Communities shape the way people think about themselves and the people around. There reflect the ideas, beliefs and socio-economic realities that people share as a collective whole. Who interact with and how they react can foster a sense of belonging or lead to rejection and isolation. Culture, society, environment seem to play an important role in the shaping identities. Sometimes different things that shape identity range from a wide variety of values and belief to experiences. In novels The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Good People by David Foster Wallace, The Swimmer by John Cheever, and My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, writers use similar conflics for their protagonists.
They create a tragedy where the protagonist must struggle between the ideal standard of life set by the prevailing culture and their real one to decide what the character’s desire. The mainstream culture spreads among people and it affects their self-definition. In these works of literature above show that characters want to fill an emotional or personal void by the importance of identity, the formation of self, and the influence of the environment and society acceptation.
In The Bluest Eye the perception of beauty is based on skin color and can affect one’s identity if someone does not fit society’s expectation. A community affected by poverty, institutionalized racism, sexual abuse has an influence on a little girl named Pecola Breedlove. It shapes her own self-image, as she is constantly reinforced with negative messages about herself and her family.
This eventually leads her to believe that there is something inherently wrong with her appearance. The only way that it can be fixed, so she can be accepted by anyone, is to have blue eyes: Adult, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs ” all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured (Page 20). Pecola has been affected by society’s racism and feels worthless to everyone around her because of the abuse she receives from her father, mother, strangers, and other children. The standard of beauty is being a pretty white girl. Not being white, she is therefore labeled as ugly. In Pecola’s view on society, ugly people do not get attention, they do not deserve attention. Society rejects acknowledging her as a human being. She internalizes society’s racism and accepts this weakened perception of herself, and her low self-esteem disables any ability for Pecola to form a sense of self. Since she is unable to form mature relationships and have positive experiences to integrate and accumulate over her short lifetime, she is forced to create a second identity to satisfy her need for human interaction and acceptance.Similarly, in the novel Good People represents the nervousness of making an extremely difficult decision to belong in that society. This is a story of a young Christian couple, Lane A Dean, Jt., and Sheri Fisher, who deal with the hardships of an unplanned pregnancy and the decisions involved in young parenthood. Lane and Sheri must consider their moral values and religious beliefs before deciding on what to do. Religion is a global phenomenon, present across all cultures, and as such, each one colors those cultures differently and even creates subcultures with modified values from the general population. This cultural divide between the religious and the nonreligious can often obvious itself within a single individual when he is forced into a situation in which his religious values oppose his secular wisdom. Faced with a complex moral situation that seems to demand a grimmer outlook: Something in him, though, some terrible weakness or lack of values, could not tell her. It felt like a muscle he did not have. He didn’t know why; he just could not do it, or even pray to do it. They both seem to be struggling against what their beliefs and values are telling them is right, though they cannot identify or name what it is inside them that are struggling. While the religious references greatly help with establishing the characters’ personalities, it is the style in which the characters’ thought processes are presented illustrate best. In the case of Lane and Sheri have to make the decision whether or not to have an abortion. Ultimately, his right of passage is the fact that he is faced with such a difficult choice. There are many variables and competing desires, and yet he can find a sense of comfort in ideas like love and trust his heart. This reflects an individualistic cultural aspect that is more likely due to his background than his religious beliefs.Moreover, in the novel The Swimmer represents the emptiness of modern American society and the meaningless and lying of the society in the middle and upper classes. The story is about a man named Neddy who decides to go home by swimming from one neighbors’ pool to the other. As he goes through each pool, the landscape around Neddy changes as he changes. As Neddy encounters different friends, he starts to realize that he has forgotten different facts and dismisses all doubt from his mind about his forgetfulness and continues in his journey. The main theme for this story is accepting the passing of time will lead to a better life rather than denying its passing and the problems that come along with it. Neddy denies the passing of time throughout the story to keep his seemingly perfect life, even though he has many problems occurring throughout his life. When he sees that his house is dark and unkempt, Neddy considers several different explanations – all based on remembering a successful life. He wonders if his daughters have all gone to bed and if his wife had stayed for supper at the neighbor’s. He is surprised that she is not at home as usual on a Sunday. He sees the gutter hanging loose and assumes the storm had done this. He thinks he can fix the gutter in the morning, as he normally would do. When Neddy finds that the door of his home is locked, he assumes his cook or maid locked it by mistake. So Neddy relies on his coping mechanism of ignoring obvious problems and, as a result, tries to explain away ominous signs. He keeps on trying to delude himself until he is forced to confront the truth. The house is empty; his family has left him; he is alone. The more he has, the less he has. To fill the void inside him, he immerses himself in alcohol and swimming pools during his journey through life. Neddy’s preoccupation with material success and social standing leave him feeling empty. He ends up an empty man with an empty house and an empty bank account.Additionally, My Sister’s Keeper illustrates the controversial issues behind the individual’s rights to their own bodies based on love and mutual acceptance. The story follows that of the Fitzgerald family, afflicted by the eldest daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of leukemia. Her Parents, Brian and Sara, decided to go through fertilization to conceive a genetic match. As Anna, the genetically modified child who will serve as Kate’s reluctant donor and willing savior. To avoid being forced to donate a kidney to Kate, Anna saves up her own money and hire a lawyer, Campell Alexander, to sue her own parents: I want to sue [my parents] for the rights to my own body (19). It is the formal declaration of her desire to choose her own life, even if that choice directly affects her sister’ life. Anna’s whole existence happened because Kate was ill. It’s a weird situation to be in, kind of having to be grateful that your older sister has cancer: It made me wonder, though, what would have happened if Kate had been healthy Certainly, I would not be part of this family (14). Anna has some feeling that she does not fit into their family. Anna, though, for better or for worse, knows that this is her family”she was created specifically for them: I used to pretend that I was just passing through this family on my way to my real one. (57). The fact that Anna feels invisible. She feels like she is not a typical teenage girl with boy problems, a hockey game to practice for, and homework to do, and instead of her mom, Sara, sees her only as a donor. Being simply a mass of cells to keep someone else alive makes Anna feel less than human.To summarize, several characters in the stories have social needs and want to belong by using a variety of behaviors to bring themselves closer to being accepted by others and themselves. There are significant ties between understanding and belonging. One needs to be understood through their relationships with others before they can be accepted and effectively belong to society and themselves. The expectations of relationships, society, and perception of belonging can subsequently be a driving force for individuals to rebel against conformity. Belonging or connections with others allows one to develop a distinct identity characterized that by affiliation, acceptance, and association. To gain a full understanding of belonging, it is essential to experience some significant hardships. In struggling to belong to someone else, an opportunity arises to carefully decide how much or whether lessons can be learned or ignored. These endeavors shape and develop the understanding of belonging not just to society but themselves.
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