Who Are We

At several points in her essay, “Our Secret,” Susan Griffin argues that people are part of a complex web of connections.  We live in several contexts: historical, cultural, religious, etc.  At one point she says: “Who are we?  The question is not so simple.  What we call the self is part of a larger matrix of relationship and society.  Had we been born to a different family, in a different time, to a different world, we would not be the same.  All the lives that surround us are in us.”  She speaks of a “field”: “Like a field of gravity that is created by the movement of many bodies.  Each life is influenced and it in turn becomes an influence.  What is a cause is also an effect.  Childhood experience is just one influence in the determining field.” 

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One way of thinking about this concept of the self (and of interrelatedness), is to reflect on the connections that she implies and asserts.  As you reread the selection, look for powerful and surprising juxtapositions as well as fragments that stand together in interesting and suggestive ways.  Think about the arguments represented by the blank spaces on the page or the jumps from section to section.   (And look for Griffin’s written statements about relatedness.)  Look for connections that seem important to the text (and to you). 

Think also about whether the ideas that Griffin puts forth are consistent with the doctrine of existentialism.  Also consider in your paper why it is that existentialism as a philosophy experienced its greatest popularity after World War II (it had already been around for approximately 50 years by that time!).  To put it another way, I would like you to think of the doctrine of existentialism as the philosophical norm post World War II.  It is the standard by which we may judge Griffin’s contribution… does she read with or against the grain of existentialism?  And, most importantly, how does she do that (what does she add to the doctrine, and/or what elements of it does she take issue with?).

So the prompt is this: 

Write an essay in which you use these examples to think through the ways that Griffin answers the question: Who are we?

Susan Griffin “Our Secret” 


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