Novels which explore the struggle for modern identity
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road follows a father and son, journeying together for many months across a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a great, unexplained disaster. Civilisation has been destroyed, and most species have become extinct. The sun is obscured by deep, dark clouds and plants don’t grow. Humanity consists largely of groups of cannibals, their food-source captives, and refugee-travellers who scavenge for food. Ash covers everything; it is in the atmosphere, it obscures the sun and moon, and the two travellers breathe through improvised masks.
The boy’s mother was overwhelmed by the desperate and hopeless situation and has committed suicide some time before the story begins. Her explanation, offered was that they all would be raped, killed and eaten, and that there was no hope left for a different fate. The father is skilled with firearms and knowledgeable about machinery, woodcraft, and human biology. He is alert, attentive and aware, and applies all he knows to anticipating and overcoming the challenges he knows are ever-present. He realises that he and his young son can’t survive another winter where they are, so the two set out across the road. They aim to reach warmer southern climates and the sea in particular. Along the way, threats to the duo’s survival create an atmosphere of sustained terror and tension.
The father coughs blood every morning and knows he is dying. He struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack and starvation. They carry a pistol with two bullets, meant for suicide should it become necessary; the father has told the son to kill himself rather than be captured. The father struggles in times of extreme danger with the fear that he will have to kill his son to prevent him from suffering a more horrific fate, examples of which include: the discovery of captives locked in a basement, their limbs gradually harvested by their captors for meat; and a decapitated human infant being roasted on a spit.
In the face of all of these obstacles, the man and the boy have only each other. They repeatedly assure one another that they are among “the good guys,” who are “carrying the fire.”
In the end, having brought the boy south without finding the salvation he had hoped for, the father succumbs to his illness and dies, leaving the boy alone on the road. Three days later, the grieving boy encounters a man who has been tracking the father and son. This man, who has a wife and two children of his own, invites the boy to join his family, this being the first ray of hope given in the storyline regarding the future of humanity.
1. ‘I don’t know. Who is anybody?’
Context: The father and son have just seen a fresh set of tracks in the road and the boy asks who they belong to.
Analysis: Questioning who is anyone? And what factors make up someone’s identity? But ultimately is a person’s identity lost when there are no other people to compare it with.
2. ‘Are you a doctor? I’m not anything’
Context: Confrontation with another group of people.
Analysis: Are people’s jobs important to their sense of identity? Does success/failure affect who we are? When humanity no longer exists and most of the world is extinct do we lose our identities ie are they just wiped out? Do we no longer acknowledge what we did in the past life when humanity existed?
3. ‘The man … the boy’
Context: Throughout the novel the father and son are referred to as ‘man’ and ‘boy’.
Analysis: The characters are not referred to by their names; it’s almost as if they are one/ the same identity. Nowadays it is the norm to call someone by their name. It makes us question whether or not our name defines who we are. In the road they certainly don’t as they feel no need to use them.
4. ‘Is it bad guys?’ ‘They could be good guys’
Context: Father and son are the good guys as they don’t turn to cannibalism no matter how desperate they are for food.
Analysis: Grouping people into cliques just like normal life. Can everyone be grouped into one particular group? Bad/Good the only groups, very wide range for only two groups but the man and boy take comfort knowing they are part of the good group. Does a group’s identity belong to the group? Or is it a combination of all the group’s individual identities?
5. ‘Will they know what we are?’
Context: Son asking father if the people in the wagon will know what they are.
Analysis: Grammatically odd – should be ‘who we are’ but it is what. Do identities combine or can they remain individual in such extreme circumstances?
6. ‘But we did kill him’
Context: A man steals their cart; father finds him, takes back what’s theirs and leaves the man naked with nothing.
Analysis: Didn’t physically kill the man but the boy thinks they did. Does our appearance make up our identity? If our clothes/materialistic possessions were taken away would our identity be lost or at least change in anyway?
7. ‘That the boy was all that stood between him and death’
Context: As they continue to journey on the road scavenging for any food they can find.
Analysis: The father’s caring and loving nature towards his child spurs him on to keep surviving and try to battle the inevitable fate of death. His relationship with his son is a big part of his identity. Quite an extreme quotation – if the father didn’t have the son he would have nothing to live for.
8. ‘And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground – foxes in their cover’
Context: Father beginning to think death is on its way as they continue to trudge along the road.
Analysis: Comparing the 2 men to 2 animals. Differences between them are indistinguishable and blurred; they are almost becoming animals scavenging for any meat. Their identities are fading.
9. ‘They came upon themselves in a mirror and he almost raised the pistol. It’s us, Papa’
Context: Father and son are in a solitary house in a field looking for supplies.
Analysis: They don’t recognise themselves anymore. Is your appearance solely your identity? Does it define you and would other people recognise who you were if your appearance changed? If appearance is lost/changed, are you no longer the person you were before?
10. ‘Shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire’
Context: Start of the novel, father and son set off down the road to the coast.
Analysis: Their identities are each other; that is what principally makes them up. Shows how important their relationship is – they are each other’s world and this is what keeps them going.
How does the text link to identity?
The Road is a beautifully written, heartfelt book about what the world would be like if a catastrophe caused the majority of the world’s population to disappear. It investigates whether or not you still have your own identity which makes you different to those around you or if you are just grouped into a group like the ‘good guys’ or ‘survivors’. The father and son in the book are described as the ‘good guys carrying the fire’; however there are also the ‘bad guys’ – cannibal gangs. I believe the Road emphasises that even in the most extreme circumstances relationships can be sustained and even grow stronger. Throughout the novel the father teaches the boy things and the boy learns about the past from his father, which both contribute to their senses of identity. What makes up their identity is each other predominately, as the narrator says they are ‘each the other’s world entire’. However, it is very much about the present and the future and the past is only dwelled on fleetingly. Both the father and son live for the present, taking each day as it comes.
Several aspects of identity are explored in The Road including how big a role religion plays in someone’s identity. Especially for the son, God is an important figure who he questions as to why he is making them go through the hell of their journey down the road, but who he also turns to when ultimately his father dies at the end of the novel. The son speaks to his dead father regularly when living with his new family as the woman believes in God too showing that the son finds a way to contact his father; through God.
The most important aspect of both their identities is their relationship with each other; family is shown to make them both survive and their relationship itself is what takes them both so far with neither of them ever giving up. The importance of the mother’s suicide is that all the father has is the son and vice versa and despite everything they carry on showing their strength and determination to not commit suicide. Even though neither one of their names is mentioned, the boy calls his father ‘papa’ an affectionate term showing their close bond. The most powerful image I find is that of the son crying over his father’s body and the book states the boy is saying the father’s name over and over again. The father is now known by his name going to heaven and not just as a man.
However, how do the father and son show their identity? It is not through their name but more through their actions. The father cares for and looks after the boy feeding him rather than himself. There are paragraphs in the book when it is unclear who is speaking; I believe Cormac has down this to show it could be either of them saying the lines for they are both at an equal level and are quite indistinguishable from one another. Identity becomes blurred, where the reader is unsure of who is speaking showing that ultimately when there is no one to compare yourself with your identity is lost and is only rediscovered when remembering the past or when confronted with other people. All the other while the father and son trudge along the road hardly conversing meaning they could be one person for all the reader knows.
2. Spies – Michael Frayn
The story begins with Stephen as an old man. He makes a return trip home to England, bent on remembering why and how the familiar smell of something he cannot recall stirs so much emotion inside him.
Stephen enjoys spending more time with his best friend Keith Hayward’s family than his own, especially as Keith’s mother treats him like a person. It isn’t that his own family is mean or neglects him; they are just dull compared to Keith’s. His own father is always so busy with work, vanishing all day long.
One day, Keith tells Stephen that he believes his mother is a German spy. Stephen automatically believes his best friend’s allegations without question, and they dedicate their days and evenings to spying on her.
Keith’s mother makes multiple trips each day to visit her sister who lives just a few houses down. From there, she always heads toward the market. She also makes several trips a day to the post office to mail a multitude of letters. Keeping a good distance behind, the boys plan to follow her.
Their spying quickly uncovers more than they could have imagined. Keith’s mother is not going to town. She is headed into a deserted tunnel. The boys find a hidden box by the railroad tracks with peculiar items locked away inside, and always the mysterious mark of the letter “X”. Soon, though, their game of spying on Keith’s mother gets out of hand, Keith’s mother is on to their spying and lets Stephen know that his behaviour is not acceptable, and that she does not appreciate being followed. She lets him know exposure could turn out to be quite dangerous.
It is when Stephen continues to follow her that he learns the whole truth; Keith’s mother goes through the tunnel to visit a man in an abandoned barn. Stephen suspects that she is having an affair with this man, which is true, but what makes it so controversial is that the man is her sister’s husband, Uncle Peter who is a local hero. Uncle Peter was a British air pilot who went missing in action, and rather than facing the possibility of returning to war, he hid out in the barn where Keith’s mother supplied him with food ect. to stay alive.
The story ends by revealing that Keith’s mother is not a German spy, however Stephen’s own father was. Stephen’s family are actually Jewish Germans, who moved to England to escape persecution and to assist the British government.
Relation to Identity
By beginning the story as an old man, the entire novel is about the identity of his younger self. The younger Stephen doesn’t consciously acknowledge any search for identity, yet he is continually comparing him self to others, and the identity of those around him. He feels weak, inferior and cowardly compared to his best friend Keith, when in fact Keith is disliked by all the rest of the children, yet Stephen’s insecurities and naivety make him cling onto Keith. He’s nicknamed “weeny weedy Wheatley” and lets other people’s insults define his identity.
Rather than looking at what kind of a person he really is, he focuses on very superficial aspects of identity. Appearance plays a large part in his categorisation of others as does a person’s family; he is most aware of the fact that Keith’s family are “interesting” where as his are dull. Stephen has no grasp of the concept of identity; he immediately accepts that Keith’s definition of a person must be true yet these definitions are often assumptions based on rumours throughout the town.
When old Stephen begins to speak, we realise his perception of identity has matured. He notes how his identity developed as he was growing up, however his struggle was made more difficult by continually being in Keith’s shadow. At the time, Stephen only thoughts of identity was his sense of inferiority towards Keith and his family and the concept of “who he should be”. When he later learns his German and Jewish origins, he struggles, even as a matured man, to find his identity – whether it be an English man or a German Jew. Stephen always felt that his life “never took flight” regardless of what country he was in, or who he was acting as. Stephen struggled for his identity both as a child and as a man, however his struggle during his later years were more difficult as he was aware of the entire “identity” concept.
“I felt a great restlessness stirring in me – it’s the longing to be elsewhere [but] also a longing to be home.” (Old Stephen)
“You understand that sometimes people find themselves isolated. Perhaps they’re picked on – something about the way they look, or talk, or because they’re not very good at games. Just because they’re who they are.” (Keith’s mother talking to young Stephen)
“…announces Elizabeth Hardiment, and her words carry authority because she wears glasses.”(Young Stephen)
“If you’re a boy and hope to be a man, you’re called upon to show courage you don’t really possess.” (Young Stephen)
“There’s something sad about our life, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is” (Young Stephen)
“Why can’t we be called something more like Hayward?” (Young Stephen)
“I feel more strongly than ever the honour of my association with Keith.” (Young Stephen)
“He understands that there’s something not quite right about him and his family” (Old Stephen reflecting on his childhood)
“Everything about him was yellow and black; everything about me was plainly green and black” (Young Stephen talking about Keith – everyone is socially colour coded; yellow was for the upper classes, where as green was for more common people.)
“My marriage was never quite a real marriage, my job in the engineering department of the local polytechnic was never quite a real job.” (Old Stephen talking about his later life.)
3. Things Fall Apart
‘Things Fall Apart’ is the story of a West African man called Okonkwo. He is renowned for his strength in wrestling and as a warrior. He has three wives and a large family with many children, and is influential in his village, Umuofia. However, when he accidentally kills a fellow member of his clan, he is exiled for seven years to a neighbouring village. During this time Christian missionaries arrive to convert the people of the clan from their tribal religion. Okonkwo is disgusted by the English pastor, and even more so by those clansmen who decide to convert, one of whom is Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye. He is promptly disowned by Okonkwo. When the family returns to Umuofia after their exile, they discover that many things have changed- the Christian missionaries exert much influence, and many clansmen have converted. Oknokwo and a group of other men destroy the church which has been built in Umuofia, and are jailed for a ransom. When the non- Christian tribesmen hold a meeting, it is interrupted by some converts demanding that they disperse. Okonkwo murders one of these, and then hangs himself from a tree.
Link to Identity
Okonkwo feels at the beginning of the book that he has a solid and respectable identity. However, the double upset of his accidental killing and the arrival of the missionaries disturb this identity him because the aspects of his identity by which he defined himself; his physical strength and bravery, are no longer relevant. His identity is also heavily defined by his lazy and unsuccessful father, who drives much of his desire to succeed and to ensure that his sons follow in his footsteps.
The identities of those around them are also important to the struggle for modern identity, particularly those of the women. They are referred to consistently throughout the book as ‘Okonkwo’s second wife’ or ‘Okonkwo’s third wife’ etc. This shows how their identities are heavily dependent upon their husband. The women are also unable to participate in many important events and are often grouped with the children in terms of their cowardice and vulnerability.
This book is important to the struggle for modern identity because it deals mainly with the clash of cultures between the African tribesmen and the English missionaries. The collective cultural identity of the tribe is important. Their lives revolve around their tribal religion and their priestess ‘Agbala’. When the arrival of the Christians upsets this the structure and organisation of the clan begins to break down.
‘Okonkwo’s fear was…fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father’ p11. Outlining the character of Okonkwo- his father’s failure is important to his character. He decides that he must ‘hate everything that his father… had loved. One of these things was gentleness and another was idleness’. Shows how his father’s character determines his own and his identity as a strong and ruthless man.
‘he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit’. P20 further description of Okonkwo reveals that he is dismissive of those without ‘titles’. ‘Agbala’- the word for a woman- is one of the gravest insults that can be given to a man. This shows the diminished view of women and their identity as undesirable, weak creatures to be.
‘Okonkwo drew his matchet and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.’ P44 Okonkwo kills his adoptive son because the Oracle has told him to. This quotation shows how the influence of others (‘peer pressure’) impacts upon our view of ourselves- our identity. It affects Okonkwo to the extent that he is willing to kill an adoptive son, of whom he was very fond. Also shows the influence of religion upon identity- it was the ‘Oracle’ who decreed that the son should be killed. This is a theme throughout the book.
‘It was that faith alone that gave her life any meaning’ p58. Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, has lost nine children in infancy. Her only daughter, Ezinma is hugely important to her, to the extent that her life is shaped by her frequent ‘bouts of sickness and health’. The ‘faith’ is in Ezinma’s survival. Shows how a woman’s identity is so strongly affected by her children. Also shows how women are dependent upon others to give their lives any meaning.
‘His life had been ruled by a great passion- to become one of the lords of the clan…then everything had been broken.’ P96 shows Okonkwo’s obsession with achieving titles and prestige and how this defines him.
‘A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.’ P98 part of wider connotation of ‘female’ aspects of a man’s life- e.g. ‘female’ crimes (when you accidentally kill someone), ‘female’ crops (they are not allowed to grow yams, the most important crop).
‘He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul’ p108- Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, is captivated by the Christian religion- it is a part of his identity that he had been missing. His soul is incomplete- the religion gives him the motivation that his father does not give him- ‘Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake’ p112- the Christian preacher tells Nwoye this. Achebe shows how religion is a place where those who do not feel comfortable elsewhere can derive identity.
‘I cannot live on the bank of a river and wash my hands with spittle’ p121- proverbs like this are very commonly used by the clan- they all know them and use them to express themselves. Shows their group identity. When the Christians arrive their interpreter speaks a foreign dialect of their language ‘Ibo’ – he therefore does not know any of their proverbs and his influence contributes toward the breakage of their group identity.
‘He has put a knife on the things that held us together and now we have fallen apart’ p 129- the tribe’s group identity- their religion, language, customs and superstitions have been destroyed by the arrival of another culture intent on destroying theirs. Also violent imagery.
‘He saw things as black and white. And black was evil’ p134- the pastor ‘Reverend James Smith’ sets much store by racial identity which previously had not been a problem.
‘The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading…almost write a whole chapter on him…perhaps…a reasonable paragraph…the title of the book…The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger’ p152 (last page)- these are the thoughts of the Commissioner on Okonkwo after discovering that he had committed suicide. Apart from being heavily ironic (you’ve just finished a whole book on Okonkwo), this shows how the identity of the Africans is very blurred in the eyes of the Commissioner- they are all almost identical.
4. Small Island by Andrea Levy
Within the novel Andrea Levy explores class, race and prejudice during the Second World War. She predominantly explores these topics within the city of London in 1948 but she also explores them within the setting of the country of Jamaica, the country of origin of two of the main characters. The novel so far is told by three narrators, Queenie Bligh, Gilbert Joseph and Hortense Roberts. Queenie Bligh is the typical English woman in war time Britain, left alone to keep house whilst her husband Bernard is off fighting in the war. However she does not remain this way for long, as to the disgust of her neighbours she takes in a ‘darkie’ called Gilbert Joseph as a lodger when her husband does not return from the war. The ‘darkie’, Gilbert Joseph, originates from Jamaica and had met Queenie during the war when he was stationed in Falmouth. He entered the war thinking that he would be no different from any other member of the RAF and that he would experience the perks that belonging to the ranks was supposed to bring, however when he reached America he soon realised that life is not as good for coloured people at home and that he certainly wouldn’t be benefitting from any of the perks of being a man in uniform. Gilbert’s wife Hortense is the final narrator of the novel. A young Jamaican school teacher born out of wedlock, the daughter of a famous and respected man, Lovell Roberts, but a not so well respected mother, she is brought up by her father’s cousin Philip, along with their son Michael. As their childhood friendship blossoms into love, well on Hortense’s part anyway, Michael is caught in a compromising situation with Mrs Ryder, the owner of the private school at which Hortense is a teacher, and he is then sent away to war in shame. Sometime later Hortense then mistakes Gilbert for Michael and they have an interesting introduction, only later to find he is the ‘sweetheart’ of her friend Celia. Although this is not to last for long, as after five days Gilbert and Hortense marry in a deal so as to get Gilbert back to his beloved England and Hortense the ability to ‘go anywhere she pleased’ principally England. But the England of Hortense’s dreams is not the England of Hortense’s reality; she is disheartened to find a dishevelled husband living in an even more dishevelled house with another woman. Their marriage isn’t the deal she signed up for as Hortense embarks on a new life, completely different from the comfortable life she left behind in Jamaica.
Why does this book link to identity?
The novel relates to identity in several ways. One way in which it looks at identity, is through Levy’s characters perceptions of each others identities. For example Blanche or Mrs Smith perceived Gilbert to be a bad man, and believed the stereotypical thought that all coloured men had ‘animal desires’ and it was these he was exhibiting when ‘he raised his hat to her one morning’. This kind gesture was seen as some sort of rudiment because of the identity that had been imposed on Gilbert by those around him.
The novel also links to identity as through this behaviour the novel also shows the identity of the people judging that of others, as it shows them to be unkind, unwelcoming, small minded, and uneducated, which then shows even stronger the identity of those who help those with coloured skin, in particular Queenie. This is because even though Queenie is near on made an outcast by those around her, she sticks to her guns and does not change who she is.
Furthermore the novel also looks at how identity changes as you move across the world, as it shows its characters identity’s to be very different from one country to another, in several ways. One way in which this identity differs is through the way Gilbert changes from a man in a ‘double breasted suit jacket’ to the man Hortense is met with on her arrival, a man that is incapable of even dressing himself.
1. ‘wakey,wakey,wakey-let go your cocks and grab your socks’
Context: Gilbert is at the barracks in America, being awakened for the day ahead
Analysis: this shows the stereotypical male identity, that even first thing in the morning it’s all he can think about and obviously until last thing at night
2. ‘If a body in its beauty is the work of God, then this hideous predicament between his legs was without doubt the work of the devil’
Context: Hortense and Gilberts wedding night and he is expecting the traditional happenings
Analysis: shows Hortense’s naivety, as she is so embarrassed and scared that she is unable to even use his penis’s proper name. This also shows their identity as a couple, as he wants to try to be the stereotypical working couple, whereas she obviously does not see it in that way whatsoever and does not even want to share a bed with him.
3. ‘it might just help relations around here if all our coloured brethren understood how to behave’
Context: Mr Todd, one of Queenie’s neighbours, speaking of how the coloured people of England should step out of the way for the white people, rather than the white people being forced to step out of the way for the coloureds, i.e. basically saying that the coloured people should know their place as lower members of society.
Analysis: shows how small minded British people were at the time, as this would have been a stereotypical belief as is shown by the reactions of Queenie’s neighbours to Gilbert. It also shows how in this society the coloured people of Britain had, had an identity thrust upon them; they were not allowed to create their own.
4. ‘I took him in because I knew Bernard would never let me’
Context: Queenie explaining why she took Gilbert in
Analysis: give’s an identity as being her own woman; her identity isn’t thrust upon her by her husband through his rules and beliefs as it was for many women of the time. Also she is, not in a malicious way however, manipulative as she uses Gilbert as a route to making her husband come back, but she is clever also as it gives her both a lifeline and a route.
5. ‘women gonna fall at your feet. In my uniform of blue’
Context: Gilbert looking at himself in the mirror picturing what his life as a man of the RAF will be like
Analysis: he is giving his perception of the identity of both women, and the identity his uniform will give him. He obviously thinks women are either fickle, as they are more favourable to men in uniform, or easy as they will give themselves to someone they know full well they will never see again. He is also showing himself to be naive, as he cannot see past his own country and has no understanding of what life will be like for him, and is like for people like him outside of Jamaica.
6. ‘But there was I! Standing at the door of a house in London and ringing the bell.’
Context: she has just arrived in London, and is telling of how it was not Celia but her that was living out Celia’s dream
Analysis: she has formed her identity upon another’s dreams. She has taken another person’s ambitions, to ring the bell. She has taken someone else’s sweetheart and made him her husband. But will someone else’s identity make her happy?
7. ‘The sound of my father’s name could still hush a room long after he had left Savannah-La-Mar’
Context: The first real description we get of her, this is the first line
Analysis: she defines herself by her father’s status; she mentions it numerous times showing the importance she places upon status. Also it is her father who has given her, her identity, if it had not been for whom her father was she would have had a very different life, and would have more than likely become a very different person. Also shows how she is not an emotional person, as it is not those she loves that she mentions first but a man who she has never even met!
8. ‘I’d seen old ones with backsides as big as buses but never a young one with a trim waist’
Context: describing Hortense
Analysis: shows how even Queenie judges a book by its cover sometimes. Also shows how Hortense may well be different from all the others, gives her a unique identity.
9. ‘Coloured, black, nigger. All these words had been used to characterise me in the last few minutes’
Context: Gilbert is sent to pick something up from the US army base
Analysis: shows how to others his identity is his race, to them he is nothing more.
10. ‘This is a small island man, we just clinging so we don’t fall off’
Context: talking of Jamaica
Analysis: their identity is the island, they’re clinging onto this because they are scared of who they really may be, scared of what is out there in the world
11. ‘I was a giant living on land no bigger than the soles of my feet’
Context: metaphorically comparing his identity/himself to the island of Jamaica
Analysis: his identity has outgrown Jamaica, a place stuck in its traditional ways, he is different from all the others, he needs a place where his identity will be able to flourish, which is in his eyes England
12. ‘that was how I’d always seen Bernard’s father, Arthur: a human apostrophe. He was there but only to show us that something precious had gone astray’
Context: describing Arthur in relation to an apostrophe, ‘an apostrophe is a mark to show where something is missing’
Analysis: the ‘something precious’ is his identity, through the loss of his speech/ his unwillingness to speak, he has lost his identity, raises the idea of the importance of speech in relation to identity. Also shows how precious a person’s identity is, a person isn’t a full person without it, hence the apostrophe metaphor
5. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon
Christopher Boone, the main narrator in this book, is 15 years old and has Asberger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. This means that he has difficulty understanding other people’s behaviour and emotions, but at the same time has a flair for maths (he takes A Level maths at the age of 15) a photographic memory, and an inability to tell lies. He has an extreme attention to detail and lives his life through numbers, lists and timetables (eg. all chapter numbers in this book are prime numbers), whilst also harbouring irrational phobias of things that are brown or yellow. He also hates human contact, and screams if anyone touches him.
All events in the story are told through Christopher’s eyes. At the beginning of the book he finds his neighbour’s dog murdered. The main purpose of the story is to find the killer, but along the way Christopher discovers that his mother had had an affair with a neighbour and left to go his father, and that his father had concealed this by telling him that she was dead. It is also revealed that Christopher’s father killed the dog, and as a result Christopher becomes frightened of his father and runs away to find his mum in London. He travels from Swindon to London, overwhelmed by the number of people and the complexity of life, and finds his mum, who agrees that he can stay there for a while. The mum’s new relationship consequently breaks down, and the two return to Swindon, where Christopher gets an A in A-Level Maths, and the dad attempts to re-build his relationship with him.
How this book relates to identity
Mark Haddon shows some of the worst aspects of British society, in that Christopher finds it impossible to identify with other people, and as a result lives in his own little world. In many cases, people he meets are rude and inconsiderate regarding his disability. He finds other people weird and confusing, and prefers to be on his own. For example, his favourite dream is that everyone in the world that isn’t like him dies, and he lives on his own perfectly happy and without interference from others. His disconnection from other people is also physical, whereby he hates being touched and is even given a police caution for hitting a policeman who touched him on the arm.
Haddon also makes Christopher stand out through his hobbies and his superstitions. For example, he relaxes by doing very hard maths questions, and judges how good his day will be according to how many red cars he sees in a row on the way to school. He hates films, because actors are “liars” and aren’t doing things that have really happened in life. He physically cannot lie, as when he thinks of one thing that might have happened instead, a million other possibilities crowd into his head and he feels overwhelmed.
Through this book, Haddon also questions how much parenting impacts on your identity. Christopher has little understanding of “love”, and instead cares more for dogs and his pet rat Toby. He detaches himself from his parents very easily, not seeming too bothered when describing his mum’s “death” and running away from his dad. He refers to them as “mother” and “father”, which aren’t very affectionate terms. He also doesn’t realise the impact he has on other’s relationships, as both his parents and his mum and her boyfriend split up on account of him.
· “My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507”
o Introduction to narrator, 2nd chapter
o Christoper defines himself through what he knows
o Already makes him stand out, these aren’t normal things people know
· “I sometimes think of my mind as a machine…it makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside it”
o Describing when a policeman is asking him “too many questions”
o “Machine” – Suggests removal of all abstract aspects of imagination etc , are concrete things (eg. knowledge, experience) the only crucial bit to the human mind?
· “I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them”
o All of the chapters are numbered using prime numbers
o Rules of life – are there any? Christopher lives his life by rules, gives reader another perspective on life etc
· “She didn’t have to stay at home and be his wife”
o Talking about when Mr Shears had an affair and left his wife; Mrs Shears is somewhat liberated
o Marriage = restricted? Are women still bound down and are supposed to act as housewives?
o Shows how deep-rooted in society these old-fashioned idea are, even Christopher (who doesn’t know the “rules” of society) is aware of them
· “Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat”
o Christopher talking about being labelled as having “special needs” and “learning difficulties”
o Haddon shows how patronising these politically correct terms can be, even to those who do have the disabilities
o Everyone is “disabled” in some way, some (eg. Christopher) more extreme than other
· “because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth”
o Christopher’s definition of love, he values concrete things eg. help and being truthful, disregard affection etc
o What is the definition of love? Is there one?
· “Most people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called glancing which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction”
o Christopher is extremely observant and doesn’t see why others aren’t
o Represents fast culture of today, people are rushing everywhere and not appreciating the world around them
· “People believe in God because the world is very complicated and they think it is very unlikely that anything as complicated as a flying squirrel or the human eye or a brain could happen by chance”
o Christopher doesn’t believe in God/religion and is sceptical of those who do
o Shows diversity of world and the complexity of the stuff around us. Evolution etc
· “I didn’t know what you’ll catch your death meant”
o When his mother tells him to come inside she uses this saying, and Christopher doesn’t understand metaphors etc at all (they don’t represent real things)
o Highlights the amount of useless/meaningless phrases we use, do they add to the language as a whole?
· “And I started to feel a pain in my chest like I did on the underground because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to go back to Swindon and take my A Level”
o His mother tells him he can’t go back and take his maths A Level
o “pain in my chest” – emotion, sadness. He isn’t used to these feelings so he doesn’t know what they are or what they mean.
6. “The God Of Small Things” Arundhati Roy
The story is set in India and is primarily about the caste system and Communism, told from Rahel and Estha’s point of view (time shifts from 1969- before their birth- to 1993), twins who were separated when they were 7 because they ran away from home (due to Velutha and Ammu). Sophie, the twin’s friend, drowns, Velutha (their mother’ s lover) is blamed for her death and the twins witness him being tortured for crossing caste boundaries, which scars them for life. When they revealed the actual cause of her death to the police, the police recognise Velutha as a Communist whose unfair torture would cause Communist riots so force the twins to change their story by threatening them and convincing them that they pushed her out of the boat to her death. The novel tells the family history, for example, Velutha who resides in the lowest caste and who loves Ammu, from a higher caste, which results in his death and the twins’ ‘grandfather’ who abuses his family. The twins are eventually reunited and both are traumatised by their past, Estha unable to speak at all. The twins spend a day together and then sleep with each other- incest.
- The novel follows the twins family history as the main factor affecting them in the future, proven by the fact that Estha is so traumatised by her past that she’s mute when she’s older.
- As well as this, it shows the injustice of the caste system and the role it plays in identifying someone. Velutha died because he loved someone socially superior to himself and the relationship was condemned by society. This shows how society can shape a person’s future and how it can break up a person or a relationship.
- Also tied into the story, is the idea of race: Baby Kochamma changes her religion for a man and people fight against the rules of their religion throughout the book, yet ultimately, the religion defines their society and therefore, their identity.
Character listing (copied and pasted from Wikipedia to make the Synopsis/Quote Analysis/Identity points easier to understand)
- Ammu – Rahel and Estha’s mother, sister of Chacko, daughter of Pappachi and Mammachi.
- Baba – Rahel and Estha’s father, tried to beat Ammu and prostitute her, later re-married, of a lower caste than Ammu.
- Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe) – Pappachi’s sister, aunt to Chacko and Ammu, and grand-aunt to Sophie Mol, Estha, and Rahel.
- Chacko – Brother to Ammu, son of Pappachi and Mammachi, father to Sophie Mol and divorced from Margaret Kochamma.
- Comrade Pillai – Leader of the local communist party.
- Estha (Esthappen Yako) – Rahel’s twin brother, son of Ammu and Baba.
- Father Mulligan- Baby Kochamma’s love interest. A Roman Catholic.
- Joe – Second husband of Margaret.
- Kari Saipu – English paedophile who lived in the History House before Estha and Rahel arrived in Ayemenem; Vellya Pappen pins his ghost to a tree with his sickle, ghost remains there asking for a cigar.
- Kochu Maria – Housekeeper to Rahel, Grandmother.
- Larry McCaslin – ex-husband of Rahel, travels to India to teach and falls in love with Rahel, bringing her back to the USA with him.
- Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe) – Blind. Wife of Pappachi, mother of Chacko and Ammu, grandmother of Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol. Also founder of the family pickle factory.
- Margaret Kochamma – Chacko’s ex-wife, mother of Sophie Mol. The Kochamma’s are Christian.
- Murlidharan – Homeless, insane person who crouches naked on the welcome sign for Cochin. Carries keys to his last residence around his waist expectantly.
- Orangedrink Lemondrink Man – Paedophile from Estha’s past.
- Pappachi (Shri Benaan John Ipe) – Father to Chacko and Ammu, grandfather to Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol. He was an imperial entomologist.
- Rahel – Estha’s twin sister, daughter of Ammu and Baba, divorced from Larry McCaslin.
- Sophie Mol – Cousin of the twins, daughter of their uncle Chacko and Margaret Kochamma.
- Inspector Thomas Mathew – Police inspector who interviews Baby Kochamma on the night Velutha dies. Somewhat ambivalent about his men’s practices of beating Untouchables nearly to death with no substantiated reason.
- Urumban – Velutha’s imaginary twin brother.
- Kuttappen – Velutha’s paralyzed brother.
- Velutha – The title character, local carpenter, an untouchable (lower social caste) by birth.
- Vellya Paapen- Velutha’s father, a Pariah.
(Page 32) “Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story”
- bleached bones- understatement, detracts from the humanity, also symbolic of the search for family history- excavation. Bleached- colourless- ironic of the Westernised relationships in an Indian culture, eg, separation and origin of caste.
(Page 4-5) ”In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities.”
- separated during childhood, search for their own identities- traumatising and difficult, main point of the book: how the injustice in life will affect their future.
–when memory had just begun: earliest memories are most damaging for the twins later,
(Page 33) “That it (the story) really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.”
Basically a summary of caste- Velutha and Ammu are ruled by the ‘Love Laws’ and ultimately this causes the twins to commit incest- a more serious violation. Shows how the caste system controls the people in love and can even be the responsible for the death of them. Paradoxical: Western beliefs are that ‘love’ and ‘laws’ are paradoxes. Shows the structure of Indian society.
Insight into the rest of the book.
(Page 44-5) ”The fate of the wretched man-less woman.”
Ammu can’t get a man so settles for the drunkard- implies she’s not a woman. Although the reader is made to question later which is more punishable, to be a ‘wretched man-less woman’ or to love outside caste. ‘Fate’ implies a sense of helplessness and the inability to control society, yet in reality, the statement is based upon society’s tradition- not fate.
John Berger epigraph: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.“
John Berger- original novel was ‘G’ in which the main character was a serial lover of women- many people affected by the life of one. Strongly reflected in the novel in the way that Ammu and Velutha affect the twins so profoundly, or the way the priest affects Baby Kochamma, or how Pappachi affects Mammachi with abuse and then neglection- this quote highlights how all the stories in the novel are interrelated and have an effect upon the other (very much an Indian perspective upon society). An epigraph gives the basic message within the story, states the meaning.
(Page 31) “They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”
This quote pretty much opens the “real” story, emphasises the consequences- and how much- that society’s laws have upon its inhabitants. The basis for a later quote about ‘Love Laws’and the shocking stories- ‘forbidden territory’ sounds ominous, a brief summary of what’s to come.
(Page 217) “If he touched her, he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her, he couldn’t leave, if he spoke, he couldn’t listen, if he fought, he couldn’t win”
Always has to concur to society, Ammu made a mistake with her husband (a drunk) and has to endure ‘cruelty’ yet society is unforgiving and harsh towards her. The rights of women is a view which Roy clearly sets out to put across by showing how much they’re violated within Indian society. Ultimately, Ammu goes insane and dies because of the family horror towards her divorce and the hypocritical Communist leader’s disdain.
(Page 207) “And there it was again. Another religion turned against itself. Another edifice constructed by the human mind, decimated by human nature.”
States how nobody helped Velutha when he was dismissed from his job, aimed towards the Communist leaders who didn’t help the poor. Highlights Roy’s belief that Communism is a hypocritical form of Capitalism.
(Page 182) ‘A pair of actors hopped in a recondite play with no hint as plot or narrative, stumbling through their parts, nursing someone else’s sorrow. Grieving someone else’s grief’
The twins are unable to control what happens to them and are abused by many people in the play, for example, the orange- leman man in the theatre abuses Estha and no adult really cares about it- this is supposed to come across as shocking and violent to the reader. Accents the children’s childhood, ‘stumbling’, ‘nursing’, ‘grieving’ being key adjectives to describe the children.
(Page 191) “You are not the Sinner. You are the Sinned Against. You were only children. You had no control”
Again, highlights the twins’ abuse and how they had their innocence taken away when they were very young. To tie into this point is the description that the two people who make the twins suffer the most are “both men whom childhood abandoned without a trace…truly, terrifying adult”. Shows the empathy towards childhood which Roy has yet also highlights just how much innocence can be forcibly removed by society.
7. The Great Gatsby
Nick moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island. Nick’s next-door neighbour is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic mansion and throws extravagant parties.
Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg—he was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island home to the established upper class. Nick drives out to East Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhile classmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, young woman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson and Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tom keeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose.
Nick goes to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. He encounters Jordan Baker and they meet Gatsby. Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone, and tells Jordan that he knew Daisy and is deeply in love with her., Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. Gatsby and Daisy re-establish their connection and begin an affair.
Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. He forces the group to drive into New York City, where he confronts Gatsby. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom sends her back with Gatsby.
Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. Nick learns that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but Gatsby intends to take the blame. Tom tells Myrtle’s husband that Gatsby was the driver. George finds Gatsby and shoots him dead then shoots himself.
Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest.
How does it link to identity?
In the great Gatsby, characters such as Jay Gatsby use various social settings to reject reality and present themselves as anything rather than who they truly are. Possessions seem very important to these characters and there whole identity is based around the name they have build up for them self. Gatsby throws extravagant parties in order to attract his first love Daisy and intrigue her back into his life. This shows the reader he can’t just be himself which might lead you into thinking that Gatsby is struggling with his identity and doesn’t know himself who he is and hasn’t reached self actualisation. Through out the text Fitzgerald has characters question Gatsby, how he came into his money, who he is and what he does, and this incisively make the reader question him. Fitzgerald might be doing this to show that Gatsby’s identity is perplexed and that people in the 20s in America didn’t know who they were. Fitzgerald could be suggesting that the struggle for identity is damaging and shows this when Nick discovers that he is Gatsby’s one true friend and he finds himself “on Gatsby’s side and alone.” This shows that after everything Gatsby does to impress Daisy, even she deserts him.
Social Class, money and wealth are all very important concepts of identity that are explored by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald criticizes American society in the 1920’s for its emphasis on money, superficial relationships, and obsession over class as being the main parts of what make up someone identity.
· “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” page1. This is what Nicks (the narrator) fathers say to him when he was younger. Society has a great part to play in shaping the identities of individuals. From a young age Nick was taught to differentiate people by there wealth and this suggests that he shouldn’t criticise people in lower classes that him and that he is at an ‘advantage’ because he has come from a family with money and belongs to a higher social class. Throughout the novel, the characters that he comes into contact with were immediately associated with their money and their level of wealth. This shows that class and wealth are the most important parts of people identity.
· “Shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel” page89. When Daisy comes to Gatsby house. The narrator exceedingly describes materialistic aspects of Gatsby and all his belongings. This proves the ostentation associated with the characters identities and that Gatsby feels that showing off all his clothes and all his wealth will impress her, showing again the importance of possessions.
· “voice full of money” page126. This is what Gatsby says about Daisy when he and Nick are discussing her. This shows how affected by money she is. Although she was infatuated and perhaps in love with Gatsby when she was younger she is now infatuated by his wealth and this shows that she identifies someone by how much money they have. Your voice is what lets you accent your opinions so it is very significant and if her voice is full of money it suggests it’s the only thing she cares about.
· Money has managed to shape the identity of Tom also. He is arrogant, self-confident and a totally careless and brutal man. He boasts about his home saying, “I’ve got a nice place here” most of the conversation if not all is about who has what and the possessions of others, Fitzgerald is doing this to show the reader that people in American in the 20s were gripped by wealth as almost all the characters identities were summed up by what they owned, the character are know for what they own rather that who they are.
· “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” page 136, Gatsby says it when they are all at the Plaza hotel. Tom is mocking Gatsby’s lack of origins, as he has new money which is not a like and the fact that tom picks this as a criticism shows how important someone’s wealth is and how it makes up someone’s identity so strongly. Nowhere also suggests to the reader that he is lonely and desolate and confused about his own identity as no one knows truly who he really is and I believe neither does he.
8. Nineteen-eighty four
Nineteen-eighty four is a time under the ruthless control of a dictatorship, “The Party”, where any independent thought or unorthodoxy is suppressed by “The Thought Police”. The Party, and Big Brother is “always watching you”, mainly through the tele-screens, a device compulsory letting big brother see anyone and can’t be turned off.
1984 follows the life of Winston Smith who works in “The Ministry of Truth” correcting any wrong data: a person taken by the Thought Police has not died, they never existed, so he erases all evidence of them. But Winston is secretly a rebel and believes life is not right and, at one time before, society must have been different.
He starts a relationship, sealing their fate of death but they believe they can delay fate if they are out of Big Brother’s knowledge. They do this by meeting at the flat above Mr Charrington’s shop as there are no tele-screens. They join a rebellious organisation, “The Brotherhood”, lead by O’Brian. But are caught in Mr Charrington’s flat by the Thought Police of which mr Charrington is a member.
They are separated and Winston is kept in a windowless cell “where there is no darkness”. He is tortured by O’Brian into submission and to forget any love, especially for Julia. When this doesn’t work he is taken to “Room 101” to be tortured with rats-the one thing that he hates-when he shouts for Julia to take his place.
After, he can go back to daily life but now he is an example of orthodoxy. He sees Julia and they admit that they betrayed each other but it is clear that they no longer love each other and it finishes with Winston watching the tele-screen and he now “loved Big Brother”.
Link to Identity
This book links incredibly well to the theme of identity because orwell wrote the book as a cry for more freedom of thought and freedom and of expression in his own society, although it is still very relevant today.
Orwell explores the idea of how a person would live and react under a dictatorship when not allowed to have any identity. In 1984, being orthodox to the Party meant being like a robot and not like a person. So they do not think for themselves or question anything around them, and in order to stay alive someone has to be just like everybody else with no characteristics of eccentricity or difference to the accepted norm. through this Orwell is saying that people in society need to express themselves and their own personality and identity without being suppressed with any sort of ideals in the society in which they live.
Also in 1984, a person could never know anybody else’s identity as the outward identity that they portrayed was very different from who they really were. For exaple Mr Charrington seems like a lonely old man who misses the days when people could be private but in reality he is a member of the thought police, arresting people for unorthodoxy. Similarly O’Brian seems like a person that Winston can trust and seems to feel the same about the party and is a leader in The Brotherhood but he turns out to fully believe in the system run by the party andtortures anybody that does not comply fully.
Julia is also someone that hides her true identity from Big Brother but in a different way to Mr Charrington and O’Brian. She seems like a person completely taken in by the party and does a lot of extra work for them after her working hours including being a member of the Junior Anti sex league but she does not believe any of it at all and simply does so much to hide her complete rebellion inside. Through these characters, Orwell is showing a society where you literally could not trust anyone and where a true identity can always be hidden and a new one created. This links to our socirty where some people hide who they really are and take on another personality but Orwell is telling the reader that a person should show their own identity because they have the right to do so, unlike people living in dictatorships like the one in 1984.
“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”…the words written on posters all over Oceania-there is never a time when you can be alone or be yourself-you always have to act in accordance to how the Party want-not how you want.
“You had to live…in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard” …Winston thinking about his tele-screen and the thought police. No privacy-always checked on so that not thinking for yourself.
“to dissemble your feelings, to control your face, to do what everyone else was doing was an instinctive reaction” …during 2 minutes Hate. The dictatorship was so strict that even if your face looked suspicious it could be dangerous. You never showed true identity in anyway.
“wearing on his face the look of grim enjoyment which was considered proper” …during morning exercise. People were not allowed to have different opinions or different likes or dislikes which forms a huge part of everyone’s identity.
“you could not have friends nowadays, you had comrades” …talking about syme in the canteen at work. The Party stopping people having any kind of relationship where any love or partiality to a person could develop-many people’s identity is developed through their relationships with other people but when those relationship are banned-identity is banned too. Evertone is equal.
“you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness, its usless shads of meaning” …Syme talking to Winston about the difference between Oldspeak (normal English) and newspeak (developed by the party where more and more words are made redundant and the language is very specific. When there are less words a person cannot physically use as many to think-the party controlling the minds of the people by literally not giving them words that could show unorthodoxy or rebellion. Words are very important for a person’s identity.
“orthodoxy means not thinking” …syme talking about how newspeak will affect people’s lives. Could link to religion-some people are so ruled over by religions that they don’t think for themselves and their identity is formed by their faiths without them even realising it.
“freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four”…Winston writing in his diary. A simple sum learned in primary school can be overruled by the party if they want to-they are that powerful-if we are allowed to believe in facts then we are free
“who controls the past”, ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”…The Party’s slogan. They are in control of the present so they are in control of absolutely everything-they decide how people will live, if they will die…a person basically has no identity because it is controlled
“being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad”…Winston thinks that he is the only one that does not love big brother. Just because a person is different, and thinks differently to apparently everyone else they are not necessarily wrong and they should be allowed to think as they wasn’t because it is their identity.
9. The English Patient
After WWII, Hana, a young Canadian nurse, is staying in a villa in Italy caring for a man burned beyond recognition in a plane crash. The man claims to be English and carries only a copy of Herodotus’ Histories. Soon, Caravaggio, a thief who worked for British Intelligence during the war and a friend of Hana’s father’s, arrives at the villa to find Hana. Shortly after, a sapper from the Punjab, named Kip, comes to dismantle the area’s mines.
Prompted by the others, the English patient recalls his explorations of Africa, his love affair with Katharine Clifton, a young married woman, and her death. When she was severely injured in a plane crash, the English patient was unable to summon help and she died in a cave in the desert. Having returned to retrieve her body, his plane was shot down and fell on fire into the desert. Caravaggio suspects the English patient is in fact László Almásy, a Hungarian spy working for the Germans.
Kip and Hana form a romantic relationship. He recalls his army training, which he signed up for willingly, in England. The death of his mentor and his friends in a mine explosion has left him emotionally isolated, but his relationship with Hana helps him feel comfortable with other people again. Then he hears the news of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan: feeling betrayed by the Western world, he threatens to kill the English patient and leaves.
Years later, Hana and Kip are living separate lives. Kip did not respond to Hana’s letters, but he still often thinks of her.
Why is identity important in The English Patient?
As it is set just after the war, national identity is particularly important. When Caravaggio suggests that Almásy isn’t English, Hana and Kip protest against this: to them, this would mean he is ‘the enemy’ and would call into question their affection for him. The relationship between Kip, as a citizen of post-colonial India, and the West is also important. Unlike his brother, who is an Indian nationalist, he wishes for a world where nationality does not define people.
Relationships are seen as shaping identity. As well as Almásy’s intense love affair with Katharine, the relationship between Hana and Kip is central to the book. Ondaatje emphasises how sexual relationships are expected to change us; Katharine is angry at Almásy because it seems that the affair will ‘not change’ him.
Everyday experience, a person’s sense of their body and their surroundings, is also shown to affect identity. Unable to face the horrific events of war, Hana, Kip and Caravaggio try to live entirely in the present. Emphasis is placed on their explorations within the villa and their daily routines rather than past experience.
The book questions how much history impacts on identity. Although it concentrates very little on the events of the war, suggesting the characters’ shell-shocked state, the book frequently refers to more distant times. This, and the frequent references to other literature, from Herodotus to Anna Karenina, implies that the characters’ personalities are determined by a combination of personal experience and awareness of their history and culture.
Quotations about identity
As she tends to the English patient alone in the villa, Hana constructs an identity for him.
‘Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint.’
-The identity of the English patient is determined by how others see him: he is a ‘blank slate’. To some extent this is true of all people.
- Coming from a Christian culture and scarred by her experiences in the war, Hana characterises the English patient as a ‘saint’ to give her a sense of purpose. This perception is determined by her past experience and the cultural context in which she lives, showing how these things impact on identity.
Hana sees the English patient for the first time, in the war hospital.
p48 ‘A man with no face…all identity consumed in a fire.’
-Without any signs of his personal history, The English patient seems not to have an identity.
-The uselessness of his body prevents him from fully experiencing life in the present day: thus his identity is determined by his past.
Caravaggio recalls what happened when, having been caught stealing, the thuggish Tommasoni is cutting off his thumbs.
P59 ‘Then Ranuccio Tommasoni picked up the razor and came over to him. Caravaggio, right? He still wasn’t sure.’
-This scene mirrors a historical event: the C17th artist Caravaggio killed local thug Ranuccio Tommasoni in a sword fight. Ondaatje suggests that our identity in the present day is affected not only by events in our own past, but events in our cultural past.
p90 ‘She [Hana] smells her skin, the familiarity of it. One’s own taste and flavour.’
-Hana’s identity is affected by her physical sense of her body. Her awareness of her body gives her a sense of being independent from other people.
-the ‘familiarity’ of one’s body can often lead one to forget how important it is to identity. The character of the English patient, ‘a man with no face’, emphasises this importance.
Almásy reflects on how his attitude to the world at the time he met Katharine differs from his attitude now.
p141 ‘We were young. We knew power and great finance were temporary things.’
- Almásy’s identity hass changed as he has got older. The idealism of early adulthood has faded; now, he is more aware of his own mortality and what he will leave behind him.
Katharine to Almásy, when they have resolved to end their relationship for her husband’s sake.
p157 ‘From this point on in our lives…we will either find or lose our souls.’
-Katharine and Almásy each feel that their love for the other determines their own identity.
-Both know that the loss of the relationship will fundamentally change their sense of themself; the effects of love on a person’s identity can last long beyond the contact with the other person. (This is mirrored in the ending with Hana and Kip.)
Caravaggio to Hana.
p163 ‘I think the English patient is not English.’
-National identity is important in shaping people’s sense of personal identity and their relations with others. Hana immediately denies Caravaggio’s idea because she assumes that, if he is an Englishman he must be a good, intelligent man caught up unfairly in the war, as someone siding with the Germans he must be a scheming, immoral deceiver who brought the war down on all their heads.
-Ondaatje protests against letting our beliefs about national identity divide us from others.
When taking an engineering test in England, Kip reflects on the different attitudes to the discipline in India.
P188 ‘He had come from a country where mathematics and mechanics were natural traits.’
-Kip’s values and identity have been determined by the culture he grew up in. Placed in a new and different culture, he feels himself to be fundamentally different to those around him.
Caravaggio observes Hana.
p222 ‘He loved her more now than when he had understood her better, when she had been the product of her parents. What she was now was what she had decided to become.’
-As a child, Hana’s identity was moulded by her parents and family.
-Her own experiences of the world away from her parents, and of war, have widened her awareness. She is now able, to some extent, to develop her own identity. This is a part of reaching maturity.
Almásy reflects on his experiences in the desert.
p261 ‘We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.’
-Our identity is less governed by personal choice than we think: though we can change our identity to some extent, it is largely dependent on our experiences of history and culture. Almásy illustrates this with the example of desert tribes.
10. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
Vernon Little is a 15-year-old boy living in Martirio, Texas, suspected of being involved with the mass murder of eighteen of his school classmates. His close friend Jesus was responsible for the murders and committed suicide after the massacre, but the townspeople, media and police are all searching for an accomplice, so they can see some form of justice. As his closest friend and having been spotted at the scene of the crime, the finger points to Vernon. Evidence then begins to mount against him and feeling the pressure, he flees to Mexico. While on the run, more deaths occur which he is also considered to be responsible for, and when he is finally captured, he finds himself on trial for a total of 34 murders. In the trial he is found innocent of the random killings that occurred after the massacre, but guilty of the eighteen deaths of his classmates and put on death row. While he is there, the whole of death row is filmed for a reality tv programme, in which the public votes for who they want to die next. When Vernon is chosen, he calls a number of people in his life and ‘gives them what they want’, having learned this lesson from a fellow inmate. Just before he is given the lethal injection, he is pardoned due to new evidence and the book ends with ‘everything back to normal’.
How the text links to identity:
The text ‘Vernon God Little’ links quite well to the idea of mistaken identity, since Vernon is considered to be a murderer when he is in fact innocent. The novel explores the idea of ‘fate’, as many of the reasons why Vernon is considered to be a murderer are due to pure coincidences, implying that your identity isn’t necessarily defined by yourself and how you act, but the people around you and your experiences. An example of this is that almost everyone in ‘Martirio’, Vernon’s town, believe him to be involved in the mass murder of the school pupils, although he hadn’t done anything that would make people think that. Although this is outside of himself and his control, it still defines his identity in a way, as he then follows the life of a guilty man, fleeing his home town for Mexico.
The novel also explores how wealth and success define your identity. While in Mexico, Vernon meets people who have very little wealth, compared to the enormous amounts of money he has in Martirio. This proves to be a problem as they eventually realise that they won’t be able to be friends, since the Mexican could never fit in, in Vernon’s town. This implies that people from different social backgrounds, with different amounts of money cannot truly mix, as they will never be on an equal level with each other. Identity can therefore be defined by wealth, as it can determine who you can spend your time with, and have as your close friends.
Identity is also shown to be defined by your friends and family. Vernon’s new identity as a criminal is mainly the fault of his best friend Jesus, since by mixing with him, people think that he is also responsible for the murders. Vernon also seems to be really impacted on by the death of his father, saying that his life had got much more difficult afterwards, which shows just how important parents are in forming a person’s identity. His mother is also very important to him, and we see that Vernon thinks about his mother often in the novel, both in a positive and negative way.
“It’s like she planted a knife in my back when I was born.”
- Vernon speaking about his mother (pg. 7)
- contrasts to the generic representation of mothers as caring and loving, instead referring to a mother’s betrayal of her son ‘knife in my back’
- shows the importance of the mother to someone’s identity, a knife = scarring and thus a large impact on someone’s life and their identity.
- ‘planted’ links to ‘seeds of life’ which in this case is changed to the ‘seeds of betrayal’
“It cuts even deeper now that daddy ain’t around to share the pain.”
- Vernon speaking again of his mother’s betrayal, whilst mentioning the loss of his dad (pg 7)
· shows the importance of the father and the impact of a father’s death on identity
· shows the strength a father can gave to his child since ‘it cuts deeper’ without him
‘daddy’ – childlike and innocent, showing a childish wish/dream to have his father back in his life, shows a child’s longing for his father, even in teenage years.
“If you don’t quiver, you’re fucken guilty”
-Vernon’s narrative, talking about people not showing emotions about crimes (pg 33)
· shows your identity to be defined by your personality, less emotional people appear guilty, even when they’re not
· shows the judgemental nature of people
“What kind of fucken life is this?”
- Vernon commenting on the falseness and therefore pointlessness of life (repeats throughout the book) (strong links to Catcher in the Rye)
- Vernon has no hope for the future, impacting on his identity.
- Asking questions improves intelligence, intellect etc. but Vernon isn’t receiving answers, impacting on his identity as he feels lost, as if his life is unfulfilling and false.
“I have my ma to protect, now that I’m Man of the House and all”
- Vernon (pg 36)
- Vernon feels this is part of his identity, almost his profession as he gives himself the title of ‘Man of the House’
- shows women to be presented as weaker, and part of a man’s identity is protecting a woman
- shows the strong family bond
“a jury would convict on his fucken shoes alone”
- A comment made by Vernon’s attorney (pg 49)
· shows the importance of appearance to your identity, as the shoes you wear could make you guilty
· shows the importance of impressions and how other people can affect your identity – making you a murderer with one verdict
· shows the judgemental nature of people
· shows the importance of uniqueness, as Vernon’s friend who was the murderer had the same shoes at him, implicating Vernon too
“What an incredible boy”
- said by Vernon’s mum about a 12-year-old one hundred thousand millionaire
· shows the importance of wealth to Vernon’s family, which contrasts strongly to Vernon’s own opinion – “Ricky just sits there like a spare prick, in front of the Lamborghini he can’t even drive.”
“who lives on the other side is a wealthy couple; at least their house is painted wealthy”
- Vernon’s narrative (not imp. to story) (pg 83)
· identity can be determined by not necessarily who you are, but what you represent, or appear to be like
· it can be important to be seen as wealthy, money and possessions large part of identity
· appearances are important, and fitting in on the social ladder – social status important to some
“I’m a kid whose best friend took a gun into his mouth and blew off his hair, whose classmates are dead…..”
- Vernon’s narrative (pg 113)
· your identity can be defined by other people – friends, since Vernon recognises his friend’s actions as part of him
· identity can be defined by your past and your experiences
“As if he knows my natural habitat is in one of these towers full of wealthy people.”
- Vernon, about his Mexican friend Pelayo. (pg 183)
· identity defined by wealth, people with different amounts of wealth cannot mix
· ‘these’ diectic, separating the two friends with their wealth
· ‘natural’ where Vernon belongs is among wealthy people
11. Snow Falling On Cedars
Snow Falling On Cedars is written by David Guterson and is set in the 1950’s. It opens with the dark tale of how a fisherman is found dead, tied up in the nets of his boat. The main suspect is a Japanese man, Kabuo Miyamoto, put on trial for the murder of Carl Heine. The town of San Piedro is taken up by the murder, which affects everyone. Ishmael Chambers, the town’s newspaper reporter, covers the case yet finds it hard to stay neutral. He was a WW2 veteran who fought the Japanese. From this came a hatred towards them, many of whom came to live in San Piedro after the war. Furthermore Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue, had a deep relationship with Ishmael, who struggles to overcome his love for this woman.
On top of this, family feuds had broken out between the Miyamoto’s and the Heine’s over land matter, which further lead the town to suspect Kabuo of murder. As time goes on the suspense grows thicker along with suspicions, yet the final chapter reveals the death of Carl Heine was merely a fishing accident, like many others which happen at sea. The reader is torn between the love story of the protagonist and the moral aspects of the novel involving Kabuo.
Identity holds a large part in this novel for the jury can only decide the outcome of the trial by unpicking the identity of characters involved to come to a sensible and just decision. The ingrained hatred towards some of the Japanese on the island is held against Kabuo which leads him to be held suspect despite, at the very end, him being clear of murder. Since WW2 the inhabitants of San Piedro have disliked the Japanese.“…an enemy on the island is an enemy forever.” Kabuo was innocent throughout but the hatred was deep set. The protagonist had his arm blown off by the Japanese in the war which doesn’t aid our view for the story is told through him.
Ishmael’s first love was Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue. He was unable to be with her due to race. The two races were not allowed to mix and so she was taken away from him by Kabuo. Of course Ishmael suffered from this, deepening his hatred toward the Japanese. Race is a large part of identity and defines who you are. There was danger at the time in having inter-race relationships. “‘Still,’ said Hatsue, ‘you’re not Japanese. And I’m alone with you.’ ” This quote is significant in highlighting how the two races are meant to be enemies. However deep the love, she still cannot have him, no matter what. The fact that they are alone is also important for it shows how hostile the races were. At their age, to them race would have been next to nothing, irrelevant, yet they were both aware of the possible outcome of being found together. Race has always played a large part in who were are and always divides people during the war. In this novel it is WW2. Civil wars are caused by race and Nazi anti-semitism is the most famous racial war in all of history.
This novel shows how others in our lives can affect our own identity. Living in a close-knit community such as San Piedro, your own business isn’t your own for long. “…I find you’re a part of me. Without you, I have nothing.” If we spend enough time with someone they can have an effect on who we are, their views can influence our own and so on. Ishmael found that Hatsue became a part of him and therefore found it increasingly harder to move on from her when Kabuo married her. This resulted in hostility toward him which didn’t bode well for his murder case.
“Never could tell them guys apart.”
® To others, some races can look very similar.
® Race is a huge part of identity.
® Identity should be individual, and different, yet here one race has been classed together.
This suggests that they have no identity other than their race.
® Restricts how people can express themselves.
“She was a mother, too, to four sisters” p76
® Responsibilities have a lasting effect on your identity.
® Family is a classic example of identity. She is forced to grow up quickly to mother her
sisters and therefore became the responsible grown up.
“You take some steps for me okay?” p70
® Trapped inside the prison Kabuo cannot see his children, see life outside the jail etc.
® He passes his identity onto his wife, asking her to experience the world for him.
® Being confined restricts your life and therefore your identity. The effects of your life rub
off on your personality and identity.
“I’m not guilty of anything.” p136
® The convicted Kabuo states upon trial that he isn’t guilty.
® He is being identified as guilty, yet to he says he is innocent. Our sins affect our identity
which is shown clearly by the fact that Kabuo is up for trial.
“ ‘Still,’ said Hatsue, ‘you’re not Japanese. And I’m alone with you.’ ”
® Race confines who you see, marry, socialise with etc. It also brings fear.
® Race plays an enormous part on status. Take Nazi Germany. Those who didn’t fit the
‘perfect’ person were discriminated as the very least.
® Here they have to hide from their identity.
® Identity brings danger, separates races and causes divisions.
“When Kabuo was eight his father put a weapon in his hands for the first time.”
® This tradition is part of identity.
® Cultures and traditions influence who we are and so has an effect on our future. People
believe Kabuo to be just like all the other Japanese Samurai warriors.
“Susan Marie Heine had been a widow for nearly three months…but had not grown very much accustomed to it yet.”
® We can establish an identity as Susan did when she fell in love with Carl yet we can find
it hard to change identity once it has been set.
“…he disliked most human beings.”
® Being reserved, unsociable, unfriendly. These are all traits of personality and identity.
® Our identity comes from our past as in this case.
“…I find you’re a part of me. Without you, I have nothing.” p196
® This is taken from a letter to Hatsue from Ishmael.
® Love plays a part in who we are. With her he feels one, whole. Without her, the opposite.
® His identity relies on the role of another. People around us influence our identity as we
change to suit different people or situations.
“…an enemy on the island is an enemy forever.” P469
® Grudges last in tight knit communities.
® Enemy is a strong word and shows the hatred felt toward the Japanese following the
war. This is once again a group identity as opposed to individual yet single people are
discriminated due to their background.
12. Once in a House on Fire – Andrea Ashworth
I haven’t finished this book yet but so far:
It’s Andrea Ashworth’s memoir. Her father died when she was five, he is seen as a kind of ideal or hero figure throughout the book and juxtaposes her awful stepfather. Her father was part Maltese and part Italian, so the protagonist and her sister (Laurie) are darker haired and skinned with dark large eyes. They could easily be mistaken for Pakistani and this causes Andrea some trouble at school and in her 70s/80s Mancunian neighbourhood. Her mother re-marries and has another daughter (Sarah) by this man, she is much paler, blonde haired and blue eyed – as a family they get some odd looks in the street. Her stepfather is abusive towards them all and treats his own daughter more favourably than Andrea and Laurie. Her stepfather persuades her mother that they should all move to Canada for a new and more prosperous life, and of course it all goes horribly wrong. When they finally find a house to live in, after living with relatives for months, her stepfather drinks away any money he’s earned and comes back fuelled by whisky to beat her mother. Her mother eventually plucks up the courage to leave Canada with her children and without her husband, (he follows them back, their abusive relationship continues on and off) but has to sell her only remaining heirlooms to do so. When they come back to Manchester her mother struggles to find a job or a house and they have to move away from the suburbs and into Rusholme to live with Aunty Jackie, sacrificing Andrea’s place at the local grammar school. Andrea survives at the local comprehensive because she keeps to herself and isn’t seen as white or black (so she’s accepted by all of the cliques), she’s also very clever, but also physically strong so she’s respected by the playground.
Connected aspects of identity:
Race – her race is confused and people treat her differently when they think she is of different races. Compare to the treatment of her more Caucasian looking sister Sarah.
Parents – her mother is overly dependant on her stepfather, portrayed as quite weak and self-pitying, but Andrea still loves her mother dearly and wants to care for her. Her father is dead; when she recounts memories of him they are only ever happy ones. Her stepfather is physically violent, an alcoholic and abused Andrea sexually (although only one very short sentence mentions this) – he is the main cause of the “fire” in the house. (I think).
Possessions – as a family they are very poor, partly because her mother finds it hard to find work but also because her stepfather drinks away a lot of what they earn. There is one instance where Andrea is told to back her school exercise books in “something sturdy” but her mother tells her they cannot afford brown paper so she is to use pages out of old My Guy annuals, but this gets her in trouble at school.
Future prospects – Andrea is really clever, she narrates her love of Enid Blyton and reading and how the other kids at school ask her to do their homework and how she does it to stay on the ride side of her peers. Thanks to her colour and the respect she gets at school she isn’t mocked for her intelligence, but respected – “ “Ras!” A wave of rasping and clucking washed across the back rows. “Da bitch knows how to stick it!” ”
Class – Her family are poor and they are of a fairly low class. They move about in north Manchester, from Rusholme to Moss Side, always living with relatives. She talks about the fleas in her Auntie Jackie’s house biting her and how she has to share a bed with her mother and two sisters.
Relationships – Andrea’s fairly close with her sister Laurie and loves her mother dearly, but because she is depressed a lot of the time she isn’t really fit to be a good motherly figure. Her stepfather is abusive and violent, although on page 160 she says, “My chest swirled with funny feeling, like love, when I looked into his pink, snuffly face.” So she hasn’t got any close friends at school, but there is a girl she does work for in return for a bit of defence at school called Stacey.
Past – Her past does define her. She is tough at school because of the violence she has seen at home and her peers treat her differently because of her muddled Mancunian / Canadian accent and her odd Maltese / Italian mixed heritage.
- What I got out of our partnership [with Stacey]… was protection from being called Pakistani. ‘Oi! Shut yer cakehole!’… ‘Andrea’s half Maltese and half Italian, yer spasmo! Definitely not one bit Paki.’ Protection suggests physical defence is needed, which shows the extent of the racial hatred/ abuse at the time. Stacey also defends her so staunchly because she doesn’t want people to think she would be friends with a ‘Paki’. Pg 125
- “ ‘You need that bastard… like you need a hole in the head.’” Auntie Jackie to Andrea’s Mother, about her stepfather. Shows us that every one can see how destructive Andrea’s parent relationship is, every one apart from Andrea’s mother. Pg 108
- “ ‘We’re not a proper family, are we?’ I asked her on the way home through the rain.” Understands her family doesn’t function according to the usual stereotype, part of this is about the difference in skin colour between the three sisters. Pg 108
- “Where there were no lights on, I lifted the flap of the letterbox to breathe in the scent of the stranger’s house. You could smell the fancy wallpaper in their hall and all the braised lamb dinners they’d ever eaten, caught in the carpet.” Andrea entertains herself while she isn’t at school, curious and intrigued by how other people live. Pg 89
- “The skin gave a quick shout then turned a deep, slow red, but our mother’s face stood still.” Pg 78
- “Tamsyn swore by Margaret Thatcher and has her sights ser on gathering enough O levels to make her middle-class” pg 215
- “Since God never seemed to come up with the goods, we eventually found ourselves concentrating less on prayers and more on high marks at school.” Pg 256
- “I was desperate to chisel the brace off my teeth, to let my mouth mingle with some one else’s”. ‘Chisel’ suggests a violent urge, ‘mouth’ is very sensual, beginning of sexual growth/journey. Pg 255
- “Pear drops were pinging out of the tree, as if it were crying. I climbed right up to the top to join my little sister.” Their stepfather comes to visit, giving each daughter a bag of their favourite sweets to soften them up. Laurie runs off to sit in a tree, Andrea leaves her parents to talk and goes to her sister. The imagery suggests Laurie is upset and emotional, but that she is also deep in thought and the tree might be a contemplative place for her. Pg 95
- “I strained in my sweaty cocoon [sleeping bag] to work out why evil took root inside grown-ups, making them waste their lives in wicked ways.” Shows child-like innocence and reinforces her fascination with books and stories, where things are good or evil, no shades of grey. Pg 150
13. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings the first of the six parts that comprise Maya Angelou’s autobiography. It details her life from the age of three when she and her older brother, Bailey, are both sent to live with their grandmother, Momma, in Arkansas to the birth of her child at age seventeen. It deals with social isolation, racism, rape, coming of age, adultery, family and motherhood.
Maya and Bailey live with Momma in Stamps, Arkansas and work in her store. Black people are poorly treated and Maya struggles to understand the reason for this. The children’s father arrives and they relocate to St Louis to stay with their mother and her boyfriend known only as Mr Freeman. Mr Freeman avoids the children until he molests Maya and rapes her at the age of eight. Mr Freeman is at court convicted of rape yet before the night before his sentence he is mysteriously killed, although unsaid it is likely to be the work of Maya’s mother’s family. Maya blames herself and lives in a detached silence for over a year. She and her brother are sent back to Stamps where Maya meets an old black lady, Mrs Flowers, who teaches her the importance of speech and writing and begins Maya’s love with literature. Maya is sent to learn manners in a white woman’s house at ten years old. She is treated badly as she is black and so breaks Mrs Cullinan’s plates in order to be fired. She and Bailey dream of their mother, and Maya longs to leave Stamps. She watches her black neighbours work hard each day, then look to religion for relief or, she sometimes thinks, as an escape. Bailey, a year older, gets initiated into sex by a fourteen-year-old, who then leaves town, breaking his heart. Maya attends her eighth grade graduation, at first proud of herself, but then disappointed when a white guest speaker tells the crowd that they can only be good at sports, not academics. Momma decides that Maya and Bailey have to go to California to be with their parents. Maya doesn’t know why, but she thinks it’s because Bailey has seen, up close, a dead black man and a white man who is happy to see the man dead. Maya thinks Momma is afraid for her grandson, who is becoming a man. In California, Maya at first lives with her grandmother, then her mother who marries Daddy Clidell, who is like Maya’s first real father. In San Francisco during the war, Maya witnesses racism against blacks and Japanese people. She spends the summer with her father and his young girlfriend. Her father takes her to Mexico for a night, and Maya learns that he has a mistress there. Her father gets so drunk Maya has to drive him home. She gets into a fight with her father’s girlfriend and decides to leave. She lives in a junkyard with a group of teenagers for a month. Back in San Francisco, she decides to work as a streetcar conductor, though black people are not allowed to do this. She persists until they finally hire her. She works for a semester before going back to school. Bailey and their mother continually fight and Bailey finally leaves home and gets a job on a railroad train. Maya is disappointed in him. She reads some lesbian literature and, not understanding her developing body and mind, thinks she is a lesbian. She decides to . She approaches a popular boy and asks him to have sex with her. He agrees and the experience is disappointing and bores Maya. She forgets him, and three weeks later finds she is pregnant. She hides it from her mother and stepfather for 8 months, and when she finally tells them they are at first angry but then accept it. Maya gives birth at the end of the book and begins her journey to adulthood by accepting her role as mother to her newborn son.
If you ask a Negro where he’s been, he’ll tell you where he’s going.
-This view of the black community can be seen as both positive and negative. On one hand insolent, backward people but also, and this is more likely, people that can rise above their past and persist with their lives. Maya herself has ambitions to detach herself from both her life in Stamps and in California and sees more promise in the future.
If is painful for , being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens .
- Maya notes that she not only fell victim to a hostile, racist, and sexist society, but to other social forces as well, including the displacement she felt from her own family and peers. The society itself is the ‘razor’, an object of threat and harm and this is exacerbated by her loss of place in any situation. Maya’s supposes that ignorance to her situation would be less dangerous. ‘Growing up is painful’ is juxtaposed with ‘razor that threatens the throat’ to show the true danger that went unnoticed by many, childlike awkwardness is replaced with genuine danger as Maya grows, having experienced first hand what society may have put down to teenage angst. ‘Threatens the throat’- alliteration, connotes violence and murder.
I remember never believing that whites were really real.
-Romanticised idea of white society, even she saw them as superior. She deems the lives of whites unattainable perfection. Also an indication of the segregation- she didn’t believe in them as she wasn’t permitted to be around them, to her blacks and whites were truly separate.
There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn’t understand and who made no effort to understand mine.
-Army- body of power, but is it an army that protects or brings harm?
Maya tried to comprehend their ideals and couldn’t and feels that they were indifferent to her views. ‘Movements’- Maya is aware of the advances within her society even if she cannot analyse them.
All knowledge is spendable currency, depending on the market
-Importance of education, desire to learn. ‘Depending on the market’- Maya lives where she is not valued yet dreams of a potential where her thoughts have worth and she can live her own life and teach others of her suffering. The idea of ‘all’ knowledge indicates the probable importance of her past, that it can help form her future self.
My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a
Of all the needs a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.
-The ‘lonely child’ is Maya herself but could mean countless children. The ‘hope of wholeness’ typifies a coming-of-age novel and suggests that an adolescent and young adult is striving to find their fully formed identity. ‘unshakable’ here reveals Maya’s need for something solid and secure in her life of turmoil and uncertainty.
In the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like.
-’Complete’ signifies that the segregation is a calculated white endeavour, as if in Stamps the separation of blacks and whites is a triumph for some.
‘Know what whites looked like’ not merely the literal sense that they couldn’t visualise whites, it’s as if the blacks do not know the whites as fellow people at all, and vice versa
The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.
-Towards the end of the novel Maya Angelou writes with increasing eloquence. Maya states that against black women there is not only the triple threat of sexism, racism, and black powerlessness, but also the “common forces of nature” that assault and confuse all children. She notes that all the (black) women in her life ‘emerge’ from this turmoil as strong, awe inspiring characters. ‘Tender years’ refers to adolescence and innocence and greatly contrasts with ‘assaulted’ and ‘crossfire’.
By Toni Morrison
Beloved is about the physical and emotional trauma that is caused by slavery, and how survivors are effected. Morrison shows the more painful and taboo aspects of slavery such as sexual abuse and violence, and the idea of what it means to be a mother is explored. It is about a black woman called Sethe, and her daughter Denver who try to get on with their lives once they have escaped. They live in a house called 124 Bluestone, which is haunted by a poltergeist, who causes many troubles for the family, and leads to people avoiding them and their house. Sethe had to murder her baby daughter Beloved by slitting her throat years previously, and this baby then haunts the house. Sethe’s partner Paul D arrives and beats the ghost out of the house. Then a girl called Beloved arrives at the house and they take her in, and Denver realises straight away that she is a reincarnation of the baby, as she knows so much already about the Sethe and is able to sing songs known only to Sethe and her children. Later when Beloveds presence starts to take away Sethe’s life, the black community come to help exorcize her, she disappears.
How the novel links to identity
The central theme through the novel is identity. Throughout it we learn how a persons identity can be defined by different aspects, including apperance, family, relationships, men, opression and liberation, motherhood, and age. We see the devastating effects of slavery on peoples lives, and how it has consequences on the rest of their lives. Once free, the people have to try to discover their identities by themselves, and we see the struggle they go through to achieve this.
The theme of motherhood is shown to effect identity as it makes women love their children so strongly they will go through anything to help them. Sethe’s maternal instincts lead her to kill her own child, and almost lead to her own self destruction. Some women feel they only exist to look after their children, so the loss of a child can lead to loss of self. When Sethe has her milk stolen, she loses that symbolic bond that mother and daughter have, so cannot get over the trauma of it. Age makes up a part of whom they are, as children are vulnerable, even to their own mothers as we see from the fear Sethe’s remaining children have. Once Sethe’s sons were old enough, they ran away so they could start their own lives safely, and find their own identities. Her relationships help make her stronger, because it means she has someone there to look after her and give her advice. When Paul D arrives he beats the ghost out of the house, making Sethe feel safer and less worried about it. Paul gives her a positive outlook on life, because she thinks she can finally move on from her awful past and start a new life. He is the only man who is not an oppressive or a threat towards women, which gives him a completely different identity to the other men in the novel.
The oppression through slavery, and then the sudden transition to freedom, causes the characters to have to struggle to find out who they are. They have the memories of a horrific past, and need to forget about them or come to terms with them to move on and find their ‘self’. The repression in the past caused them to lose their true self of identity, so they must accept what happened and get back their original identity. When her daughter Beloved returns, it makes all the characters come to terms with themselves, and realise things that they hadn’t noticed before, showing identity can be affected by those around you. She knows all about their pasts, and can make them recall memories that they had forgotten, so that they can piece together all the painful events that made them who they are today. She forces Sethe to confront her past, and by the end Denver is able to have a grasp on who she is.
- “A man ain’t nothing but a man. But a son? Well, now, that’s somebody.”
This shows how a person’s identity can be defined by their age, and their family. A son is a boy who is growing up and becoming a person who is characterized by the people around him and the way he is brought up. Man is a very general term which can be used for the whole human race, or for one gender, so this quotation is saying it is too impersonal to define a single identity, but a son is more specific and individual.
- “There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks.”
This shows how a person’s identity can be distinguished by the colour of their skin, not by their inner personality. To some people, it is only the way people look that matters, and so you can stereotype them by their colour, race, religion etc. Here it is a black person speaking, who has been badly mistreated and enslaved by a white person, so they are bound to have some hatred towards white people. When they escape the slavery they are only around black people, and their lives start to improve so they are bound to think white people are the problem for their difficult lives, which explains the “bad luck”.
- “Here… in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard”
This quotation shows the appreciation from these people to be alive. They suffered violence and abuse in slavery, so now appreciate the freedom, and so it shows how liberation can define a person’s identity. They understand how great life can be, and how lucky they are that they have escaped and can express themselves through emotions and dancing. By laughing and crying, they show who they truly are inside, by letting out their inner most emotions. Their flesh, is the way they look on the outside, this also makes up their identity, as it gives them an image. This also makes a link to the colour of people skins, and how age can define you as when you get older so does your skin.
- “Because slavery had ‘busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue’ she had nothing left to make a living with but her heart.”
This refers to Baby Suggs, who was Sethe’s mother-in-law. It shows how slavery ruined most of her body, destroying her life. The valuable parts of her body which she needed for everyday life were ‘busted’ which meant she could no longer continue her life how she may have wanted. Her busted womb meant she couldn’t have any more children. This links to how a persons family defines them, and she couldn’t have any more children after she was free, which will have been very upsetting for her. Her busted tongue shows how slavery effected what she said, as she might not have wanted to talk about the horrific experiences she went through. Her eyes represent the dreadful sights she saw. The only thing slavery couldn’t break was her heart, which shows she was still capable of loving people, and that made her identity one of a loving and caring person.
- “My first-born. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread.”
This refers to Beloved, Sethe’s first child who she killed. The first sentence gives the impression she was proud to have her whilst she was still alive. To have had a child was an accomplishment for her. The only memory she has of her daughter was what she loved most, showing how a persons likes and dislikes can define their identity. The fact that this is a memory could show how memories can be what define a person, as we only have this to know what they are like, plus often memories are what are kept because they are important to the individual. The ‘burned’ bread shows how Beloved could have pleasure even from the things that could be considered negative in life, making her seem like a better person.
- The kind of man who could walk into a house and make the women cry.”
This shows how his identity comes from the way acts around women, and the way he makes them feel, showing identity can come from personality, gender and a relationship. He is able to make women relax enough so that even though they hardly know him, they will let out their feelings to him with ease. His identity comes from his gender, and how it makes him different, and so the effect this has on others. The way he walks into the house, shows no force is involved, so the women are voluntarily showing how they feel, which makes him sound like a trusted person, who understands women.
- “Beloved, you are my sister, you are my daughter, you are my face; you are me.”
From this quotation we can see a person’s identity comes from who they are in relation to others. Family and relationships make people who they are. It shows how strong love can be between family, and how precious family members are to one another. They become so close that they are one unit.
- “the four horsemen came — schoolteacher, one nephew, one slave catcher and a sheriff.”
Here we see how a person’s slef can be defined by the job they hold, or the relationship they have with other people. These people are not given names, as that wouldn’t show us who they are, instead all we know about them is who they are for Sethe. To anyone else, these people sound harmless, or even protective, but to Sethe they are a threat, as they are after her because she is an escaped slave, who needed to escape all of these people. It does not matter what their personalities are like, because no matter what, they are frightening to Sethe, and their identities represent danger. They arrived on horses, making them seem bigger and stronger than her,
- “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
This shows how although being liberated may define a person , you still have to take control over your own life to be your own person. Identity can come from having power, or from the struggle to gain power. A slave who is free has to attempt to reclaim there individual indentity, but the effects of slavery can still haunt them and stay with them forvever, meaning they are never truly free. Sethe has to struggle to enjoy her life and feel worthy of freedom after everything she has been through. Identity comes from owning yourself, and not being controlled by another.
- “You your best thing Sethe. You are”
This is what Paul D tells Sethe at the end of the novel, to get her to realise she is now free, and has her own life to think of, not just her childrens. She needs to acknowledge her reason for being alive isn’t just to be a mother. So whilst identity may come from having children and being in a family, your own individuality comes from your personal characteristics and attributes. Personality can come from having confidence in yourself, and feeling powerful as an individual.
15. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Brick Lane is a novel that portrays the life of Nasneen , a underprivileged Bangladeshi girl who marries a fellow Bangladeshi who is currently living in England. She is thrown into a new world and culture where her religion and culture is not accepted fully. As well as this she is made to submit to her demanding husband who is old enough to be her father. When she gives birth to her son Raqib, she naturally seems to be much happier, however when her son becomes ill and eventually dies she her world is turned upside down again, however she does finally get closer to her husband Chanu.
As well as learning about Nasneen’s traditional Bangladeshi life in England, we are also exposed to her sister’s. She turned her back on the traditional Bangladeshi marriage and decided to have a love marriage, both sisters now have to deal with the situation they are in and make the best of their life.
Nasneen also forms an affair with a young man called Karim. Karim is everything that Chanu is not. He is young, westernised and very sure of himself and this obviously excites Nasneen. He values her in ways Chanu does not and she falls in love with him.
Towards the end of the novel, the September 11th terrorist attacks in America put even more strain on the Bangladeshi community in London, with the young Muslims, headed by Karim, forming a gang to protect their religious identity. After going into depression and finally recovering, Nasneen watches her husband Chanu leave England, but Nasneen remains as the desperation to return to Bangladesh had diminished.
Brick Lane is the story of Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman given into an arranged marriage to Chanu Ahmed, a man almost twice her age. Chanu takes her to London, where he has lived and worked for almost two decades. Nazneen not only has to learn to live with Chanu, but she has to survive in a whole new culture as well.
In the small Bangladeshi estate community in London, Nazneen falls in love with ice-skating, which she learns about from television. Nazneen meets other Bangladeshi people who grow through their own struggles. Nazneen gives birth to a son, Raqib, and, as they watch Bengali youth turn to drugs and alcohol, Chanu vows to take his family back home before they are affected by such acts. Many Bengalis plan to return, he explains, but they can never raise the money that they need for such a move. When Raqib dies before his first birthday, the traumatic event brings Nazneen and Chanu closer to each other. Nazneen begins to understand that they’re both seeking the same thing, but are taking different paths towards their goals. Chanu, for his part, begins to show Nazneen more respect. He makes a vow to stop talking and to start acting.
Through a series of letters that go on for thirteen years, Brick Lane begins to tell the story of Nazneen’s younger sister, Hasina. Hasina eloped in a “love marriage” and ran off to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. Nazneen and Hasina must deal with the lessons their mother taught them before she died. The mother warned her daughters not to struggle against Fate and to treat life with the same indifference with which life would treat them.
As the drug problem in their London community gets worse, even affecting Razia’s son, Tariq, and as his own adolescent daughters become more Westernized, Chanu becomes more determined to bring his family back home. Chanu is so desperate that he borrows money from Mrs. Islam, lets Nazneen do some sewing work at home, and accepts a job as a cab driver with Kempton Kars. These new developments change the course of their lives drastically, as Nazneen begins having an affair with the man who brings her the sewing work from his uncle’s sweatshop. Karim excites her because, in her view, he knows his place in the world. Karim is sure of himself and he makes Nazneen feel that everything she says is important.
By the time Karim appears in Nazneen’s life, the Bengali youth in their community have formed gangs, and they are being affected by the now infamous September 2001 attacks on America. When a group known as the Lion Hearts begins passing anti-Islam leaflets around, Karim forms a group called the Bengal Tigers to counter their claims and defend their religion.
With the all the pressures weighing on her; having to balance the needs of her family, the near approaching trip home, their debt, and the illicit affair that Karim wants to see end in marriage, Nazneen eventually suffers a nervous breakdown. After her recovery, Nazneen finds the power within herself to stop Mrs. Islam, to be more assertive at home, and to end the relationship with Karim.
In the end Dr. Azad gives Chanu the rest of the money they need for the trip, but Nazneen tells Chanu at the last moment that she and the girls can’t go. For Chanu, the dream of returning is too important to ignore and he tells Nazneen he can’t stay.
“Shefali will make a love marriage over my dead body.”- Razia’s daughter is not allowed to choose who she gets married to. Getting married is part of one’s identity, however Razia is unable to choose, she must leave this important decision to her mother.
“They did not have money and money was needed.”- Nasneen and Chanu wish to return to Bangladesh however their lack of money means they are unable to do so. They feel as though they can return to the land where their identity lies due to the financial situation.
“She cleaned and cooked and washed. She made breakfast for Chanu and looked on as he ate.”- This was a daily routine for Nasneen as she was expected to take care of her husband. For a Bangladeshi woman was expected to submit to her husband and some would say it is some what part of the Bangladeshi identity.
“The pull of the land is stronger even than the pull of blood.”- They feel that the country is even more valuable or important than blood ties. Its shows how passionate the British Bangladeshi’s are about their origins.
“In Bangladesh it was no more possible to be both poor and fat than to be rich and starving.” – In the Bangladeshi community, being fat and poor was unheard of as poor people are so poor, that they are malnourished. In the British society, being skinny is very much linked with celebrity culture.
“Without him, life would not be possible”- Nasneen is referring to her son. She cannot imagine living without him; he’s a very big part of her life and her identity.
“There had been no chance to make her prayers in the usual way.”- Religion plays a big part in Nasneen’s life as she is a devout Muslim. “usual way” shows how praying is regular feature in her life and part of her identity.
“Chanu had not beaten her yet.” – Nasneen was expecting her husband to play the dominant figure in the relationship. She was quite familiar with the fact that Bangladeshi men beat their wives and was surprised he had not done so as soon as they were married.
“But now our children copy what they see here.” – “here” is referring to England. Bangladeshi parents feel as though their children are following the western drinking culture whereas it is forbidden within Bangladesh and Muslim society. It seems as though the British Bangladeshi children are losing their culture and its identity.
“Going Home Syndrome.”- Most Bangladeshi’s feel that the influence of the Western culture is a bad one for their children and so most of them have a desire to return home. They call this feeling of longing for their homeland, “the going home syndrome.”
Brick Lane is a novel about the difficulties a woman- Nasneen- faces as she is thrown into a new world and culture and where her identity is not understood. She cannot speak any English therefore limiting her communication, and her husband’s chauvinist behaviour doesn’t help the situation.
Her identity is defined mainly by her husband. She is expected to be a good Bangladeshi wife and take of him. Without her husband, Nasneen’s life would be pointless as her behaviour has a direct effect on him.
The society that she is now living seems to be very critical of her cultural and religious identity. She is living in a society where Islam is a religion of danger and killing and where the British Muslim children are torn between two different cultures, resulting in many straying from the right religious path and many turning to extremism. Nasneen has to deal with not only the demands of her husband but also being a good Muslim in a world where the colour of skin, her religious beliefs, the way she dresses and the way she speaks is something to be feared.
Nasneen’s relationship with Karim makes her take control of her life. Karim’s character understands his identity and place in the world and this changes Nasneen more than anything.
16 The Kite Runner
The Kite runner is an epic tale about friendship, fathers, sons, betrayal, tribute and redemption. The novel is based on two boys, Amir and Hassan living in Afghanistan. The narrator Amir begins the story by recalling his childhood memories. Mocked and teased for his background, Hassan doesn’t have many friends except Amir, they spend their day’s together Kite flying and so Amir enters a local kite runner tournament hoping to win his fathers praise. During the tournament Assef, a violent bully at school attacks Amir for being friends with Hazara but Hassan bravely stands up to him and threatens to ‘shoot out his left eye’. In response Assef backs of but seeks for revenge. During the contest he attacks and rapes Hassan and Amir turns a blind eye to this, to me this is the key event to the book as this event leaves Amir distressed, upset, hurt and guilty and leads him into the following events to occur in this life. From this we see Amir, Hassan and Aseef’s characters and true identities shine through. The whole novel is based around how Amir commits a terrible sin against his friend and half-brother, Hassan. The journey he travels, what he does and where he goes to seek and find atonement shows he wants to be good again and the how far he’s willing to go to succeed. The novel is filled with despair but uplifting at times and travels through a journey of different emotions and relationships. The whole theme of the book links into identity and self discovery, The kite runner demonstrates both internal conflict within individuals and external conflicts that affect them.
The novel Kite Runner links to Identity through past events, race, discrimination, relationships and emotions. Amir the key character, makes everything around him form his identity, he forms his identity based on others and his relationships with others. Amir’s identity was mainly formed by the obsession he had with pleasing his father and doing everything for him, he changed things about him just for his father’s acceptation. The events in the novel lead up to Amir forming his identity, where at the end his true character shines through for what he’s done and his childhood dream becomes reality when he accepts Sozara as his son and redeems his love. At he beginning of the novel Hassan and his father are mocked and teased about their status, money income, race and religion. In the streets people tease Hassan about his ‘mogal decndants’ and ‘flat nosed’ features, even the whole fight between Aseef and Amir had was due to the fact that Hassan was a different race and Assef didn’t want them being friends, he believed their race was superior. This shows that class and race are both important factors to form your identity through them people base their opinions on you and both appearance and religion play a big role in identity. The book begins with an emotional phrase to summarise his thoughts on the devastating makes he was about to make- ‘I became what I am today at the age of twelve’. This quote revels all the devastation regret and sin he feels from the mistake that he has to learn from through this novel, but through this Amir finds self discovery and his true identity. This quote shows that your past events can affect your identity because it completely changed him and caused his jealously and obsession with pleasing his father to become a big part of his life.
1. ‘You bring me shame’
Amir’s identity was formed by the obsession that he wanted Baba to love him, the way he treats Hassan and he wanted to be treated the same so would lie to his father in attempt of pleasing him but in the end it was never enough. He even watched Hassan get raped just so that he would go home with the kite to please his father.
This quote shows how Baba’s acceptance makes such a big impact on Amir’s life, it was so important that it drove him to jealousy and then to deception towards his friend/ brother Hassan which leads to something that he lives to regret for the rest of his life. But this lets him creates the events of self discovery, so his father’s treatment mapped out his future.
2. ‘When we were children’
‘I kept thinking of that day’
These quotes show that your background and past affects your identity, Amir lives to regret his past.
3. ‘Mogul descendants’
Hassan gets mocked and teased for his ‘flat nosed’ features and his appearance plays a big part in his identity and how he’s treated by others. Due to his class, race and religion people disapprove of him showing all these factors play a big part in Identity as he isn’t accepted unlike his best friend Amir who has a well know successful man in the northern area of Kabul
4. ‘I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of children. But I didn’t care’
This quote shows that Amir is letting himself be free and not care about other peoples thoughts, therefore people do hold back in case of what others think of you so true identity is never necessarily shown.
5.’You are an honourable man’
‘I am proud to have you in our home tonight’
6. When Amir said he didn’t want to fly a kite, Hassan told him, “no monster,” and convinced him to proceed, showing Hassan was a strong character willing to face problems. Hassan is presented as determined and selfless whilst believing in his friend.
7.’ I feel like a tourist in my own country’
8. ‘There is a way to be good again’
Amir’s determined to regain himself from betraying his friend Hassan and therefore takes a journey of self discovery.
‘I had been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty two years’ Amir betrayed his best friend in an alley in Kabul and living with his regret is too hard to bare, the mistake he made is something he lives his whole life regretting until he makes this journey to redemption.
9. ‘Hassan slumps to the asphalt, his life of unrequited loyalty drifting from him like the windblown kites he used to chase.’ P219
10. ‘I became what I am today at the age of twelve’
Amir’s failure to stand by his friend is a crucial moment in the novel as it plays on his mind constantly and from then on he’s trying to regain Hassan’s forgiveness. Amir knows that by leaving his friend he’s lost his belonging and identity, he’s desperate to become ‘good again’.
11. Just like Amir’s and Hassan’s, Assef’s childhood tendencies showed how he would turn out as an adult. Amir seemed harsh when he called Assef a “sociopath” early in the story, Assef becomes like his idol, Adolf Hitler. He takes joy in hurting and humiliating innocent people. Showing that Assef was heartless and only tore people down for his own pleasure.