Some of the most common stories shared by recipients of public assistance are “origin stories”: personal experience narratives that describe how people found themselves in need of help. In terms of the narrative event, these stories initially appear complete, meeting common criteria for defining narrative. But participants also narrate futures that provide an alternative ending to their origin stories and, in doing so, reframe, redefine, and “refinish” these stories. Analysis of these alternative endings reveal narrators to be both bricoleurs and cultural commentators, often referencing two well-established narratives in US culture: the cultural myth of the American Dream and the legend of “the welfare queen.” Further, the move to imagine the future encourages narrators to transform stories of their lives into more holistic life stories, revealing the life story as an emic genre of folklore.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.