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How Should a Person Be? Summary & Study Guide

Sheila Heti
This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of How Should a Person Be?.
This section contains 626 words
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How Should a Person Be? Summary & Study Guide Description

How Should a Person Be? Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti.

“How Should A Person Be?” is a semi-autobiographical novel by Sheila Heti. The novel features Sheila herself as the main character in search of her identity: how a person should be. This question preoccupies Sheila throughout the course of the novel. It is something she discusses at great length with her friends, including her best friend, Margaux. Sheila admires Margaux because Margaux appears to be confident in who she is and what she does as a painter. Sheila struggles with a play she has been commissioned to write, because she is unsure of her own talents and whether or not she has anything to say. Sheila longs to be admired and praised, but she isn’t sure how she should be to earn that praise.

Sheila reflects on her recent life, including how she was married for three years but subsequently divorced. She considers it a mistake. Sheila also considers giving up on her play since it is isn’t coming along the way she wants it to. Sheila also goes on to wish she was more like Margaux. Despite this, Sheila’s friend Misha reminds her that in life, mistakes happen and must be made in order for people to grow. Sheila’s therapist, Ann, explains that Sheila is a “puer,” a person who makes new plans the moment things get difficult. Ann explains that Puers are dangerous because they are always switching from one thing to the next. Instead of building to something meaningful based on successes and failures, puers avoid failures, mistakes, and meaning of any kind to avoid difficulty. The solution is to not give up but rather endure things like failure and mistakes.

Sheila is not entirely reassured by this. She begins dating a man named Israel, but the relationship is purely sexual, and Israel is very dominant over Sheila. She goes on to purchase a tape recorder during which time she begins recording everything and everyone around her. Sheila brings the tape recorder along with her on a trip to Miami for an art show for Margaux. Upon returning home, Sheila transcribes everything from the tape and creates a written account of the entire trip. Upon reading this story, Margaux is horrified because she believes she comes off as a narcissist and thinks her work is now meaningless. Margaux wants to end their friendship. Sheila is horrified. She decides to journey to New York where she hopes to find herself and do important things. Sheila comes to realize that she has always approached life like a student, seeking to be taught something.

Sheila goes to Atlantic City. There, she meets a man named Ron who reassures her that God has her back. He explains that everything happens for a reason, that God will not abandon those who seek Him out, and that God catches people when bad things come up. Sheila is comforted by this, prays, and then knows in her heart she is meant to go home. Back home, Sheila mends her relationship with Margaux. Margaux reveals she has never been totally sure of herself, either, but has come to accept who she is. She is getting back in touch with the real emotions and meanings of painting, rather than being concerned about wealth and success. Sheila comes to realize she herself has been an elitist, and that there is nothing making her better than everyone else. Anywhere she gets in life she will have to have earned it. Having accepted that she is just as a person should be—no better than everybody else—Sheila can now be who she is: herself. She takes stock of the important things in her life, like Margaux, and jettisons the things she finds unimportant, such as Israel.

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