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Utilizing the Five Factor Model of Personality to Analyze Character Activism in Richard Powers’ The Overstory

Donovan Kent, Justin Wyble, Department of English, Chaminade University of Honolulu, 3140 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

This study is an in-depth character analysis of Richard Powers’ The Overstory. Within this Pulitzer-Prize winning work, Powers juxtaposes characters from disparate backgrounds whose lives cross paths due to their environmental activism. Through interactions with themselves, each other, and with nature, characters display a complexity that allows the reader opportunity to develop empathy for not only the characters, but the cause in which they partake in as activists. The principle characters in the novel experience unique hardships, disappointments, and losses before evolving into activists. While each character’s trajectory differs, their common fate is sealed by passion, sacrifice, and tragedy. Kinship to nature, specifically trees, is their inextricable link. Within this novel, a profound sense of interconnectedness is created as well as invitation to understand that our common needs supersede our differences. With that, this study will examine each character’s predilection for environmental activism through the lens of personality. Utilizing the Five Factor Model of Personality in analyzing the characters’ familial history and behavior, certain traits of the Five Factor Model of Personality (also referred to as the OCEAN model) may display distinct character features. The OCEAN model, consisting of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, is the chosen tool of personality identification in this research since not only is it a prominent personality assessment in the field of psychology, but each trait is found on a continuum and continues to display significance when implemented cross-culturally. This research may identify greater commonalities than readers initially presume based on the characters different multigenerational histories, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and career paths. The purpose of this research is to identify whether Powers, a contemporary author, has developed characters with identifiable enough characteristics to not only engage the reader, but coincide with contemporary research in personality within the field of psychology.




Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Donovan Kent

Institution: Chaminade University of Honolulu

Type: Poster

Subject: English & Literature

Status: Approved


Time and Location

Session: Poster 6
Date/Time: Tue 2:00pm-3:00pm
Session Number: 4633