The role of literature in defining and describing self-identity

Essay by jn1009University, Bachelor'sA, November 2007

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Human beings and the wide variety of situations we find ourselves in, and the experiences we have as we exist is a predominant topic in literature. This seems to make perfect sense seeing as how we are Homo sapiens after all. Some of the primary goals of literature are the conveyance of ideas, detailing of a series of events, and expression of emotion from the author to the reader. The reader in a sense has limited access to the author's mind. A hallmark of a good author is his ability to make the reader empathize with the characters, share their emotions and experiences, and feel as if the character on the written page is an actual human being. This is accomplished by describing the character in as human a way as possible, giving them an identity. I would like to take a moment to define identity. According to the website,

identity is defined as: "The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known." In this case said characteristics are decidedly human ones. Authors use descriptions of characters to give them a sense of identity; this is done to further engage the reader by the way of empathy and shared or familiar human experience.

Several of the literary pieces I used as reference for this paper deal with immigration, or more specifically, immigration to America. This creates an environment where the characters present have "mixed" national identities. This is where the character may still identify with his or her native country, but due to their relocation they strive to "Americanize" themselves and become absorbed into American culture. In a few of the literary pieces involving adolescent immigrants, the youths typically focus more on adopting an American cultural identity and the...