The Struggle for Personal Identity
The topic I have chosen for my research essay is that of Personal Identity. We have come across this topic in many stories that we have done in the course. Different authors have handled this theme in a different way and by taking a look at this we will be able to see what personal identity means to people. The relationship between self and society is essentially confrontational and the battleground on which this struggle is fought by identity. Put simply, identity is the perception of self by others, challenged by the social world (Fontana & Kotarba, 1984, pp. 11).The stories I have chosen to take a look at are A Wifes Story by Bharati Mukherjee, Eveline by James Joyce, Going Home by Archie Weller, A Relative Stranger by Charles Baxter, Six Feet of the Country by Nadine Gordimer. We will take a look at these stories in the following paragraphs.
In The Wifes Story, the author Bharati Mukherjee looks at the theme of Personal Identity in respect to the Indian Culture. The main character in the story, Panna, leaves her family in order to get a Ph.D. This is seen when she says Ive made it. Im making something of my life. Ive left home, my husband, to get a Ph.D. in special Ed (Meyer, 1997, pp. 424) She is exposed to the Western world and is struggling between her Indian identity and the one of the Western World. She is trying really hard to position herself in this world. She wants to accept the American culture, but at the same time she does not want to lose her Indian ways of thinking. She does not want to follow the traditional customs where the wife stays at home and is either abused by the husband or by her in-laws. Pannas search for identity can also be seen when her husband comes to visit her from India. He does not like when she dresses up in western clothes and talks to other men. Panna does not approve of her husbands thinking, but she still wants to make him happy. With him she wants to pretend that nothing has changed. She knows that things have changed, but she wants to do everything to make him believe otherwise. Therefore she is struggling in the entire story.
The next author whose work we are going to look at is James Joyce of Eveline. In this story the author has treated the theme of personal identity in respect to the love for families. In the following story, the main character, Eveline, comes from a family where the father is really dominant. Her mother has died and on the deathbed, Eveline promised her that she would take care of the family. In her mind, she thinks that the only reason she is staying with such her dominant father is because of the promise she made to her mother. She does not want to abandon her family. At the same time she is struggling to form a self identity. She gets a chance to go away from her family and form an identity of her own. She is confused about what to do. In the end she opts for her family knowing that they love her too and that is where she can be best identified.
Kaluger (1984, pp. 261) says that during the identification phase, children generally respond to people whom they love or who possess some trait or power that they admire. Children gain a sense of security by identifying with an older person whom they love, in whom they have complete confidence and trust.
In Evelines case it can be seen that since she was so busy taking care of her father, who abused her, she did not have the time to discover herself. She wanted to go away thinking that she would find her self identity, but in the end she realizes that her identity lies with her family.
The next story we are taking a look at is Going Home bye Archie Weller. The following story is about a young aboriginal man who is returning to him home after spending five years in the white community and gaining success. In this story, the young man, billy, ignores his tribe and hangs out with the white people thinking that they from his identity. He even misbehaves with the people of his own kind.
Once in the middle of the night, one of his uncles had crept around the house he rented and fallen asleep on the verandah. A dirty pitiful carcase, encased in a black gratecoat that had smelt of stale drink and lonely, violent places. A withered black hand had clutched an almost-empty metho bottle. In the morning, Billy had shouted at the old man and pushed him down the steps, where he stumbled and fell without pride. (Weller, 1986, pp. 498)
This shows that he had no respect for the people of his kind and he did not want to associate with them. After gaining success, he plans to go back home on his birthday and meet his family. That is when he discovers who he is. It is a shock for him because he had been pretending the whole time. He is happy to see his mother, his brother and his cousin. In the morning the police comes and takes him and he cant do anything because he is an aboriginal. That is when it hits him that he had been pretending the whole time and this is where he belongs. In the end he finds his identity.
The next story to look at is A Relative Stranger by Charles Baxter. In this story, the main character, Oliver Harris, is adopted. His biological mother had abandoned him when he was a baby. He is not able to form an identity for himself because sometimes he is not even sure where he belongs. His adoptive parents, Harold and Ethel Harris, have given him so much love and care, but he still is in a way clinging to the past. Because of this reason he even spoils his studies. He is fine then and gets married. Everything is going fine till the baby is born. He starts behaving very badly. This is due to the reason that he is confused and cant give the love to the baby that he didnt get when he was a baby. That is when he meets his brother Kurt, from his biological mother, Alice Barton. His brother is abandoned by his mother too. This is when he finds someone to relate to. In the beginning he beats up his brother because this is a way he can take out the frustration from his past. But then they talk and he feels that he can relate to him because they both have been abandoned by the same mother. His brother helps him and also talks to his wife and asks her to come back. This is when Oliver finds his personal identity and finds out where he really belongs.
The last story we will take a look at is Six Feet of the Country by Nadine Gordimer. In this story, the author describes the struggle that the black people have to go through. In the following story, one of the black man dies and his relatives urge their master to get his body from the authorities so that they can have a proper funeral. In the beginning there master is not supportive, but then he agrees and gets the body for them. This is when they realize that the authorities have given them the wrong body and they are really hurt. They request their master to try again. It is done but theauthorities cannot find the body. Then they ask if they can get the money they had given in order to get the body. This shows that they are struggling for their personal identity because they are treated badly by the white people. They are so busy doing their work that they do not have the time to discover themselves.
By looking at the above stories, it is seen that the main characters are in the process of searching for their personal identity. They all are in search of themselves and are very confused and struggling. They want to achieve there goals, no matter what comes in their way. By looking at the different stories it can be seen that for one to gain the true identity, he or she not only has to face the society but themselves too. If they can accept who they really are and overcome their fears rather than pretending to be someone else or running away from their fears, they can find their personal identity.
Fontana, Andrea, Kortarba, Joseph A. (1984) The Existential Self In Society. London: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 11.
Kaluger, George, Kaluger Meriem F. (1984) Human Development The Span of Life. Columbus: Merrill Publishing Company, pp. 261.
Meyer, Bruce. (1997). The Stories- Contemporary Short Fiction Written in English. Scaroborough: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc, 301-305, 421-443.