Mary L. promised a few weeks back that she would be sharing with us soon a longish collection of her thoughts on Personality types in Hunger Games, that is, a review of how the characters reflect the Myers-Briggs classification of human beings. I am very much looking forward to that largely because of the discussion I think it will generate about the value of this kind of template reading versus a more traditional polysemantic or iconological approach.
I don’t think the approaches are exclusive, as I’ll explain in a moment, but I do worry that the sorting of characters by Myers-Briggs categories risks missing the allegorical representations that are the power of the story figures over the reader. They are ciphers in large part for greater than natural realities whose play in the narrative have an alchemical effect on the reader. I suspect much if not all of that is lost in a mechanical analysis of defining psychological traits. Taxonomy and typology are little explanation, in the end, of why a story works.
For a quick look at Harry Potter character psychological types, check out this web site (my condolences and apologies in advance to those who share a Meyers-Briggs label with the Dark Lord, Trelawney, or Moaning Myrtle…).
What value do I think this typological sorting might have in a traditional understanding of the work? I think it goes back to the origins of Myers-Briggs in Jung’s Psychological Types (1921). In brief, the test is set to measure any individual’s psychological qualities in four pairs of contraries in various states of predominance or imbalance. The contraries are sorted on scales set to ‘extravert’ and ‘introvert’ polarity. You don’t need to be much of a Jung reader or historian of psychology to see the alchemy in this — four elements in dynamic relation, the wheel turning on the principle of expansion and contraction towards resolution or elision.
Though experts on the subject beg to differ, it seems to spring from four temperament theory to me, repackaged in a less obviously theocentric package (i.e., its roots being clinical psychology rather than logos cosmology). From this perspective, an alchemical view, I don’t doubt this sort of sorting (snort) can be very helpful, as I tried to explain recently in a post about Ms. Rowling’s debts to the hermetic author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, and to C. S. Lewis and his four temperament Pevensie children.
In a nutshell, the use of four humor story ciphers is an alternate means to achieving the effects of a soul triptych, in which the reading heart, having cast off disbelief in poetic faith, identifies with the four points of the psychological spectra and experiences via identification and katharsis their resolution in story and something like MBTI/self transcendence in that process. Whatever their psychological type, readers come to the quintessence.
Or so I think! I look forward to Mary L’s exegesis of Hunger Games psychological types and our consequent discussion here of the value of this kind of critical taxonomy.