Who am I? Asked, the response begins: “I am…,” followed by the concept upon which the individual forms his or her identity. America has built itself upon this exchange; accenting the importance of the “I,” of the individual, and his or her ability to construct his or her own identity. In its diversity, America serves as a metaphor for the chaotic stream of experiences, emotions, and relationships which form the individual. Here, the “I” and the “we,” the internal and the external seem to exist simultaneously. It is then a nation of individuals, each with multiple identities who, together, form the community. According to the American ideal, I am this or that because I choose to be this or that. And it is through these concepts that one defines the self and thus, declares one's existence. But, the concepts, adjectives by which “I” is defined are determined by society whose meanings and connotations are predetermined, restricting the individual to an assigned role within the nation.
[...] It promised a new beginning, a new center from which the self could exist; one freed from the traditional Laws of Nature and its assessment of who It was to be a diverse, limitless reality that embodied the essence of the individual and measured his or her value by the virtue of their own being. But the American ideal came at a price. The new nation presented a concept by which the would be defined. The statement, am an American” required the assumption of an American identity, a title which demanded the conversion and assimilation of peoples within the new consciousness through the sacrifice of their native identities. [...]
[...] focuses upon the degraded and ghostly image of Elizabeth Willard, the wife of the town's hotel manager and the mother of George Willard, the editor of the town newspaper. She wanders through her hotel room, a shadow of a human being, devoid of emotion or passion. “Some obscure disease had taken the fire from out of her figure” (1214) and had left her without a sense of worth in her individuality. She recalls her youth and the “great restlessness” that had defined her. [...]
[...] Her long hair was cut, her worth measured by her obedience to and dependency upon the daily schedules and demands of her instructors who regarded her as “only one of many little animals driven by a herder” (1022). She is introduced to concept of fear, the image of Satan and continually forced into submission. Her school days, unlike the warm summer days of her youth, are barren and frozen in the dead of winter. They symbolize the loss of her “wild the fire of her spirit in exchange for the wisdom of the American institution. [...]
[...] He maintain that the cannot exist within the that nation stifles and oppresses the individual, robbing one of his or her passion in exchange for the security and false consistency of an American identity. Gertrude Stein, however, in her work, Making of Americans,” describes through the creation of the history of Martha Hersland the birth of the individual and the relationship of that individual to the external world, revealing a location in which the two merge, existing within their duality to form a new consciousness. [...]
[...] The internal and the external, the duality of being both one and many, creates a perception of the self that is both the Self-reliant individual of Emerson and the dependent, “concrete” servant of the community presented by London. There is both the American and the Self, with each forming a unique American individual that in replication creates the nation of America. And it is in this repetition of being, of questioning, that I AM. I AM and its relationship to the WE that defines lies at the base of our attempts to understand the essence of the individual and its role within society. [...]
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