A Significance Of Social Communication in Cervantes’ Novels
There are seven billion people on the earth. Each divided somewhere among the habitable continents of the world, most congregating in sociocultural conglomerates, yet each an individual. When people deliver motivational speeches they sometimes emphasize that each of us is unique, with a unique skillset, organization of cells, rhythm of heartbeat, DNA, and finger prints. In this way, everyone builds and creates their sense of selfhood from multiple principles which leaves us with a world full of countlessly different people. This sense of selfhood and identity are drawn from various cultural, social, and traditional backgrounds. Identity is also a direct result of a person’s past and their present action. Self-declaration or roles that an individual bestows upon his or herself are the most important in defining and establishing an identity. To consider oneself as important and valid, as worthy and memorable and many other traits are the sense of self developed through the concepts of self.
The first modern novel, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote De La Mancha by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, offers complex insight into identity by demonstrating the foundations of self-hood. From the novel the conceptual principles that a self must possess power, autonomy, and authority can be drawn. Acting as a knight errant Don Quixote discovers a true sense of self that deviates from social norms and material possessions. He embarks on a famous journey to create his own identity. Using imitation as his guide Don Quixote exposes the parts of himself that were potentially suppressed in his life as a mere hidalgo. Sancho Panza also serves to highlight these ideas of self-concept.
A true self must have power or the ability to obtain goals despite opposition. Don Alonso Quixano did not have very much power, he was wealthy and in good standing with the community, a quiet man with a large empty house and only one close relative, his niece. He did however have autonomy, the ability to make decisions without asking permission from anyone, demonstrated by his freedom to sell his land to acquire books at the start of the novel. He had little legitimate authority over anyone and was very much absorbed in the societal norms. In contrasts Don Quixote had a lot of power because he was a knight defending the code of chivalry and nothing could stop him from obtaining his version of justice. He obtained authority through a use of force, creating a stronger sense of self-worth.
Clearly Don Quioxte’s methods extended well beyond the societal norms as everyone he came across and even the narrator describes him as a mad man. Yet it is the combination of power, autonomy, authority, and deviance that made Don Quixote such a memorable figure. The less powerful Alonso Quixano may have been using this new identity to become memorialized. Memorialization is a primary determinant of self-worth, especially for men, who unlike women often are not fulfilled in memorialization through childrearing. Being remembered after death is a power that knights errant and immensely wealthy men possessed and because Don Quixano could not be immensely wealthy he uses the authority of his new identity to create a name for himself.
Sancho Panza is the average Spaniard; a family and a small farm, in a small village. He embodies the average man, with very little power, no autonomy, and definitely no authority. “This left Sancho as content as the priest was amazed at his simplicity and at the hold his maters nonsense had taken of his imagination, because Sancho really did believe that Don Quixote was going to become an emperor,” (Cervantes 264.)Sancho’s identity lies in his possessions and when he learns that through Don Quixote he can acquire more possessions he follows Don Quixote loyally. “Sancho appeared in the middle of this conversation and was plunged into thought and confusion when he heard that knight errants had fallen out of fashion and that books of chivalry were a pack of arrant lies; and he decided that he’d better wait and see how this latest trip of his master’s turned out, and if it didn’t turn out as well as expected, he’d leave him and go back home to his wife and his children and his everyday labors,” (Cervantes 294.)Yet somewhere between the windmills, Dorotea’s giant, and his defeat by another knight that Sancho’s identity became wrapped up in Don Quioxte’s. The adventures offered this farmer a kind of authority that he had never previously possessed and he still questioned Don Quixote but his loyalty never faltered.
The complex characters in the contemporary novel Beloved by Toni Morrison discuss key features of identity composition. The character Sethe introduces the concept of self that is based on past experiences, traumatic experiences, and declared roles. Denver possesses no past self and shows how identity can be determined in the present. Paul D exemplifies the role of self-reflection and reemphasizes the importance of declared roles in building a secure self-concept. Each character, even Beloved, provides a new insight into the ideas that fill and consume the main character Sethe as her identity is insecure throughout the piece.
Sethe’s self-declared best thing is her children, specifically Beloved, the child she killed. Does she have a self if the best part of her was killed? Paul D seems to think so. Yet as Sethe is introduced at the start of the novel she has no desire to possess a future. Because Sethe declares Beloved to be her best thing she places her role as mother as her most major component of selfhood. “The best thing she was, was her children. Whites dirty her all right, but not her best thing, her beautiful, magical best thing-the part of her that was clean,” (Morrison 345.) This would be typical of most women yet there seems to be no other declared roles, after Halle’s death Sethe lost the part of herself that identified as a wife and as a woman. This is dangerous as her child Denver cannot understand her mother’s past and fears her; it is her duty as a mother to provide Denver with a future. Sethe’s conceptions of her past are shaped by the trauma of rape, death, loss, and regret. She only truly begins to remember the happier parts of her past as Beloved brings them out of her, yet when Beloved becomes the confirmed symbol of Sethe’s darkest memory Sethe shrinks away with guilt and Beloved seems to feed off her regrets.
This invasion of the past into their lives is the catalyst for Denver’s self-development. Because she is no longer constrained by the fear of her mother or obsessed with gaining attention from her sister, Denver can now leave the house that has been her only constant. She can worry about herself and her mother like a normal teenager. Denver can take action in the present because she is an individual entity, separate from her sister and mother. She acquires food for her family this shows her that she has power and autonomy. With the community helping her she can overcome and gain authority over the household.
Sethe’s rape was the beginning of a major change in her identity. Not needing to possess a self as a slave she had learned to take things as they come and enjoy daily life. Upon marrying Halle she realized that she was a woman with her own feelings, her own thoughts, and her own happiness. She admired Halle and was proud to be his wife and being the wife of a good man meant that she was a good woman. She further proved her prowess as a wife by having children. Her first two children were now toddlers as she planned her escape with Halle. However her plans became more urgent after she was raped and her assailants pillaged the breast milk meant for her children. Something broke in Sethe and she “died” there and rested in the butter that Halle smeared on his face. “I have felt what it felt like and nobody walking or stretched out is going to make you feel it too. Not you, not none of mine, and when I tell you you mine, I also mean I’m yours. I wouldn’t draw breath without my children… My plan was to take us all to the other side,” (Morrison 281.) So Sethe became “milk enough for all” a vessel for her Denver, and the milk her Beloved would need.
Paul D is the model for how some men compartmentalize their emotions; storing them up to “feel” them at a later date. He does this to protect his beating heart, his identity, and to lock away the negative parts of his past. Because of this method of concealing the past Paul D can live in the present and have current action and a present self-identity. With no strong attachments to anything that he can identify himself by, he establishes his own criteria for selfhood. His technique of self-examination is crucial at novel’s end when he reminds Sethe that she is her best thing. Paul D is always thinking about things silently, watching, trying to be what Schoolteacher said he could never be and what Mr. Garner said he was, a man. His self-declaration as a man was tainted when he felt the uncontrolled pressure to have sex with Beloved, he did not want to, yet he did. Once he reassesses himself as a man Paul D could return to Sethe and save what was left of her.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a masterful work about the social, political, traditional, and paternal constructs of the identity. Okonkwo bases his sense of self on perpetuating opposing traits to his father’s. Without a paternal guide Okonkwo adopts the traditions of his culture and its definitions of masculinity as his paternal guide. Rejecting anything that did not correlate with the clan’s definition of a man Okonkwo became a man of action. So we must do what our fathers would never have done…We must bale this water out now…Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war… They had broken into tumult instead of action… He wiped his machete on the sand and went away,” (Achebe 205.) He was of high regard and had many titles, wives, and yams, each showing his status in his society.
When the politics of Umuofia begin to change and a new government appears Okonkwo’s political identity is challenged. Because his society is not responding to this threat traditionally or in a masculine way Okonkwo’s aggression and pride in his village are diminished. “Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak,” (Achebe 61.) Okonkwo was a man intent on upholding tradition and he killed Ikemefuna to prove to himself how important his traditions were to his identity. His clan deemed his overall behavior to be exemplary. Yet his son feared him. Nwoye was effeminate. He was still young and had childish ambitions and whims. He was not ready or interested in following in his father’s footsteps because his father had never shown him kindness. In this way Nwoye did not have a father and when the missionaries arrived he was willing to take God as his father, a benevolent father.
In all the novels each author lays the foundations of identity in the sense of community, social influence, tradition, past experiences, and selection of declared roles. With a sense of community comes a collective decision on the values and definitions of identity. With the past comes a need for balance, retention of things that merit the identity and a release of things that slay the concept of self. With roles come responsibility but the main responsibility is to be true to self. Establishing a name, procreating, accumulating material possession and locking the heart away are a few mechanisms used to perpetuate an infinite selfhood, a legacy that will not die with the individual. Understanding and using these mechanisms properly can produce a strong self-concept and a high self-esteem. There are seven billion people on the planet and only one person that everyone identifies as “I”.
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