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This Jungian Life

May 18, 2023

Something about a cat wearing clothes has captured our imagination for over 500 years, so it’s about time we tackle a Jungian analysis of Puss in Boots.

Anthropomorphized felines have enthralled us for half a millennium, making Puss in Boots perfect for our discussion. From enchanting fairytales of yore to modern viral videos, our fascination with pets in human attire and mannerisms persists. Whether a parrot blurting expletives or a dog groaning human words, we’re captivated. Through Puss in Boots, we might better comprehend this instinct to imbue our pets with our psychological traits.

This tale can be traced back to various oral traditions, but the rendition most recognized in the West is Charles Perrault’s adaptation during France’s fairytale golden era in the late 1600s. In this period of societal flux, with feudalism dissolving, bourgeoisie emerging, and royal power consolidating, Perrault’s cat symbolizes a social opportunist reflecting the aspirations of the rising middle class. The cat’s shrewd maneuvering through societal ranks and achieving change through cleverness rather than lineage resonated with the changing society.

While these socio-political shifts were relevant, they don’t fully explain the tale’s longevity. The enduring appeal of the shrewd, charming cat and his moral dilemmas suggest deeper, archetypal themes. Historically, cats have been associated with supernatural instincts, independence, adaptability, and boldness. Puss’ attributes echo these, drawing parallels to the feline goddess Bastet from ancient Egypt, renowned for her protective, nurturing powers and ability to speak like humans.

As modernity progressed and Cartesian dualism prevailed, animals and their symbolism lost their depth and voice. In studying the silent afflictions of the nervous system, Freud gave voice to suppressed instincts. Jung, however, restored their wisdom.

Fairytales, through symbolic imagery and archetypal motifs, still convey ancient wisdom our conscious minds have forgotten, appealing to our personal unconscious and reviving dormant truths. Puss in Boots epitomizes this restoration of life-affirming instinct.

The story starts with an old miller dividing his estate among his sons. Through a Jungian lens, we can see that physical and psychological inheritance shapes each son’s destiny. The eldest son inherits his father’s life, forsaking his individual path. The middle son aligns with the donkey’s value of unthinking hard labor. The youngest, bestowed the cat’s independent instincts, sets forth on a journey that will surprise him.

When our ego feels isolated, and the world’s promises seem hollow, we may finally turn to our instincts, symbolized by the feral barn cats of our unconscious. As we reconcile ego and instinct, our inner creatures are granted voices. This process translates archetypal images and emotions into thoughts and plans. Puss’ first request, boots, signifies the alignment of ego and instinct, marking the start of a spirited life journey.

The instinct to survive often overrides moral judgment, bringing forth the Trickster archetype. This is seen across the natural world as creatures employ deception and evasion for survival.

The war between human ideals and animal instincts defines us. An imbalance can have repercussions. The ultimate goal is an integrated stance that promotes a fulfilling life while contributing to civilization. The miller’s youngest son’s journey from despair to royal rule symbolizes the process of individuation encoded in the symbols of this enduring fairytale.

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