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Shaped by Stories

The Ethical Power of Narratives

Marshall Gregory

Publication Year: 2009

In his latest book, Marshall Gregory begins with the premise that our lives are saturated with stories, ranging from magazines, books, films, television, and blogs to the words spoken by politicians, pastors, and teachers. He then explores the ethical implication of this nearly universal human obsession with narratives. Through careful readings of Katherine Anne Porter’s "The Grave," Thurber’s "The Catbird Seat," as well as David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights, Gregory asks (and answers) the question: How do the stories we absorb in our daily lives influence the kinds of persons we turn out to be? Shaped by Stories is accessible to anyone interested in ethics, popular culture, and education. It will encourage students and teachers to become more thoughtful and perceptive readers of stories.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I have always been struck by the poignancy of Samuel Johnson’s sad words at the end of the preface to his great dictionary: “I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book explores the ethical implication of the universal human obsession with stories. Sales of narratives—novels, biographies, autobiographies, histories, and so on—run into the millions every year. The average American watches six hours of TV every day, most of it stories. Parents...

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-18

Long ago, with elegant succinctness, Horace defined the educational transposition by which readers identify with narratives: “Change the name,” he says, “and you are the subject of the story” (Satires, 1.1). From the time we are born, the narrative cradle of story rocks us to the collective

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Chapter Two

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pp. 19-30

For human beings the pull of stories is primal. What oxygen is to our body, stories are to our emotions and imagination. We cannot flex our mental and imaginative muscles without drawing on the psychic energy and linguistic resources we have absorbed, in part, from our consumption...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 31-48

We find stories useful because they swallow the world whole, and in fact the domain of stories may be the only form of human learning other than religion that makes the attempt to encompass the entirety of human life and experience. Many people deny that they are getting an education...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 49-62

Mere experience is not as educational as people usually think. We are fond of adages like “the school of hard knocks” and “experience is the best teacher,” but the truth is that raw experience unmediated by reflection, theories, and thought can teach us little. Commonplace wisdom frequently asserts that the objects, people, and activities we experience...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 63-80

My college students get their hackles up at any suggestion from me or other critics that their interactions with narratives in print, film, or television might offer grounds for ethical concern. “Dr. Gregory, do

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Chapter Six

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pp. 81-96

So—you have given your assent to the story. You’re hooked. You’re not going to walk out on the movie or the play, you’ve taken your finger off the remote control, you’ve marked your place in the novel for tonight’s

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 97-120

A full account of narrative transactions raises the question of why we so seldom avail ourselves of our absolute freedom to walk out on any voluntary narrative interaction at any time. I have suggested some of...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 121-142

Many academics and intellectuals view ethical judgments about art, especially negative judgments, as nothing but a scolding discourse conducted by fat-fingered bourgeoisie or dogmatic religionists who, according to the academic stereotype, leaf furiously through novels or storm noisily...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 143-166

In chapters 7 and 8, respectively, I have shown how up-close and detailed ethical criticism can yield both positive and negative judgments. In this chapter I show how up-close and detailed ethical analysis can yield...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 167-196

Up to this point I have dealt mainly with what philosophers would call moral psychology rather than moral theory. I have built a case about how stories exert influence on the development of ethos based mainly...


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pp. 197-206

Works Cited

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pp. 207-214


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pp. 215-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780268080600
E-ISBN-10: 0268080607
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268029746
Print-ISBN-10: 0268029741

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009