In Parables: The Narrative Selves of Adolescent Girls

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Huntly, Alyson C.
adolescent girls , narrative , at-risk , self , resilience , storytelling , artmaking , parables
I began with an interest in what makes a difference for girls who face challenging circumstances: What helps them to develop sturdy, resilient, and resistant selves? What role does narrative play in this process? I set in motion a process of storytelling and reflecting by inviting girls and women to share stories together—their own stories, fictional narratives, and myths. The participants had faced particular challenges in adolescence, including economic hardship; disrupted social or family circumstances; mental health; abuse; or trauma. The girls and women had differing racialized, class, cultural, social, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Drawing on the work of biblical scholars who understand Jesus’ parables as poetic metaphor, I identified 11 aspects of parables that helped me to hear and interpret girls’ stories: participation, difficulty, metaphor, fractals, truth, emergence, performance, possibility, power, wisdom, and beauty. Listening with a parabolic ear, I came to experience girls’ storytelling selves as participatory, metaphorical, fractal, truthful, and emergent; I observed girls’ selves as artistic practices that are embodied performances of their wisdom, power, and beauty. And I discovered how such performances of the self create enlarged spaces of possibility for girls in the face of life’s difficulty. I discovered that storytelling selves are girls’ power—power realized as storytelling, participation, mutual relation, meaning-making, enlarging spaces of possibility, disidentification, and embodiment. I identified six elements that seemed to be important in nurturing girls’ parabolic imagination. These are community participation, experienced observation, complexity, care, interpretation, and artmaking. These elements provide a framework for considering how educators might support girls’ selves but they do not provide a methodology. Taken together, they are more like a parable—an opening onto a particular worldview that invites participation in the world of a girl. These six elements may be signs that point to places where parables of the self are already being told. They become questions that make sense only to those who already understand: Is this community? Is anyone listening? Is it complex? Is this a place of compassion and care? Is meaning being shaped and questioned and reimagined here? Is there art? Is there play?
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