On July 12th, writing about her latest novel, The Lost Girls of Devon, Barbara O’Neal remarked here at Writer Unboxed that one of the story’s themes concerned “growing into the person you were meant to be. That’s not always easy for women, especially when they become mothers.”
We often speak here at Writer Unboxed about how stories become more meaningful when they touch on issues of identity. We feel deeply moved by stories that demand the main characters answer questions such as: Who am I? What kind of person do I intend to be? What must I change to become more like the person I want to be?
Put another way, in such stories the main character (and perhaps others) answers the call of destiny, becomes her true self—“the person she was meant to be.” She throws off the shackles of a false persona; or she rises above the shallow, unchallenging, meaningless life she’s allowed herself to pursue; or she overcomes or moves beyond the restrictive forces holding her back, even entrapping her—and claims the high ground of authentic selfhood.
We typically respond to such story descriptions with an affirming, even heartfelt nod, as though we implicitly comprehend what such statements mean.
Do we? Or have we just become overly comfortable with certain turns of phrase that are actually misleading?
For example, is there a true, fully formed, non-temporal “I” that every character is constantly striving to recognize, in the hope of fulfilling that selfhood’s promise and answering its demands?
Though she may only see it “as though through a glass darkly,” is her ideal “I” nonetheless there, casting shadows on the wall, beckoning the character forward so that she may fulfill her destiny?
If she has strayed from that path, for whatever reason—motherhood, in Barbara’s example—has the person she was “meant to be” remained in some sort of suspended animation in the recesses of her psyche all this time, waiting to emerge from the shadows once circumstances permit?
(Note: Barbara will speak for herself later in this post. I think you will find her comment interesting.)