Our individual identity is shaped fundamentally by the society in which we live. However, identity is also shaped by an individual’s sense of self. Society plays a crucial role in forming a sense of identity by influencing the individual through the interactions, norms, and values that are accepted. If the individual carries out an action which doesn’t fit with our society, they are deemed a social anomaly by their peers and therefore struggle to be acquainted with others. An individual’s identity is closely related to any occurrences in the society they live in.
Society plays an important role in shaping identity than an individual themselves suggesting identity can easily be influenced. However there is a conflict between the two sides presented in the quotation. Individual could refer to our sense of self or control over identity over social structure, rules and regime which guides us to making key decisions which consequently set the basis for our individual sense of character. ‘The Road Home’, depicts the journey of Lev an eastern European worker who has chosen to come to London understanding he has to ‘fit in’ to the new environment he has opted to be a part of.
In ‘Measure for Measure’ society is hierarchical with one leader who everyone has to obey, this means society and its norms are accustomed to what the temporary leader Angelo wants. Finally, in ‘Skirrid Hill’ identity much like Lev in ‘The Road Home’ is based upon heritage and the society Owen Sheers has grown up in is one which focuses on tradition which creates his strong, Welsh sense of identity. Between the three texts the individual’s societies within them do have reciprocal relationships where the individual is concerned. In other words, individual sense of self is affected by society but also society is affected by the individual.
The Road Home’ is a depiction of modern, multi-cultural London and presents the reader with the migrant experience of Easterners going West in search of work. Some critics would infer that this is very much part of Britain’s present reality since many eastern European countries have joined the European Union. Lev redefines his values and identity to embrace the socially accepted capitalism rather than the failed communist regime he was a part of in his unnamed homeland. Lev’s redefinition because of change is a struggle and he suffers, he is a symbol of expurgation and suffering.
Leaving his home has forced him to leave those who are most important to him such as his daughter, mother and best friend this inflicts psychological punishment, his loneliness is so acute that he tries to keep Rudi near him ‘somehow, or go insane’. Now he is in a different country he is isolated forcing him to adapt to not having familiar faces around him constantly. Furthermore, he experiences physical punishment, as ‘his back ached’ from bending all day in the asparagus fields and the bed he has been allocated is ‘old, worn, used stained’.
These scenarios convey that in order for Lev to move forward he must at times go through some form of suffering. This can be compared with Owen Sheer’s Y Gaer. The poem addresses a split in the family and the use of Welsh in the title gives prominence to the themes of landscape and heredity. In Y Gaer, the lack of capitalisation at the start of his sentences suggests that he may be mocking the English language suggesting that patriotism is at the core of his identity. Just as Lev has lost somebody close to death so has the speaker, as ‘the man who lost his son’ only goes there in ‘bad weather’.
The experience of grief is mediated by the speaker with each tercet being elegantly concise with the title performing a grammatical function as the subject of the sentence in the first stanza. G K Ashe’s kitchen is a microcosm of the meritocratic ‘Western’ world Lev is a part of where ability and talent are favoured over privilege or wealth. Lev experiences hardship as he engineers his own social mobility by climbing the social ladder. He is given the position of ‘Nurse’ and GK Ashe explains that he will bestow upon him a ‘nickname’ which he will be expected to ‘live up to’.
Having a nickname both expediates your identity, but at the same time reduces individuality. The name represents aspects of Lev’s newfound identity within the confines of the kitchen. The title separates his persona from the other workers. However, the nickname does not reflect his own characteristics. Instead it reduces him to a function, a cog in the machinery of the kitchen instead of a human being. Lev’s sense of self is reduced automatically once he obeys these orders as he surrenders his own individuality to please G K Ashe and fit in to the team in the kitchen.
Furthermore, his sense of individuality is reduced as he is constantly called the wrong name, ‘OK, Olev? ’ This shows the common stereotypical assumption that because he is Eastern European his name must be ‘Olev’ as opposed to ‘Lev’. Everyone in the kitchen in a sense loses their individuality as it requires everyone to constantly follow orders and carry out tasks in a distinctive way in order for the restaurant to run smoothly. This is the same for the society that Lev has left in which individuality was restricted and the personality of the communist regime leader was emphasised for everybody to follow suit.
This can be compared with Sheer’s ‘The Steelworks’ as he reveals that history is a determinant for behaviour as activities done in the past define the type of people we become through the experience that is gained. Since the factory closed the former employees spend lots of time in the gym as they struggle to fit in anywhere else. The work happens elsewhere now with men ‘pressing’ and ‘dipping’. The poem has a nostalgic effect by emphasising that Wales had a stronger national identity before the Thatcher government destroyed the mining communities.
He refers to people as ‘scattered grains’ indicating that he feels that Welsh people are there to feed the land, their identity is to serve the land for future generations. A land that has been ravished by the conservative politics of the Thatcher government. Furthermore individuality is conveyed through Sheers reference to ‘ Ebbw Vale’, a Welsh place name, emphasising his strong attachment to his Welsh identity. He also uses distinct work terminology to describe the work the men do such as ‘shift’, and ‘pneumatic sighs’.
Lateral pull’, is a metaphor to represent what happens to men whose masculinity is stripped as a result of the closure of the factories. In Welsh identity, working terminology is engrained and the idea of shifting and pulling is integral to their community and identity. In a country where physical labour is valued more highly then cerebral endeavours, active verbs would have been part of their national dialect. The Welsh have a collective national vocabulary, a semantic field of words to convey how working attributes have been bestowed to Sheers by his forefathers.
The desire Sheer’s has to convey his identity through nationalistic values is mirrored in Lev’s attachment to his forefather’s socialist values. Lev can be considered a stranger in a strange land because he has not grown up in London so it takes longer for him to adjust to the new surroundings. His first encounter with the police convey that his identity is shaped by society as the officers immediately stereotype him for being a drunken asylum seeker on the floor questioning whether he was an ‘asylum-seeker’, the language used is inquisitive conveying that they are basing their assumptions on common perceptions.
The way the officers handle him suggests he ‘disgusted them’ in the same way the food which ‘soured’ in his throat repelled Lev. This portrays that they certainly hold under the surface xenophobic beliefs about him which forces them to categorize him based on previous Eastern Europeans have encountered. This emphasises the belief that identity is formed by society as if Lev been judged as an individual he may not have been asked if he were an illegal immigrant and may even have been helped on his way.
Lev receives more hostility whist being in a “private park”, even though he is not interfering with anyone but feeling ‘alert and fearless’ acquiring a ‘new version’ of the city. The metaphorical implication of the use of ‘version’ suggests that a city is there to be dismantled and reconstructed by its citizens. The flood of immigration into the UK suggests that the effect of the nation on identity is impermanent and can be changed. The diaspora of socialism spread to the UK in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain, bringing with it values which would change the cultural make up of Britain.
Lev is yet again prone to hostile resentment from London residents. Two women suspect he is paedophilic for sitting in a park and he is ordered to leave, stating that the garden is for ‘residents’ and demanding that he ‘go’, adding the intrinsically British manners by ending their request with ‘please? ’ Their sense of suspicion is aroused because in western society people are naturally mistrustful of other people due to crime being circulated in the news constantly. Lev’s identity is based upon collective responsibilities, an ideal he inherits from his socialist background.
If Lev were to do the same in China, he might not be targeted as their society is based upon collectivism. But what effect do Lev and his socialist peers have upon the capitalist identity of their new home? His role as ‘nurse’ in the kitchen shows that elements of collectivism are becoming engrained in British society through the arrival and employment of nationals from former soviet countries. Their stereotypical views are emphasised when they refer to him as being a ‘Foreign nutter’ concluding hat he is ‘Probably harmless’, then using derogatory terms to belittle him by telling him to, ‘ Pissez-off, right? Comprendo? ‘This reveals that the woman’s perception of him is that he is from Europe as the language she tries to communicate with Lev is one widely spoken around continental Europe, but it is not his own language. Assumptions are made in this instance and the effect of the insult presents her as both rude and ignorant. Furthermore, this shows that his identity is not individual as he fits a certain category.
Lev is a victim of ‘racism’, but it is the racism of neglect, the same impulse that causes us to hurry on past beggars therefore Londoners may view him as “just another” eastern European worker even though he is trying to “fit in” with London culture. Identity is bound up with sexual activity in ‘The Road Home’. Lev has a sexual relationship with Sophie. Their relationship is based upon lust and attraction and this is highlighted when the two are alone for the first time, where he looks at Sophie’s ‘soft arms’ and ‘lizard tattoo’ and imagines stroking ‘those arms’ and ‘his head against them’.
Already he conveys his sexual freedoms, he is not restricted in what he desires as in London he has no partner as he once had in Auror. In Measure for Measure on the other hand, sexuality is presented as a source of trouble. Claudio illustrates the dangers of, ‘too much liberty’ comparing the indulgence of promiscuous activities to ‘rats that ravin’. Furthermore, Claudio compares his sexual appetite to a kind of gluttony and suggests that having sex is like drinking rat poison – both lead to death. This can be compared with Sheer’s ‘Valentine’ in which two lovers have had an argument.
The speaker shows that the ‘the water torture of your heels’ is an image that love is a psychological torture and is a metaphor for crying emphasising the idea of suffering brought about through love. The effect of free verse mimics the chaos of a destructive relationship used by him to show the effects of a dysfunctional love affair. One sentence stanzas convey his assertive nature because he’s making certain decisions. The love affair has become part of his identity; he is not the same person after the affair.
The image of drinking can be compared with Measure for Measure as it conveys the destruction that love can bring. Sex and identity seem to be gruesome. Furthermore, in a social context a Jacobean audience wouldn’t have condoned promiscuity in the same way it is presented in 21st society Sheers is writing. Sheers has a freedom that would not have been enjoyed in a Shakespearean society. Isabella refusing to give up her virginity is a representation of just how important sexuality was especially in upper class women.
Food is an important aspect of culture which measures Lev’s relationship with contemporary London. Lev’s perception of food is different from the society he is based in because food in London has become a cultural past time, a performance for the rich. The restaurant is as much a performance as the play ‘Peccadillos’. People are wealthy enough to spend money on food they don’t need for reasons such as passing time, this is portrayed on the underground journey Lev takes where, ‘two huge white men’ consume hamburgers but then leave ‘the half empty cartons’, portraying the wasteful culture.
Lev’s culture on the other hand is one where food is a necessity and therefore isn’t wasted; his mother would ‘kill a goose and cook it’. Lev’s reaction to tomato and pepper soup conveys this attitude, as he states he could eat the ’same meal every day for the rest of his life’. Lev is constantly reminded of the life he left through his good friend Rudi. Other readers would assume that while Lev may have dodged a backward existence by coming to London, he’s not exactly moving forward either.
It takes a call from Rudi informing him that his past is under siege-the village of Auror being drowned to create a dam – to shove Lev out of neutral. Rudi has great influence over Lev because sometimes Lev bases his decisions upon what Rudi would do suggesting his identity stems from the different people he interacts with. Rudi highlights how western society has influenced Lev to be a capitalist, one which tries to beat all competition and make as much profit as possible, he believes Lev has become a selfish bastard’.
He is a symbol of the old, simple world Lev left behind where tradition and heritage are highly valued. ‘Liable to Floods’ conveys how people underestimate local knowledge, ‘the farmer warned them…but still the major wouldn’t listen’ and portrays nature triumphing over technology which is what Rudi represents. Rudi epitomizes somebody who uses own knowledge to get by such as driving an old American Tchevi to pioneer his income. Furthermore Lev is an example that with increasing affluence people change to suit certain socio economic groups.
To begin with, Lev is desperate for work and doesn’t care about the job he has but at the end he thinks like a capitalist by demanding a particular wage for the services he could offer. Measure for Measure on the other hand is based upon a society which is dictated by one man Angelo. Compared to ‘The Road Home’, the citizens are constrained to doing what he wants. Individuality is restricted and the consequences for disobeying Angelo’s regime include death which Claudio has to face.
Some critics would argue that the text criticizes the purists for being too harsh and Angelo is the depiction of them stating ‘it is the law, not I condemn your brother he must die tomorrow’. When Isabella pleads for Claudio’s life, Angelo takes refuge behind the ‘law’ and acts as though he has no choice in the matter but this is not the case because the Duke gave Angelo permission to be flexible when giving sentences, ‘enforce or qualify the laws’. When Angelo states ‘he’s sentenced tis too late’ he resembles the sixteenth-century English Puritan Phillip Stubbes.
Unlike Vienna in Measure for Measure, fornication wasn’t punishable by death in Shakespeare’s England, but Stubbes wanted it to be. Stubbes once wrote that anyone found guilty of prostitution, adultery, or incest should be made to ‘taste of present death’ or be branded ‘with a hot iron on the cheek, forehead, or some other part’ so everyone knew how sinful they were. This can be contrasted with Lev’s society as there is a distinct contrast with how much sexual freedom is allowed. Lev has a great deal of it and it is portrayed in his relationship with Sophie.
Claudio on the other hand is unable to have this due to Angelo being adamant in enforcing the old law which rules that fornication is punishable by death, and since he does not accept the validity of the marriage, he orders for Claudio to be ‘executed by nine tomorrow morning’ emphasising his rigid nature. Angelo can be compared with Lev’s mother who is rigid in her socialist beliefs; she doesn’t want to leave Auror and declares that she is staying there suggesting the floods will kill her so, ‘I intend to die in my village’.
This is much like Angelo, as when he finds out the woman Claudio fornicated with was his fiance but this doesn’t excuse him. Isabella is a metaphor for the Christian Virgin Mary. Her individuality is reflected by her dedication to her religious beliefs; she is a purist much like Angelo. Furthermore, she won’t sacrifice her chastity because it is sinful she believes its better Claudio dies rather than, ‘a sister by redeeming him should die forever’. Parallels can be made with Sheer’s ‘Drinking with Hitler’.
He describes a dictator who creates an atmosphere which is miasmic as he possesses the ability to end anyone’s life at the command of a few words. Because he wields so much power the person he is meeting feels threatened, she claims ‘he wears his power like an aftershave’. The language used shows that good reception is forcibly created as ‘asked-for laughter from the bar’ is made. The dictator violates the woman in an act of sexual invasion, ‘he laid his hand on her thigh’, this is a metaphor for rape and the touch is a stain she can’t get rid of.
This can be compared to Angelo who holds a great deal of power in his kingdom, ‘The demi-god, Authority’. His citizens rarely go against him for fear of death. When Isabella refuses Angelo she is metaphorically in the position where a hand is put on her leg. It threatens her chastity therefore she is uneasy by the action. Angelo on the other hand represents someone who isn’t pure, ‘a man whose blood, is very snow-broth’ conveying his cold blooded nature.
Courtney from Study Moose
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