Working Through Identity in Adolescence

In Karen Coats’ keywords essay for “Identity”, it is explained that identity is fluid. In adolescence, everyone is still trying to figure things out and external factors play a major role in shaping one’s identity. Social situations, things you inadvertently witness, and people you meet have tremendous impact on how you form your identity and I saw examples of that in characters like Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Meg in Little Women. Both teens are insecure about themselves in one way or another and certain situations they were in forced them to make decisions about how to react and therefore learned more about how the world worked and how to respond.

For Charlie, life is very complicated as he starts his first day of high school and thoughts of his deceased aunt and best friend still constantly occupy his mind. He is a quiet, awkward student who is subject to harassment even on the first day which forces him to stay in his shell. Throughout this first year, Charlie meets people like him who stray from the norm and befriend them as they are a sense of comfort and familiarity for him. Charlie has new experiences with these friends like parties, first kisses, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. In partaking in these activities, figuring out how you feel about them, and developing responses to your environment, Charlie is learning more and more about how the world works. His identity before high school had been shaped by his experiences involving death, self-harm, and abuse and its being consistently enriched by the experiences he has in high school and the people he associates with. All of these external factors played a major role in how he was at the beginning of the movie and how he changed by the end with regards to confidence and gained knowledge, proving that identity is fluid.

This identity development is also seen in Meg when she attends Belle Moffatt’s coming-of-age celebration in Little Women. The Moffat family is very wealthy unlike Meg so immediately she is insecure about how she looks and the clothes she owns as she compares it to the Moffat girls’ expensive belongings. Meg has never attended a party as lavish as Belle’s before, so she is navigating new waters as she learns how to present herself, what to do when talking to others, and even just how parties like these work. After receiving flowers from Laurie one day she is with the Moffats, Meg discovers he was invited to the next day’s party. Belle becomes very excited and gives Meg a dress, does her hair and makeup, and has her wear lavish jewelry. Meg hardly recognizes herself when she looks in a mirror. Because she is in a new environment, Meg experiences what it’s like to live the life of a rich person. With all these new opportunities, she learns about expensive clothes, how to gossip about boys, and drink alcohol, none of which she does back home with her family. These abnormal experiences add to the formation of Meg’s identity because now she can make decisions about if she enjoys these activities or not, whether or not to follow that lifestyle, and how these experiences will affect her future. Events like these parties are especially influential for Meg because she is in her late adolescent years and transitioning to womanhood. She is getting experience with more adult-oriented activities to prepare herself for the fast-approaching realm of adulthood. Her identity will continue to develop over time as she goes through life and learns new things about herself and the world around her.

Overall, we can see that identity is never static. As one grows older and experiences more and more of what the world has to offer, it will play a part in shaping how they navigate the world with the new knowledge they have. People learn about how things work and how they react to them, and thus formulate their future reactions accordingly.

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