Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct

By Theodore R. Sarbin | Go to book overview

undergoes adventures that do not interact with his relatively static and simple character. Scholes and Kellog ( 1966) contrast the epic with the romantic form, especially the modern romance involving a psychological search for identity, where the adventures dynamically affect the character of the hero. The form of character emplotment used by Sheehy typifies the themes of modern romance.

Despite these differences in their chosen forms of life emplotment, Sheehy and Smiles have in common a moral framework upon which their constructions are based. In this framework the hero is understood to be an exemplar of certain virtues - for Sheehy it is authenticity, and for Smiles it is commitment. An alternative framework for constructing character is suggested by Hunter ( 1983) study of the practice of "reading" character in drama criticism. Sheehy and Smiles typify a practice of reading character in which the worth and workings of a person are formed by moral qualities. An alternative means of reading character was practiced in the eighteenth century. This involves viewing character as a rhetorical object, whose plausibility and quality is determined by the dramaturgical rules of everyday life. This practice is evident in the typification of characters into such categories as the "eccentric" and the "conformist." What such characters lack is a temporal dimension which would give their lives a stronger narrative underpinning, and thus a greater moral relevance. By providing definite narrative frameworks for life, Sheehy and Smiles enable character to be read morally.


CONCLUSION

Gail Sheehy's books can be seen as attempts to construct life in terms of the narrative conventions of romance, of a struggle between good and evil which sets the stage for a discovery of inner truth. The outcome of this construction is to create adventure in personal conflict and thus allow the possibility of hope in a period of potential despair; it gives personal crisis a meaning by encapsulating it in narrative terms. Compared to Sheehy, Smiles' narratives grant the individual much less authority in resolving the issues of selfhood, and offer the less individually- determined Stoic path of moral goodness as a guarantee of happiness. Smiles' books demonstrate that the conventions used by Sheehy are relative. What is found in the works of two of Sheehy's contemporaries, Levinson and Gould, are the life manuals which do grant the individual this authority, but their metaphors for selfhood lack the spirited adventure

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