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Portraits of temperament in American fiction

Lisa Ann Cook, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Dr. David Keirsey, a clinical psychologist and family counselor, has developed a theory of personality based on the Myers-Briggs personality indicator identifying four unique patterns of behavior. Each pattern of behavior is identified by a group of core needs characteristic of that temperament type. He has identified these as the Guardian (SJ), Artisan (SP), Idealist (NF), and Rational (NT). ^ According to Keirsey, most conflict in relationships is caused by a failure to accept people the way they are and to see these differences from one's own beliefs as somehow flawed. He refers to what he calls the Pygmalion Project an effort made to change others to be more like ourselves. This desire to change others is a common phenomenon. Parents try to mold children into images of themselves, lovers try unsuccessfully to change each other, and sadly, society forces its members to conform to its dominant beliefs. Keirsey believes conflict arises when individuals are forced to give up their core needs and go against their preferred instincts of behavior. ^ Keirsey's theory is an effective tool for understanding and interpreting realistic literature. By applying temperament theory to a text, the reader gains a greater appreciation for the conflicts of its characters as they try to secure their core values. In addition, one can see that the success of family and societal relationships is entirely dependent on the group's willingness to understand the different needs of each member, to embrace those differences, and to work together to see that the needs of all members are met. ^ This application of Keirsey's theory examines the familial, romantic, and societal relationships in classic works of American literature such as The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, A Raisin in the Sun, The Awakening, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath, and Native Son. The purpose of this analysis is to gain a fresh understanding of the conflict in these works as characters seek to secure their core needs. ^

Subject Area

Theater|Literature, American|Psychology, Personality

Recommended Citation

Cook, Lisa Ann, "Portraits of temperament in American fiction" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3074072.