People may feel very differently towards who they are – some are proud of themselves, some are ashamed, some are in love with their bodies and minds, and some seek out ways to change every single bit of themselves. However, research shows that identity formation strongly depends on one’s environments as they grow up comprised of family dynamics, influences of other people, as well as cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds (Cote and Levine, n.p.). Moreover, identities tend to change and transform regularly over the course of individuals’ childhood, youth, and adult life. The changes of identities occur due to learning and the acquisition of new experiences and knowledge.
In other words, identities can be viewed as flexible and flowing notions that constantly evolve as people grow. Exploring the concept of identity and its formation, one needs to take into account all the factors and impacts that serve as the driving forces of the identity development. At any point of a person’s life, his or her current identity is the representation of a set of certain experiences and effects that, in turn, cause this person to make particular choices and display specific behaviors. The actions of characters, as well as their responses to various situations, in The Storm, The Gift of the Magi, Hills Like White Elephants, and Break It Down can be linked to their social, cultural, and family relations as the factors that formed the identities of these characters and made them who they were in the stories.
The Role of Cultural Backgrounds in Identity Formation
Cultural backgrounds are known to play a very important and active role in the formation of people’s self-identities. In this regard, culture does not only stand for one’s ethnicity and nationality but includes a variety of interactional effects that shape people’s perceptions of the world around (Cote 417-418). The dialog of the man and the woman in Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway can be used as an illustration of one of such interactions. To be more precise, throughout the entire story, the man attempts to convince the woman to agree to an operation that is never named; however, according to the way he describes it, could not be anything but an abortion.
The woman is reluctant, so he begins to make promises explaining that the operation would improve their relationship. In his persuasion techniques, he combines emotional pressure with manipulation and showers his partner with all kinds of arguments stating that the procedure is “perfectly simple”, that he does not want “anyone else” but her, and that he cares about her (Hemingway 362). In response, the woman just states that she does not care about herself. This dialogue demonstrates the entire nature of their relationship where everything seems to have been his way so she grew to forget about her needs. This abortion is a tragedy for her, but she agrees to it because her partner is persistent. In that way, the woman’s identity as a secondary person was shaped in this relationship. She copes with this role by acting as if everything is fine. Her identity change was not facilitated by the man’s influence alone but is formed as a combination of his dominance and her readiness to follow.
Influence of Other People
Influence produced by people around is another powerful factor driving the formation of identity. Similarly to the dynamics between the two people in Hills Like White Elephants, the narrator in Break It Down by Davis presented a story of a relationship that fell apart due to the influence of one of the partners. First of all, it is important to know that readers can only perceive this story from the perspective of the man who seems depressed but still attempts to stay in a relationship with the woman he loves. After a while, the breakup is initiated by him due to the deterioration of his emotional and mental state, as he says: “nothing in the middle of me, nothing inside, nothing to hold me up on my legs” (Davis 358). The story offers readers a peek into his head and his thought processes that show his lack of confidence, numerous fears, and constant restlessness combined with strong love for the woman. Most likely, this broken identity was formed as a result of his emotional state. In turn, his influence is what causes the relationship to break as well while the woman is not affected by the same issues and is willing to continue and even seems to hope for him to change his mind and come back after he had decided to leave.
In this story, one person serves as the source of influence on himself, his partner, and their relationship. Due to his inability to be happy, he has to end a relationship in order to protect the woman he loves from his harmful influence. Attempting to see the same scenario from the perspective of this woman, readers would probably find just as much fear and pain as the man felt. In that way, it looks like both of them were prepared to make this sacrifice and face the pain for the sake of ten happy days, thinking that a relationship and time spent together are worth it even though the pain that comes after is long and exhausting.
The Role of Family and Community
Identities are strongly influenced by families and family relations. The importance of holding families together can be one of the drivers of changing one’s identity or attempting to hide it. An example of this tendency can be found in the story entitled The Storm by Kate Chopin. The story revolves around two lovers -Calixta and Alcee, who secretly meet to be together while each of them is a part of a separate couple. During a powerful storm the two passionate lovers forget about their spouses and children to stay alone for a short while. At the same time, the author also shows the readers that the second halves of Calixta and Alcee are not completely unaware of their partners’ affairs. However, in order to keep the families and avoid scandals and embarrassment, all the characters remain silent and avoid raising the issues of faithfulness in relationships by pretending “happy” (Chopin 353). In that way, everyone’s identity turns out to be a mask worn for the sakes of children, reputation, family, and emotional wellbeing.
People’s identities are notions of themselves that tend to change throughout their lives under the influence of multiple factors. Most of such factors come directly from individuals’ environments comprised of family members, friends, and relationship partners. The characters of the overviewed stories are put in different situations in which they display various reactions to their surroundings and close people’s actions. Willing to avoid fights, preserve love, keep a family together, or protect other people from a harmful self, these characters change identities, adjust behaviors, and develop coping strategies. Much like Della and Jim in O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, these characters give one another the gifts of sacrifice and have to face bitter and sweet consequences (365). These dynamics show that one’s identify is mainly composed on their reactions to the world around.
Chopin, Kate. “The Storm.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 350-353.
Cote, James E. “Sociological Perspectives On Identity Formation: The Culture–Identity Link And Identity Capital.” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 19, 1996, pp. 417–428.
Cote, James E. and Charles Levine. Identity Formation, Youth, and Development: A Simplified Approach. Psychology Press, 2015.
Davis, Lydia. “Break It Down.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 354-358.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 359-363.
Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 364-367.