The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By

Dan P. McAdams*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

539 Scopus citations


Drawing from the author's psychological research on especially generative (that is, caring and productive) midlife American adults and on a reading of American cultural history and literature, this book identifies a prototypical story of the good life that many Americans employ to make sense of who they are, who they have been, and who they will be in the future. The central theme in this story is redemption - the deliverance from suffering to a positive status or outcome. Empirical research suggests that highly generative American adults are much more likely than their less generative counterparts to construe their lives as tales of redemption. Redemptive life stories promote psychological well-being, physical health, and the adult's commitment to making a positive contribution to society. But stories of redemption are as much cultural texts as they are individual psychological constructions. From the spiritual autobiographies composed by the Massachusetts Bay Puritans to the most recent episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show, common scripts for the redemptive self may be found in religious accounts of conversion and atonement, the rags-to-riches stories of the American dream, and canonical cultural narratives about personal liberation, freedom, and recovery. The book examines the psychological and cultural dynamics of redemptive life narratives, including the role of American religion and self-help as sources for the construction of life stories and the broad similarities, as well as the striking differences in how African-American and Euro-American adults construct redemptive stories of the self. For all their psychological and cultural power, redemptive life stories sometimes reveal important limitations in American identity. For example, some versions of the redemptive self underscore the naïve expectation that suffering will always be overcome and the arrogance of seeing one's own life as the living out of a personal manifest destiny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages432
ISBN (Electronic)9780199786787
ISBN (Print)0195176936, 9780195176933
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


  • American Identity
  • Generativity
  • Life Stories
  • Narrative Psychology
  • Personality
  • Redemption
  • Self and Culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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