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Erikson and Goffman on American Identity Essay

When foreigners think of America, they think of McDonalds, the Statue of Liberty, Hollywood film stars, and the list goes on. In terms of Americans, people associate Texans with cowboy boats, Californians with surfboards, and New Yorkers with a snobbish grin on their face. It is true that all these things represent America in one way or another, but what exactly is American identity? Eriksons analysis on American identity has drawn attention to four topics: Mom, adolescent, boss, and machine. He links all four topics together by using the myth of John Henry Hero. Goffman, on the other hand, develops dramaturgical analysis to understand human behaviors.

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He sees men as actors with different roles and these actors have to perform to different audiences. Even though Eriksons approach and Goffmans approach to understanding human identity are very different, both of them consider American identity changes over time because of the change in environment.
John Henry Hero is a representation of cowboys. Cowboy is a unique product form American culture. When people think about cowboys, they think of a carefree, independent white male, just like the ones on Marlboro advertisements. The birth and death of John Henry, as Erikson analyzes, gives two fundamental factors of American identity at the cowboy period: abandonment of and by parents, and rejections to intimate feelings.

Abandonment comes from Momism. A Mom is a certain dangerous type of mother (Erikson, P.289) that creates a mental or physical barrier for her children to live with. Erikson gives several examples on how parents can let their children down based on the John Henry myth. First, there are the expectations that parents want their children to achieve. In John Henrys case, his parents have thought of all jobs possible for him to do when he grew up.

However, children, almost never, want to be what their parents want them to be; or as Erikson said he (John Henry) will not commit himself to any identity as predetermined by the stigmata of birth (Erikson, P.298). Second, parents do not satisfy everything the child demands, and the child feels neglected and grows distant from his parents. John Henry left his parents because his parents fed the dogs before they fed him. Third, he left because he was sure that he could take care of himself. John Henry took into his grave believing that a man counts only as a man (Erikson, P.

299). Hence, in another point of view, he abandoned his parents just as Erikson says, it was the child who abandoned the mother, because he had been in such a hurry to become independent (Erikson, P.296).
This abandonment also lead to another factor rejections to intimate feelings. Erikson finds not only the sorrow of having been abandoned but also the fear of committing to deep emotions (Erikson, P.301) in cowboys because there is a mental barrier in knowing that they have abandoned their mothers and have been abandoned by her.

Cowboys, thus, are usually rather lonely people. Their job will not let them see their family nor their friends very often. They are the man without roots, the motherless man, the womenless man (Erikson, P.299). The nonsense folk songs offer a funny yet sarcastic view of cowboys life they are not bounded by relationships because they are not allowed to do so. This lifestyle, therefore, express a deliberate and stubborn paradox, a denial of trust in love, a denial of a need for trust.

It thus becomes a more intimate declaration of independence (Erikson, P.304). Since they view the rest of the world as a totally isolated entity from them, their love for the country is rather bitter as compared to in other countries.
What if John Henry Hero is put in another set of environment, such as, the modern business world? In this new environment he can no longer just run away from home. The turning point of his life will change from the infant stage to the adolescence stage. In America, typically there will be a standardized role forced on adolescents, namely students.

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Erikson thinks that the danger of this stage is role diffusion (Erikson, P.307). Young people, unaware of their roles, may run away from .

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Erikson and Goffman on American Identity Essay
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When foreigners think of America, they think of McDonalds, the Statue of Liberty, Hollywood film stars, and the list goes on. In terms of Americans, people associate Texans with cowboy boats, Californians with surfboards, and New Yorkers with a snobbish grin on their face. It is true that all these things represent America in one way or another, but what exactly is American identity? Eriksons analysis on American identity has drawn attention to four topics: Mom, adolescent, boss, an
2019-02-12 08:21:41
Erikson and Goffman on American Identity Essay
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