How Do Fiction Books Impact Identity and Virtue?

There once was a goose that laid golden eggs. When a man found the eggs, he cut the goose open in hopes of getting all the gold. Instead, he killed the goose and received nothing, his greed led him to be empty-handed. Children learn from this fable by Aesop and many others. Fictional stories teach real lessons about virtue and can lead adolescents to find their identity. How can these fictional stories be used to teach lessons about identity and virtue?


Identity development is at its highest point in adolescents. While most professionals agree that the development of identity continues throughout a person’s life, Erik Erikson’s theory is promoted in most circles of psychology. This theory suggests that there are eight stages of psychosocial development, the fifth one being from age 12 to age 18 when an adolescent begins to form their identity by questioning “who am I?” and “who do I want to be?” a stage called “identity v. confusion” (Arduini-Van Hoose, 2020). Arduini-Van Hoose suggests that identity development includes a set of “goals, values, and beliefs to which a person is committed,” thus, identity inevitably involves virtues that a person believes to be important. Arduini-Van Hoose also gives two ways that a parent or adult can support a child in their identity development: they may “affirm that the anxiety, doubts, and confusion are reasonable” or expose “adolescents to various role models” (Arduini-Van Hoose, 2020).In many cases, there is not a parent to support a child in these ways or there is not sufficient affirmation or suitable role models. In these cases, books can help to guide the adolescent on their journey in a similar fashion.


How can one equip an adolescent with tools to learn Christian virtues outside of a parents’ teaching?


Evelyn Holt Otten writes an instructional manual for teachers to teach different virtues (ex. honesty, respect, and the Golden Rule) to children in school (Holt Otten, 2002). At the end of each chapter, she includes fictional books that can be used to teach these virtues to students. Despite a book’s base in fiction, characters learn real lessons and these same lessons can be taught to children. When an adolescent sees the impact of a character’s choice, they can make connections for their own life and begin to make virtuous choices for themselves. The C.S. Lewis stories are now widely read by Christians and non-Christians alike and through the tales he tells, adolescents can begin to pick up the virtues that the Pevensie children model, virtues that are not in and of themselves "religious."


How can literature teach children to find their identity apart from society?


Perkins discussed how “powerful and transformative teaching literature can be” (Perkins, 2020). He points out the theme of identity in A Tale of Two Cities in which the character creates a “false self” that stays with him even when he is freed from the situation (Perkins, 2020). Perkins’ colleague used the book to free students from “false selves” created on social media by putting aside phones or deleting accounts (Perkins, 2020). “Stories invite self-reflection—but indirectly. As we enter into the lives of literary characters, we may come to see our own struggles more clearly” (Perkins, 2020) By reading about characters that face struggles similar to our own, one can begin to recognize the issues they face that they were not accepting or did not see. Once highlighted, these struggles can be fought against in the light of day as adolescents work to discover who they truly are. Stories provide the role model that Arduini-Van Hoose suggests can be effective at helping adolescents on their journey to finding identity (Arduini-Van Hoose, 2020).


What does the Bible say?


"So God created mankind in His own image; in the image. ofGod He created them; male and female He created them." (Gen. 1:27, NIV)


There are three views that interpret how we are made in the image of God. The “substantive” view suggests that our ability to reason or other portions of our psychological and spiritual nature reflect us being in the “image of God” (Christian Living, 2015). The “functional” view suggests that our purpose or our work on the Earth reflects our being made in the “image of God” (Christian Living, 2015). Finally, the “relational” view suggests that our ability to relate to one another is a reflection of our being made in the “image of God” (Christian Living, 2015). Our identity is related to our being made in the image of God. Our character or virtues and our identity should flow from the knowledge that we are created in His image. Fictional books can reveal each of these views (functional, substantive, and relational) into the fabric of the narrative so that adolescent readers begin to learn not only virtues and how to rid themselves of "false-selves" but that they were made in the image of their heavenly creator.


"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20, NKJV)


When books aid students in leaving their "false selves" behind, they can present another option: taking on a new self in Christ Jesus. The Bible says that whoever accepts Christ into their lives dies and leaves their old life behind and gets to take on a new life in Him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:17). This is our identity: not what the world says we are, not what we say we are, but what he says we are. We can teach this to children in books the same way that Jesus taught Biblical truths in parables.


My Ministry:


For the last seven weeks, I have been in a class that has challenged me to think more about my ministry plans for the future. Though I have always planned to write and inspire others through my writing, it has been in these last seven weeks that I have been able to fully embrace my dream to be a writer and to open a bookstore. Through these two dreams, I want to minister to youth as you have been able to read about in some of my recent blog posts.


Now, you are able to read more about my ministry, how my ministry is progressing, and my future aims for my ministry on the "My Ministry" tab of this site. I encourage you to go ahead and check it out today.

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