‘New Shoes’ began as an early chapter in my second unpublished novel, introducing my protagonist at a low point in her life. She’d been fired from her job. Aside from the humiliation of being sacked, she had to deal with the culture of unemployment – anxiety about job interviews, rejection, the loss colleagues and the worst thing of all – daytime television.
This is a story about work-related identities, a term I would use now, after about a dozen rewrites over the course of two decades. No one said writing was easy. Back when the story was a novel chapter, I thought of it as being about Jungian archetypes. I was living in Washington DC and it was the mid-nineties. In academia and new age thinking, Jungian psychology was all the rage and it found its way into literary and cultural criticism, which I was teaching at the time. And if that weren’t enough, Joseph Campbell had taken Jung and turned him into an industry through the PBS television series The Power of Myth, which of course came with a best-selling book. An offshoot of this can be found in the fiction writers’ bible The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
‘New Shoes’ looks at changing one’s role in life and identity in Jungian terms. The visually-impaired old lady fulfils the mentor archetype. As Karena goes down her hallway looking for the old women, she comes across other archetypes and rejects them – or they reject her. The characters on the television, presented as two-dimensional, are also archetypal, pandering to an audience of types of people (rather than individuals). The somewhat open-ended conclusion stresses the importance of the process over the outcome. In Jungian-based psychotherapy, the emphasis is on the process of self-discovery, which is often aided by the analysis of dreams. Neither Karena nor the reader knows if she’s dreaming in parts of the story.
Over the years, only a couple of people who have read the story and commented on it have picked up on the Jungian references. But that’s okay. I’m reminded of the scholar who spent years analysing and writing about Shoeless Joe and its screenplay adaptation Field of Dreams, as explorations of Jungian psychology. It makes loads of sense to me with a story so obviously full of symbolism. When the scholar met the author of Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, and asked about the Jungian influences, Kinsella had no idea what the scholar was talking about.