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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Psychoanalyzing the Woman at the Well

This week's assessment is from Anne. She is planning on writing a biblical fiction account of the woman at the well. She's asked me what my thoughts on this woman might be, in hopes of shedding some therapeutic light into her past, present, and future. Of course, this is new territory for me. I've analyzed books with biblical characters, but never the character. (And it's a bit different coming from the side post-published v. pre-published.)

So I'm going to give it my best shot, using my degree from seminary  and psychological training. All I really have to go on is her story found in the Gospel of John, chapter 4 for those who are interested and/or unfamiliar with the Samaritan woman. The basic gist is that Jesus, weary from traveling, sits down beside a well where she is drawing water (which gives some indication that she's not well-to-do). He requests a drink from her, which surprises her, because Jews and Samaritans aren't exactly buddies. (Which is why I chose the picture to the left. I imagine her facial expression was just like that when Jesus approached her.)

The time frame might hold some significance, but scholars can't agree. However, for literary purposes, you might want to take this into consideration. Jesus went to the well around noon, the hottest time of the day. Most of the women drew their water much earlier, when it was cooler. Perhaps the Samaritan woman did not because she wished to avoid the other women, or that she was ostracized by them and not welcome to draw water earlier.

If she wished to avoid them, then most likely, her immoral conduct is well known and she is either embarrassed by it or feels guilt about it. If she is ostracized, then she has accepted this lot in life and doesn't choose to kick against the goads. Perhaps she's resigned about how she'll be treated, or perhaps she doesn't care to be publicly humiliated and shunned.

Either way, when Jesus asked her for a drink, she reacts with a hint of annoyance. (At least, this is how I read it, which would give a glimpse into her personality.) She said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” At the very least, she is stating the obvious, which is a bit saucy, right? I imagine she was a bit sarcastic, even. (This woman was not sweet Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island. She was much more like Ginger.)

She's curious as to what Jesus talks to her about. Jesus used a deliberate misunderstanding to converse with her, confusing her about spiritual water versus physical water. She's intrigued enough to continue talking with a Jewish man, but it's just passing the time as she draws her water, likely.

It's not until Jesus probes into her personal life that she becomes uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. He asks her to go call her husband. She replies with a deceptive answer: "I have no husband." She didn't want him to dig any deeper. This was a defense mechanism she employed, and likely had employed many times before this. She seemed to revert to using it with ease, perhaps as a result of leading her duplicitous lifestyle for so long and having to fend off personal attacks.

The Samaritan woman made a very quick decision that Jesus must be a "prophet." She understood that he is something special, different, and was willing to make a concession that he is. She also was quick to take action. I mean, enthusiastic action! She left her water jar at the well (indicating she will return) in her eagerness to go and tell the townspeople what Jesus has told her. As much as she might want to avoid others, when faced with something greater than herself--Someone who is offering her a happiness that she so desperately has sought and which had eluded her until now--all of her discomfort, shame, guilt, etc. took a back burner. This really shows a strength of character.

However you write this woman's story, it's important to note that Jesus approached her with gentleness. Not timidity, but with gentleness, lovingly. My guess would be that she'd had very little of this in her life. You're probably right to think she has been verbally and likely physically abused at some point in her past. Of course, anything you write toward this end would be conjecture, but many an author has taken literary license with the Bible. It's what's in your heart as you do so that makes the difference.

I'm excited to see if this will help you as you envision this character. All I did was analyze her speech, body language, etc., that was in the passage. That, with a little creative imagination, and viola! This assessment! Thanks for opening my eyes up to this possibility!

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Misha Gerrick said...

I've never thought to look at the Samaritan woman like that, but what you say makes lots of sense. In fact, part of me wants to identify with the character you described.


Miss Sharp said...

At first she sounded like an "unlikeable" heroine but with Jeannie's help she became "superlikeable!"

This made me wonder what Jesus would have done if she had turned out to be a complete psycho and rushed down to tell the townspeople there was a molester at the well or something...

Miss Sharp said...

Actually the writer could get some good tension by having her struggle with that kind of thinking, bad angel vs. good angel type of thing...just an idea. ;)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'm with you, misha. i mean, she had had five husbands, and the man she was with currently wasn't even her husband...she wasn't a post child for purity by any stretch. but i think we often forget the events leading up to someone becoming like that...yes, even in biblical times. i enjoyed this assessment so much b/c it got me thinking about her in a much different light.

thanks, miss sharp. :) you, lovely lady, are always welcome by the blog with your encouraging comments. you're like my barnabus!

Anne Baxter Campbell said...

Thanks, Jeannie--this will help with the story. I'll send you the first chapter, if I ever get to it! Too much other stuff happening right now.

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Very interesting. Amazing how something we read over and over can come to life by digging a little and looking at it with fresh (and clinical?) eyes. Fascinating.

Lapiz de la Guerra said...

A timely post indeed; my pastor was talking about this passage not that long ago and a lot of his conjecture about his character was right in line with yours! I've been wanting to write something about Peter for awhile and this post has inspired me to go back to that idea and start looking at his character more deeply!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.