme of the ‘unconscious mind’ and ‘unconscious life’ in literary texts, especially as represented in and through childhood.

Students will be able to better understand how narrative structures psychodynamic and/or psychoanalytic theories of the child and the unconscious.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

9 x 1 hr lectures 9 x 1 hr discussion seminars 1 x field trip to children’s library/or school


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   In-class quiz 1    4% 
Coursework   In-class quiz 2    4% 
Coursework   In-class quiz 3    4% 
Coursework   In-class quiz 4    4% 
Coursework   In-class quiz 5    4% 
Coursework   Close Reading    30% 
Coursework   Essay    50% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Carolyn Laubender, email:
Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies
Student Administrator Room 5A.202 telephone 01206 874969 email



External examiner

Dr Angie Voela
University of East London
Available via Moodle
Of 41 hours, 39 (95.1%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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