Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Guy Rivers's Self-esteem Deficit and the Psychological Prescience of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 6

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription deficit, especially with their studies of self-as-subject and self-as-object; but "self
esteem" as a psychological term did not appear until 1890, twenty years after
Simms's death, in William James's The Principles of Psychology. James, as well
as early twentieth century psychologists Karen Homey and Erich Fromm, did
considerable theoretical work on self-esteem, but treated it merely as an effect of
behaviors and assumptions (Coppersmith 27). The current view of self-esteem as
both an effect and a cause of behaviors and assumptions did not emerge until the
post-World War H period, through the work of Morris Rosenberg, Stanley
Coppersmith, and others. In the 1970's, the profession of psychology accepted
what Simms seemed to know more than a century earlier when he wrote Guy
Rivers: that self-esteem is a mostly-static condition established in pre-adolescent
interactions with parents, and is largely unaffected by a subject's later
accomplishments; that, all else being equal, persons with deficient self-esteem
tend to undercut what seem at a conscious level to be honest attempts at success in
their academic, professional, and romantic endeavors.
In the narrative present of Guy Rivers, practically every endeavor that the
title character undertakes ends in failure, including an attempted armed robbery ,
an attempted murder, an attempted escape, and two separate love affairs. In the
narrative past, the results of Rivers's efforts are more mixed: while he gains
acceptance to the Georgia bar and develops reputations first as an effective legal
advocate and then as an able criminal and leader of criminals, he is defeated in an
election for the legislature and is rebuffed by the woman he adores. All of the
results the successes as well as the failures—can be traced, it seems, to events
even further back in the narrative past: his relations with his parents, to which
both he and the novel's narrator make several important references.
As Rivers remembers them, his parents often argued over how they should
raise their son. His somewhat ineffectual father favored setting some limits for
the boy, but his mother, the stronger personality, spoiled him. Even more
tellingly, she taught him right from wrong, but encouraged him to lie and to
pursue every advantage without scruple.
She did not tell me to lie, or to swindle, or to stab—no! oh, no!
she would have told me that all these things were bad, but she
taught me to perform them all. She roused my passions, and not
my principles, into activity. She provoked the one, and suppressed
the other. Did my father reprove my improprieties, she petted me,
and denounced him. She crossed his better purposes, and defeated
all his designs, until, at last, she made my passions too strong for
my government, not less than hers, and left me, knowing the true,
yet the victim of the false.... In that last hour of eternal
retribution...I can point but to one as the author of all the
weakly-fond, misjudging, misguiding woman who gave me birth
(403-04).


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