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Shadow Beast: Anzaldua's Inspired Exploration of Jung's Shadow

The present article argues that Gloria Anzaldúa’s concept of “The Shadow Beast” in Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (2015) was inspired by Carl Jung´s concept of the shadow which refers to the unconscious aspect of the character or personality that is out of pace with the ideal version individuals aspire to be, which he referred to as the ego ideal. In accordance with Jung's concept, the shadow stands for a psychological cognitive blind spot, or a fundamental component of who we are that is completely unrecognized. It represents a component of the innate nature of the mind that resides in the unconscious mind: “The shadow coincides with the "personal" unconscious (which corresponds to Freud's conception of the unconscious).” (Jung, 1959, p.284) Thus, the shadow encompasses characteristics that individuals often fail to recognize as their own and it is made up of our repressed urges, thoughts, impulses, as well as flaws and faults. It represents a fundamental component of a person's psyche that encompasses the unconscious area of the mind where vulnerabilities and hidden aspects of their personality dwell:

This meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is. (Jung, 1959, p.21)

As can be interpreted from the quote above, in the beginning, the contact with the inner self implies facing the shadow, which might be compared to passing through a little opening leading to the self. Hence, to determine the genuine identity and develop a thorough awareness of the self, learning self-knowledge becomes crucial. Yet, Jung states that the existence of an ego ideal alongside the shadow leads to the rejection and resistance of the shadow, consequently resulting in the refusal of certain aspects within every self: “The shadow is the dark side of our nature - all that we see as being inferior or uncivilized. It often appears in dreams as a dark, usually rather negative figure, who is always the same sex as the dreamer.” (Jung, 1959, p.p 284-285) There is repression of psychic contents within the shadow, therefore, this process of self-discovery is marked by its intrinsic difficulty since any individual must experience the terrible limitations that come with exploring the depths of the psyche.

Figure 1: Shadow Self. (Dae, 2019)

Anzaldúa confronts the part of herself that seems to be at conflict and decides to embrace the aspects of her personality that make her feel restless. Her description of embracing the Shadow Beast matches Jung´s portrayal of the shadow as an intrinsic component of an individual's psyche that represents the unconscious realm where weaknesses and unacknowledged aspects of the personality reside. This internal conflict is symbolized by the concepts "Shadow Beast" or "Bestia Sombra" in her narrative and it is the expression of her personal demons, worries, and insecurities. Anzaldúa describes : "A paradox: The knowledge that exposes your fears can also remove them. Seeing through these cracks makes you uncomfortable because it reveals aspects of yourself (shadow beasts) you don't want to own, admitting your darker aspects allows you to break out of your self-imposed prison." (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.132). As a result, the contradiction that insight and shadows are inextricably linked arises since they are mutually symbiotic. The quote above renders a key concept in her process of embracing the shadow beast: Accepting the paradox of self-discovery requires facing not just one's fears and darker parts but also identifying and tackling the good elements that conform the identity. She portrays the process of unraveling the inner complexities of the self demands navigating the perilous terrain of discomfort, uncertainty, and vulnerability. A desire to dive into the complex depths of the mind and untangle the complexities of concealed worries, repressed emotions, and unresolved traumas is necessary to embrace the multidimensionality of the self.

Hence, individuals who bravely set out on this transformative journey of self-awareness embark on a path that is not without consequences and suffering: "But it will cost you. When you woo el oscuro, digging into it, sooner or later you pay the consequences- the pain of personal growth. Conocimiento will not let you forget the shadow self, greedy, gluttonous, and indifferent; will not let you lock the cold "bitch" in the basement anymore. "(Anzaldúa, 2015, p.132) Individuals are confronted with the underlying costs of self-discovery during this tidal challenge. However, she states that this clash offers the chance to generate significant personal growth, resiliency, and an improved awareness of their own through the crucible of this self-exploration. Anzaldúa chooses to embrace her inner demons with a purpose, trying to see the positive side of what hurts her the most to enhance a new narrative. In her view, the act of crafting a story requires not only creativity, but also the skillful integration of its various parts. It is through this integration that a story can achieve balance and transform chaos into order, resulting in a successful narrative. However, she states that this process can also be challenging, as writers may need to confront their own fears and inadequacies eventually in order to create a cohesive story: “A writer can't afford to hide from herself. You must face the desconocimientos that you don't want to see. Possessed by your inner demon (the antagonist within, the part of you whose desire is in opposition to yours) . . . You can't deny, can't hide, from the shadow side of writing.” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.111). Wherefore, Anzaldúa embraces this process of self-reflection as a difficult ordeal that resembles the release from a prison built for burying certain causes of suffering. In spite of that, she conveys that is possible to achieve personal progress and freedom from self-imposed restrictions.

Figure 2: Prisoner Of The Mind. (Kadiev, 2016)

This process is challenging, nonetheless, as it frequently requires authors to face their own insecurities and anxieties in order to create a coherent story. Ergo, Anzaldúa remarks the importance of integrating different parts of a story for its success:"Just as the story's success depends on a deeper integration of all the pieces and a balance between order and chaos, you know that the solution to your depression lies en esa cueva oscura and a deeper integration of your psyche." (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.132)

This point of view matches Jung´s vision of the shadow´s traits as elements within the psyche that are not exclusively limited to flaws and vulnerabilities: “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. (Jung, 1953, p.872) The quote above represents the key idea of the analysis conducted in this article, it supports Anzaldúa´s claim that discloses that writers may give themselves the chance to create new narratives by tenaciously facing their anxieties and failings in front of the bestia sombra, that serves as a metaphor of the internal barriers of the mind. Consequently, light and shadow traits of the self operate symbiotically, functioning as a complementary pair in maintaining equilibrium within the individual. The following excerpt portrays the desperation that coming to terms with the shadow may foster:

Stuck on an edge you can't get past, toda la mañana le sacas vueltas. You pace like a caged animal, wanting only to fling yourself against the wall. You wash the dishes; water sometimes gets you into the writing, but today not even the floodwater in your backyard could help. Naguala transforms itself into una bestia sombra, and, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, rises up from the depths, grabs you, drags you into the deep waters of the cave. You have no immunities and few defenses against the monster's unscheduled visits. (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.111)

Anzaldúa portrays writing as both a pleasure and an ordeal, she explores the challenges and difficulties that she often faces during the writing process and the intimacy of her writing process. Accepting her shadow creatures, which are metaphorical representations of her own fears and perceived flaws, is what triggers the needed action in order to attain balance and coherence in her work. This suggests that it may be feasible for individuals to discover their own essence by facing their own darkness through repeated experiences with opposing forces within the psyche. Coming to grips with the inner shadow might enhance the individual gradual acceptance of the nature of the self and its significance.

Figure 3: Grayscale Photograph Of A Person At The End Of The Tunnel. (DeRosa, 2016).


This analysis has shed light on the fact that embracing the Jungian shadow may trigger a profound voyage of self-discovery and expressive growth in addition to bringing harmony and order to the chaos of writing. It becomes the driving force behind the writer's ability to break away from conventional storytelling, and to craft narratives that are authentic, thought-provoking, and original for artistic and psychological growth, enabling writers to overcome constraints and create compelling stories. On the whole, writing can be regarded as both enjoyable and difficult, requiring the fusion of narrative components and the readiness to face personal anxieties. The present article has examined how writers may unlock their creative potential, transcend mainstream narratives, and produce original, real stories by accepting and loving the Shadow Beast within. In her view, writers may harness the power of the shadow beast by embracing it and actively engaging with it, using it as a source of creativity and innovation for their writing projects. In the end, writing serves as a catalyst: "Are you sure you're ready to face the shadow beast guarding the threshold that part of yourself holding your failures and inadequacies, the negativities you've internalized, and those aspects of gender and class you want to disown?" (Anzaldúa, 2015, p.137)

The quote above suggests that Anzaldúa regards the writer's responsibility is to determine if they are prepared to face the fearsome shadow beast that is waiting at the door, that could be regarded as a manifestation of their own shortcomings. She regards her encounter with the shadow as embracing her internalized negativity, and the characteristics of gender and class she wish to reject. In this way, the shadow, as described by Jung, has the potential to become a powerful ally in the creative process, helping the writer to transform their fears and inadequacies into creative fuel. In her perspective, this may result in great understanding and insights. Moreover, the bestia sombra can also serve as a catalyst for shedding cultural stories that no longer resonate with her as a writer. It represents the narratives, beliefs, or cultural norms that she, as a writer might choose to disown to create new narratives. Through this process, the writer not only achieves a sense of balance and order in their story, but also finds their own unique voice and creative expression.

Bibliographical References

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.

Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Jung, CG. (1953). The Collected Works of C. G. Jung Vol. 10. New York: Bollingen.

Jung, CG. (1959). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. New York: Bollingen.

Snowden, R. (2017). Jung: The Key Ideas. From analytical psychology and dreams to the collective unconscious and more. London: John Murray Learning.

Visual sources

Cover image: Dae, T. (2019). Shadow Self. [JPEG].

Figure 1: Tarasov, A. (2016). The Shadow Self. [JPEG].

Figure 2: Kadiev, R. (2016). Prisoner Of The Mind. [JPEG].

Figure 3: DeRosa, A. (2016). Grayscale Photograph Of A Person At The End Of The Tunnel. [JPEG]. Pexels.


Author Photo

Daniela Sandoval

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