Shaped by Stories

The Ethical Power of Narratives

Marshall Gregory

In his latest book, Marshall Gregory begins with the premise that our lives are saturated with stories, ranging from magazines, books, films, television, and blogs to the words spoken by politicians, pastors, and teachers. He then explores the ethical implications of this universal human obsession with narratives. Through careful readings of Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Grave” and Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat,” as well as David Copperfield, Wuthering Heights, and other works, Gregory asks (and answers) the question: How do the stories we absorb in our daily lives influence the kinds of persons we turn out to be?

Marshall W. Gregory was the Ice Professor of English, Liberal Education, and Pedagogy at Butler University until 2012. He co-authored with Wayne Booth The Harper and Row Rhetoric: Writing as Thinking, Thinking as Writing and The Harper and Row Reader: Liberal Education through Reading and Writing; and was co-author with Ellie Chambers of Teaching and Learning English Literature.

” _Shaped by Stories_ weaves its own compelling story about the pervasive ethical effects of reading narrative, with Marshall Gregory serving as a highly engaging and ethically admirable narrator—a very model of good company.” — James Phelan, Distinguished University Professor of English, Ohio State University

“From a lifetime of reflecting on the ethics of fiction, Marshall Gregory has given us an elegant analysis of the power of stories to instruct and delight. No one interested in storytelling will want to be without this incisive guide to both the myriad ways that stories shape our lives and the strategies writers use to affect our responses to their fictions. Both the theoretical and practical halves of Shaped by Stories have clarity and eloquence that yield their own instruction and delight.” —Robert D. Denham, Fishwick Professor of English, Roanoke College

“Marshall Gregory’s Shaped by Stories brings ethical criticism to the level of felt experience. Witty and passionate, full of personal reflections and sharp examples, this book will help anyone who has been drawn to the mysterious power of stories to think more carefully about the connections between narrative art and human ethos. Gregory reminds us that the urgency of our need for stories is tied permanently to the requirements of being human, the need to exercise judgment, belief, and empathy in the process of becoming who we are.” — Annette Federico, James Madison University

Shaped by Stories is a well-written, interesting, and humane book on the value of narratives in ethics and in our lives. The volume enters into conversation with a growing, and popular, body of literature, which considers the role of stories, narrative, and literature for ethics and for moral education more generally. Marshall Gregory combines well-grounded observations about literature and about human life, including his own life, in this illuminating interdisciplinary contribution to the ethics of literature.” — Pamela Hall, Emory University


“Gregory’s overarching thesis is ‘that stories are an important component of the ethical development that all human beings undergo because stories are an important component of every human being’s education about the world.’ . . . [an] elegantly written, amiable, argot-free study. Gregory fills the book with relevant personal examples and draws on a lifetime of engagement with narratives and thoughtful, down-to-earth considerations of their impact. A generous works cited makes it an exceptionally useful resource. . . . This is a book every serious reader should investigate and all libraries should own. Essential.” — Choice

“Marshall Gregory’s new book has its roots in influential studies of ethics and literature published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. . . . In addressing the book to a broad, general audience rather than critics or academic professionals, he is appealing to a culture obsessed with narrative to think reflectively about how the stories we encounter daily in such a variety of forms shape our ethos. Gregory’s passionate conviction about the topic’s relevance is apparent on every page. In its directness, lucidity, personal humor, and warmth, Shaped by Stories will indeed engage a wide variety of readers. The ultimate value of this book is the way it welcomes and extends discussion of ethics.” — Victorian Studies

“Marshall Gregory utilizes the power of story, often his own, to reach into the minds and consciousness of academics and laypersons alike. His goal is to open a dialogue between people, about people, and the possible reasons story affects human behaviors and characters . . . . He challenges his readers to enter the real controversial dialogue. Gregory does not propose one specific ethic, but he dares to present the fact that there are ethics that cannot be escaped behind the blind of relativism.” — Sixteenth Century Journal