Maret 07, 2021



Oleh: Muhammad Alif Faturrachman

(Founder Mediatikusastra) 

The Call of Cthulu is a short story written by an American author Howard Phillips Lovecraft which also known as H.P Lovecraft. It was first published in Weird Tales magazine in 1928 and became the most notable short story by H.P Lovecraft that set the creation of the Lovecraftian genre, the Cosmicism philosophy, and the Cthulu mythos in modern days. The Call of Cthulu story revolves on a man named Francis Wayland Thurston which discovers several old notes belong to his late granduncle. Unbeknownst to him, these notes led him to discovers a grand conspiracy involving an ancient oceanic entity and its secret cults.

In this article, the writer intended to analyze the psychology of Francis Wayland Thurston as the narrator of the story. The writer employed psychoanalytic literary criticism theory based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theory as an approach and also used the descriptive qualitative research method by reading and taking notes on literary and internet sources. Furthermore, the writer aimed to analyze the characterization and a psychological phenomenon called “Xenophobia” also known as the fear of the unknown or stranger on the character of Francis Wayland Thurston on The Call of Cthulu short story. In addition, the writer also employed the theory of self-defense mechanisms which was proposed by Berger (2004), in order to identify the proofs of Francis xenophobic behavior through his psychological self-defense mechanisms which are; Selective perception; Selective memory; Denial; Avoidance; Displacement; Projection; Regression; Ambivalence; Fixation; Identification; Rationalization; Reaction Formation; Repression; and Suppression.

H.P Lovecraft introduces his early work with his own style of narration involving fear in the form of a phobia related to the human world. Phobia has an effect of overwhelming and unreasonable fear toward an object that provokes anxiety and avoidance, In addition, phobia is said to be a result of the unresolved conflicts between the id and the superego within human mind, therefore, the ego forced to please both sides by applying the self-defense mechanisms(Fritscher, 2019). There are several types of phobias that exist in the world and one of the most unique phobia is known as Xenophobia.the Xenophobia derives from the Greek words xénos, meaning 'the stranger' or 'the unknown' and phóbos, meaning 'fear', this means that xenophobia is a fear of the unknown, a strange things that have not yet discovered by the sufferer.

In The Call of Cthulu, Lovecraft provided us with an example of a xenophobic character, the narrator Francis Wayland Thurston, a man who suffers from the Xenophobia or the fear of the unknown.In the story, Francis Wayland Thurston is a well-known resident of Boston and also known as an anthropologist. Following his grand-uncle's sudden and mysterious death, he discovers and investigates the Cthulhu Cult. Along with his investigation, he writes the manuscript of "The Call of Cthulhu" based on his findings from his grand-uncle's notes, belongings, and his own discoveries. The transcript itself was divided into three parts: "The Horror in Clay," explains his grand-uncle's death, Francis discovery of his granduncle belongings, and also the story of Henry Anthony Wilcox, a hyper-sensitive sculptor from Rhodes island; "The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, "this part recounts a police inspector's encounter with the Cthulhu Cult on Lousiana; and "The Madness from the Sea," was the last part in Francis manuscript and was based on the discovery of a diary belongs to second mate Gustaf Johansen. Francis ends his narration predicting that he will be hunted by the cult or even Cthulu itself for everything that he has known.

It could be seen that Francis is struggling against his own fear. Generally,  in order to cope with phobia, human tends to apply the self-defense mechanisms consciously or even unconsciously to avoid things that they thought cannot handle. In this case, the writer is going to analyze Francis Wayland's application of a self-defense mechanism against his xenophobia.


Based on the analysis of The Call of Cthulu plot and characterization, it signified that Francis had xenophobia issues. Hereinafter, the analysis data of his narration further explains his implementation of several points in self-defense mechanisms both consciously or unconsciously which could be extracted as the following:
A.                 Denial
The first self-defense mechanism found on The Call of Cthulu short story begins with Francis’s early narration itself in the form of denial. According to Berger (2004), denial occurs when someone chooses to ignore a problem that actually exists and believes or pretends that it does not exist at all. Francis in his narration stated that:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” (Lovecraft, 1928).

This statement is a sign of his denial of reality as Francis stated that the inability of human mind to correlate all its contents is the most merciful thing in the world. Furthermore, this statement provides the first sign of xenophobic behavior through Francis’s way of thinking. In his narration, he mentioned that being unable to know everything that human did not know is simply an act of mercy by the human mind itself. Francis’s narration could be interpreted as his gratitude for his ignorance, on the other hand, this statement provides the clue of his fear of the unknown and his denial of the fact that it is an inability, not a gift. However, he thoughts that the inability to correlate all of human mind contents has saved him from the fact that there are a lot of unknown things that existed in this world and Francis himself did not know exists which made him feel threatened by those unbeknownst to him. Hence, Francis felt safe in his isolation from everything that he did not know by believing that his ignorance is keeping him safe from his fear of the unknown as a form of his denial self-defense.
B.                  Selective Perception
Another self-defense mechanism employed by Francis in The Call of Cthulu is in a form of selective perception. According to Berger (2004), selective perception happens when someone only hears and sees as well as believes something that makes them feel better. Francis, in his narration, stated:

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far” (Lovecraft, 1928).

He tends to be ignorance and choose the selective perception method as his self-defense which applies that he only sees, hears and believes things that he thoughts he could handle and choose to not meddle with things that he did not know. Furthermore, this narration gives us the glimpse of his selective perception as he narrated that we live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far, as this sentence is a perfect allegory of his own views of the world and the world that he wants to see. Francis in his xenophobic way of thinking has depicted his own perspective on the world around him, indicating that he only sees, hears, and believes what he desires to then ignore everything that he did not desire which he refers to as the sea that should not be voyaged.
Francis prefers to ignorance as his justification of his xenophobic behavior supported by the phrase which read that we live in a black sea of infinity. Generally, the color ‘black’ is always associated with fear, mystery, death, sadness, and many other things as black itself is the absence of color, thus, creating a persona of something unknown or strange. While, sea is always associated with vast unknown, dark, and deep part of the earth which human did not yet had the ability to correlate all of its contents; followed by a word infinity to emphasize a total ignorance of the world unbeknownst to him. He ends his narration by saying that we, human, should not voyage far into the black sea of infinity. Furthermore, the narration given by Francis indicated that he feared what he refers to the unknown, with black sea of infinity as an allegorical metaphor of the unknown things around him, meanwhile, he seeks justification of his fear in the form of an allegory of a placid island of ignorance, as he felt safe and peace if he chooses to know nothing while simultaneously threatened by the things that he did not knows about.
C.                  Avoidance
The third self-defense mechanism found on The Call of Cthulu short story shows how Francis avoids his fear. According to Berger (2004), avoidance occurs when someone stays away from people or situations that are able to make them feel anxious or uncomfortable. There is evidence of Francis narration imaging his way of thinking to support the use of avoidance which read as follows:

But someday, the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace of a new dark age” (Lovecraft, 1928).

            He emphasizes that knowledge could indeed lead us to our own doom, threatening our established position in the world just because we know too much about the entire world itself. Moreover, he said that if we are able to compile all pieces of knowledge of the unknown, then we will surely go mad in our own realization of what lies beyond our ignorance or fleed the unraveled world of knowledge into the safety dark age of knowing nothing.
            From this point, his narration implies that he does fear the unknown and tries to avoid it by any means necessary. He even mentioned that the risk of knowing the unknown might led him to become mad or even fleed into the safety of a new dark age, therefore, he chooses to remain ignorant of the unknown things that lie far beyond his own bits of knowledge.

D.                 Rationalization
The last self-defense mechanism which Francis used in his narration is ultimately called rationalization. According to Berger (2004), rationalization occurs when there is an offering of logical explanations or even excuses for any behavior that came from unconscious and irrational behavior and perspective toward something.
Consequently, Francis tries to explain each of his other self-defenses such as his selective perception, denial, and avoidance with slightly logical explanations that cause the readers to agree with his idea of xenophobic way of thinking. The reason of why he uses the rationalization is to conceal the motives that would trigger his fear and anxiety of his xenophobic issue and to self-justify himself.
Although that Francis does not mention directly about his xenophobia, the way he acts and thinks does actually give clues to the readers about the subtle symptoms of a xenophobic person. In addition, the proofs of Francis Xenophobic behavior based on the way he thinks, narrates, and the way he utilized the self-defense mechanisms against the things or knowledge that he does not possess nor he understands has been found and discussed thoroughly in this article.
The proofs that have been found in Francis narration signified that, in order to cope with the xenophobia within his mind that caused by the conflict between his id and superego, therefore, his ego employed the 4 out of 14 self-defenses to cope with the anxiety or the fear of something that he did not know. As a result, he chooses to deny the existence of the unknown world and appeal to this inability to admit the existence of the unknown as mercy, denying the fact that it is not merciful at all but inadequacy in his ideology which he believed in his denial stance. After that, He chooses to prefer his own perception rather than to see the reality as a whole to avoid the things that might trigger his traumatic memory or might be his fear of the unknown in his selective perception stance. Third of all, after he chooses to denied and prefers his own perception of the world around him, Francis chooses to avoid the things unbeknownst to him in his avoidance stance. Then lastly, Francis tried to rationalize all of his behavior and fear with a logical explanation to make sure that he does fear the unknown and all of his behaviors are the correct things that he should do in his rationalization stance.
 Therefore, the self-defense mechanisms work as a valid theory and tool to identify the sign of xenophobia in Francis characterization since self-defense mechanisms are commonly applied by those who suffer from phobia to keep themselves away from the sources of their fear and anxiety. However, due to the fact that the author himself did not mention the story about Francis’s past other than the fact that he has a granduncle and also an anthropologist, it seems to be impossible to deduce the original sources of his xenophobia that perhaps originated from his childhood or other traumatic events in his lifetime.


H.P Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu has presented to us a fascinating case of a xenophobic character in the form of Francis Wayland Thurston that can be analyzed using psychoanalytic literary criticism based on the Freudian psychoanalysis method. Analyzing the psychoanalysis method is a valid literary and psychology analysis since the fictional character represented real human life. The character itself is an imitation of the reality in which Francis does represents the characteristic of those who suffer from xenophobia or fearing the unknown. In this discussion, we have proofed that Francis does suffer from a psychological phenomenon known as xenophobia. The result of this discussion is that Francis does utilize several types of self-defense mechanisms to protect himself from the threats that he refers to as the unknown. The mechanisms itself include denial, selective perception, avoidance, and rationalization.

However, since his Cthulu narration is limited to retelling his uncle’s notes, an inspector story, and a sailor journal, it is difficult to find the sources and the reasons for his xenophobia. This difficulty also supported by the absent of Francis’s background or his childhood in the short story other than the fact that he is an anthropologist. Although the successes and fame gained by H.P Lovecraft because of this short story, he failed to fill in some plot holes and left a great amount of mystery surrounding the characterization and plots of The Call of Cthulu. Lastly, the character of Francis might have successfully represented the characteristic of a xenophobic person and how they apply the self-defense mechanisms, but the lack of personal narration by Francis Wayland Thurston has left some unanswered questions regarding his psychological characterization.


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Muhammad Alif Faturrachman kerap disapa dengan panggilan “Alif”, “Alep”, “Toad” adalah seorang pemuisi amatiran serta salah satu Founder dari Mediatikusastra. Ia memiliki passion di bidang desain grafis dan komputer dengan jejak rekam petualangan sebagai lulusan “terbaik” dari SMK Negeri 1 Sungailiat, sebuah gelar yang sengaja ia klaim sepihak agar terdengar prestis. Kini, takdir membawa Alif ke jurusan Sastra Inggris di sebuah universitas negeri di Indonesia, dimana ia harus meninggalkan mimpi menjadi seorang game developer atau seorang desainer grafis dan apalah itu mimpi-mimpi yang pernah ia impikan.

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