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 7

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription This passage offers several clues to Guy Rivers's adult self-esteem deficit.
The most important of these concerns the mother's unwillingness to set limits. In
Enhancing Self Esteem, Diane Frey and Jesse Carlock report that Morris
Rosenberg "found that maternal indifference is more likely to produce low self-
esteem in children than overt dissatisfaction. If the mother... is interested enough
to chastise a child, that level of interest produces higher self-esteem" (22). The
quotation also points out how young Guy's mother removed some obstacles
which, if overcome by the efforts of the boy himself, would have contributed
greatly to his sense of identity. While young children have a subconscious need
for limits, left to their own devices, they will usually choose to avoid the stress
entailed in being disciplined. Guy's father made the boy aware of some social
standards, but his mother rewarded him for ignoring them, thus depriving Guy of
a chance to reconcile his impulses to the expectations of the larger world. No less
important, the mother made the point that, for Guy, passion and artifice were the
tools needed to guarantee success. In fact, these were the tools that he would use
most artfully when making his name as a lawyer. In still later situations, though,
when passion and artifice alone would not suffice, Rivers had neither the other
necessary characteristics to draw upon nor anything to blame for his failures other
than his inadequate employment of passion and artifice. Finally, the domestic
conflict itself was a likely contributor to Rivers's self-esteem deficit since "the
more parents agree on methods of parenting, the more positive the self-esteem of
their children" (Frey 34).
However precise Simms's portrayal of the cause of Guy Rivers's self-
esteem deficit may be, he may have been exposed to such notions through his
substantial readings in philosophy. A far more remarkable indicator of his
prescience is his description of the ways that the character developed because of
the deficiency. As summarized in L.E. Wells's Self Esteem (70), a consensus of
the leading voices of the last half-century of psychology is that a person with self
esteem deficit is more likely to "lack self-confidence, be dependent on others, be
shy,.. . to use defensive facades (Rosenberg, 1965); value conformity... and use
repressive defenses (Linton and Graham, 1959); to be less creative, less flexible
(Coppersmith, 1967); more authoritarian (Boshier, 1969); and self-derogating, and
to be more disposed toward various forms of deviance or criminality (Kardiner
and Ovesy, 1951; Reckless and Dinitz, 1967; Fitz, 1972)." While some
combinations of these traits seem to amount to paradoxes (shy/authoritarian,
conformity/ deviance), they turn out to be the very paradoxes that are inherent to
the personality of Guy Rivers.
Rivers's adult life of crime begins when he loses his legislative election to
a wealthy opponent. Convinced that money has overcome both "the democratic
principle" and his own gifts for passion and artifice, he loses interest in the law
and resolves to make himself rich. Before his first crime, though, another event
occurs that, to him, makes crime inevitable: the rejection of the sexual advance he
makes toward Edith Colleton. His compares this rejection to his electoral defeat;