Shaping Identity Essay Example

  • Category: Identity, Sociology,
  • Words: 1514 Pages: 6
  • Published: 10 April 2021
  • Copied: 112

“Who am I? Who am I? I am the guardian of lost souls! I am the powerful, the pleasurable, the indestructible Mushu!” Mushu, from Disney's animated film Mulan, flawlessly identifies who he is. However, most people cannot define themselves in a few words. There is no single answer for how someone develops their identity. It could range from childhood situations to basing one's identity on social media. Both "Dumb Kids' Class" by Mark Bowden and "Me vs. My Social Media Self " by Amelia Harnish successfully highlights the different ways of shaping identity. By utilizing contrasting diction, the emotional literary element pathos, different perspectives, and the role of peers, the authors communicate their idea of what forms one’s identity.

Bowden starts by showing identity as defined by what level of class he is in as a child. The kids are well aware of which is the “dumb” class and which one is the “smart” one. For him, a defining part of his identity is the capacity of his brain. The first tactic he uses to portray his identity as being the “dumb” kid is diction. Instead of acting educated, he uses curse words to almost fit the standard he was in. The kids also make their identity known to adults. Bowden states, “Smart kids were pampered kiss-asses, overly concerned with pleasing teachers and parents. Dumb kids took no shit” (Bowden). The informal language aides to prove students are judged not only if they are smart, but if they are able to stand up for themselves. The way he utilizes diction allows his essay to feel more real. No words are sugar-coated and it illustrastes what one might genuinely hear in a conversation with the “dumb” kids.

In contrast, Harnish’s diction is more formal, which assists greatly in her essay. Harnish’s angle is more serious and her use of formal language helps prove that. Her use of elevated words make her opinions seem more professional,  “For a growing number of teens, this pressure to perform, to brand themselves, turns into a habit that exacerbates, or may even create, a true mental health problem”(Harnish). By utilizing the elevated language it gives the essay a more serious tone. The tone is appropriate for the paper since it deals with serious topics, specifically suicide. Harnish uses diction to her advantage by keeping the professional tone to further convince the reader of the weight of her message. If she had used informal language as Bowden had, it would not have fit with the seriousness of the topics she was discussing and would have had a negative impact on how the reader viewed the paper.

The theme of identity continues into the next literary element Bowden uses, which is pathos. Having it be a personal experience, he uses pathos as a way to better communicate his identity. He conveys his tough exterior through his recess reputation, “You didn’t last long on the playground with the dumb kids if you were unwilling to take a swing at somebody, or were too afraid of getting hit”(Bowden). While not every person may be able to relate to fighting, proving one’s self is very common. This “requirement” that he experiences as a child also helps to shape his identity in school. If he can throw a punch his identity grows into someone not to mess with. The requirement to act tough helps shape Bowden in how he acts in class with the teachers and carries on even after he advanceds to the “smarter” class. By using pathos in a light hearted manner it allows Bowden to communicate childhood innocence as well, since trival things worried him, like a reputation on a playground. Bowden’s experiences help shape his identity and stay with him as he progresses through life.

Struggles people face while figuring out their identity in real life  prove prevalent in Harnish’s paper, “Me vs. My Social Media Self” which analyzes the effects of social media on identity. The literary device that Harnish utilizes rather successfully was also pathos. Though she does have a statistic sprinkled in there, the real shining factor that helps communicate her theme of identity was the personal stories she brings into it. The story that especially brings this literary device into play is Jacquie Boudreau. Jacquie is going abroad to Paris with her friend Kaleigh Finnie. They are not having as much fun as they had hoped, saying, “We were lonely and lost, but it was like well, at least everyone will think it was great”(Harnish). Being alone and lost in the real world is a very relatable part of growing up, especially when trying to figure out one’s identity. The part of the story that pricks at the emotions is what happens to Jacquie’s friend, Kaleigh. They feel pressure to portray themselves as the fun girls who went abroad in Paris. Due to the pressure, Kaleigh ended up taking her own life. This tragic experience drove home the purpose of the paper: social media having too much control over identity can have devastating consequences.

Bowden’s essay shows negativity that comes while developing identity through his own perspective. While Bowden may think his identity is a tough, dumb kid, it only becomes apparent from the new perspective he has. Since Bowden is now older while telling his story, young Bowden is as older Bowden sees himself. This perspective adds a whole new layer of identity to Bowden's story. Bowden reflects on how he believes he is identified as a young, tough kid while growing up. Then adds a new layer, as older Bowden can now see how young Bowden himself identifies who he is, a kid who has it all. Had he been the same age when writing the essay as he was when experiencing it, he wouldn’t have been able to acknowledge his attitude as he did saying, “Still, given my swaggering self-importance, (the nun) showed saintly restraint”(Bowden).Commenting on how he is self important proves he is now able to truly see who he was. Having these contrasting views of who Bowden is as a child brings a whole new perspective to how Bowden communicates identity.

Perspective also aides in Harnish’s essay “Me vs. My Social Media Self”. Harnish does not utilize her own personal experiences as Bowden does. Instead she takes a step back and allows others to tell their own story. Having this unbiased perspective helps to better express her theme of identity. Harnish is able to make her own conclusions about how, “Young women today are spending a huge amount of time performing on social media, curating various versions of themselves” (Harnish) without having a hint of personal emotion attached to it. Her essay also includes the perspective of two others as they share their stories which proves that social media’s control on identity is something that happens frequently.  Having an outsider view allows Harnish to make a more unbiased conclusion about what social media is doing to the girl’s journey of shaping their identity. This makes her stance on social media and identity more concise.  

Despite the perspective that Bowden has on how amazing he is, his peers play a considerable role in shaping his identity. “At St. Joseph’s, a popular activity was humiliating the weak kids by dropping them into the “spit pit”(Bowden)  which forces part of Bowden’s identity to eliminate any sign of weakness. The teachers also play a role as the kids feel trapped in the label of smart or dumb. Had Bowden not been in this class as a boy, he could have turned out to be a completely different person. By including the pressure from the peers Bowden illustrates how one’s environment can heavily shape one’s identity. Between the pressure to be seen as tough from the students and the pressure to be seen as smart from the teachers, Bowden’s identity is clearly controlled by the outside view of others.

Harnish’s essay also includes the role of peers in the shaping of identity, “They’re constantly comparing themselves to not just their peers, but their peers’ extremely curated, filtered, and increasingly glamorous social accounts”(Harnish). While the peers in Bowden’s essay influence the identity of someone to include respect, Harnish’s peers encourage one’s identity to include likability. Since Lizzie and Jacquie base who they are off of likes and comments, the peers' interactions with their posts control how they present themselves. Social media shapes their identity in a way that would be pleasing to others at face value. The negative effect the peers have is similar to Bowdens in the fact that it forces the trait upon them, but differs with how present it is. Bowden’s trait could fade with time as he grows older and leaves the Catholic school he was in. However, the image the girls create for themselves online could last forever as nothing truly leaves the internet.  

The amount of success both Bowden and Harnish were able to convey in their papers, helps to prove their points about identity. Whether it be in real-life situations with peers and teachers or with strangers on the internet, humans tend to choose a superficial part of their personality to identify others by. The contrasting use of diction allows people to understand that the shaping of an identity is prevalent in both nonchalant and professional essays. The authors use both pathos and different perspectives to bring to light the emotional impact these experiences have on someone. Adding in the peers shows that in any situation, outside forces play a role in shaping who someone is. Judging a person by brains and strength or number of likes and comments reduces a human to insignificant numbers. However, these two papers show that even though some features may appear more prevalent, identifying someone by only one thing can cause people to lose out on the whole picture.

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