Monash University
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When Breath Becomes Air: Constructing Stable Narrative Identity during Terminal Illness

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-12-12, 01:59 authored by Deborah de Muijnck

This article tackles the question of how narrative identity can be shaped and stabilised during terminal illness. It focuses on how the experience of cancer challenges, or possibly strengthens, the sense of identity by sharing narratives of the past, by evaluating present identity, and by commenting on possible future selves. It does so by focusing exemplary on textual markers within Paul Kalanithi’s New York Times bestselling autobiography When Breath Becomes Air (2016), which the author wrote after receiving his diagnosis of terminal cancer. This paper also offers an analytical framework for narrative researchers who aim to analyse narrative identity in the growing field of health narratives, where oral and written communication help the individual establish a stable (pre-)conflict and post-conflict sense of identity.


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