Free Essay Comparing Jokes: Freud and Douglas' Perspectives

Published: 2022-09-06
Free Essay Comparing Jokes: Freud and Douglas' Perspectives
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Psychology Anthropology
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1003 words
9 min read

The old man catching "fish" in a puddle is a funny joke. It turns out the old man's catch are people and not fish as evidenced by him telling the businessman, "You're my third one" when the business asks if he has caught any fish. The sociologist Douglas and the psychologist Freud would have looked at the whole funny situation very differently. According to Sigmund Freud, the proponent of the theory of psychoanalysis, jokes are told so that people can take pleasure in nonsense. Jokes work pretty much the same way the dreams of the unconscious mind does, in putting together contradictory ideas in a way that is unconventional, absurd, crude, disgusting and generally nonsensical. On the other hand, the anthropologist Mary Douglas emphasizes that jokes have implicitly unique meanings to a particular society and what might be perceived as a joke by one, could be an insult to another group of people. Freud thinks jokes are a form of personal dissent against social norms while Douglas thinks that jokes are part of an identity for a particular society.

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The explicit difference in the two characters is essential in the explanation of Freudian psychological logic. The two ideas are contradictory. On one side, the businessman is rich; supposedly he has his life figured out. The old man has a fishing rod next to a puddle. Hence, the businessman concludes that the old man is crazy; deranged is the exact word used. However, the old man never made any show of throwing the line in the puddle and reeling it in. If the old man had done that then the businessman and anybody else would have been right in thinking that the old man is deranged. The businessman's assumptions make him pity the old man, and he buys him to lunch at the coffee shop nearby. After the meal, which the businessman, obviously pays, he asks if the old man has caught any fish today.

"You're my third one" is the hilarious reply by which he learns that he is the third victim of the ploy in the day; which fulfill Freud's explanation of a joke being a technique of language; the use of fish as a metaphor to mean people falling victim to the old man's trick) and a result of intention; a full stomach for the old man. Viewing from intention, the joke is tendentious; as it degrades the businessman or generally the rich. In society there is classism from the poor to the rich; Freud would equate to the levels of consciousness to the different social classes of the two men. The poor old man represents the unconscious while the rich businessman is the conscious. The wordplay by the old man regarding fish is a crude and indifferent reality of the unconscious (poor old man) on the self (rich businessman). The rich man has every right to consider the whole joke utter nonsense, but obviously, the old man takes pleasure as he has made a habit of repeating the whole puddle and fishing rod scenario.

Mary Douglas focuses on the sociological perception of the joke; that a joke is not universal and it relies on an audience to appreciate it. From the joke of the old man and the rich businessman, the audience that appreciates the joke is the reader who sees everything from a neutral point of view. The businessman might be angered, disappointed, forced to seek some revenge against the old man or he might appreciate the humor though that looks unlikely. The joke is on him after all, and nobody likes being the laughing stock. According to Douglas, the Joker acts as a "ritual purifier," a sort of equalizer in social rites and forms. The old man could have begged the rich businessman, but that may not have worked. In any case, it would not have qualified as a joke.

The Joker (the old man) is free from the confines of reason and society. The joke, in this case, is a sort of justice, a form of equality in society against the differences in wealth between the two. The old man acts as an economic pivot where in that one moment between sitting around a puddle and sitting in the coffee shop, the rich man and poor man are of equal stature- one could walk into the coffee shop and think it is a meeting between two long lost friends. In a real sense, the rich man buys the old man lunch so that he can feel proud of his status. Probably, later on, he would have had a story to tell to his equally privileged friends. However, the joke is on him. The joke has a "subversive effect on the dominant structure," which in this case is the rich.

In conclusion, Douglas' explanation makes more sense than Freud's in the explanation of this joke. Freud's psychoanalysis focuses on the source of the joke; terming it nonsense to achieve pleasure, while Douglas focuses on the appreciation or audience of the joke. The primary function of a joke is to make people laugh. The sociological explanation given by Douglas makes more sense to that respect compared to Freud's psychoanalytical explanation which is rather complicated. Jokes are renowned for their simplicity, and a joker or a comedian's prowess is measured by how well the audience responds by laughing. While Freud's explanation is intelligent and could be accurate, Douglas' is simple and unassuming. The sociology of humorcontinues to struggle because jokes break social rules. Jokes while being well appreciated are difficult to understand how people feel appealing. Some of the funniest jokes involve making light of serious situations such as death, terrorism, racism and so on. Jokes are unbound from logic or societal constraints, and that is why explaining them wholesomely sociologically, even though many theories are attempting to do so, is very hard.


Douglas, Mary. "The social control of cognition: some factors in-joke perception." Man 3, no. 3 (1968): 361-376

Freud, Sigmund. The joke and its relation to the unconscious. Penguin, 2003.

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