By: Nancy Gerber
Abstract: Tender is the Night inscribes themes of mental breakdown, narcissism, and death.
Through the lens of Modern Psychoanalytic theory, developed by Hyman Spotnitz, and
the False Self theory of D.W. Winnicott, the essay examines Dick Diver’s psychological
unraveling, which involves a descent from a position of power and adulation into shame,
and disgrace. In contrast to Freudian theory, which focuses on the role of the Oedipal
Complex, Modern Psychoanalytic theory explores the turning of early preverbal
aggression inward against the self, a process described by Spotnitz as the narcissistic
defense. Both Spotnitz and Winnicott explore how failures in the early maternal
environment, such as an emotionally absent mother, can lead to narcissistic self-hatred
and the development of the False Self personality. The manifestation of the False Self
personality in Dick Diver is discussed.