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Identity Formation, Identity Crisis In Margaret Atwood's "Surfacing"

2010 words - 9 pages

There are several ways an identity is formed; having self-knowledge which has been created through one's personal history, experience of childhood and one's membership to a certain society thus defines the person's concept of himself according to the set of norms of the given culture. These characteristics are essential to develop a stable personal identity and when these are complex or problematic the individual has to face struggle in the process of identity construction, so to speak, the person needs to find his place in society, resolve the problems of existing personality discrepancies, feelings of displacement and alienation from his culture.The unnamed narrator in Margaret Atwood's ...view middle of the document...

How does the cultural background of Canada cast a shadow on the social identity of the narrator? "Canada features a multicultural society par excellence; comprises a society that has committed itself to multiculturalism as an official political programme...Canada is a nation of immigrants." The Trudeau government made an effort to create multicultural Canada with the Multicultural Act in 1971, which indicated that there was no dominant culture in Canada. This means that they live side by side, near to one another, influencing and continuously contacting each other while cultures develop similarities, differences and exchanges. In each of the multicultural states, there are the different heritage identities that exist equally beside the determining and common culture characterizing the adopted country. However, there is no dominant culture as such, there is no agreed way of life.In Surfacing the narrator is faced with the consequences and downsides of this issue such as a developed alienation from the culture in which she has grown up. The native English protagonist is traveling back to her home, in Quebec, French Canada and she is presented with the dualities that determine her heritage, and she clearly states her disconnection to it: "Now we're on my home ground, foreign territory. My throat constricts, as it learned to do when I discovered people could say words that would go into my ears meaning nothing." The protagonist's awareness of the existing duality in her identity developed when she was adolescent: being torn between two different cultures with two different languages has created a conflict for her. She can not understand her own former neighbors, thus even basic communication is limited with Madame: "French I can't interpret because I learned all but few early words of mine in school" (pg 21). Language is said to be one of the most fundamental issues in identity formation, as through language can we express our world and our place in it - unsurprisingly, the protagonist does not feel connected to her home terrain: " Now I'm in the village, walking through it, waiting for the nostalgia to hit, for the cluster of nondescript buildings to be irradiated with inner light like a plug-in crèche, as it has been so often in memory; but nothing happens" (pg 19).Narrowing down the wider scope of Canadian culture to her closer environment, there are additional complexities that occurred in the narrator's past. Schooling and her family background are the factors of socializing in a culture that have an effect on one's identity formation. According to Maria Raguz, "Social learning takes place through discovery and receptive learning, not only in the context of formal education, but in everyday experiences." She was kept away from school by her father, she begged to be allowed to go to Sunday School like other children, she could only attend the school when her father decided she was old enough. As a matter of fact, she had to change schools...

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