Who are we as Americans? What is our deep identity? How do we make a good life? Renowned psychologist Dan P. McAdams suggests that the key to American identity lies in the stories we live by. And the most powerful life story in America today is the story of redemption. On a broad societal scale and in our own private lives, we want first and foremost to transform our suffering into a positive emotional state, to move from pain and peril to redemption. American identity is the redemptive self. Based on 10 years of research on the life stories of especially caring and productive American adults, The Redemptive Self explores the psychological and cultural dynamics of the stories Americans tell to make sense of who they are. Among the most eloquent tellers of redemptive stories are those midlife adults who are especially committed to their careers, their families, and making a positive difference in the world. These highly "generative" men and women embrace the negative things that happen to them, for it is by transforming the bad into good that they are able to move forward in life and ultimately leave something positive behind. Unconsciously, they find inspiration and sustenance in the rich store of redemptive tales that American culture offers - from the autobiographies of Massachusetts Puritans, Benjamin Franklin, and escaped African-American slaves to the stories of upward mobility, recovery, fulfillment, and release that come to us today from Hollywood, 12-step programs, self-help experts, religious stories, political speeches, business gurus, and Oprah. But can all American lives find redemption? Some people seem unable to make their lives into redemptive tales. Instead, theirstories show contaminated plots and vicious cycles. Moreover, might there be a dark side to the redemptive stories Americans love? While these stories can sustain a productive and caring approach to life, they can also suggest a peculiarly American kind of arrogance and self-righteousness. For all their strengths, redemptive stories sometimes fail, and sometimes suggest important failings in the way Americans see themselves and the world. The Redemptive Self encourages us to examine our lives and our stories in full, to apprehend both the good and the bad in the stories we live by. By doing so, we may fashion better stories and better lives for the future.
Prolific psychologist McAdams (psychology & human development, social policy, Northwestern Univ.; The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self) takes his interest in narrative psychology to a new plane in this noteworthy contribution to cultural scholarship, arguing that Americans are unique in relying on personal narratives of redemption to explain their lives. He and his team spent ten years interviewing subjects who garnered exceptionally high and low scores on surveys assessing "generativity," or concern for nurturing society and future generations. Exceedingly generative people, it was found, are likely to rely on narrations featuring happy endings; thus, they extract benefit from even the most negative experiences-e.g., childhood abuse, poverty-explaining these as productive, character-building adversities rather than pernicious obstacles to personal success. Like Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart, Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom, and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, this book crosses disciplinary boundaries to incorporate the best elements of psychological, philosophical, and historical analysis into its pages. Highly recommended for all academic collections and for large public libraries.-Lynne Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.