Storytelling and Identity Creation in 19th-Century American Fiction

Neuhaus, Christina Aline
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Identity is often described as the story we construct about ourselves. An increasing awareness of how identities are created not only allows us to actively influence our internal narratives but also to impact how others perceive us. In the end, any successful participation in identity construction requires the individual to assume full authorship of his or her own story.Research in developmental psychology shows that the stability of personal narratives and the maturity of an individual’s identity depend upon the active exploration of personal beliefs and values and the subsequent commitment to a coherent narrative. This process is necessary for individuals to form stable identities that survive even in unstable environments, for example in the United States during a period of rapid development like the 19th century. Americans had to continually redefine themselves in terms of their changing country, and the period’s literature reflects the nation’s growing pains. This thesis investigates how different narrators in 19th-century short fiction create their personal narratives and how resilient these narratives are when challenged by various factors in their environment. The analysis will investigate which personality traits create stronger identities, and what implications these associations carry for the wider discourse on the formation of a coherent national identity in the 19th-century United States. Moreover, I will look at what enables individuals to create their own identity, and what unique challenges are provided in the American context.
narrative psychology, Romanticism, identity creation