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The Impact of External and Internal Forces on One’s Identity What is identity? If you look in the dictionary, it will tell you that identity is what defines someone or something. But there is more to the meaning behind identity than what is said in the dictionary. Identity is complex and changes over time in response to two main factors. One factor that can mold one’s identity is the forces inside of you, internal forces. An example of an internal force is love. Our love and affection for someone or something can lead us to do things differently than a person who doesn’t have the same degree of love towards that person or object. The other factors that can play a role in affecting our identity are external factors. External forces refer to the forces that are in our environment. An example of an external force that can affect one’s identity is a person.
If a person matters to you a whole lot and you are trying to prevent something bad from happening to him or her, wouldn’t you stop at nothing to prevent it from happening? This urge to prevent something bad from happening to the person you care about would probably have an impression on your actions and overall identity. To synthesize, identity changes in response to both internal and external forces, meaning that one force does not outweigh the other. Both internal and external forces work together to form a person’s identity as they mature; therefore, identity is shaped by both external and internal forces. Research proves that identity can be affected by external forces. In C. Seefeldt’s article “Factors Affecting Social Development”, he confirms that identity is shaped by external forces, more specifically, where we are raised, family, and school affect our development.
In the article, Seefeldt states that “those exposed to domestic abuse, gang violence…do not feel safe or secure.” And that “their insecurity will interfere with their total development,” meaning that children are more likely to feel less secure and unsafe if they grow up in or around unsafe communities and bad influences (Seefeldt). Imagine yourself as a small child. Wouldn’t it be scary to grow up around drug addicts, thugs, and gangs? Wouldn’t you be scared of the constant danger lurking around every corner? Just wearing the wrong colors can end your life. Or maybe even things that you can’t control like your ethnicity can end you up in a coffin. If you grew up around all these horrifying situations, wouldn’t these things make you feel unsafe and less secure? Overall, the writer telling us that growing up as a child in an unsafe community can mess with their total development shows that identity can be formed by external forces.
But not only does the writer show us that growing up around negative forces shape ones identity, he also tells us that parents play a role in a child’s overall development. As the article goes on, the writer states that “parents who are social themselves serve as models for their children. Children may be able to use the image of their parents interacting with others in their own attempts to make friends with other children,” showing that parents’ interactions with their own peers, can reflect on their child’s social skills too. Have you ever heard the saying “like father, like son” or “like mother like daughter”? People usually say this because they see something in the child that resembles the parent. This usually happens because the children follow patterns of behavior from their parents.
The child can maybe copy how his parent talks or can even copy simple things like how his parent walks. But did you know the way a parent socializes can reflect on the child’s social development? The article tells us that children can use the image of their parents socializing in their own attempts in making friends and being social themselves, and that parents who are more secure and competent offer children a model of security to build their own social skills. Ultimately, Seefeldt stating that parents can affect a child’s development confirms that identity can be shaped by external forces once again.
Around at the end of the article, Seefeldt also states that “In addition to a child’s family, the teacher becomes an agent of socialization” presenting the idea that teachers can also have an imprint on a child’s identity. Have you ever had a teacher that has affected your life? As the human beings, we all have teachers in our lives. Whether it be inside the classroom or out. They can teach us anything from math to valuable life lessons. And according to the article, they can also set new or different standards for social behaviors meaning that without our teachers, we probably wouldn’t know right from wrong. All in all, our environment, parents, and teachers, all external forces, can shape us in a negative or a positive way.
In Aida Bortnik’s short story “Celeste’s Heart”, Celeste is shaped by external forces in a positive way, because her little brother causes her to go from a voiceless girl to a strong-willed lady. As Celeste was putting her little brother to sleep, after yet another punishment from her teacher at school, her brother, as usual, asks her when he was going to start to go to school, “But that evening she didn’t laugh and she didn’t think up an answer.” Celeste being speechless in this situation shows just how scared she is for her brother’s future (Bortnik 65). Celeste’s brother’s question makes her think of him suffering the same kind of punishment as she does. Even though Celeste’s brother isn’t going to go to her school for a long time, she worries for his future. Celeste is the only girl in her class that doesn’t complain when the teacher punishes the class, but as soon as she starts thinking about her brother enduring the same kind of mistreatment as she does, she realizes what she has to do.
So the next time her teacher punished the class, she rebuked against the rough treatment for her brother’s sake. Imagine yourself in Celeste’s shoes. Imagine your little sibling having to put your hands up simultaneously for a long period of time. Wouldn’t you be worried and scared for your sibling’s future? Wouldn’t you do anything so that your sibling wouldn’t go through the same punishment as you? This is exactly what Celeste is doing. Ultimately, Celeste rebelling against her teacher and risking further punishment just so that her brother won’t endure the same punishment as her confirms that Celeste’s love, an external force, affects her in a positive way.
In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is shaped in a positive way by external forces as well because the encounters that she and Romeo have because they cause her to go from a naïve, obedient girl to a mature, self-assured woman. In the opening act of the play, Lady Capulet asks Juliet if she can accept Paris’ love. Juliet responds that she’ll try to “like if looking liking move,” but she won’t fall for him more than her mother’s “consent gives strength to make it fly,” showing us that she is still too immature to make her own decisions and immature overall (1.3.99-101). She also shows us that she is childish in the way she thinks when she says that marriage “is an honor” that she doesn’t think about (1.3.66). But after encountering Romeo, we see her adopt a more adult persona. For example, during the balcony scene, Juliet says that the love they have for each other is “too like lightning” and that it is a “bud of love” still under “summer’s ripening breath” and the next time they meet, the flower will be beautiful, showing us that Juliet is mature enough to recognize that she is going too fast and recommends that the both of them take things slower.
Not only that, but when Romeo asks Juliet to marry him, she asks “where and what time” they’ll get married and adds that she’ll follow him “throughout the world” wherever he goes. Juliet deciding to marry Romeo and going with him wherever he goes shows us that she is now mature enough to make her own decisions (2.2.146-148). And finally, we see Juliet’s encounters with Romeo change her even more towards the end of the play. She complains that she has “bought the mansion of love but not yet possessed it” and even though she is “sold,” she is not yet enjoyed, meaning that Juliet wants to move in with Romeo and have sex with him already (3.2.26-27).
All these events happen right after Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter at the Capulet party. And after that, we see start seeing Juliet change, more and more after or during every meeting with Romeo. From something little like having the ability to make her own decisions, to something big like changing her mind about marriage. It is a well-known fact that the different people we encounter in our lives can change our identities drastically or subtlely. For Juliet, this person is Romeo. As the play progresses, we see how Romeo changes her identity both drastically and subtlely. The way she acts and the way she thinks change all because of the moments she has with Romeo. Overall, Juliet changing from an obedient and naïve girl to a capable, mature and self-assured woman because of the encounters she has with Romeo proves that she is shaped by external forces in a positive way. In K.L. Going’s novel Saint Iggy, we can see that Iggy is shaped by external factors in a neutral way because the lack of presence and proper parenting of his parents causes him to look for other people’s help other than his parents during a hard time.
When Iggy comes home from getting kicked out of school he wants “to tell [his] parents all about it,” but he can’t because his mom went visiting someone and “probably isn’t coming back,” and his dad is “stoned off his a**”. Here we see that Iggy wants to tell his parents about what happened at school, but he can’t because his mom isn’t home and his dad is busy doing drugs (Going 1). So instead of seeking help from his parents, he decides to “get away” from his dad and go to his friend Mo’s place because he wants to seek his help and also because that’s the only place he “can think of” (15-18). Iggy not wanting to be around his dad during this hard time shows us that the lack of proper parenting from his dad causes Iggy to not want anything to do with his dad and decides to face the situation without him. Iggy also shows just how much he doesn’t want any of his parents help by seeking help from his friend.
As we grow up our parents are usually the ones that get us through hard times no matter what they’re going through in their own lives. And we usually accept their much needed help and attention because we probably can’t go through it on our own or with anyone else. But for Iggy, his parents haven’t been there for him during the hard times in his life since he was a little kid. Iggy probably lost trust in the fact that his parents are going to be there for him during this hardship. So instead of going to his parents like any other kid with good parents would do, he goes to his friend. Ultimately, Iggy going to his friend for help instead of his parents shows us that the lack of presence and proper guidance from his parents, an external force, causes him to seek other people’s help.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator’s identity is shaped by the eye because he is coaxed by the eye to kill the man, showing that external forces can affect one’s identity negatively as well. As the narrator was whining about the eye of the old man, he says “whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.” The narrator telling us his horrid thoughts conveys just how irritated and sick of the dreaded “vulture eye” (Poe 1). He feels so sick that he plots to kill the old man, not for who he is, but simply for his so called dreaded eye. You can also infer just by how the narrator talks about the eye that it drives him to the point where he cannot hold the hysteria inside.
Like when the narrator finally saw the old man’s eye after many nights of spying on him just to see his terrible eye and to murder him, he describes the eye as a “dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in [his] bones”(4). It is a known fact that a person can dislike a person for an action or a trait; however, they keep their feelings inside and go on with their lives because they have control over themselves. But the narrator just can’t do the simple act of keeping his feelings inside and going on with life, instead, he murders the old man just to stop having to look at the dreaded eye. This shows that the old man’s eye, an external force, influences the narrator to feel sick to his stomach, and ultimately end the old man’s life forever.
Not only can external forces have an impact on your identity, but internal forces can mold one’s identity as well. In the article “Adolescent Identity Development”, the author confirms that internal forces can shape our identity as well. As the writer talks about the different dimensions of identity, he tells us that “our self-identity shapes our perceptions of belonging,” meaning that the way we see ourselves usually determine how we respond to different factors in our environment and how we react to them. In our lives, there can be many factors inside of us that can shape our identity, whether it be love, the drive to see someone, jealousy, or a thirst for power (“Adolescent Identity Development”).
What the article is saying is that these forces can shape how we see and respond to society. For example, if you are a weak little boy growing up around gangs, you might see the power of gangs engaging and choose to indulge in illegal activities purely for your thirst for power. Or if you’re head over heels in love with someone, your love may shape your actions and choices. Maybe even your willingness to see someone can cause you to do something you wouldn’t normally do. All in all, these forces can either lead you to do something good, bad, or both.
In O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi”, the main character Della is shaped by internal forces and shows us that internal forces can affect a person positively because her passion for Jim causes her to sacrifice one of her most valuable possessions, her hair, just so she can get him a good Christmas present. But not only does she sacrifice her hair for him, but also the opportunity to use the money she got from selling her hair to pay off her expenses. We can tell that not a lot of money came to Della and that she had many expenses to pay off because as the narrator was describing her life, he says “twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater then she calculated… they always are” (Henry 2). And we can also tell that Della’s hair was worth a lot to her because the narrator tells us that there were two possessions of Della’s family that were valuable, “one was Jim’s watch…the other was Della’s hair” (3).
We can see that Della loves Jim very much because she would much rather buy Jim a present than pay off her expenses or keep her hair. As human beings, it is normal for us to feel affection or fall in love with something, whether that something is a person, TV show, or a hobby. And we all have made sacrifices for things we love (flirting, doing homework, free time). But the love we have for that person, object, or hobby determines how big of a sacrifice we would make. For Della, her love for Jim causes her to sacrifice one of the only valuable things she owns, her hair. Her love for Jim makes her feel morally obligated to give him a present, or otherwise feel guilty. We can infer that Della probably didn’t want to cut her hair, but then again, if she didn’t come up with enough money to get Jim a decent present, she would feel guilty. Della’s love for Jim also causes her to not use the money for her hair on something else, her expenses.
Ultimately, Della choosing to cut her hair and spend the money for a present for her dear Jim shows that she is shaped by her incredible love for Jim in a positive way, an internal force. In Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher is shaped by internal forces in a positive way as well because his drive to see and live with his mother gets him to do things we wouldn’t expect from a person with autism. When his mother was explaining the time when Chris and her were a buying a Christmas gift, she says that Chris broke down because he was frightened “of all of the people in the shop.” Chris breaking down because of the amount of people in a certain place shows us that he did not like lots if strangers around him (Haddon 106). But later in his life, Chris goes on a train all by himself to London, just so he can finally see his mother. Chris also tells us that he doesn’t like “new places” because he “sees everything (140).
Chris not liking new places shows us that he is scared of the outside world,” But once we start to doubt Chris’ ability to go out into the world, he surprises us and proves us wrong. He goes on a whole adventure to places he does not know, just in the name to see his mother. It is a known fact that sacrifices are a part of our lives. We make them for our own desires and our loved ones. Our sacrifices can be big or small depending on what we intend to accomplish. For Chris we see him make a big sacrifice by doing something he horribly hates, going to a new place with lots of people (subway).
We see that Christopher’s drive to see his mom causes him to do things he would never do under normal circumstances. We can infer that Chris probably hated being on the train but his willingness to reunite with his mother caused him to tough it out and stay inside. We can only imagine how grueling this experience for Christopher was. Just imagine not liking the feeling of being surrounded by people you don’t know and being in the same situation as Chris. Would you have stayed in that area? Chances are, if you didn’t have a reason to be there and go through that agony like Chris, you wouldn’t stick around at all. Overall, Christopher is shaped by internal forces in a positive way because his drive to see his mother causes him to sacrifice staying home and being secluded from the world like how he usually likes and going out into the world..
In Frank Stockton’s short story The Lady or the Tiger, the princess shows us that internal forces can affect a person’s identity either positively or negatively, because the portion of barbarism inside of her and her love for the youth lead her to do things she doesn’t want to, see things that aren’t really happening, and can ultimately lead to the death or happiness of the youth. When the day of the youth’s trial arrived, the princess attended it. But “had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probably that the lady would not have been there…”.The princess attending the trial even though she doesn’t want to shows that the princess herself does not want to attend the youth’s trial, but she goes to it anyway to satisfy her barbaric desires. Have you ever done something that one side of you disagrees about doing it, but the other side totally agrees with your decision? This is what exactly is happening to the princess.
One half of her doesn’t want to attend the trial, but the barbaric side of her coaxes her to do it anyways, ultimately showing that the barbarism the princess inside of her controls her choices and well-being. But the princess’ identity is not only shaped by her barbarism, but also by the love and affection she has for the youth. As the narrator was talking about a lady that the princess despises, he says that the princess had often seen “or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned,” showing that the princess’ love for the youth is clouding her mind from the truth and reality (8).
The princess starts assuming that her love is being charmed by the lady and that she might lose the youth to her. These assumptions make the princess very jealous and envy of the lady. Not only do the princess’ barbaric desires and love for the youth trick her mind, but could very well end the youth’s life, or simply salvage it. All in all, the princess exhibiting that internal forces can shape one’s identity in either a positive or negative proves that internal forces can make an impression on a person’s identity positively or negatively.
In his memoir Always Running, Luis Rodriguez shows us that internal forces can affect a person’s identity in a totally negative way because his thirst for power causes him to go from a helpless little boy to a power thirsty hooligan. When Luis was in school one day, “Thee Mystics”, a powerful and influential gang, raided his school. As the ruckus slowly came dangerously towards Luis’ way, he was riveted, riveted by the power Thee Mystics possessed. When “Thee Mystics” finished their raid, Luis says that he “wanted this power” and “wanted to be able to bring a whole school to its knees and even make the teachers squirm”. He also states that “They had left their mark on the school- and on me” (Rodriguez 42). After Luis sees how Thee Mystics easily took control of his school, he wanted one thing they had, power.
He wanted to finally be able to overcome the weal and fearful reputation he was labeled as, and finally obtain what he wanted when he wanted it. Not only can you see the imprint this day made on Luis throughout the book (starts getting into trouble, begins to hang out with the wrong people, and eventually gets kicked out of school), but he confesses it as well. Power is what everyone secretly craves in their lives. Especially for an immigrant like Luis who was always pushed aside and left out simply he wasn’t an American citizen. So when Luis saw Thee Mystics’ power, he saw gangs as a quencher for his thirst of power. Luis just wanted a break from being taken advantage of by Rano, by teachers, by the cruel prejudiced society he lived in. Ultimately, Luis wanting power at an early age after he witnessed how easily Thee Mystics brought his school to its knees proves that he is influenced by his desire of power, an internal force, in a negative way. Both internal and external forces can shape a person’s identity and how they turn out to be.
I can use my own life as evidence for this because you can definitely see the imprint of both forces on my identity. My desire to be the best is one of the biggest internal forces that shape me because it causes me to go to try my hardest in everything I do. Myself in school would be a good example of me pushing myself to be the best. Whenever I get assigned to do something, I try my hardest to produce the best piece of work I can. Whether it is an essay or a simple worksheet, I will try my hardest to make it perfect. I also try to make my grades the highest they can. If I have an A I will try my hardest to make it a higher A. My desire for perfection can also be seen in everything I do outside of school. Like if my parents make me vacuum the house I will literally spend hours to make the house the cleanest it can possibly be. When I do something I try to do it at the best possible degree I can. This obsessiveness for perfection usually leads me to do things other people wouldn’t do.
Things like staying up until 1 am to write one paragraph and trying my hardest on improving an “A” grade. Overall, my desire for perfection and to be the best reflects on my identity, but not only do internal forces affect my identity, but external forces act on my identity as well, more specifically, my parents because they make me want to keep on striving for success when things get hard. This encouragement from my parents causes me to not only get through hard times, but it also causes me to get good grades. In fact, without them, I don’t believe I would be where I am in terms of school because they are my inspiration in doing well in school. Ultimately, both internal and external forces shape who I am because my desire to be the best in everything I do and my parents causes me to be the person I am today.
In conclusion, identity changes overtime in response to both external and internal forces, meaning that people can choose what their identity is shaped by to a certain extent, but there are still things in our environment that can affect our identity too. Studies show that external forces can shape identity because people, objects, and other things in our environment all have the power to mold us either negatively or positively as we mature. Not only does research show us that one’s identity can be shaped by external forces, but characters from stories also prove the same. Characters like Celeste from “Celeste’s Heart”, Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, Iggy from Saint Iggy, and the narrator from “The Tell-Tale Heart” show us that identity can be molded by external forces, but not only can identity be shaped by external forces, identity can also be shaped by internal forces.
Research also shows us that Identity can be shaped by forces inside of us like our love, hatred, etc. Like external forces, internal forces can shape ones identity in a positive way, or negative way. Della from “The Gift of the Magi”, Chris from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the princess from “The Lady or the Tiger”, and Luis from Always Running are all excellent examples of internal forces affecting a person’s identity. My life can be used to exhibit the effect of both internal and external forces on a person’s life. To sum it up, external and internal forces can shape a person’s identity negatively or positively.
“Adolescent Identity Development.” ACTforyouth.net. ACT for Youth Center of Excellence, 2013. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. Poe, Edgar A. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Bantum Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1984. 1-7. Print. Bortnik, Aida. “Celeste’s Heart.” Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Stories from the United States and Latin America. Ed. Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Ray Gonzalez. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010. 64-66. Print. Going, K. L. Saint Iggy. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. Print.
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