Telling Stories About Ourselves

By Laura Vivanco on

Here's another statement about why it's important to study the stories we read:

One of the most significant developments in narrative studies has been the recognition that humans are “storied selves” (Eakin, 1999, p. 99) living in a “story-shaped world” (Sarbin, 1993, p. 63). In this view, we make meaning of our own lives and others' through narrative; we tell stories to make sense of experience and understand the world around us. We are, in the phrase coined by Fisher (1984), Homo narrans.

[...] For literary critics the centrality of narrative comes as no surprise, but work remains to be done theorizing the complex relationships between fictional stories, which are ubiquitous in human culture, and the myriad stories we tell about ourselves and our world. How do the form and content of fictional narratives shape the stories individuals perceive and construct about their own lives? How does the emplotment of events in the lives of fictional characters influence readers' understanding of the possible and permissible plotlines in their own lives? (Harrison 112)

Harrison adds that

Psychologist Jerome Bruner (2004) [...] acknowledged the powerful role of culture in shaping life stories, which “reflect the prevailing theories about ‘possible lives’ that are part of one's culture.” To “construct their own life narratives,” individuals within a culture can draw upon its “stock of canonical life narratives” (Bruner, 2004, p. 694) and combine and recombine elements of cultural narratives in order to construct their own. Thus, individuals do not merely become their own autobiographical stories; they become “variants of the culture's canonical forms” (Bruner, 2004, p. 694). Conversely, a culture can be understood through the array of life stories its members can tell. Together, contemporary and historical life stories and the cultural narratives that shape them help us understand a culture's values, possibilities, and preoccupations. (112-13)

Her article focuses on stories featuring "the marriage plot" so it's of particular interest to those of us who study, read and/or write popular romance fiction. It's also currently available in full for free.


Harrison, Mary Catherine. "Reading the Marriage Plot." Journal of Family Theory & Review 6.1 (2014): 112-131.