Memory and Identity
Although she is a successful middle-aged painter, Risley does not have a secure sense of identity or self-worth. In Jon's studio in Toronto, she confesses that sometimes it is all she can do to drag herself out of bed in the morning. On such occasions she feels worthless, and this reminds her of how Cordelia's relentless criticisms used to make her feel as if she was nothing. Only the previous day, Risley saw a poster advertising her retrospective, with a picture of herself on it, and this gave her some satisfaction that she had at least achieved a "public face." But what of the private one? Risley's private self is buried under the weight of repressed memories, and yet memory is the only tool she has to reconstruct who she is and how she came to be that way.
But memory, as she continually reminds the reader, is unreliable. Although the past extends its hold over the present—Risley's relationship with Cordelia still haunts her—who can accurately remember the past? Risley draws attention to the fact that there are gaps in her memory. When she tries to recall her ninth birthday party, for example:
I close my eyes, wait for pictures. I need to fill in the black square of time, go back to see what's in it. It's as if I vanish at that moment and reappear later, but different, not knowing why I have been changed.
At one point, Risley speculates on what future diseases of the memory may affect her; there are so many different ways of losing and reclaiming the past. And it is not only as an adult that memory is fragile. Even as a child, Risley sometimes cannot recall events, even though she knows they happened. She has even forgotten that she has forgotten things. In particular, she forgets the bad things that have happened to her, sometimes only a few months after they have occurred. She has a gift for burying the past.
By the time she reaches her twenties she does not even want to remember, and she finds that "The past has become discontinuous, like stones skipped across water, like postcards: I catch an image of myself, a dark blank, an image, a blank."
Later, when she is in her forties, Risley does not even remember the traumatic incident when she nearly froze to death in the ravine: "My memory is tremulous, like water breathed on." The image is suggestive. Still, calm water reflects the face of the observer; water disturbed presents only a jagged, distorted image, like a broken mirror. Somehow Risley must try to connect all the fragments to create a self that is whole.
Coming of Age
Because there are two distinct narrative threads in the novel, there are also two coming-of-age themes. One is when young Risley enters adolescence and early adulthood. She attends college, discovers her talent for painting, has her first lover, and establishes her place...
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Hi. I have developed a personal essay where I am comparing my experiences and insights in before and during high-school with that of the main character in the book Cat's eye, Elaine Risely. My thesis is that our childhood experiences inevitably shape our identities in teenage and adulthood. I would greatly appreciate it if you could proof-read my essay, tell me what I am doing wrong, and what I did correctly or what you appreciated about my essay (this is at the high-school level). The essay is long, and once again, I thank you for your time and effort in helping me.
What impact do all of our past experiences and relationships, the good and the bad, have on our identities and sense of self? The self is a key construct in several schools of psychology, broadly referring to the cognitive and affective representation of one's identity. In the book Cat's Eye by Margaret Attwood, Elaine's identity and her perceived sense of self is dynamic and all her positive and negative experiences and relationships have helped shape it, as well as my past experiences and relationships have shaped me into who I am today. Much of the important experiences that have contributed to forming Elaine's identity occurred while she was still a child, as this is crucial time in her life to developing her personality and how she interacts with her peers and future relationships. Similarly, the experiences and relationships as a child have had a tremendous impact on my sense of self and the development of my personality. When Elaine enters high-school, her entire identity shifts from being serene and introverted to callous extroversion and notoriety. Likewise, my identity also shifted but not as radically as Elaine's, and I feel I gained great insight and personal growth during my time in high-school. Although we may be very different people in our teenage and adult years, our experiences and relationships as children have an everlasting impact on our developing identities.
Elaine's experiences as a child have had a profound impact on developing her identity as both a teenager and an adult. As a child before moving to Toronto, Elaine was relatively happy and content with her life, even though she did not have any friends. As quoted from the text "Until we moved to Toronto I was happy." (22). Much of Elaine's lack of connecting with people as she grows older can be attributed to her truly terrible experiences as a child, such as the time she was placed in the hole. Quoted from the text, "When I was put into the hole I knew it was a game; now I know it is not one. I feel sadness, a sense of betrayal. Then I feel the darkness pressing down on me; then terror." (120). Elaine was innocent, naïve, and serene as a child and these "friends" of hers took advantage of that fact. She genuinely believed that her friends were trying to help her to become one of them and integrate her, as evidenced by the text, "I am not normal, I am not like the other girls. Cordelia tells me so, but she will help me. Grace and carol will help me too. It will take hard work and a long time." (134). This is the underlying reason why she puts up with this blatant bullying, perpetrated on her by the girls. Instead of telling her parents or a school teacher, she copes by inflicting physical pain on herself which only further damages her self-esteem, as proven from the text, "It turns colder and colder. I lie with my knees up, as close to my body as I can get them. I'm peeling the skin off my feet; I can do it without looking, by touch." (133-134). All of these experiences are the defining moments of Elaine's life that have contributed to the development of Elaine's identity and personality, much like my experiences and relationships as a child have developed my sense of self even as a teenager and young adult.
Very much like Elaine, my childhood experiences have also had a profound impact on the growth of my identity. Unlike Elaine, however, I did not have the luxury of living with both of my parents. Due to my parents' divorce, I was raised by a very strict mother. My mother worked two jobs in order to provide for us, and expected from all of us that we get excellent grades in school and to spend our time studying. Since I spent most of my time at home studying, it was very difficult for me to keep friends. During the day at school, I would develop many friendships that would unfortunately not last, as many were interested in playing after school and I had to stay at home and study. This continued throughout my late childhood until the age of 12, when a friendship with a very rebellious kid was formed. Although I kept my excellent grades, he exerted his rebellious influence on me and I started to gradually leave the house. My mother always told me that the minute I stop studying, I will see my grades drop and I will fail and therefore be punished. I began to develop a disregard for authorities and became rebellios myself, giving my teachers a hard time in class and refusing to do the work, opting to hang out with my friends instead. Due to this, my grades began to drop and this was the first year I didn't make the honor roll, but I didn't really care as I was having the time of my life. This continued until the eight grade, were my best friend was arrested for stealing. Although I was having fun, I didn't want my life to go down this road and I experienced an epiphany. Although my personality began to experience a shift when I started high-school, it was not as radical as Elaine's.
In high-school, Elaine reinvents herself and how she carries herself, among both her friends and peers. In order to do this, she completely buries her horrible past, or tries to. As evidenced from the text, "Nobody mentions anything about this missing time, except my mother. Once in a while she says, "That bad time you had," and I am puzzled.What is she talking about? I find these references to bad times vaguely threatening, vaguely insulting: I am not the sort of girl who has bad times, I have good times only." (225). This quote proves that Elaine tries to star anew in high-school, instead of trying to come to terms and address the past, and all her relationships from here on out will suffer due to this. At first, Elaine has a very difficult time fitting in, as she is much more mature than her peers, while Cordelia fits in quite well, as demonstrated from the text, "She knows the rituals, she knows how we're suppose to be behaving, now that we're in high school. But I think these things are impenetrable and fraudulent, and I can't do them without feeling I'm acting." (234). Shortly after starting high-school and befriending Cordelia, something very important occurs: the power in their relationship is shifted in favor of Elaine, as evidenced from the text, "Cordelia wants to point out Lump-lump Family cars, but I'm tired of this. I have denser, more malevolent little triumph to finger: energy has passed between us, and I am stronger." (262). Elaine develops somewhat of a "mean-mouth" in high-school as well, as quoted from the text, "I have such a mean mouth that I become known for it. I don't use it unless provoked, but then I open my mouth and short, devastating comments come out of it." (263). Strangely, this does not make her hated by her peers but more popular, as evidenced from the text, "Strangely enough, my mean behaviour doesn't result in fewer friends, but, on the surface, more. The girls are afraid of me but they know where it's safest: beside me, half a step behind." (263-264). Due to her terrible experiences with girls as a child, Elaine is now trying to over-compensate and all her relationships become about power. This is reinforced by the fact that she verbally attacks Cordelia for no reason at times, as demonstrated from the text, "The person I use my mean mouth on the most is Cordelia. She doesn't even have to provoke me, I use her as target practice." (264). The power has shifted, but Elaine now feels that it is her turn to abuse Cordelia, instead of coming to terms with their terrible past and forgiving her so they can have a lasting friendship, which she regrets in adulthood. By the time Elaine is in grade 13 and doing the final exams, she has an epiphany. She realizes that she doesn't want to become a biologist, but a painter. Quoted from the text, ""But in the middle of the botany examination it comes to me, like a sudden epileptic fit, that I'm not going to be a biologist, as I have thought. I am going to be a painter...My life has been changed, soundlessly, instantaneously." ( 287). This will have a profound impact on Elaine's future, her future friends and lovers, and the influences they have on her identity. Elaine may have seemed happy and popular in high-school, but she was not, due to a failure of coming to terms with her past and accepting her mistakes, unlike the insights and epiphanies I experienced in high-school.
Similarly, I also experienced a great shift in my perceived sense of self and personal identity. As stated earlier, my best friend got into legal trouble before we started high-school. I came to the realization that this was not the road I wanted to go down, all I really wanted was some harmless fun and to do well in school. So, I slowly began to disassociate from him, much like Elaine did with Cordelia after her exams. I experienced an epiphany as well, that there is a healthy medium, that is possible to have fun and a social life as well as excel in school. This important insight is what eluded Elaine, as she failed to realize that she does not have to be a doormat in her relationships nor a power-driven bully, but there is a healthy medium. My grades started to rise again and I made the honor roll for the first time in a few years again, all the while maintaining an active social life. All was well for the first couple of years of high-school, until my mother fell very ill and my older brother and I had to pick up jobs in order to help provide for the family. Until then, I never had any real responsibilities in life. I felt burdened, as if a massive weight was placed onto my shoulders, and I had a terrible time adapting and managing my time efficiently. I waddled along through the eleventh grade with mediocre grades, and began focusing more on my job. Eventually, I started to experience burnout and started to lose sight of my education goals. After graduating high-school with very low marks, I worked full-time for a year. Then, I met an old friend at the grocery store and was catching with him. He informed me that he was in his third year of university, and had jobs lined up upon graduation. This was the wake-up call I needed to become motivated; another epiphany. I consulted my mother and quit my job, and returned to school for another year to upgrade my marks. Fortunately, my grades improved tremendously and I was accepted to a prestigious university. So, from what I learned in my early experiences of high-school that it is indeed possible to maintain both good grades and a social life, I was able to apply this to all my other problems and find a healthy medium. As the philosopher, Socrates, once said, "Everything in moderation".
Our childhoods and our nurturing during this pivotal time has a powerful impact on what kind of individuals we turn out to be. As in Cat's eye, for example, Elaine ironically turned into the bullies that bullied her when she was a child. She didn't learn from her mistakes and refused to come to terms with her past, which only lead to a life filled with regret. I, however, was able to see the "bigger picture". That there is always a healthy medium, and no extreme is ever desirable. This important realization allowed me to live a relatively easy, filled with contentment. The important values we extract from our childhood experiences truly can predict what kind of people we will turn out to be, which explains why criminals often have abusive childhoods filled with anger and hatred, while good and kind people often have great childhoods filled with love and happiness. Our identity is the one thing that cannot be stripped from us. It is constantly changing relative to how we carry ourselves in our relationships and interactions.
Hello Dude -- Good writing ! I will address the theme of your essay .. that our childhood experiences inevitably shape our identities in teenage and adulthood. I'm going to cut a little deep, but do believe me, it is well intentioned and reflecting on it a bit should make you understand that, I hope.
You're in high school now, and your parents are divorced. Looking at your real name I see you are muslim, so I know how it happened with many muslim families, or even of other eastern ethinicities around ten years ago. The men were subject to much racial profiling and wanted to return, for their sense of dignity and self-respect to their own countries. Often women were less aware of the pain the men were suffering, unjustly, or they expected them to anyway somehow cope with it. The stronger motive of these women though was, their own life was far better than what they had experienced in their countries before they migrated to the west; often times before their children were born. It is also worth wondering if their lives were actually bad in comparison to their lives here; or they just became swayed into thinking it was so. That's something only those, their children, will need to find the truth about.
This issue of "identity" is an extremely important one, specially for those such as yourself, as you will discover if you haven't yet. You are in the category of what is called "ABCD" the American born, confused, desi. When you visit your own country, where your father now is, will you look at the culture there as a Canadian, or a native of that same country who has learnt much of western civilization?
You must know that it is peculiar to christian countries that they have no concept of rebirth. That life is as it is now and no connection with anything before or later. Here's my query for you, taken from an incident in your narration.
This must have been an important point in your life, though I'm not calling it a turning point because I see it rather that you acted in continuity of who you really were even though it might appear as a turning point looked at externally, from the point of the book you have been comparing your life with.
The time when your friend got into "legal trouble" and your mother and maybe some others in the family talked to you asking you to change your own ways. You had already rebeled before, so it is easy to imagine that the rebellion could have only increased. Yet you were able to rein yourself in -- through your own reflection -- because you had the freedom to go the other way, had you wished to.
This, my friend is where your eastern roots played their part, more specifically, where your absent father's respect for his culture influenced your thinking. Don't you think this is nearer to your sense of who you are and your identity?
We are essentially not talking about the early experiences, we are instead looking at the choices you made as you went through them. And the reason you made the choices was since you had an identity, before it being put to a test !!