The Search For Self Identity

7 July 2016

During adolescence and sometimes even to late adulthood, people are searching for their identity, a relatively clear and stable sense of who one is and what one stands for (Weiten & Lloyd, 2006). Identity formation is the central task of adolescence, according to Erik Eriksons’s theory of psychosocial development (Bernstein, 2008). Erikson believed that identity emerges from an identity crisis, which is the phase when one attempts to develop a self-image as a unique person by using knowledge from childhood.

Based off of Erikson’s work, James Marcia formed the four identity statuses of identity development: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement (Oswalt). In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield struggles as he attempts to find his identity. Holden bests reflects Marcia’s theory of identity development.

The Search For Self Identity Essay Example

Marcia’s theory states that there are four different statuses of identity development but people do not necessarily go through all four in any specific order or achieve all four statuses; each status represents the stage of the adolescent’s progress in regards of his/her identity development. Identity diffusion is when there is an absence of struggle for identity. The youth shows no interest/concern in exploring or committing to a specific identity. He/she have not shown any regards of his/her identity and have yet to establish any life goals.

Adolescents in the foreclosure status do not question the values and beliefs they have been taught and obtain their identity by accepting the beliefs and values taught by their family, community, and culture. In other words, they accept the identity assigned to them. In this status, adolescents show high degree of commitment but a low degree of exploration. In the moratorium status, youths display a high degree of exploration but a low degree of commitment. They are questioning and experimenting with different values, beliefs, and goals.

However, they have not made any commitments about to any beliefs and values or chosen any principles to live by. The last identity status is identity achievement where there are both a high degree of exploration and commitment. This status is achieved by active exploration and a strong commitment to a specific set of values, beliefs, and life goals. At this status, the youth has decided what values and goals are important to him/her, is able to prioritize what is important to him/her, and have already thought through all the possibilities of who he/she want to be.

Holden Caulfield holds the status of identity diffusion, where he has no interest in exploring who he is or committing to anything. His very name, Hold-On-Caul-field is play on word. Caul is a membrane that covers the head of a fetus during birth, so his name symbolizes Holden’s refusal to grow up; he is desperately holding onto “innocence” and childhood. Holden shows his lack of ability to commit from his records of constant expulsion from various prestigious boarding schools.

He is extremely harsh and judgmental on other people, calling them “phony” or fake however, this is just Holden own insecurities about himself. He doesn’t know who he is or what he wants which causes him to be extremely distraught and judgmental about others. Even his younger sister, Phoebe accuses him “You don’t like anything that’s happening” (Salinger, p169). Phoebe understands that growing up is a necessary process and despite being six years younger than Holden, she is angry with his refusal to grow up. When Holden visits Mr.

Antolini, one of Holden’s former teachers, the teacher tells him “… once you have a fair idea where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school” (p189). Mr. Antolini, too recognizes Holden’s inability to commit himself which leads to Holden’s unsuccessfulness. Erikson believed that people followed a specific path while developing their identity: trust vs. mistrust (infancy), autonomy vs. shame (early childhood), initiatives vs. guilt (mid childhood), competence vs. inferiority (elementary school), identity vs. role confusion (adolescence), intimacy vs. isolation (young adulthood), generativity vs. stagnation (mid adulthood), integrity vs. despair (late adulthood).

However, Erikson’s theory of development does not take into account of any trauma or unusual circumstances that may occur hence why Holden does not follow Erikson’s theory. During Holden’s late childhood, his younger brother passed away, leaving a deep scar on Holden. Unable to cope with the lost of his brother, Holden is stuck in the identity diffusion status and will be unable to achieve any other status until he is able to let go of his brother.

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