Wednesday, July 8, 2009
In sociology we have a term for what happens when a status change occurs and we are forced to alter our roles: Role Exit. This usually involves leaving or loss. Going from spouse to widow, married to single (divorce), leaving or being released from a job, moving from child to adult. Etc.
This idea of Role Exit is important. When our status changes we must change our role. If we don't, we end up very strange people. A literary example would be Ms. Havisham... perpetually frozen in time.
Role Exits are transitions. Big ones. And those transitions are made easier by the definition of what we now are... or, how well we can execute the new role we are expected to play.
I remember being pregnant both ways. Married and unmarried. When I was unmarried I watched people look at my left hand so often I ended up sitting in waiting rooms with my right hand covering my left (very prim). I didn't fully understand how important it was until deep into my pregnancy with my second child. I was taking a shower and looked down to see my wedding and engagement rings sparkling in the water as my hand rested on my belly.
I was overcome with a feeling of safety and rightness that I will never forget. It doesn't matter sometimes how we FEEL we should act in society (I don't think there is anything wrong with having a baby out of wedlock...obviously) But it does matter on the inside of ourselves. In that place in our minds where we want things to flow in the downhill, rather than uphill direction.
Making smooth transitions helps the people around us. It keeps everyone comfortable. When the old take on the role of Old and don't try to stay sexy (even thought we all know sex gets better with age ;) we, as a society, have an image in our collective heads we can sink into, without cringing. But it isn't interesting, it is the opposite of interesting.
So, how do transitions work in novels? Role Exits are important when authors tell stories. When a character has a Role Exit we have to make sure the transition is well established. Many times a bumpy transition leads to a wonderful character quirk... and we can only fully explore that quirk if we understand the role the character is bucking.
Anyway, I have already decided what I would do if I ever had to make the exit from wife to widow. I would dye all my clothes black. I would never wear another color. I would let my hair grown long and never cut it again because those were the last locks he touched. I would never remarry.
There I go with those "woulds" again!
Any Role Exits you want to discuss (real or character?)