Her Crisis – Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?

Sheila Heti’s, ‘How Should a Person Be?’ clearly questions the inextricable link between the post-feminist and Neo-liberalism. The novel acts as an autobiography of Heti’s life. However, the characters in the novel does question post-feminism and the position of women in contemporary popular culture.


Neoliberalism in contemporary culture touches on the idea that it is the individuals that are highly flawed. It is the individual who is not pulling their own weight for the economy to prosper. It claims that citizens need to govern themselves. In light of post-feminism, it is arguable that some women in contemporary culture may need to pull their own weight, their own ‘crisis’, to help empower themselves in the contemporary popular construct. Robin James is interested in the ‘production of crisis’ and argues that some fail to “capitalise on that crisis.” James claims that,


‘Resilience is the hegemonic or “common sense” ideology that everything is to be measured […] by its health. This “health” is maintained by bouncing back from injury and crisis in a way that capitalizes on deficits so that you end up ahead of where you initially started (one step back, two steps forward). If resilience is the new means of production, this means that crisis and trauma are actually necessary, desirable phenomena – you can’t bounce back without first falling. […] resilience discourse normalizes the sexist, racist damage traditional white supremacist patriarchy inflicts on white women and people of color as the ultimately innocuous damage that they are individually responsible for overcoming.’ (Robin James, p. 4-7)


In the context of the novel, we must assess whether the main protagonist Sheila manages to overcome her crisis. There are clear indications to suggest that Sheila Heti does not overcome her crisis very well. When we look at the entire narrative thread, we see that the main protagonist Sheila, and her close friend Margaux, go through this process of finding themselves/ understanding themselves. What seems to be a spiritual vocational journey however is the failing of conquering their ‘crisis’. Sheila tries to her writer’s block. She not only fantasises escapes, but travels to varies cities. One of the passages that reflects on this particular matter as when Sheila dreams of planes during chapter 6:


“I went dizzily to sleep and had a dream: I was waiting in an airport… We flew over a vast recycling center that only poor people used. Their bags of garbage went on forever. I was certain the plane would make an emergency landing there, but when it did not, I made a quick decision and slipped out the back of the plane’s bathroom. I landed safely on the ground, my fall softened by the garbage bag.”


Sheila in the dream fails to overcome her crisis represented by the plane. Sheila does not stay on board until the end of the flight. Sheila, instead, jumps out of the plane. What is significant is what Sheila’s analyst says a few lines afterwards:

“But life isn’t only where things are exciting; its where things feel hard and stagnant, too. And arguing for a pure act that doesn’t have a product in the end – well, there’s two things there: one is there’s not a concern for making a living: and second is there’s not a concern with working to the end and winding up with something solid.”


What Ann describes Sheila afterwards is a “puer”, one who fluctuates between ships that sails before sinking. As James claims in his theoretical approach, it is evident that Sheila fails to overcome her production of crisis (represented by her marriage and her script writing). She plans to quit her writing because she cannot spark the creativity within her and also left her marriage because it was stagnant and was holding back her creativity. Instead of “dragging her weight”, Sheila jumps off the plane and allows her crisis to live on.


Yes, towards the end, Sheila meets a guy name Ron who reintroduces her to God, which fulfils her spiritually and causes her to return home. What is significant is that in the end, she decides to accept everything as it is, and although we can read the accepting of everything as the overcoming of her crisis, we can also read it as the acceptance of crisis as the veil that will forever live with her.


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