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About Schmidt in Relation to Developmental Theories of Old Age

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By Alexandra Edwards

In About Schimdt, Warren Schmidt is a retired insurance salesman, who at age 66 has no particular plans other than to drive around in the motor home his wife insisted they buy. He's not altogether bitter, but not happy either, as everything his wife does annoys him, and he disapproves of the man his daughter is about to marry. When his wife suddenly dies, he sets out to postpone the imminent marriage of his daughter to a man he doesn't like, while coping with discoveries about his late wife and himself in the process.

The final stage of Erikson's theory is later adulthood (age 60 years and older). The crisis represented by this last life stage is integrity versus despair. Erikson proposes that this stage begins when the individual experiences a sense of mortality. This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. No matter what the cause, this sense of mortality precipitates the final life crisis. The final life crisis manifests itself as a review of the individual1s life-career as shown in About Schmidt when Warren says "I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?". Similar to Warrens life review, individuals review their life-career to determine if it was a success or failure. According to Erikson, this reminiscence or introspection is most productive when experienced with significant others which Warren did not have after his wife passed. The outcome of this life-career reminiscence can be either positive or negative. Ego integrity is the result of the positive resolution of the final life crisis. Ego integrity is viewed as the key to harmonious personality development; the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom. Erikson defines wisdom as a kind of "informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself". Conversely, despair is the result of the negative resolution or lack of resolution of the final life crisis. Warren experiences despair and expresses it saying "Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn't matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone. None that I can think of. None at all." This negative resolution manifests itself as a fear of death, a sense that life is too short, and depression. Despair is the last dystonic element in Erikson's theory.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for the findings on the stages of grief which has come to be known as the Kubler-Ross model. Kubler-Ross found that every individual



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