The Impact of External and Internal Forces on One’s Identity What is identity? If you look in the dictionary, it will tell you that identity is what identifies someone or something. But there is more to the meaning behind identity than what is said in the dictionary. Identity is complex and changes over time in response to two main factors. One factor that can mold one’s identity are the forces inside of you, internal forces. An example of an internal force is love. Our love and affection for someone or something can lead us to do things differently than a person who doesn’t have the same degree of love towards that person or object.
The second main factor that can affect identity are external factors. External forces refer to the forces that are in our environment. An example of an external force that can affect one’s identity is a person. If a person matters to you a lot and you are trying to prevent something bad from happening to him or her, wouldn’t you stop at nothing to prevent it from happening? This urge to prevent something bad from happening to the person you care about would probably have an impression on your actions and overall identity.
Bottom line, identity changes in response to both internal and external forces, meaning that one force does not outweigh the other. Both internal and external forces work together to form a person’s identity as they mature; therefore, identity is shaped by both external and internal forces. Research proves that identity can be affected by external forces. In C. Seefeldt’s article Factors Affecting Social Development, he confirms that identity is shaped by external forces, more specifically, where we are raised, family, and school affect our development.
In the article, the Seefeldt states that “Those exposed to domestic abuse, gang violence…do not feel safe or secure. Their insecurity will interfere with their total development…” meaning that children are more likely to feel less secure and unsafe if they grow up in or around unsafe communities and bad influences (Seefeldt). Imagine yourself as a little kid. Wouldn’t it be scary to grow up around drug addicts, thugs, and gangs? Wouldn’t you be scared of the constant danger lurking around every corner? Just wearing the wrong colors can end your life.
Or maybe even things that you can’t control like your ethnicity can end you up in a coffin. Wouldn’t you be scared just to go outside? Wouldn’t these things make you feel unsafe and less secure? Overall, the writer telling us that growing up as a child in an unsafe community can mess with their total development shows that identity can be formed by external forces. But not only does the writer show us that growing up around negative forces shape ones identity, he also tells us that parents play a role in a child’s overall development.
As the article goes on, the writer tells us that “parents who are social themselves serve as models for their children. Children may be able to use the image of their parents interacting with others in their own attempts to make friends with other children” showing that parents’ interactions with their own peers, can reflect on their child’s social skills too. Have you ever heard the saying “like father, like son” or “like mother like daughter”? Has anyone ever told you this? People usually say this because they see something in the child that resembles the parent.
This usually happens because the children follow patterns of behavior from their parents. Like maybe a child can copy how his parent talks. The child can even copy simple things like how his parent walks. But did you know the way a parent socializes can reflect on the child’s social development? The article tells us that children can use the image of their parents socializing in their own attempts in making friends and being social themselves, and that parents who are more secure and competent offer children a model of security to build their own social skills.
Ultimately, Seefeldt stating that parents can affect a child’s development confirms that identity can be shaped by external forces once again. Around at the end of the article, Seefeldt also states that “In addition to a child’s family, the teacher becomes an agent of socialization” presenting the idea that teachers can also have an imprint on a child’s identity. Have you ever had a teacher that has affected your life? As humans, we all have teachers in our lives.
Whether it be inside the classroom or out. They can teach us anything from math to valuable life lessons. And according to the article, they can also set new or different standards for social behaviors meaning that without our teachers, we probably wouldn’t know right from wrong. Isn’t it true that teachers are always the ones that tell us to do the right things when we’re doing wrong? All in all, our environment, parents, and teachers, all external forces, can shape us in a negative or a positive way.
In Aida Bortnik’s short story Celeste’s Heart, Celeste is shaped by external forces in a positive way, because her little brother causes her to go from a voiceless girl, to a strong willed lady. As Celeste was putting her little brother to sleep, after yet another punishment from her teacher at school, her brother, as usual, asks her when he was going to start to go to school, “But that evening she didn’t laugh and she didn’t think up an answer”. Celeste being speechless in this situation shows just how scared she is for her brother’s future (Bortnik 65).
Celeste’s brother’s question makes her think of him suffering the same kind of punishment as she does. Even though Celeste’s brother isn’t going to go to her school for a long time, she worries for his future. Celeste is the only girl in her class that doesn’t complain when the teacher punishes the class, but as soon as she starts thinking about her brother enduring the same kind of mistreatment as she does, she realizes what she has to do. So the next time her teacher punished the class, she rebuked against the rough treatment for her brother’s sake.
Imagine yourself in Celeste’s shoes. Imagine your little sibling having to put your hands up simultaneously for a long period of time. Wouldn’t you be worried and scared for your sibling’s future? Wouldn’t you do anything so that your sibling wouldn’t go through the same punishment as you? This is exactly what Celeste is doing. Ultimately, Celeste rebelling against her teacher and risking further punishment just so that her brother won’t endure the same punishment as her confirms that Celeste’s love, an external force, affects her in a positive way.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell Tale Heart, the narrator’s identity is shaped by the eye because he is coaxed by the eye to kill the man, showing that external forces can affect one’s identity negatively as well. As the narrator was whining about the eye of the old man, he says “whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever”. The narrator telling us his horrid thoughts conveys just how irritated and sick of the dreaded “vulture eye” (Poe 1).
He feels so sick that he plots to kill the old man, not for who he is, but simply for his so called dreaded eye. You can also infer just by how the narrator talks about the eye that it drives him to the point where he cannot hold the hysteria inside. Like when the narrator finally saw the old man’s eye after many nights of spying on him just to see his terrible eye and to murder him, he describes the eye as a “dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in [his] bones”(4).
It is a known fact that a person can dislike a person for an action or a trait; however, they keep their feelings inside and go on with their lives because they have control over themselves. But the narrator just can’t do the simple act of keeping his feelings inside and going on with life, instead, he murders the old man just to stop having to look at it. This shows that the old man’s eye, an external force, influences the narrator to feel sick to his stomach, and ultimately end the old man’s life forever.
Not only can external forces have an impact on your identity, but internal forces can mold one’s identity as well. In the article Adolescent Identity Development, the author confirms that internal forces can shape our identity as well. As the writer talks about the different dimensions of identity, he tells us that “our self-identity shapes our perceptions of belonging” meaning that the way we see ourselves tend to determine how we respond to factors in our environment and how we respond to them.
In our lives, there can be many factors inside of us that can shape our identity. Whether it be love, jealousy, or a thirst for power. What the article is saying is that these forces can shape how we see and respond to society. For example, if you are a weak little boy growing up around gangs, you might see the power of gangs luring and choose to indulge in illegal activities purely for your thirst for power. Or if you’re head over heels in love with someone, they may shape your actions and choices.
All in all, these forces can either lead you to do something good, bad, or both. In O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi, the main character Della is shaped by internal forces and shows us that internal forces can affect a person positively because her passion for Jim causes her to sacrifice one of her most valuable possessions, her hair, just so she can get him a good Christmas present. But not only does she sacrifice her hair for him, but also the opportunity to use the money she got from selling her hair to pay off her expenses.
We can tell that not a lot of money came to Della and that she had many expenses to pay off because as the narrator was describing her life, he says “twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater then she calculated… they always are” (Henry 2). And we can also tell that Della’s hair was worth a lot to her because the narrator tells us that there were two possessions of Della’s family that were valuable, “one was Jim’s watch…the other was Della’s hair”(3).
We can see that Della loves Jim very much because she would much rather buy Jim a present than pay off her expenses or keep her hair. As human beings, it is normal for us to feel affection or fall in love with something. Whether it be a person, TV show, or a hobby. And we all have made sacrifices for things we love (flirting, doing homework, free time). But the love we have for that person, object, or hobby determines how big of a sacrifice we would make. For Della, her love for Jim causes her to sacrifice one of the only valuable things she owns, her hair.
Her love for Jim makes her feel morally obligated to give him a present, or otherwise feel guilty. We can infer that Della probably didn’t want to cut her hair, but then again, if she didn’t come up with enough money to get Jim a decent present, she would feel guilty. Della’s love for Jim also causes her to not use the money for her hair on something else, her expenses. Ultimately, Della choosing to cut her hair and spend the money for a present for her dear Jim shows that she is shaped by her incredible love for Jim in a positive way, an internal force.
In Frank Stockton’s short story The Lady or the Tiger, the princess shows us that internal forces can affect a person’s identity either positively or negatively, because the portion of barbarism inside of her and her love for the youth lead her to do things she doesn’t want to, see things that aren’t really happening, and can ultimately lead to the death or happiness of the youth. When the day of the youth’s trial arrived, the princess attended it. But “had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probably that the lady would not have been there…”.
The princess attending the trial even though she doesn’t want to shows that the princess herself does not want to attend the youth’s trial, but she goes to it anyway to satisfy her barbaric desires. Have you ever done something that one side of you disagrees about doing it, but the other side totally agrees with your decision? This is what exactly is happening to the princess. One half of her doesn’t want to attend the trial, but the barbaric side of her coaxes her to do it anyways, ultimately showing that the barbarism the princess inside of her controls her choices and well-being.
But the princess’ identity is not only shaped by her barbarism, but also by the love and affection she has for the youth. As the narrator was talking about a lady that the princess despises, he says that the princess had often seen “or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned”, showing that the princess’ love for the youth is clouding her mind from the truth and reality (8).
The princess starts assuming that her love is being charmed by the lady and that she might lose the youth to her. These assumptions make the princess very jealous and envy of the lady. Not only do the princess’ barbaric desires and love for the youth trick her mind, but could very well end the youth’s life, or simply salvage it. All in all, the princess exhibiting that internal forces can shape one’s identity in either a positive or negative proves that internal forces can make an impression on a person’s identity positively or negatively.
In his memoir Always Running, Luis Rodriguez shows us that internal forces can affect a person’s identity in a totally negative way because his thirst for power causes him to go from a helpless little boy to a power thirsty hooligan. When Luis was in school one day, “Thee Mystics”, a powerful and influential gang, raided his school. As the ruckus slowly came dangerously towards Luis’ way, he was riveted. Riveted by the power Thee Mystics possessed. “I wanted this power. I wanted to be able to bring a whole school to its knees and even make the teachers squirm…
They had left their mark on the school- and on me. ” (Rodriguez 42). After Luis sees how Thee Mystics easily took control of his school, he wanted one thing they had, power. He wanted to finally be able to overcome the weal and fearful reputation he was labeled as, and finally obtain what he wanted when he wanted it. Not only can you see the imprint this day made on Luis throughout the book (starts getting into trouble, begins to hang out with the wrong people, and eventually gets kicked out of school), but he confesses it as well. Power,
is what everyone secretly craves in their lives. Especially like an immigrant like Luis who was always pushed aside and left out simply he wasn’t an American citizen. So when Luis saw Thee Mystics’ power, he saw gangs as a quencher for his thirst of power. Luis just wanted a break from being taken advantage of. By Rano, by teachers, by the cruel prejudiced society he lived in. Ultimately, Luis wanting power at an early age after he witnessed how easily Thee Mystics brought his school to its knees proves that he is influenced by his desire of power, an internal force, in a negative way.
In conclusion, identity changes overtime in response to both external and internal forces, meaning that people can choose what their identity is shaped by to a certain extent, but there are still things in our environment that can affect our identity too. Studies show that external forces can shape identity because people, objects, and other things in our environment all have the power to mold us either negatively or positively as we mature. Not only does research show us that one’s identity can be shaped by external forces, but characters from stories also prove the same.
Characters like Celeste from Celeste’s Heart and the narrator from The Tell Tale Heart show us that identity can be molded by external forces. But not only can identity be shaped by external forces, identity can also be shaped by internal forces. Research also shows us that Identity can be shaped by forces inside of us like our love, hatred, etc. Like external forces, internal forces can shape ones identity in a positive way, or negative way. Della from The Gift of the Magi, the princess from The Lady or the Tiger, and Luis from Always Running are all excellent examples of internal forces affecting a person’s identity.
To sum it up, external and internal forces can shape a person’s identity negatively or positively. Works Cited “Adolescent Identity Development. ” ACTforyouth. net. ACT for Youth Center of Excellence, 2013. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. Allan Poe, Edgar. “The Tell Tale Heart. ” Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. New York, NY: Bantum Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1984. 1-7. Print. Bortnik, Aida. “Celeste’s Heart. ” Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Stories from the United States and Latin America. Ed. Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Ray Gonzalez.
New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010. 64-66. Print. Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi. ” Gutenberg. com. Project Gutenberg, n. d. Web. 2 Aug. 2012 Rodriguez, Luis. Always Running. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print. Seefeldt, C. “Factors Affecting Social Development. ” Education. com. Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall, 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2013. Stockton, Frank. “The Lady or the Tiger?. ” The Norton Anthology of Short Stories. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1998. 1-13. Print.