According to Freud and his psychoanalytic theory, girls must learn to mature sexually by navigating their way through the ‘Oedipal Complex’, and (somehow) repress their desire for their father. Rose, the young girl in The Tunnel, undertakes this journey, repressing her incestuous desire for her brother (as there is no father depicted in the family), ultimately accepting the power of the phallus as something she cannot have. In so doing, not only does Rose become sexually mature, she also learns to accept her role of subservience in a patriarchal world.
While some critics may contend that Browne’s beautifully illustrated picture book contradicts the gender stereotyping that can be common in children’s literature, through “the fantasy and symbolism of Rose’s quest…” suggesting feminine empowerment. However, I would argue that it is the fantasy and symbolism, and the complexity of the illustrations in this story that makes such a reading far too simplistic. Using psychoanalytic theory from both Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, I will be analysing Rose’s journey into maturity and normative sexuality.
When the reader is introduced to Rose at the beginning of the story, it is clear she is driven by what Freud calls the ‘Pleasure Principle’, or more specifically, the desire for sexual pleasure. The wallpaper that represents her room and personality in opposition to her brother’s, displays a pattern not unlike a woman’s reproductive system, indicating her preoccupation with her sexuality and gender. Browne also establishes a link between Rose and the story of Little Red Riding Hood quite early in the book; a fairytale often recognised as a story of a young girl’s first sexual encounter with a predatory or seductive male. Rose desires the man’s penis, or phallus, represented by the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. Not only does Rose read books of fairytales constantly, her room is decorated with a red cloak, a picture of Red’s encounter with the wolf, a cottage lamp (perhaps Grandmother’s house), and an arm emerging from the wardrobe reminiscent of grandmother. This link is significant to the development of Rose’s character, as I will discuss in more detail further on, and suggests her innate fixation with sexual maturity and pleasure.
Freud states that such desire for pleasure often occurs in the child’s unconscious mind, through three main pathways: dreams, parapraxes (slips of the tongue), and jokes. In The Tunnel, much of Rose’s desire for her brother emerges through dreams or fantasies. The first example of this can be seen during the night time, when Rose is in bed. Hiding herself under the covers, Rose fantasises about her brother “[creeping] into her room to frighten her”, while, “At night, he (Jack) slept soundly in his room.” The contradictory nature of the text suggests that at night, Rose’s repressed sexual desire for her brother emerges from the unconscious.
In western culture, incestual desire is viewed as highly taboo, abnormal and shameful, however, is central to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Subsequently, Freud suggests that as “these wishes (of incest) can’t be expressed directly in consciousness, because they are forbidden…”, they emerge through dreams. In addition, as discussed by Freud, often these forbidden sexual desires emerge in dreams “in strange ways, in ways that often hide or disguise the true (forbidden) wish behind the dream.” Thus, it is significant that in Rose’s fantasy of her brother, he becomes a character she identifies with from her stories as a strong, sexual predator or seductive man – the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. The mask of the wolf worn in the illustration not only suggests that Jack’s identity is hidden, disguising the incestuous nature of Rose’s desires, but implies Rose’s desire for a powerful man.
Rose’s forbidden desire for her brother and the fantasies she dreams of are only the beginning of her journey towards adulthood, or sexual development. Freud suggests that in order for the girl to become sexually normative (heterosexual) and navigate through the Oedipal complex, she must move past her sexual drives (such as masturbation), accept the truth that she has no penis (due to castration), and thus identify the male as the superior gender. She begins this journey by entering the tunnel and exploring the ‘dark forest’.
Freud proposes that “at puberty, sexual drives turn from being autoerotic…to being directed at an object, another person.” For Rose, following her brother into the tunnel is symbolic of this transition. The tunnel itself is described as “dark, damp, slimy and scary,” a metaphoric representation of the vagina, and Rose’s ‘penetration’ implying the desire for sexual pleasure, or masturbation. However, while her drives are autoerotic and preoccupied with her own body, Rose is also beginning to make the transition to desiring an object – in this case, her brother Jack. She does not enter the tunnel willingly, and this is stressed in the text as the narrator states: “What could she do? She had to follow him into the tunnel.” Rose’s desires are instinctual, and she is unable to resist her sexual urges or her desire for the phallus (her brother).
The forest, and the events that unfold there are central to Rose’s transition from a pleasure-seeking child to adult. In Freudian terms, the ‘dark forest’ is a representation of Rose’s unconscious desire for the phallus, indicated through the rich symbolic imagery in Browne’s illustrations. In the first image of the forest, the detailed bark of the trees camouflages phallic symbols, once again reflecting Rose’s instinctual desire for the phallus through the abstract nature of the imagination. There is also a hand penetrating a nearby tree, its thumb exposed, suggesting Rose’s autoerotic desire for clitoral stimulation. In addition, the quiet wood and the second illustration of the dark forest both feature blackbirds, a common symbol researched in dream theory and interpretation, often representative of the unconscious mind. Freud himself states in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, the bird is a phallic symbol, representing “absolute liberty” or freedom. In other dream theory, the blackbird more specifically can represent unconscious urges, the imagination, intuition, and hidden wishes.
If such symbols and their inclusion in Browne’s illustrations are not proof enough that the dark forest gives readers an insight into Rose’s unconscious, the double-page illustration certainly does. The fairytale references included in the illustrations – Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Jack and the Beanstalk – all feature powerful, masculine villains, intent on chasing and devouring the main protagonist. It is through these illustrations that Rose, in her unconscious mind, begins to “accept ‘the fact of her castration’” and “develops a sense of inferiority to the male.” In other words, by identifying the villains from these stories (the wolves from Red Riding Hood and the Three Pigs, and the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk) as masculine and possessing something Rose does not have (a penis), Rose is accepting her inferiority to men, overcoming her ‘penis envy’. It is also significant that the image of the wolf standing over Rose mirrors that of the wolf depicted in the picture in her bedroom, further suggesting that Rose’s fears are constructed representations of her own mind.
The forest, as a narrative construct, is also represented by Browne in another picture book, Into the Forest. In this book, the forest is “in terrain in which a young male protagonist imaginatively explores his anxiety about his father’s unexplained absence.” In both The Tunnel and Into the Forest, Browne creates an environment representative of the protagonist’s mind, a place in which they process and make sense of the changes in their lives. The forest therefore signifies, in Lacanian terms, the ‘realm of the Imaginary’, or otherwise, the phase of demand. According to Lacan, “the Imaginary is the psychic place, or phase, where the child projects its ideas of ‘self’ onto the mirror image it sees,” shifting its focus from identifying with a mirror image (or ‘other’), to developing ‘self’, or ‘I’dentity. Rose’s journey through this realm and seeking her brother subsequently represents her journey towards a solidified, sexually mature and gendered self.
Rose’s acceptance of her gender and sexuality, and thus inferiority to the man, occurs as she enters the clearing where her brother stands as a stone statue. The clearing, depicted with dark, ominous clouds above a field of stumps, emphasises the feeling of loss Rose feels. While this loss may be read as an expression of family love, as Rose grieves for her missing brother, there is also an underlying feeling of loss of the phallus. Thus, upon finding her brother has been turned to stone, Rose essentially ‘accepts’ that she has been castrated, and cannot have the phallus. Her brother is unattainable, and her dialogue indicated this realisation: “Oh no! I’m too late!”
To this point, we have discussed how Rose develops her gender identity and sexuality through navigating the Oedipal complex, and accepting the truth that she cannot act on her desire for her brother, or possess the phallus. However, how does she end her incestuous desire for her brother (or father, as Freud claims)? As Klages states, “Freud is at best fuzzy on this.” There are many theories about this process, but generally, Freud indicates the idea that women do not completely repress their desires at all. In his opinion, as girls have already been castrated and therefore lack this strong motive to repress forbidden desires as men do, they “never really do form a strong superego…” If we take this view, while Rose becomes sexually mature, and thus accepts her gender role and inferiority to the male, she does not fully suppress her incestuous desire. In the final image of Rose with her brother, the reader can see some of her desire resonate in her gaze as she smiles at Jack. Her gaze is almost seductive, soft and pleasing, indicating her new-found, mature, sexuality. Browne presents Rose as “not as moral or just as men,” ruled by her feelings throughout the entire book, and is a perfect example of the inferior, emotional woman Freud describes throughout his research of psychoanalysis.
The representation of gender through both text and illustrations also contributes to patriarchal empowerment. When the reader is first introduced to Rose and Jack, we are immediately aware of the stereotypical nature of their gender. Consistent with the description that they are “a sister and brother who were not at all alike,” Jack wears bright, primary colours while Rose wears pastel, secondary colours; Jack’s hair is fair while Rose’s is dark; Jack crosses his arms comfortably while Rose folds hers behind her. In addition, their personalities reflect the binary nature of femininity and masculinity, represented in the schemata set out by Stephens (1996):
Jack, by “throwing and kicking, roughing and tumbling,” embodies many of the above attributes in contrast with quiet, secluded Rose. Furthermore, despite Rose’s journey to ‘save’ her brother, and the apparent display of agency normally associated with masculinity, she remains non-violent, emotional and submissive. Indeed, instead of battling to free her brother, or using her intelligence or wit to win him (as is usual for the ‘hero’ in fairytales), Rose must simply hug her brother as she sobs about her apparent failure.
Stephens (1996) reflects that gender in children’s literature is “not simply an attribute of content or a reflection of cultural formation within texts. Rather, it exists in more complex ways which include the assumptions and expectations of authors and audiences…” In other words, gender roles and their creation depend on both the assumptions and expectations of the author, the reader, and dominant culture in society. Keeping this in mind, while Browne may appear to be creating a text in which femininity becomes empowered, thus breaking the typical fairytale mould of patriarchal power, his traditional representations of gender contradicts this message.
It is also significant to Rose’s character and gender construction that she wears a Little Red Riding Hood cape throughout her journey. Typically, Red Riding Hood is a girl represented as disobedient, unintelligent and helpless, dependant on a strong masculine figure (the woodcutter) to save her. Symbolically, Rose’s red cape contradicts Browne’s attempt to create a heroine, as it aligns her with Red’s character.
This contradiction emerges in another of Browne’s books, entitled Piggybook, and is discussed by Bradford (1998). She states that Piggybook “… [contests] the notion that if men and women simply exchange roles, gender equality will inevitably result.” While we are not speaking of gender as defined by their domestic duties, as in Piggybook, Rose and Jack nevertheless loosely exchange their generic ‘hero’ and ‘damsel’ roles. However, as we can see through Browne’s binary characterisation, and the outcome of Rose’s journey, The Tunnel is not a story of feminist empowerment or gender equality. Her journey through the Oedipal complex, her acceptance of a gender role characterised by passivity, and her inferiority to the man is subtly indicated on the final pages, where Browne illustrates Rose and Jack’s connection by placing his ball and her book on his side of the page. The image reminds the reader that Rose has accepted her place in patriarchal society, and the neatness of the closure, or ‘happy ending’, suggests that Rose is content with her gender role and identity.
 Bradford, C, 1998, p. 79.
 Klages, M, 2006, p. 63.
 Klages, M, 2006, pp. 64-65.
 Browne, A, 1989, page unknown.
 Ibid, page unknown
 Klages, M, 2006, p. 64.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Ibid, pp
 Ibid, p. 67.
 Browne, A, 1989.
 Browne, A, 1989.
 Freud, S, 1955, ed. by Richards, A, 1991, p. 518.
 Klages, M 2006, p. 71.
 Ibid, pp 71-72.
 Bullen, E and Parsons, E, 2008, p.1.
 Klages, M, 2006, p. 80.
 Ibid, p. 81.
 Klages, M, 2006, pp. 71-72.
 Browne, A, 1989.
 Klages, M, 2006, p. 72.
 Ibid, p. 73.
 Klages, M, 2006, p. 73.
 Stephens, J, 1996, pp. 18-19.
 Browne. A. 1989.
 Stephens, J, 1996, p. 17.
 Bradford, C, 1998, p. 80.