Woyzeck and the Subconscious Mind

Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck is a multidimensional piece of work that is based off of Johann Christian Woyzeck, an insane man who murders the mother of his child. Although very confusing at times, the play carries tropes that touch upon meaning of morality throughout its entirety. After carefully reading Büchner’s play, although crafted prior to Sigmund Freud’s introduction to the subconscious mind, Büchner’s Woyzeck projects Freud’s ideas of the ego, id, and superego through different characters, actions, and motifs. More specifically, the play, on a larger scale, is a metaphor for Woyzeck’s subconscious mind and the inner conflict between the id and the superego known as the ego (Class Notes 2/9).

Woyzeck himself is representative of the id within the subconscious mind. The id, which is described as the internal desire that is often repressed by societal pressures and norms, is portrayed through Woyzeck in several ways. First, Woyzeck’s child with Marie serves a symbol of this—because Woyzeck and Marie are not married, yet have a child together, the presences of the child itself serves as symbol to conformity of desire and lust through their premarital rendezvous. In addition to Woyzeck’s child with Marie, another action of Woyzeck’s that conveys the subconscious component id, perhaps more obviously, is when he stabs and murders Marie. His hatred and anger after he learns of Marie’s infidelity drives him to kill her. This is representative of the subconscious id and Woyzeck acting in result of his desire.

In contrast, other external forces serve as the juxtaposing subconscious component, the superego, for Woyzeck. An obvious of example of this is the Doctor. The Doctor serves as societal pressure that the superego generates to filter the id and its consequential decisions. An example of this is when Woyzeck pees on the wall. In response the Doctor vocalizes the absurdity of the situation and reprimands Woyzeck for his decision: “you pissed on the street, you pissed on the wall like a dog” (Büchner 4.8). It is important here to note that the Doctor equates Woyzeck’s actions to that of an animal. His questioning of Woyzeck’s humanity serves as an attempt to oppress the desires Woyzeck might have later to repeat the action.

The conjunction of Woyzeck’s decision to act implicitly and explicitly on his desires, the expression of the id, and the consequences his faces from Doctor and others, the superego, represent the internal struggle of the subconscious mind known as the ego. The entire play serves as a metaphor this.


-What can we learn from a play like Woyzeck? What was Büchner’s message? Does he have one?

-How does Woyzeck serve as commentary on society? How does this relate to social media now?

-It is interesting to me that after Woyzeck’s immoral behavior he is still labeled as a protagonist. Why do you think this is?



Class Notes February 9th, 2016