In a society which inherently seeks to categorise individuals, it is paramount that each person finds their genuine place in the world. The most powerful influences that impact on an individual’s sense of belonging include identity and heritage. It is a part of humanity which makes us desire to want to belong to a social, religious or even racial group which ultimately forms the person we become. Renowned author Carlson McCullers reflects these ideas. “I think the idea of wanting to belong haunts every child. And not only children. I think it is the primary question.
‘Who am I? What am I? And where do I belong? It is of grave importance that we understand we are simply mere shadows of everybody who is around us. Furthermore our development as an individual is strongly influenced by both nurture and nature. As Indian leader and renowned philosopher, Mahatma Gandhi, once claimed that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ” Ultimately we need others to help us to explore the limits and potential of what it is to be human. It is generally accepted that our true identity is best discovered through the connections that we make with others and without them it is hard to establish a sense of belonging.
From Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it outlines the importance for an individual to belong. What was listed as the third most important need was to be connected, love and accepted by others. He has too stated that this, ‘need (to belong) is especially strong in children and can over-ride the need for safety’. In the novel, ‘The Member of the Wedding’, McCullers explores this idea as she displays through the protagonist Frankie Adams the implications of not being loved or not belonging. As a result, Frankie is haunted from being “a member of nothing in the world”.
As she is on the brink on the adolescence, she experiences much confusion which results in the endangerment of her life. She has come from a dysfunctional and unloved family where the closest members in her life are her six year old cousin John Henry West and her maid Berenice Sadie Brown. From devoid of acceptance this makes Frankie feels largely ostracised within her town, leaving her emotionally and spiritually desolate, and in turn, inhibiting her ability to identify who she truly is. From the people around us we begin to have a sense of acceptance from our familial ties and intimate relationships with others shape who we are.
These connections ideally provide love, protection, security and the opportunity to discover our values, attitudes, and beliefs that help to define us from the time of our birth. In ‘The Member of the Wedding’, although Frankie is accepted by her younger cousin John Henry and housemaid Berenice, she lacks proper familial bonds. With her mother having passed away after Frankie’s birth and her father not giving her the love and attention that she requires it is evident the hardships and struggle face without nuture. In McCullers bildungsroman she evokes the danger that individuals face if they do not have the correct nurturing from a young age.
This applies to both Frankie and Honey who were both displaced from society at a young age because of their differences to the social norm. The consequences of not being an individual proved to be detrimental for them. Furthermore the example applies to Frankie. In the course of the book, she changed her name twice along with her identity. Due to Frankie’s confusion with identity, she comes very close to committing suicide, and ‘she pointed the pistol at the side of her head and held it there a minute or two’. Our families are an omnipresent force in our lives and with their absence we can be left questioning our sense of self.
To obtain individuality an identity the paradox is we are only able to gain one through the social interactions that we make with others. The concept of attaining an identity which is of primary of importance is through our family. They give us a sense of acceptance from our familial ties and intimate relationships with others shape who we are. These connections ideally provide love, protection, security and the opportunity to discover our values, attitudes, and beliefs that help to define us from the time of our birth.
In McCullers ‘The Member of the Wedding’, Frankie latches onto the idea that she will be someone of importance if she pursues a life with her older brother Jarvis and his wife to be Janice. The coming of the wedding gives her something to latch onto, and she becomes actively involved with the wedding, convincing herself of the false reality of “the future ahead when the three of them would be together in all the many distant places”. Ultimately Frankie has been unable to establish a persona until the coming of her brother’s wedding where she has latched onto the idea of being a part of it.
Nevertheless, this sense of belonging to the bride and groom and the wedding itself, as strange and superficial as it may seem, makes her feel as if she suddenly has a purpose in life and allows her to understand who she is: “they are the we of me”. These examples clearly reveal that without connections, an individual is often incomplete, and stuck with the notion that they are isolated from the world entirely. Author Orson Scott has echoed these sentiments in saying, “Perhaps it’s impossible to have a true identity without becoming what you pretend to be.
In addition, if an individual is incapable of connecting with others, they will lose our sense of belonging and will leave us in solitary isolation. The chances of this happening are especially high for individuals who are transitioning from primary school to high school. If that individual is unable to form a friendship within this transition, they begin to feel lonely and lost as typified by Frankie from “The Member of the Wedding”. After Frankie was rejected from her group she began “hanging in doorways”.
Furthermore she became disoriented and “unjoined” in society when searching for identity. Such loneliness can lead to social isolation where the physical harm involved “is comparable to that of cigarette smoking”, as stated by psychologist Dr James S. House. Also to add, a study conducted by Duke University shows that individuals may immerse themselves into a state of depression if they are unable to find a sense of belonging, and ergo they may further distance themselves from people, inflict self-harm or even suicide in order to escape their loneliness and confusion.
Another major example of how important connections to others are through solitary confinement. According to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Stuart Grassien has argued, “Prisoners who are subjected to this form of torture have only worsened a prisoner’s pre-existing mental health problems while causing new mental illnesses in otherwise healthy people”. If an individual is isolated from society to such an extent that it causes self harm, this only exemplifies the importance of connection.
These connections with others continuously reiterate to us of our position in this world and who “me” is. In essence, our identity is ultimately shaped through the connections that we make with others. As humans we have an innate need to belong and we only learn who we are through the relations that we form with others. The need to belong is especially strong in children and without it; it can override their sense of safety. This is evident in “The Member of the Wedding” where Frankie struggles though the summer with loneliness, disconnection and self loathing.
Furthermore, without being a “me” it leaves in her in a state of confusion resulting in her latching onto her brother and his wife in order to belong. But once she found herself through social interactions, she has transformed from being confused like the ‘nervous green and white moths’ to someone who is full of direction with a purpose like ‘a flock of strong-winged arrowed geese’. As freelance journalist Chuck Palahniuk has said, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known”.
Written Explanation: I chose to write a persuasive essay as it allowed me to convey my view in a formal manner. Through a persuasive format, I believed I would be able to express my thoughts and ideas clearly in this style, while delving further into the complexities of the context of identity and belonging than an expository or creative could do. In order to portray a high level of understanding in regards to the prompt and the text, the targeted audience were year 12 students or adults.
It is an assumption that the audience are well educated and socially conscious of the problem of connections that face many young children today. In targeting such a highly educated audience and in order to be persuasive, I had to use advanced language features which evoked the audience to agree with my contention. There were many links back to the prompt. The context of ‘The Member of the Wedding’ is of a 12 year old girl who is on the verge of adolescence who does not belong anywhere and is not a member of any group.
In order to reflect this context with the prompt I had to show the relation between the two. Not only were there direct references to ‘The Member of the Wedding’ but there were also many other real life examples which were indirect links. From Carson McCullers text, I was able to demonstrate how the prompt applicably applied to Frankie Adams. I used explicit references to novel “The Member of the Wedding” where I extracted quotes and scenes from the book that I felt were relevant to my points.
A prime example of this was the quote of Janice and Jarvis being “the we of me” which strongly relates to her confusion from not being connected to others. Furthermore I was able to use Frankie’s experiences in her life are strongly related to the ideas that I presented regarding the prompt. There were a copious amount of indirect links such as the several quotes from famous philosophers and authors. Drawing from philosophers such as Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Maslow, I believed their words of wisdom and advice was able to validate my viewpoint.
In addition I appealed to the reader’s common sense which outlined that without love and nurture, how can a child be expected to form into a logical and sensible individual? The main context idea was that, generally speaking, we need to belong or have connections to others in order to form an identity, and if this is not achieved, severe outcomes such as depression or self-harm may occur. Finally, supplementary sources such as research from Duke University, expert opinion from a psychologist and a quote from several authors and freelance writers such as Orson Scott and Chuck Palahniuk were used to support my ideas.
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