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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Psychological Perspective on the Novel: Morgan’s Passing by Anne Tyler

by Jill Christianae Rendon

Morgan’s Passing, a novel written by Anne Tyler in 1979 is a story of a middle-aged, eccentric man named Morgan Gower, married to his happy go-lucky wife named Bonny. Morgan sees events happening in his family such as his daughters’ seemingly disorderly lives and his incompatibility with his wife as a total disorder. This paper now looks at the psychology in Morgan’s eccentricity as a result of such situations, specifically his identity crisis and conjectures how he may overcome it.

The novel starts and ends with the telling of the Cinderella story. Through this, we now foresee that the story will be about many imaginings, fantasies and exploring the world of possibilities. This is the world to Morgan in the midst of his identity crisis. Morgan clearly is presented as a man who is not so sure about himself. His marriage to Bonny, to begin with, is not the typical boy-meets-girl love story. Morgan expresses this when he says he just married her for her money. Ironically, he ends up not becoming satisfied about financial matters. As a result of his being married to Bonny, he gets a job as a manager at Cullen Hardware, a hardware store owned by Bonny’s family. This is a job he is not really interested in. His house is also described, in detail, to be a real mess. His senile mother and spinterish sister live with him, in his crowded house, full of his daughter’s kids and babies, with all their problems and issues in life. At one point in the story, Morgan makes a dramatic recount of how mysterious his father’s suicide is. He basically grew up not knowing him.

The novel is strongly descriptive. Many descriptions of the surroundings describe the realities about Morgan’s life. His family life, for instance is shown through photographs.

Then there is the Gower family album with family pictures widely spaced, mostly from vacations at the beach, giving a sense not only that life was an endless vacation but also that years and generations collapsed on one another in a swiftly moving stream of time. (Williams, 1981)

As a result of these situations, Morgan seems to be merely living life outside of himself, like watching the “movie of his own life” played before his very eyes.

Morgan is not fully a part of this life; he stays on the edge. Himself a person with many interests and hobbies, most unrelated to any of the others, he lives in a house of related people with unrelated worlds. (Williams, 1981)

Morgan is too imaginative, he would wear costumes to assume roles and play pranks on people. A lady once works as a clerk at Cullen’s Hardware which Morgan imagines to be called “Pa and Ma Hardware”. In the course of his imagining, out of nowhere, he calls her, “Ma,” alarming her so much that she quits. He pretends to be a doctor when he meets the Merediths: Emily and Leon, in Emily’s pregnancy labor. We then discover later that he, in fact has been watching their family life before then, how it looks organized and orderly. He meticulously notices their neat-looking, orderly outfit (white sweaters and corduroys), and tells Bonny he wants one of his own. Bonny who thinks it is just one of his wild imaginings, does not understand the depth of Morgan’s behavior. To her, he is simply not normal.

Morgan’s disorderly life is manifested in many ways.

You could say he was a man who had gone to pieces, or maybe he'd always been in pieces; maybe he'd arrived unassembled. Various parts of him seemed poorly joined together. His lean, hairy limbs were connected by exaggerated knobs of bone; his black-bearded jaw was as clumsily hinged as a nutcracker. Parts of his life, too, lay separate from other parts. His wife knew almost none of his friends. His children had never seen where he worked; it wasn't in a safe part of town, their mother said. Last month's hobby --- the restringing of a damaged pawnshop banjo, with an eye to becoming suddenly musical at the age of forty-two --- bore no resemblance to this month's hobby, which was the writing of a science-fiction novel that would make him rich and famous. (Williams, 1981)

Morgan has to go surreal to not arrive at a point wherein, like his father, he will give up. His assuming of different personalities becomes his coping mechanism to survive the many issues he has to face in life.

Morgan’s disorderly life and eccentric ways are foiled to the lives and ways of the Merediths. The events in Emily’s life, a focused, orderly woman is juxtaposed against Morgan’s to highlight the missing elements in his life. Emily who has been married to Leon, an angry, distant husband for twelve years is a flat character: an undramatic, plain, simple puppeteer who is otherwise, timid and passive. Morgan seems to be drawn to these characteristics in her, that eventually he falls in love with her. This character of Emily’s is manifested in her pictures.

Emily’s pictures, probably underexposed and at any rate bathed in thoroughly unreal amber light, show each person alone, glowing, idealized, gazing out with trust. Emily, who always seems the same herself, absolutely steady, simple, quiet, and clear, somehow photographs others so that they exist as if in that same direct, clear-eyed vision. (Williams, 1981)

Morgan sees this and witnesses a totally opposite state of his own. He is so unlike her that he becomes attracted to her. He so embraces that part of her which could never be his. It was as if in his quest for identity, he finds himself in another person. Though not conscious about it, he feels he needs a sense of simplicity to become stable and to face himself, something he conjectures to be impossible with Bonny and his own family. Emily too has the same issue, but hers is another story. Their two distinct personalities that seemingly create a harmonious world between them: Morgan helping Emily out with things Leon would not, and Emily helping Morgan come to terms with reality, now become a strong reason for them to stay together as a family.

At the last part of the novel, Morgan confronts Bonny’s act of putting his name in the obituary. This angers Morgan that he strongly wants to confront her of her reason. He finds out that Bonny did so to declare that she has started seeing someone and that she will finally give him a divorce. The meaning of the title, “Morgan’s Passing” now begins to unravel as we begin to understand that his old life as represented by his marriage to Bonny has died, and that by living a new life with Emily, maybe, just maybe, he might just find himself; but, because the story ends with the last part of the Cinderella story, we can guess that Morgan might emerge victorious in his quest for himself, by being with Emily and through his present life and new job as a U.S. Mail postman.



Williams, M. (1981). Magill’s Literary Annual. New York: Salem press, Inc.

de Usabel, Frances Esmonde. 2002. Book Review: Morgan’s Passing. 6, 746, Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=7409569&site=ehost-live

n.a. (n.d.) Morgan’s Passing. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Morgans-Passing-Anne-Tyler/dp/0449911721

n.a. (n.d.) Bookreporter: Morgan’s Passing by Anne Tyler. Retrieved from http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/0449911721.asp

Leonard, J. (1980). The New York Times: Morgan’s Passing. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1980/03/17/books/tyler-passing.html

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