Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


© 1999 by Judith Searle

T.S. Eliot once wrote: "If we learn to read poetry properly, the poet never persuades us to believe anything. . . . What we learn from Dante or the Bhagavadgita or any other religious poetry is what it feels like to believe that religion." In a similar sense, literary exemplars offer us the experience of what it feels like to be a particular Enneagram type.

Great fiction offers us a unique opportunity to examine the raw material of experience before it crystallizes into behavior. Through the technique of interior monologue -- which shows a character's thoughts, feelings, and instincts -- fiction writers offer us a dramatic and intimate way to experience individuals as they experience themselves. 

Skillfully written literary characters also allow us to witness the process of an individual's psychological change step by step, as it takes place through the course of the story. In this way, novels and short stories allow us to trace a character's "arc" through both experience and behavior to gain a deeper understanding of the Enneagram type as a whole. 

In my presentation for the IEA 1999 Toronto conference I will be discussing passages from nine well-known novels, exemplifying protagonists of each Enneagram type. To illustrate the kind of approach I will be taking in my talk, I offer here some excerpts from E.M. Forster's novel A Passage to India (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1924), an example I will not be discussing in Toronto. 

A Passage to India: Mrs. Moore as a Nine

Mrs. Moore, a Nine, has come to India to visit her son, who is a Civil Magistrate in Chandrapore. The story takes place in the 1920s, when India was still a colony of Great Britain and beset by many tensions. The British colonials are a self-satisfied lot, and Mrs. Moore is distressed by their lack of appreciation of the spiritual climate of India. When her son smugly tells her that he is "not in India to behave pleasantly," she gently takes issue with him (even though, typically, her first instinct is to preserve harmony):

"I'm going to argue, and indeed dictate," she said, clinking her rings. "The English are out here to be pleasant."

"How do you make that out, mother?" he asked, speaking gently again, for he was ashamed of his irritability.

"Because India is part of the earth. And God has put us on the earth in order to be pleasant to each other. God . . . is . . . love." She hesitated, seeing how much he disliked the argument, but something made her go on. "God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and He is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding." 

He looked gloomy, and a little anxious. He knew this religious strain in her, and that it was a symptom of bad health; there had been much of it when his stepfather died. He thought, "She is certainly ageing, and I ought not to be vexed with anything she says."

. . . Mrs. Moore felt that she had made a mistake in mentioning God, but she found him increasingly difficult to avoid as she grew older, and he had been constantly in her thoughts since she entered India, though oddly enough he satisfied her less. She must needs pronounce his name frequently, as the greatest she knew, yet she had never found it less efficacious. Outside the arch there seemed always an arch, beyond the remotest echo a silence. And she regretted afterwards that she had not kept to the real serious subject that had caused her to visit India -- namely, the relationship between Ronny and Adela. Would they, or would they not, succeed in becoming engaged to be married? (pp. 51-52)

When Adela accepts Ronny's proposal, Mrs. Moore feels that the purpose of her visit has been accomplished, and her thoughts turn to her responsibilities toward others at home. In the following passage we see evidence not only of her Social subtype (in her sense of responsibility to maintain the social order) but also of her One wing type (in her idealism and acceptance of her own limitations): "My duties here are evidently finished, I don't want to see India now; now for my passage back," was Mrs. Moore's thought. She reminded herself of all that a happy marriage means, and of her own happy marriages, one of which had produced Ronny. Adela's parents had also been happily married, and excellent it was to see the incident repeated by the younger generation. On and on! the number of such unions would certainly increase as education spread and ideals grew loftier, and characters firmer. . . . Ronny was suited, now she must go home and help the others, if they wished. She was past marrying herself, even unhappily; her function was to help others, her reward to be informed that she was sympathetic. Elderly ladies must not expect more than this. (p. 95) But before Mrs. Moore can settle her return passage, she goes with a group including Ronny's fiancée, Adela, to visit the caves at Marabar. She finds the echo inside terrifying, and experiences a spiritual crisis: The crush and the smells she could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be fatigued, it had managed to murmur, "Pathos, piety, courage -- they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value." If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same -- "ou-boum." If one had spoken with the tongues of angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion and position, and however much they dodge or bluff -- it would amount to the same, the serpent would descend and return to the ceiling. Devils are of the North, and poems can be written about them, but no one could romanticize the Marabar because it robbed infinity and eternity of their vastness, the only quality that accommodates them to mankind.

She tried to go on with her litter, reminding herself that she was only an elderly woman who had got up too early in the morning and journeyed too far, that the despair creeping over her was merely her despair, her personal weakness, and that even if she got a sunstroke and went mad the rest of the world would go on. But suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from "Let there be Light" to "It is finished" only amounted to "boum." Then she was terrified over an area larger than usual; the universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her soul, the mood of the last two months took definite form at last, and she realized that she didn't want to write to her children, didn't want to communicate with anyone, not even with God. (pp. 149-150)

The tendency to ruminate over philosophical and spiritual questions that is evident in this passage is characteristic of Nines and particularly of the Social subtype. The message Mrs. Moore hears in the cave is compatible with the Nine's world view: all philosophies are of equal merit; there is little reason to make choices, especially when choices are so difficult. And we see the move of a Nine, under stress, to a terror typical of type Six.

Adela, too, has found the caves disturbing, so much so that she believes Dr. Aziz, their Indian guide, has attempted to rape her. When she announces this, the British authorities swing into action and bring Aziz to trial. Adela dreads facing the trial and seeks comfort from Mrs. Moore:

"I am counting on you to help me through; it is such a blessing to be with you again, everyone else is a stranger," said the girl rapidly.

But Mrs. Moore showed no inclination to be helpful. A sort of resentment emanated from her. She seemed to say: "Am I to be bothered for ever?" Her Christian tenderness had gone, or had developed into a hardness, a just irritation against the human race; she had taken no interest at the arrest, asked scarcely any questions, and had refused to leave her bed on the awful last night of Mohurram, when an attack was expected on the bungalow. (p. 199)

Adela asks Mrs. Moore about the echo in the cave. But the older woman is not inclined to offer any help. Her passive-aggressive attitude in the following passage is characteristic of Nines, especially under stress: "Mrs. Moore, what is this echo?"

"Don't you know?"

"No -- what is it? Oh, do say! I felt you would be able to explain it . . . this will comfort me so. . . ."

"If you don't know, you don't know; I can't tell you."

"I think you're rather unkind not to say."

"Say, say, say," said the old lady bitterly. "As if anything can be said! I have spent my life in saying or in listening to sayings; I have listened too much. It is time I was left in peace. Not to die," she added sourly. "No doubt you expect me to die, but when I have seen you and Ronny married, and seen the other two and whether they want to be married -- I'll retire then into a cave of my own." She smiled, to bring down her remark into ordinary life and thus add to its bitterness. "Somewhere where no young people will come asking questions and expecting answers. Some shelf." (p. 200)

Mrs. Moore's disillusionment with the idea of order and justice in the universe is so profound that she does not even offer an opinion as to Aziz's guilt until directly asked (which is, again, a form of passive-aggressiveness). When she says "Of course he is innocent," her son is furious that his fiancée's word is being questioned. But Adela herself is no longer certain that anything actually did happen between her and Aziz in the cave. Mrs. Moore becomes impatient: "Oh, how tedious . . . trivial . . ." and as when she had scoffed at love, love, love, her mind seemed to move towards them from a great distance and out of darkness. "Oh, why is everything still my duty? when shall I be free from your fuss? Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on . . . and Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given . . . and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? . . . and ending everything the echo."

"I don't hear it so much," said Adela, moving towards her. "You send it away, you do nothing but good, you are so good."

"I am not good, no, bad." She spoke more calmly and resumed her cards, saying as she turned them up, "A bad old woman, bad, bad, detestable. I used to be good with the children growing up, also I met this young man [Aziz] in his mosque, I wanted him to be happy. Good, happy, small people. They do not exist, they were a dream. . . . But I will not help you to torture him for what he never did. There are different ways of evil and I prefer mine to yours." (pp. 204-205)

Mrs. Moore's refusal to become involved constitutes a kind of passive-aggressive protest against the British colonial system, and this way of handling inner conflict is typical of all but the healthiest Nines. Nines have an appetite for relentless inner pursuit of the "big" questions, and the answers they arrive at are not always comforting. Mrs. Moore's attitudes reflect the basic Nine position that action is basically futile. 

Forster's novel, of which the above passages constitute only a tiny sample, offers one of the most dimensional characterizations of a Nine that I have ever encountered. To my mind, even the great (and Oscar-winning) film performance of Mrs. Moore by Peggy Ashcroft cannot offer as rich a portrait as the author's text.


The above article was published in the September 1999 issue of Enneagram Monthly.