Everyone is born with their own unique identity; these identities are largely influenced by the society and culture around them. Society shapes people to believe what is and what isn’t acceptable. All throughout history humans have battled with what they believe is their true identity, and what society believes their identity should be. A common theme of literature is to capture the constant struggle between individuals and their communities. This struggle with society can be seen in many works such as: The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, and “The Birthmark”.
Society influences the identities of mankind through the expectations and roles assigned to them. The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller, depicts the story of multiple characters fighting against society, to find themselves, and to find the truth. The Crucible takes place during the Salem Witch trials, a time where those who didn’t conform to the Puritan society’s strict expectations would faced false accusations of witchery, often resulting in death. One of the characters who was able to regain his true identity after finding himself lost in society’s influences is Reverend Hale.
At first Hale is his own man and says he will not give into superstitions, but as the influence of society strengthens, Hale’s will to stay true to his beliefs and original intentions weakens. Hale’s awakening from being under the influence of the Salem society is shown in the quote “I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court! ” (Miller 126). Hale realizes he has been blinded by the lies of society; his judgement has been clouded by common belief blinding him from seeing the truth. Another character who finds himself in the clutches of Society is John Proctor.
John Proctor is a prominent member of the Salem society; his opinions and actions are valued by the people of Salem. Proctor is a nonconformist throughout the play, from adultery to plowing on Sundays, he’s done it. The main way he is a nonconformist is through his skepticism of witchcraft and of the court system in general. John looses sight himself when he is forced to choose between his life and his identity. This is shown in the quote “Danforth: … Did you see the devil? Proctor: I did. ” (Miller 146).
Society influences Proctor to confess to seeing the devil when he really didn’t, forcing him to betray his identity in order to save his life. Both Hale and Proctor show us that even the strongest of people find it hard not to give into the influences of society. The Crucible teaches us how the strength of society’s influence on it’s members is one of the hardest things to overcome in life, but it is possible. The Scarlet Letter, a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is the story of the repercussions of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale’s sexual relationship, resulting in their daughter Pearl being born out of wedlock.
While Hester’s adulterous actions causes her community to exile her from their society, Dimmesdale hides his sins and continues to play his role of reverend in the community. Hester’s is viewed as an outcast in her society and therefore she becomes one. This is shown in the quote “Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them. ” (Hawthorne 57).
Society’s influence on Hester’s identity forces her to become an outcast, affecting how she is seen by the community; society’s influence is so strong that even those who she donates to, find her deplorable. Even though Hester is exiled from society she doesn’t let this get her down; Hester chooses to focus on her daughter, so as not to lose herself. Hester finding salvation in Pearl is shown in the quote “Pearl keeps me here in life… ” (Hawthorne 90). Pearl is the one thing keeping Hester grounded. Whereas Dimmesdale only has his false saint-like reputation to keep him grounded.
Society views him as an angel and this expectation forces him to repress his sin and who he really is. This is shown in the quote “The judgment of God is on me,’ answered the consciencestricken priest. ‘It is too mighty for me to struggle with! ” (Hawthorne 135). Dimmesdale has hidden his sin from society for so long he feels “it is too mighty” for him to confess; he feels it is easier for him to repress his sin and let it eat away at his identity than to show society who he really is (Hawthorne 135). The Scarlet Letter uses Hester to teach us the importance of having a strong identity and knowing oneself, despite what society may say.
The Scarlet Letter uses Dimmesdale to teach us that repressing one’s true identity will only cause self harm in the end. The Awakening, a book by Kate Chopin, is the story of Edna Pontellier’s awakening to the repressive conformist society around her. Edna feels trapped by the her roles of mother and wife, as well as society’s expectations of her. Edna tries to escape these roles by rebelling against her husband through skipping her Tuesday reception, this is a get together Edna holds at her home to fulfill her role as housewife (Chopin 50).
Edna’s rebellion represents a small stand against society and a step towards regaining her identity. When Edna realizes her rebellion wasn’t strong enough, she chooses to move into her own home and leave her husband, a true act of rebellion (Chopin 84). Edna’s disregard for her husband’s wishes shows her seriousness about revolting against society’s wishes for her. Edna realizes that no matter what she does she will always be caged by the roles society has forced upon her, she realizes there is only one solution.
This is shown in the quote “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling fluttering, circling disabled down to the water. ” (Chopin 115). The bird represents Edna and her broken state; Edna escapes the repression of society through death. Edna’s awakening can be defined as her struggle to find out who she is removed from the roles and expectations of society. The roles and expectation society expects us to fulfill can sometimes repress our identities and cause us to feel trapped, as did Edna. The Birthmark”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne is written to symbolize society’s expectations of mankind, through Aylmer’s disproval of his wife’s minor imperfection.
Georgiana allows society’s influence to change her identity, by letting it change how she thinks of herself. At the beginning of “The Birthmark” Georgiana is fond of the small mark on her face as shown in the quote “To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so. ” (Hawthorne 1). Her being fond of the mark symbolizes that her individual identity is still intact at this point.
Georgiana’s husband Aylmer asks her if she would ever want it removed, because it was the only thing keeping her from perfection in his eyes. Then Georgiana becomes disgusted with the mark as shown in the quote “Either remove this hand, or take my wretched life! ” (Hawthorne 3). By allowing Alymer’s opinion to change her own, Georgiana forfeits her identity in order to please Aylmer/ society. These two quotes show how over time Georgiana allowed Aylmer to influence her own opinion of herself, therefore changing her identity.
The Birthmark” teaches us that trying to become society’s idea of perfect isn’t always in your best interest, especially in Georgiana’s case. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movement who believed that society is against individualism. He believes society’s goal is to influence us into conformity, his beliefs are illustrated in in his piece “Self Reliance”. This is shown in the quote “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. ” (Emerson 2). In this quote Emerson states that society is against the identity of everyone.
Emerson also believes that in order to be self reliant you must go against the influences of society to protect your identity. This is shown in the quote “Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater, the virtue in most request is conformity. “(Emerson 2). In this quote Emerson explains that members of society have no freedoms, and that they are simply giving into the influences of society and giving up their own identities to become part of the “joint-stock company” (Emerson 2).
Emerson shows his beliefs that society is against us and that in order to be self reliant you must go against society in his work “Self Reliance”. Thoreau was an American author during the transcendentalist movement, who expressed the idea of identity being influenced by society throughout his pieces. Thoreau believes we are getting swept up in the speed of society and this has influenced us to no longer appreciate the simple things in life. This is shown in the quote “As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. ” (“Economy” paragraph 1).
In this quote Thoreau expresses how the speed of society has kept us from stopping to smell the roses in life and appreciate everything for what it is worth, this causes our identities to appear shallow and superficial. Thoreau also believes that if we focus on the necessities of life, and realize that everything else is insignificant, we will realize our identities lie within and not with society. This is shown in the quote “If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale... ” (“Where I Lived and What I Lived For” paragraph 6).
This quote explains how when we focus on who we are within ourselves and not our superficial identities, or the distractions society provides us with, we will experience the true joys of life. Thoreau believes in order for us to avoid the influences of society we must focus on the simple things in life and not get caught up in society’s distractions. Two articles showing the effects of society on an individuals identity in today’s world are “Gender Insights Coming to Your Classroom” by David Sadker and Melissa Koch, and “Peers, Parents, and Teens: In Search of the Perfect 10” by Robert M. Cavanaugh.
The article “Gender Insights Coming to Your Classroom” outlines the danger of stereotypes within the classroom. This article relates back with society’s influence on identity, because gender stereotyping is a major factor in society’s influence on us. This is shown in the quote “Stereotype threat interferes with learning when people in certain groups are reminded of assumptions about their group and succumb to the pressure this creates. ” (Sadker 62). The stereotypes created by society negatively impact the learning environment of schools by creating expectations for the specific group being stereotyped.
When one learns something is expected of them they tend to fulfill that expectation. This is shown in the following study “Steele and his colleagues found that when women were reminded-even subtly—of the stereotype that men are better than women at math, the women’s performance declined measurably (Steele, Reisz, Williams, & Kawakami, 2007). ” (Sadker 63). The women fulfilled the expectation society had for them because of it’s degrading influence on mankind. One of the ways society influences identity is through stereotypes.
The article “Peers, Parents, and Teens: In Search of the Perfect 10” explains the expectation of perfection within youth created by the media and other forces in society. The article uses the example of the 1984 Olympic Games to prove his point. This is shown in the quote “[Olympians’] accomplishments were not fully recognized and the success they had achieved was not appreciated. The public’s eye with all it’s computers, instant replays, and other electronic wizardry, had dissected every movement and magnified every mistake.
Many dreams were shattered, not by lack of achievement, but by lack of perfection. ” (Cavanaugh 632). Society’s obsession with perfection blinded us from seeing and celebrating the amazing accomplishments of these Olympians. These two articles give examples of how society’s stereotyping effects individuals and how society’s obsession with perfection downgrades all achievements less than perfect. In conclusion society uses expectations and stereotypes to influence mankind’s ability to maintain individual identities.
The roles society places us in can cause us to feel trapped and repressed. Society’s expectation of perfection is unrealistic and harmful to it’s members. Society is against us and in order to break away we must go against society. In order to avoid the influences of society it is important to focus on the simple things in life, and not to get caught up in the details. It is also important to have a strong identity to stand up against society. The strength of society’s influence on our identities’ is one of the hardest things to overcome in life, but it is possible.