Category Archives: characters

Solving One of Literature’s Great Questions With the Enneagram (this time it’s real!)

First of all, I should explain the Enneagram to you. It’s a personality typing system, one I prefer over the Big Five and the MBTI. The MBTI is based off Jungian theory of psychological traits and, while I think the system has merit, the traits seem so black and white when set against each other–are people really introverted or extroverted, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving?  The Big Five is a set of (obviously) five personality domains that its researchers and developers found to be common in all societies. But each domain has its opposite, so soon begins to look much like the MBTI: inventive vs cautious, efficient vs easy-going, etc.

Neither the Big Five nor the MBTI addresses motivational underpinnings of why people act as they do. What makes an INTJ prefer to be introverted and unemotional, for example? You could give me a nature vs nurture argument, but it seems clear that we are who we are despite how we are nurtured. Environment easily explains why some people are healthier than others, and fails to explain the essence of personality. Why does one abused child grow up to be a perfectionist, and another grow up to be a creative individualist?  What is driving the perfectionism and the individualism? The Enneagram typing is different than the others because it looks at the underlying fear and basic desire of each of its nine personality types.

To me, this is liberating. I haven’t studied the Enneagram long enough to know whether it has been peer-reviewed or whether it has credibility within the circles of behavioral scientists because, frankly, I’m not certified (or certifiable!). I’m a fiction writer, as well as a lifelong student of people and their habits, and, from the perspective of a natural (that is, not formally educated) social scientist, the Enneagram makes sense.

For my own experimentation, I decided to put the nine Enneagram personality types to the test of an author known for her characterization. Who better than Jane Austen? I’ve read her books numerous times, plus I have movie versions of each one. The benefit of using both the books and the movies is in seeing how well Jane’s characters translate in modern works of art. If the Enneagram theory is correct, and there really are nine basic personality types, they should be evident in classic books that don’t rely solely on archetypes. And–this is very important, as well–the characters should translate with little difficulty into modern adaptations.

My purpose is not to teach the entire Enneagram. Instead, look it up if you’re interested. Here’s a rundown of the nine types with only a basic explanation:

1: The Reformer. Fears being corrupt. Desires to be good.
2: The Helper. Fears being unwanted. Desires to feel loved.
3: The Achiever. Fears being worthless. Desires to feel worthwhile.
4: The Individualist. Fears not having an identity. Desires to create an identity.
5: The Investigator. Fears being incapable. Desires to be competent.
6: The Loyalist. Fears not having support. Desires security.
7: The Enthusiast. Fears being deprived or in pain. Desires to have their needs fulfilled.
8: The Challenger. Fears being controlled by others. Desires to be in control of self, or to protect self.
9: The Peacemaker. Fears loss or separation. Desires to be at peace. 

Did I find correlations in Jane Austen’s characters? Yes, I did. Or, as an android would say, “Affirmative!” I’ve attempted to type all the main characters in her six novels, but for today, I’ll give you my rundown of her six protagonists:

Catherine Morland is a type 4 individualist. Her story goal is to discover her identity as a heroine.

Elinor Dashwood is a type 1 reformer. She desires to do what is right all the time.

Elizabeth Bennet is a type 8 challenger. She doesn’t appreciate losing control of any situation, least of all to Mr. Darcy.

Emma Woodhouse is a type 3 achiever. She needs others to look up to her in order to feel worthwhile.

Anne Elliot is a type 4 individualist. She attempts to be herself, despite her meddlesome family and friends.

Fanny Price is a type 5 investigator because she feels capable through study. Doesn’t she? It’s been a while since I’ve read Mansfield Park.

What great literature question did I solve? Well, it was simple, really. I was busy watching Pride and Prejudice, and it suddenly struck me that Elizabeth’s basic fear was of losing control of her destiny. By contrast, Mr. Darcy’s biggest fear was in doing wrong according to the standard of morality he had set. Therefore, the great question of who represents pride, who prejudice became clear to me. Elizabeth is prideful because she must be in control; Darcy is prejudiced because others can’t meet his strict standards of behavior.

Sometimes, it’s good to laugh. Really, that was a whimsical exercise–because, who cares? All humans are prideful at times, and all suffer from prejudice. But it’s a relief to oversimplify the world on occasion, rather than the opposite, which is what I’m most apt at doing. Because I’m an Enneagram type 5, INTJ, with a predominance of Inquisitiveness on the Big 5. Go figure.


The Teleology of Character

Definition of Teleology (from the online Merriam Webster dictionary):

1.a : the study of evidences of design in nature
    b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature
    c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes

2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose

3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena

Lent is over. Holy week is on us and, therefore, my children are on their spring break. I have time to think and breathe and move forward with the tasks at hand. I’ve completed my vow of forgoing writing for lent. I would jump right in again were it not for my brain which, unfortunately, spins in so many different directions on any given day that I have difficulty focusing. It’s only when asleep that my mind is still enough to focus.

Without dreams, I would probably not be a writer at all. It’s mainly in my dream world that my mind works out the plots for stories.The other night, I dreamed a beautiful story, as if in preparation for holy week when I could begin to write again. And then I suffered from three sleepless nights in a row. I’ve been thinking far too much about character, motivation, and personality types and, as my husband puts it, I haven’t given my mind the permission to sleep. I’ve given myself the permission to write, but not to sleep.

Well, how am I supposed to write w/o sleep? Instead, I continue pondering personalities and examining them in published works of fiction. Have you noticed that some characters don’t feel quite right? Their reactions or lack of them are helpful to the story or the message the author is forwarding, but they don’t ring true. I’ve been attempting to understand this phenomenon, this instinctive knowing that the characters whose eyes I’m seeing through are pure fiction, especially while also knowing that all fictional characters are unreal, even the ones who seem genuine. They are all fabricated, and some are false fabrications, while others are true.

Understanding personality types aids in understanding characters. It has its limits, however, because people are greater than their types. They have unique histories and genetics, individual ways of representing themselves to the world. Understanding their basic fears and desires in relation to their own environment is important. Understanding them in light of a larger inner working of mankind–what Jung calls the collective unconscious–is perhaps the most crucial element of all. How characters respond or conversely ignore teleology is fascinating to me, and may give reason for my gag response to far too many Christian salvation scenes.

And all of this is to express my frustration that characters are as elusive as the people they are supposed to represent–so much more complex than their eye color, which is complex enough, and whether they are spontaneous or organized, introverted versus extroverted.

p.s. And as for the image above, what exactly motivated the Baron to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair, anyway? Alexander Pope understood characters and people very well, I think (except himself, of course).