In the beginning section of Michelson’s article, “If the Self Is a Text, What Genre Is It? Structure and Ideology in Narratives of Adult Learning,” there are two statements that caught my attention:
“life histories produced by adult learners in our classrooms are, in important senses, fictions (Michelson, 2011). That is, the narratives that students produce, however much they originate in real events, are multiply overdetermined (having more than one determining psychological factor) by the structural and ideological frames within which they are encouraged to write.” [page 200]
“Brookfield (2000), in turn, argues that ‘narratives of critical analysis in which people experience contradictions, are visited by revelations, get better, and come to fuller self-knowledge are necessary palliatives but essentially false’” [page 202]
In my analysis of the article, these two statements (and others) formed the foundation for Michelson’s critique of the “Bildungsroman,” a type of writing sometimes referred to as a “coming-of-age” story. But my question is this – who determines what is “fiction” or what is “false” in someone’s life story?
For example, in the novel “Push” by Sapphire, Precious takes her file (the social worker’s narrative of her life) from the social worker’s cabinet and reads it. In the file, the narrative of Precious' life is very negative. She chooses to de-emphasize her accomplishments, e.g. winning the mayor’s achievement award, focuses on Precious’s low TABE test scores, and bemoans the time and resources it would take for Precious to earn a GED or get into college. The social worker summarizes that Precious would be better off entering a one of several workfare programs (perhaps becoming a home attendant) and believes Precious “seems to envision social services, AFDC, as taking care of her forever."
On the other hand, not only does Precious vigorously challenge the social worker’s assessment with her statement “I'm getting my G.E.D., a job, and a place for me and Abdul, then I go to college,” but her journal is full of positive affirmations about doing well for herself and her children.
Both narratives, the social worker’s official report and Precious’s journal, are based on real events or facts, but who is to say which narrative is “fact” and which one is “fiction”?