?Object Lesson? By Sharon Oard Warner Essay, Research Paper
Identity is within all of us. Without it, we would be nothing. It determines just about any personality trait, habit or manner one can think of. That humans have such varied attitudes is intriguing, but where does identity come from? People identify themselves using not only qualities within them, but through culture and family as well.
A great deal of personality comes from within us. It has to do with likes and dislikes, and how we choose to react to daily things. For example, I have to write a paper. Is that good or bad? Depends on if I like writing papers or not.
We see this in ?Object Lesson? by Sharon Oard Warner. The main character, Laurel, despises her son?s new girlfriend. To Laurel, the girl named Sophie becomes a seductress, luring her son away. ?Laurel sees herself as someone who loves most what she can?t have…soon it will be directed toward her son, Will, who appears to be heading out of her life.? (218) The hatred of Sophie and the blood stain she leaves on the son?s sheets begin to influence Laurel?s daily tasks: ?All day, the stain comes back to haunt her…? (219) An emotion within her becomes a part of Laurel?s identity.
Another example from La Puerta is ?I Give You Back? by Joy Harjo. Hatred of white soldiers from the past is a part of her. Ms. Harjo refers to fear as ?My beloved and hated twin.? (59) It has held her back, influenced who she is. The emotion of fear was so strong, it became a way through which she related to things around her. ?You can?t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice, my belly, or in my heart.? (60)
Culture plays an very important part in everyday society. What we eat, what we wear, the music we listen to, even the people we associate with can all be related to culture. What exactly is culture, this thing that plays such a big part in our identities? It is related to class, ancestry, even labeling. Labeling has two ways of influence, through the usual bigotry, but also by sympathy.
Class, ancestry and both types of labeling are present in the story ?Grandma Went to Smith, All Right, but She Went from Nine to Five: A Memoir? by Patricia Clark Smith. Patricia, the main character of the story, grows up in a very ethnic family. Her mother is French-Canadian, while her father is Irish. This provides for two distinct influences in her life by customs and attitudes passed down from each side. For example, her grandmother from her mother?s side, teaches Pat old prayers and sings to her in French.
Patricia and her family are labeled as low-income working-class, and Pat is ostracized because of it. ? ?Every kid on this Apple tree is coming to my birthday party except Pat Clark…and you know why…hah hah you live at Hampshire Heights [the projects].?? (197) On the other hand, because of her class, Pat has many friends in the same situation, and has banded together with them. ?Our bond was the stronger…we had become suddenly identifiably lumped together.? (196)
Another way identity is cultivated is through family. Family can influence religious beliefs, speech patterns, eating habits…the list goes on. Family values are usually passed down through each generation. There are signs of this in ?Grandma Went to Smith, All Right, but She Went from Nine to Five: A Memoir? by Patricia Clark Smith. ?I grew up in a politically progressive family, where unions and strikes were common table talk.? (194)
Children can also influence parents. In ?The Object Lesson? by Sharon Oard Warner, Laurel tries to ask her son to wash the same blood-stained sheets.
When he refuses, she attempts to force him. Laurel fears that her son Will is taking the same road she did. A road that left her with a young son and no husband. ?[Will is] Such a fool, she thinks, such a dear, sweet fool…She?d ruined her life, just like her mother had said she would.? (224) By the end of the story, Will has washed Laurel?s sheets, sheets dirtied by a married man who visits in the night. Laurel cannot expect her son to follow an example she herself has not set. ?Laurel…knows there are some things you can?t get rid of and other things you can?t get back.? (230)
People identify themselves using not only qualities within them, but through culture and family as well. Through these few examples, it is easy to see some of the foundations that can foster an entire, complex identity. It is understandable how interesting and varied humans can be, drawing from so many directions to build who they are. Identity is not very complex at all, it comes through living day to day.
Martin, Wanda, General ed. La Puerta. 2nd ed.
Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1999.
Harjo, Joy. ?I Give You Back.? Martin 59-60.
Smith, Patricia Clark. ?Grandma Went to Smith, All Right, but She Went
From Nine to Five: A Memoir.? Martin 192-203.
Warner, Sharon Oard. ?The Object Lesson.? Martin 214-231.