Sunday, February 27, 2011

Escaping the past, present, and future - Identities in Beloved

"I am Beloved and she is mine."

The past seems all consuming in the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The main character Sethe cannot escape from the images and reality of her past. She allows the past to control her life, thus shaping her identity.

In this post we are looking not at what shapes our identity but instead what deconstructs it.

Throughout the story we learn that slavery is to blame for this deconstruction. The past memories of slavery haunt those characters who have escaped: making them question their identity as man, forget their identity as a mother, and destroy the new existence they have created for themselves.

Paul D saw many things as a slave and was often treated worse than many animals. After having a "bit" placed into his mouth he begins to wonder if the roosters have more freedom than he himself has. This leads to a downward spiral where he places all of himself that he has left into a "tin can" and locks it away inside his chest. When the can is opened it releases so much pent up energy that he can barely tell if it is himself screaming.

Sethe is also haunted by slavery which has caused her to ultimately loose her husband, sons, and daughter. Sethe becomes so afraid of returning to slavery that she will loose herself and commit the unthinkable. The act changes her entire existence and creates supernatural events in which she looses so much of herself that the townspeople can barely recognize her beside the reincarnation of her daughter beloved.

I believe that Toni Morrison was trying to communicate the story of slavery through the deconstruction of identities. The story is told from the "broken", the ones who no longer know who they are and are only trying to discover what their place is in this new world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Stranger

Identities are often connected to the past because after all isn't this partially how our identities are formed? Well Albert Camus might argue you on this point claiming that society wants to believe that our identities are shaped by past events but in reality we just exist in the moment. In Albert Camus', The Stranger, Meursault lives life simply and in the moment not worrying about what has happened because in the end he claims, "it means nothing and matters little". This philosophy is exactly what puts him on death row because while he is concerned with the here and now, the jury (representing society) is interested in his feelings and justifications about past events.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Zeroing in on our Identites with Crime and Punishment

Identity in Crime and Punishment
In this post we are returning to the heart of the question, what determines our identity?
Does our upbringing determine our identity according to Dostoyevsky?
Raskolinkov and Dunya are both brought up within the same family and same situation and yet their identities become very different. In the beginning of Crime and Punishment they seem very similar – they are both young and handsome characters well liked by most of their peers, but as the book continues the reader determines how different they truly are. Raskolinkov is obsessed with a theory, one that he ultimately proves wrong through the murder of two women. The murder of one of the women might have been justified. This connects his situation to Dunyas – where she is presented the chance to kill a man who was attempting to rape her. She chooses against. Both characters are in similar situations and yet their identities become separated by their choices of action. This allows the reader to believe that Dostoyevsky would argue that upbringing does not determine our identities.
Do our loved ones determine our identity according to Dostoyevsky?
Sonya works as a prostitute in order to help her family, it could be argued that Raskolinkov murders a women to obtain money for his family, and Svidrigailov commits suicide because the women he loves doesn’t love him back – all of these actions help define the characters identities throughout Crime and Punishment. The motives of these actions appear at the surface level to be love for someone or something, but the problem is that the actions are quite disgusting and warped. I feel that this is demonstrating Dostoyevsky’s opinion that our identities are shaped by our loved ones but because of the nature of the actions – our identities are shaped in a negative way because of loved ones.

A tale of Foils and Identity - KHIV

Identities are fought for within Henry IV. Hotspur and Hal represent foils to contrast the identity of a true prince. So the question becomes what is the identity of good prince? In the beginning the reader debates internally about whether Hotspur – the victorious one, or Hal – the slacker is more admirable.  As the story progresses we learn that Hal has been guided by a hidden motive to be seen as the “light (son/sun) in the darkness” and this is what has determined his identity. Hal and Hotspur constantly are fighting internally and externally with each other for right to the throne. In the end Hal becomes superior revealing his true identity that has been hidden throughout the book. This explains that people can keep their identities hidden and even when one identity seems to be the better of the two, you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oedipus - Fate and Identity mingle

How exactly are our identities shaped and formed?

Fate is defined as the development of events beyond our control. We may think of fate as mystical, something only for those who believe in the supernatural. But in reality, fate is all around us. For example many religions rely on fate to explain things and justify their religions.  If fate controls us, as it did Oedipus, does it also control our identity? If we look closer at the story of Oedipus it seems as though that fate truly does dictate who we are as well as what will happen in our lives. Oedipus and his family try to escape the cursed life that lies before them, but in their efforts they end up allowing for the prophesy to come true. Throughout the story Oedipus's fate dictates the decisions he makes and how he acts, leaving the reader to wonder if it could have been prevented or if fate would have acted on Oedipus in other ways.

Fate seems to control who we will become and therefore shapes our identities, but it must first be determined if we believe in such a thing, for if we don't, what does form our identities?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Identity in The Help

How exactly are our identities shaped and formed?

"Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision. You gone have to ask yourself, "Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?" 

Isn't this the truth. We are constantly told who we are supposed to be by our friends, our family, and the media. In The Help, the question of identity comes up with every flip of the page and Katheryn Stockett makes it clear that she believes that no matter what we are told we are, we have a choice in who we are. In the book, the main character Skeeter goes against the southern tradition of racism to stand up for what she believes. This action gives her depth that the other white characters lack because they follow. 

 "All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe."

I believe that we should take this lesson to heart, and realize that we can be who we want to be, not what our community expects or tells us to be. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Identity, where does it come from?

We are all unique, that is what makes life so interesting. In today's society there are many things out there that can affect who we become and change who we are. So my question becomes how exactly are our identities shaped and formed? Could it be through the people that love us? Or the people that don't? Or maybe through outside sources such as our community and government? Or maybe due to a higher power, something bigger than you and I?

In Homer's, The Odyssey, Telemakhos appears a little lost and confused, a follower. His dad has been lost at sea and townsmen have taken over his home in hopes of marrying his mother, who is so distraught she provides no guidance to her son. I believe that this proves that without the presence (physically or mentally) of a strong parental figure it is challenging for a person to develop a strong individual identity. As the book progresses and Telemakhos learns more and more about his father, he begins to develop as a character and finds the power and responsibility he must obtain to kick the suitors out. But even yet he struggles to demonstrate his personality because he is often over shadowed by his father, lost as to who he is and who he should be. I believe this is due to the time he spent apart from a strong parental figure. While he lacked the guidance of a parent, he did have a community that could have influenced him in the wrong direction. This did not happen though. Instead he stuck to good morals and tried to protect his mother and home. I think this shows us that people do have an innate identity inside of themselves that no one can completely change or influence. What I don't know is how this identity is inside of us, whether it is through a person's genes or as I am inclined to believe, due to a higher power. While Homer and I may disagree about who this higher power is, it remains clear that something bigger than human kind is at work when deciding parts of our identity.