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Personality theories attempt to understand the behaviors and traits exhibited by humans (Patterson & Joseph , 2007). These theories have unique constructs that aim to analyze individual’s personalities the best way possible. The behavioral theory for example, attempts to understand a person’s behavior by analyzing the environment. This theory looks at the observable traits that characterize an individual.
According to Trimboli, Marshall, and Keenan (2013), the psychodynamic theory digs deep into the conscious and unconscious mind in an effort to understand personality. This research assesses the role of the behavioral and psychodynamic theories on Chris Gardner’s character in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. In addition, it seeks to understand the internal and external forces that affect his personality in the film and the factors that enable him to succeed. Lastly, the research analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the two theories in relation to Gardner’s personality in the movie.
Introduction and description of film character
The movie Pursuit of Happyness was produced in 2006 and it was based on a true story about a poor man who rose to become a rich stock broker. In the 1981 film set up, Chris Gardner appears determined to make it in life regardless of the circumstances surrounding him. His love for his son is impeccable and he seems to do everything possible to be there for him. He vows to provide for his son everything that he needs to make his life better. Chis Gardner is struggling financially and the portable bone density scanner business does not seem to support his livelihood. Despite his circumstances, his hard work and patience lands him a job as a stock broker. Generally, Garner is relentless, persistent, and determined to make it even when everything seems to be against him. The aim of the current research is to analyze the character of Chris Gardner in the movie by applying personality theories.
Rational for chosen theories
Understanding Chris Gardner’s personality requires an in-depth analysis of personality theories. These theories enable one to comprehend how and why people behave the way that they do. There are two personality theories applied in the current research; behavioral and psychodynamic. According to Patterson and Joseph (2007), the behavioral theory is used to understand the relation between an individual and his environment. This theory tends to look at the observable behaviors rather than personal feelings. The theory assumes that the external behaviors are a true reflection of a person’s personality (Schultz & Schultz, 2013). Teunissen and Bok (2013) note that the behavioral theory was proposed by Skinner in an attempt to understand people’s differences through behavior.
Skinner noted that people often behave in a manner that warrants reward (Schultz & Schultz, 2013). Additionally, developing positive traits enables one to gain support from other individuals within the environment. Such traits include; compassion, empathy, and being understanding. Behavioral theory indicates that personalities are shaped and controlled by the society (Patterson & Joseph , 2007). Furthermore, negative traits can only be changed to positive traits after changing the environment. In this regard, this theory is fundamental in understanding how the environment controls the behavior of an individual. Chris Gardner’s environment plays a major role in his struggle and that of his son. He seems to be willing to provide the best for his family but his environment limits him. Assessing his story through the behavior theory will enable one to understand his environment better.
Contrary to the behavioral theory, the psychodynamic theory attempts to understand personalities through conscious and unconscious forces within the human mind. The theory was proposed by Sigmund Freud. According to Trimboli, Marshall, and Keenan (2013), psychodynamic theories emphasize on the importance of inner desires and childhood experiences in shaping personalities. This theory is person-centered and regards an individual as a sole entity. Moreover, it states that individuals are unique and have their own life history. Feud identified three notions that enhance the understanding of the psychodynamic theory; preconscious, conscious, and unconscious.
The theory also provides an understanding of resentment and anger as issues that develop during childhood. Understanding such conflicts enables an individual to experience healthy attitudes in the present. Trimboli, Marshall, and Keenan (2013) also acknowledge that the psychodynamic model ensures that the unconscious feelings experienced by a person are well understood in an effort to deal with their emotions. As a result, one is able to comprehend the internal emotions that could hinder success. This theory will provide comprehension of the conscious and unconscious battles that Chris Gardner struggles with. It will also provide an emotional point of view of his personality and his life in general.
Analysis of film character
A person’s environment plays a critical role in the behavioral theory. The environment tends to shape the personality of an individual. Krueger, South, Johnson, and Iacono (2008) indicate that that the personality of an individual also has an impact on the environment. When Gardner was younger, his father was never there for him and never offered emotional support. Therefore, he made a vow to always support his son both materially and emotionally. In this case, the negative environment he grew up in led to the development of his loving personality. The marriage between Chris and his wife does not seem to work and he is under so much pressure to sell the portable scanners.
As a result of this pressure and the cold attitude from the wife, he becomes more motivated and determined to work in the stock broking company. This pressure drives him to do everything possible to reach his goal despite the obstacles that he encounters. Patterson and Joseph (2007) acknowledge that the behavioral theory explains that people modify their behaviors when they know that they are being rewarded. When Gardner joined the internship program at the stock broking firm, the boss keeps on commanding him to get coffee and donuts. Despite the workload that Chris has, he obliges to get the coffee hoping that the program will finally reward him.
The psychodynamic model assumes that there are unconscious drives that determine how one behaves (Patterson & Joseph , 2007). Trimboli, Marshall, and Keenan (2013) note that the unconscious motives are a strong force that is unstoppable. Chris Gardner seems to be controlled by an unconscious strength that forces him to be persistent and determined to succeed in life against all odds. In addition, this force seems to act as an internal stimulus. Gardner’s goals and the will to succeed seem to be his main driving force. Although his goal to work in the stock brokers firm is not easy given his educational background, he still manages to get employed. In reference to Hopwood et al. (2011), our personalities as adults are dependent on our childhood experiences. Based on this movie, Chris had a very difficult childhood.
The motivation to provide for his family and give his son a better life than he had forces him to be hardworking and determined to excel. In the psychodynamic theory, the conscious and the unconscious mind seem to be in conflict with one another (Trimboli , Marshall, & Keenan , 2013). The id and superego concepts are found in the unconscious mind while the ego is found in the conscious mind. As a result, there are usually battles between the three concepts that create anxiety. After Chris was released from Jail, he had an interview at the stock broking firm. His mind seems to be unsettled and uneasy while waiting for his turn in the lobby. There seems to be inner battles taking place in his head. Such anxiety is eliminated by the ego’s application of defense mechanisms (Schultz & Schultz, 2013). In this case, Gardner uses humor to get rid of the anxiety.
Analysis of internal and external factors
Chris Gardner seems to be in constant battle with external and internal forces within his environment. According to Hopwood et al. (2011), the environment provides external forces that can affect personalities. This is well recognized in the behavioral theory. There are various external factors that affect Gardner’s behavior in the movie. The love for his son is an internal force that affects his personality both negatively and positively. An example is when he argues with the school janitor because ‘happiness’ in the school motto was spelt as ‘happyness’. He seems annoyed as he wants to provide the best education for his son despite his financial limitations.
His love for his son is the driving force toward his relentlessness and determination. Based on the psychodynamic theory, his ‘ego’ makes him believe that he will one day work in the stock broking firm despite the hurdles in his environment. It is the same ego that forces him to continue living in his house despite being three months behind on the rent. In this scene his landlord advises him to get a cheaper house but Chris seems optimistic that he will get a job and pay the rent. There seems to be a force telling him that everything will be alright despite his circumstances. The poor environment surrounding him acts as the external energy that forces him to be the best. Throughout the movie, he seems to be uneasy every time he takes his child to school. This is due to the fact that the school environment reminds him that he has to work harder for his son to get better education.
Analysis of crisis or trauma-causing events
All through the movie, Gardner experiences various trauma-causing events that affect his behavior. After losing his house, he tries to do everything possible to provide basic needs for his son. He is seen to donate blood to get money to survive and take care of his son. He also fixes a portable scanner that was spoilt and sells it to get money. According to Patterson and Joseph (2007), going through a crisis can shape an individual’s personality both positively and negatively.
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It reminds people that they have to work harder to get out of the crisis. Trauma-causing events tend to shape an individual’s line of thought. In the movie, the failure of the portable scanner business can be viewed as a crisis. Gardner does not seem to dwell so much on that failure but goes ahead and applies for an internship in the stock broking company. Additionally, he carries the scanners every day in the hope that someone will buy them. In the case of Gardner, crisis seems to make him better and does not deter him from fulfilling his life’s purpose. After the wife left for New York, Gardner does not seem to pester her to come back. Instead, he becomes even more determined to give the best life to his son. He is seen living in a motel and on the streets during the internship program.
Assessment of strengths and weaknesses
One of the major strengths of the psychodynamic theory is its ability to uncover underlying issues that affect a person. In Gardner’s case, he is trying to deal with the fact that his father was unsupportive by loving his son unconditionally. The love is so great that he demands to stay with his son after the mother left for New York. The psychodynamic theory focuses more on relationships and interpersonal experiences (Trimboli , Marshall, & Keenan , 2013). As a result, Gardner is able to have a better relationship with his son despite the challenges he is experiences in life. Unlike behaviorism, the psychodynamic theory does not take into account the influences of the environment on an individual’s personality. In this case, it focuses on the conscious and unconscious battles in Gardner’s mind without paying regard to his surroundings. As a result, the theory tends to miss on environmental factors affecting his personality.
In reference to Teunissen and Bok (2013), the behavioral theory encompasses traits that are easily observed. Therefore, it provides clear evidence regarding a specific phenomenon. It is easier to detect personalities based on behaviorism as they are easier to observe. Gardner’s loving personality toward his son is very easy to point out. However, the behavioral theory is one-dimension as it does not account for internal forces inside a person’s mind. The theory does not take into account the individual’s mood when assessing personality. An example is the scene where Gardner runs across the street to catch a woman who had stolen his portable scanner. Based on this scene only, behaviorism would assume that Chris Gardner is just cold and mean which is actually not the case. Psychodynamic theory would enable one to understand the reason behind his negative attitude. This means that the behavioral analysis has the possibility of missing out on certain traits exhibited by an individual.
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