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Everyone in this room has an identity. But it’s not something that we were born with. Throughout our lives our identities have changed and developed as we experienced new things. Writer Parker J Palmer sees identity as when our past experiences of people and places come together to form who we are at this moment. From this we can draw that identity is a product of our external environment and is strongly influenced by the people & places we are constantly exposed to.
This concept of identity is explored in the elegiac poem ‘The Death of the Bird’ by A.
D Hope and ‘The Window’- a short story by Pham Thi Hoai. Our identities are always subject to change as it is strongly linked to our ever- changing surroundings. This concept of identity is reinforced in The Death of the Bird by A. D Hope through the shift in the mood of the poem. The poet’s diction as he depicts the migrating journey of the bird as it travels through the ‘warm passage to the cooling station’ and is ‘sure and safely guided by ‘love’ emphasises the bird’s strong emotional ties to the place where it belongs creating safe and comfortable mood.
However, as the poem progresses the bird gets ‘uncertain of her place’ and is portrayed as a ‘vanishing speck in those inane dominions creating the strong visual imagery of a tiny, delicate bird juxtaposed to the harsh condition of its unfamiliar environment emphasising the bird’s vulnerability.
The contrast created by this dramatic shift in mood exemplifies how identity is a result of the place you connect to but is susceptible to change once that connection is lost.
Similarly in The Window, the unstable nature of identity is evident through the narrator’s changing self-identity. Much like the Bird, the narrator in The Window has a strong connection to the place where she belongs. She is always looking out her ‘magic ever-changing window, rotating like a Rubik cube’. Through the comparison of her environment to a Rubik cube- a puzzle that can only be solved through the constant change of its state- Hoai is stating that the narrator’s environment is also in a constant state of change.
This unstable nature of her environment reflects on the narrator’s own identity. Towards the end of the story when a man appears close to the window the narrator longs to ‘caress a man closely hugged to my chest, breathing in the smell of the opposite sex’. The sensory image created through the stimulation of the touch and smell senses evokes romantic feeling proving that the narrator is in fact a romantic or at least longs for a romance of some kind. This contrasts her previous statement that she is ‘violently allergic to any notion of romanticism’.
The constant exposure to her changing environment has caused this shift in the narrator’s identity. Your identity is formed through your identification with significant people and places in your life. This idea of identity is explored by Hope throughout The Death of the Bird as for the bird ‘being home, memory becomes a passion with which she feed her brood and straws her nest’. The motherly imagery of the Bird suggests that her identification to her home is as strong as a mother’s love portraying the bird passionate character.
This sense of characterisation which occurred as result of her emotional ties to her place shows how the bird’s environment has shaped her identity. On the contrary, The Death of the Bird shows that identity cannot fully form when it is unable to identify with significant others as she is ‘Alone in the bright host of her companions’. This oxymoronic line highlights the bird’s incapability to connect with others beyond a physical realm.
This results in the loss of her connection to the land as ‘the invisible thread is broken as she flies’ eventually shifting her identity forever when ‘the great earth receives the tiny burden of her death’. Through the eventual loss of the bird’s identity we can see that people need a strong connection with both their place and people in order for their identities to fully develop and thrive. The Window also reflects this concept of identity. The window in the story serves as microcosm of the narrator’s surroundings, becoming everything she interacts with.
Pham This Hoai illustrates the narrator’s meticulous examination of people and ‘their identity, their occupation, age, blood type appearances, whether they are gross or slender, good citizens or outlaws’ through a discounting list to reflect that even though all these things are part of what people see, they are not important aspects of their identity and ‘none of this is important to her [me]’ as they are all embodied in what one can see. Instead the author shows a deeper interest in their capacity to love which is not always apparent.
However, through the lack of dialogue and personal relations the narrator has it is evident that, much like the bird, she struggles to connect to the people that surround her. This also lead to her ultimate down fall as is suggested by the change in tense at the very end of the story, ‘Apart from a crumpled cigarette he was also holding a bicycle pump… This afternoon he is bound to come again. ’ The melancholic mood is created through signifying that the narrator continues to wait at the window and maybe for eternity suggests that she will never be able to have the connection she so longs to have.
Ultimately from the close analysis of the two texts it is evident that identity is a product of our external environment and is strongly influenced by the people & places we are constantly exposed to. Both The Death of the Bird and The Window show that identity is strongly influenced by our environment and is thus always inclined to change. They also show that our identities need strong connections to both place and people in order to fully develop.
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