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Sarah Jordan 4/6/11 Social Penetration Theory and Narrative Paradigm Theories are applicable in several ways throughout our daily lives. At times it is difficult to determine exactly how they associate with and explain various events. After reading A Lesson Before Dying and analyzing a couple of examples, I was able to gain a better understanding of the Social Penetration Theory and Narrative Paradigm and how they pertain to my life. I was able to compare the theories to instances involving politics and persuasion and how it affects the lives of the general public. The Social Penetration Theory states that people reciprocate self-disclosure to increase intimacy. It is at the core of relational development and we share communication in order to feel human. In the book, Jefferson and Grant illustrate a perfect example of this theory. As a result of Miss Emma’s wishes, Grant aspired to motivate Jefferson to self-disclose by building a relationship and his trajectory was to visit Jefferson as often as possible. The theory elucidates that in order for a situation to fall within this category, both the communication and disclosure needs to be reciprocated. Jefferson exemplified his true self at the very end of the book when his personal journal was revealed. He inscribed statements including, “good by mr wigin tell them im strong tell them im a man good by mr wigin im gon ax paul if he can bring you this,” (Gaines, p. 234). The reader has to assume that Grant acquired the novel, thus, reciprocity was achieved between Jefferson and Grant. Grant wanted Jefferson to unveil his true identity while constructing a new one for an imperative reason: to shift his narrative paradigm. Grant’s ultimate goal was to

change Jefferson’s story in hopes that he would approach his death believing he was a man and not an animal. Jefferson was able to alter his life story by modifying his perception of events, which ultimately created a different self-image. Jefferson reshaped his attitude and transformed his interpretations of reality. Clearly, the Social Penetration Theory and Narrative Paradigm were directly correlated in the novel. Grant pursued and established a relationship with Jefferson in hopes of receiving disclosure with the definitive goal of Jefferson transforming his narrative paradigm. Analyzing the two examples described above made me acknowledge how much power every individual has over creating his or her own reality. We can change our lives based on how we interpret our stories and the quality of life is based on our personal view. People construct reality through stories, which in turn means we can change our perceptions drastically according to what we genuinely want to believe. The concept of self- disclosure and revising personal insights seems simple and straightforward. At first, I thought the theories were fairly blatant, but after examining situations in terms of the public, media, and politics, I became aware of how applicable they are to my life. For example, political campaigns, President Barack Obama in particular, exhibit the influence of Narrative Paradigm and Social Penetration Theory. During campaigns, candidates use mass media to inform citizens of their personal lives in attempt to persuade the public that they are worthy of attaining a political position. Obama made a conscious effort to enlighten the American people of his past including growing up in a broken family, enduring discrimination, his endless efforts to help those in need, and his experiences while climbing the political ladder. He symbolized change and declared his objective to reclaim the American dream. Obama

used self- disclosure in order to illustrate his life story in ways that the public would feel connected on some level of intimacy. Over time, people became attached and formed a sense of imminence due to the disclosure presented. After finding parallels in Social Penetration Theory and Narrative Paradigm in A Lesson Before Dying, I was able to identify how the theories are conveyed in my life. The ability to self-disclose and to be aware of my own narrative is powerful. Acknowledging my conviction of reality and the ability to disclose my perceptions will ultimately release me from the sometimes-negative influence of persuasion. I have the authority to create my own insights and write my life story: my narrative paradigm. It is important to disclose and it is comforting at times to feel as though our narratives relate to others. However, we must not confuse the difference between listening to a story and persuasion for this can ultimately cloud our personal narratives.


Grant wanted Jefferson to unveil his true identity while constructing a new one inscribed statements including, “good by mr wigin tell them...

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