Advanced Essay #3: Social Constrictions on Identity


The goals of this paper was to bring up the issue of pre-chosen identities based on the values and standards we as a people created and implicated in society. Reflecting on my final product, I think my goals were met, however next time I have a stronger sense on how to achieve those even more. I believe my process was good when working on this essay and that my main idea was interesting to explore and write about.


Identity is how we as a species have changed throughout life and tried to individualize ourselves. However, what if our identities are pre-chosen for us based on the standards of the old society we created? In the dominant American society, we can see patterns of identifying based on socialism throughout the entirety of our history as a nation and as a people. All people want to do is to fit into boxes and limit themselves based on what is more desirable in certain communities.

America has had the system of classes for as long as people can remember. High class, low class, middle class, these are just everyday terms Americans discuss frequently. However, the classes might not be as clear cut as they seem. Patricia Cohen points out, “The feeling of comparative deprivation and the ultrarich separating themselves from the rest of society helps explain why only 1 percent of Americans accept the rich or upper-income label. Even most people earning over $250,000 — the top 5 percent of wage earners — identify as middle class. There’s always someone wealthier around.” (Cohen). This ties into the feeling of wanting to identify with someone else or a larger group of people. In the United States it seems like people don’t want to be shamed for having a certain amount of money so the majority more or less puts themselves in the middle. This idea of wanting to fit in can not only be seen within the classes of America, but as a species, humans do it all the time. Everyone tries to fit in because they are scared of not fitting that standard society places.

Not only do we notice the behavior of trying to fit into society’s view of having the most popular or desirable identity in America’s political system, but it also makes itself known in American literature. Flowers for Algernon, a popular book written by Daniel Keyes, explores identity in terms of being intelligent and how that self proclamation affects the community and other people. One quote states, “Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart.” (Keyes, 1) As seen here, Charlie (the main character) believes being “smart” is the best thing to be. This point of view can also be taken out of the book and into real life as well. It is drilled in every student’s head that they need good grades to get into college, that students have to go. And the idea that “smartness” can be measured by a number is also a way society has pushed us to identify as. And once again, people usually like to be near the middle of that spectrum of between a genius or being stupid.

Trying to change your identity on the surface is also another way people want to fit into a larger group or system. In another book, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, the idea of changing your outward label was a major decision the main character, Rafe, decided to pursue. He was not satisfied with being labeled as different and wanted to fit in in the “normal” crowd. This idea is immortalized in the following quote, “I was thinking about how snakes shed their skin every year, and how awesome it would be if people did that too. In lots of ways, that’s what I was trying to do.” (Konigsberg, 11) Trying to change people’s views on your own identity can show that you are in fact, trying to transform yourself, no matter how small, to fit in with the popular option.

Throughout American culture, the idea of fitting into a system which is deemed more likeable and/or popular fuels how people identify today. This idea has increased drastically in the current generation due to the rapid and ever changing social media fads and trends. What is considered acceptable or not in terms of identity has always been based on the society standards we created as a people. And in reality, just having society to blame for this constriction of self is untrue. We have always been constricting ourselves.

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