A Look at Identity
Identity is a set of characteristics by which an individual is recognizable. As time passes each identity is individually shaped by these characteristics. At an early age, parents start the identity process by giving their children names. It is in fact your parents that truly shape your identity. If your parents were aggressive people who rarely paid attention to you, it’s possible that you could wind up being a school bully or something along those lines. It’s quite frightening when you think about it. By not having “good” parents it is feasible to have an under developed identity. I also think that identity has to do with where you were raised. This may sound silly, but let me explain. Awhile back I read an interesting book titled “The Boys from Brazil” by Ira Levin, that had to do with identity. It involved four Adolf Hitlers, each raised in a different part of the world. It was interesting to see how each character reacted to his surroundings. Although the one in Germany tried to take over the world, the other three had no bad intentions and lived normal and happy lives. So in fact, identity can be influenced by society and the world around us.
My name is Jessica Gaber and I’m 17 years old. I attend Westmount Collegiate Institute and I’m in grade eleven, but you knew all that…… right? You see, to people who don’t know me I’m just another demographic. Except, when you take the time to pursue my friendship, you’ll be surprised at how enjoyable my company is, share my passion for the stage, or my love for reading. A name can in fact mask your true identity, and create a misleading self image. My parents met each other on a blind date. Before they met, my mom asked her friend, the one doing the setting up, what my father’s name was. Trying not to laugh, the friend blurted out Harold. My mother had to think long and hard before she went to meet my father. With a name like Harold, he must have been a nerd, right? Thank goodness my mom went on the date! I know it sounds silly, but they almost didn’t get married because of a name, and the certain image the name portrayed.
“Words have tremendous power, particularly words that are used to define our identity or label us in some way.” (pg. 42 Facing History and Ourselves) In the reading What’s in a name, we look at the affects of a little black girl being called a “nigger”. The interesting part of this story, is that Miriam, the little girl, didn’t even know what the word “nigger” meant.
“I looked at the floor and thought. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what the word meant. I searched my brain looking for an incident, in which I heard someone say it, I tried to see where and when had heard that awful word before, but I couldn’t. No one, within the hearing range of my eight year old ears had ever uttered the word. But why, then, did I react to that word instantly, so violently, as if the word was familiar?” (pg. 41 What’s in a name?)
Unfortunately, in today’s society, the word “nigger” is used to frequently, not just among the white population, but the black population as well. One question remains; how can a word be discriminatory if the victim has no idea what the word means? I think it has a lot to do with the tone of voice the word is said in. When I was 11, I went to New York to visit my family. I wore my brand new Hebrew name- necklace around my neck. Looking in the windows of some downtown stores I found a purse I really liked. I proceeded to go into the store and ask the man at the cash the price. When he said fifty dollars, and I respectfully declined, he took one glance at my neck and called me a “cheap kyke”. I had no idea what the word meant, but I new it wasn’t nice and made me feel bad. The man at the cash was both stereotypical and a racist.
“All people like us are we, and everyone else is they.” (Rudyard Kipling) This was the “too familiar” case in the reading, The “in” Group. The reader was able to witness first hand, the fear of being alone and the power of a group. The “in” Group was a story of a victim becoming a victimizer and the choice she made in order to achieve her desired identity. After all, to her, it was more fun to playing on the “winning” team than the “losing” one. “Often being accepted by others is more satisfying than being accepted by one’s self, even though the satisfaction doesn’t last. Too often our actions are determined by the moment.” (pg. 30 The “in” Group) This brings me to my next point; your identity can be determined by the “stereotype” you fit under. for example, if a person is in the so called “popular group”, they might not want to be seen walking in the mall alone. This would tarnish their precious image, since they are known to have a lot of friends. This person possess a superficial identity.
It is very difficult to go against a group, especially when the group is a majority. The reading, “Conformity and Identity”, is a perfect example of what it’s like to be on the “other side of the fence”. I seems like the grass is greener, and most of the time, for young gays it is. Brandon Carson has a really strong grip on his identity. “I have come to except myself on psychological as well as physical terms.” (pg. 31 Conformity and identity) I think that’s important when trying to determine one’s identity. I know I have many faults, but it’s our imperfections, and willingness to accept them that make us unique. This reading is so powerful because it carries such a universal theme. You don’t have to be gay to experience the pressure society has to conform. Through this reading I was able to draw parallels with the novel, “1984″ by George Orwell. Winston, like Brandon, has a different way of thinking, and is forced to conform. In both works, society attempts to conform, using the person’s greatest fear; Brandon rejection, Winston room 101 (the rats). Society does a great job at both stripping, and assigning one’s identity. In Jonathan Larson’s play, “Rent”, each character has their own separate struggle with conformity and identity, for a variety of different reasons. In the Song “La Vie Boheme”, the idea’s of both conformity and identity are discussed.
“To loving tension, no pension
To more than one dimension,
To starving for attention,
Hating convention, hating pretension
Not to mention of course,
Hating dear old mom and dad
To riding your bike,
Midday past the three piece suits
To fruits — to no absolutes –
To Absolute — to choice –
To the Village Voice –
To any passing fad
To being an us for once
Instead of a them”
(Rent, La Vie Boheme)
When a person is told something over and over again they begin to believe it. Your identity can be determined by the people around you, enforcing their own opinions on you. So your identity is no longer yours, it belongs to them now. The reading “The Bear That Wasn’t, illustrates just this, along with the impact the power of suggestion has. The bear was told enough times that he was just a “Silly man, who needs to shave, and wears a fur coat” (pg. 4 The Bear That wasn’t), that he started to believe it. In fact when winter came around the following year, he questioned hibernating. Only bears hibernate, and he was no longer that. His identity was stripped and his new one was influenced by society’s need to conform.
“Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.”( Aristotle ) This was uncle Willie exactly, in the reading, “Legacies”. Uncle Willie had a gift, a gift for teaching. More importantly, because of this defining characteristic that made up his immaculate identity, he was able to pass on a legacy, rich in knowledge, for years to come. It takes a strong, self assured person to educate. When a person teaches they are giving away part of their identity. If I teach a person how to act, using my morals and values, and that person makes something of themself, part of my identity is consumed by their success. It truly is a satisfying experience. We all want to leave something behind, why not leave a part of ourselves; our identity.
Identity is special, because it differs from person to person and is what makes us individual. We all arrive at our true identity in different ways and at own comfortable pace. It may take a person 50 years to truly know who they are. I think as people grow old their values become strong and ideals change, molding their identity. I am… who I am. Nothing more, and nothing less. As life goes on, I will slowly have some idea of why I was put here, and that will be part of discovering my identity. Everything is determined by time, and age allows us to mature, to find out about god’s most complex creation; man.