Sunday, January 6, 2013

Consequences in Literature

Consequences are all over literature, of course, so this could be the first in a long series!  Good novelists frequently understand psychology even though they may never have studied the science.  American novelist William Maxwell (who died in 2000) is a fine example.  His best-known work, So Long, See You Tomorrow, won the National Book Award, and I highly recommend it.

From the start of one of Maxwell's last published stories, "Grape Bay (1941)," comes this description of its shy protagonist:

"When he was six years old his parents died, one immediately after the other, and he went to live with his paternal grandfather, who did not like children.  It did not take him long to learn what it means not to be wanted.  Now that he was grown, his first impulse was always to withdraw before it became necessary, before someone asked him to."

The effects of a history of aversives are presented as straightforward in this case--and so well-learned that the withdrawing, shy personality patterns become automatic ("his first impulse").  The process of overcoming these patterns often makes for a great story, and indeed, that's part of the attraction of "Grape Bay."  

Anyone have any favorite examples to share?

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