Category Archives: enneagram

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.