Identity formation, identity crisis in Margaret Atwood's "Surfacing"

Essay by szenkriUniversity, Master's November 2006

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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 Surfacing embarks on a journey of self-discovery during which she has to come to terms with her confusion of choices, uncertainties of her past, personal life incongruity and her defected interpersonal relationships with the people surrounding her. Erik Erikson formed his theory about "identity crisis" which provides explanations for the conflicts that a person has to struggle with.

Although, Erikson based his theory on adolescents, he also states that every human being has to face temporary instability during different stages of life which needs constant redefinition of the self. "Today when the term identity refers, more often than not, to something noisily demonstrative, to a more or less desperate 'quest,' or to an almost deliberately confused 'search...'" The nameless narrator in Margaret Atwood's novel is on the pathway of unresolved crisis, she stands at the crossroads between different values, her insecurity of her self-certainty limits her presenting her self-image to others. The novel reflects her journey of finding a resolution for her identity crisis, her struggle to conquer one of the most difficult issues in life: finding her soul buried deep within her. What are the elements that caused her crisis?...