Every experience that a person goes through influences his personality, his character, and his identity. It is through such experiences that people get to see who they really are. Triumphs and failures in life are vital for they help strengthen the character of the person. In a way, when an individual goes through an experience, he is shaping his character regardless of the outcome of his endeavor.
From childhood to adulthood, every experience brings forth a certain lesson that is inculcated in the individual’s being. These lessons are what define the individual for they directly affect the person that they are.
The development of the person and the journey of self-discovery as a person grows up are discussed not merely in the various fields of science. Literature too has its share of works of art that provide an input of how growing up involves the molding and shaping of the person’s identity. Although not directly discussed, literature highlights how the journey of aging is in parallel with an individual’s journey towards defining an identity of his own.
In Mary E. Wilkins’ short story, “Mistaken Charity,” the journey of two women through age and time is told. Moreover, it shows how their aging coincides with their realization of who they really are. Harriet and Charlotte are two sisters who never marry. Their life is built on their work and on their struggle to survive. However, as age catches up with them, and their aged bodies can no longer stand their own lines of work, they begin to realize that they are not all about their work.
When given a chance to move out of their tattered house and into a better life, they discover that it is their experiences living in that house that defines who they are. They are not used to the life in the “Home” for it does not feel like home to them. This is what drove Charlotte to say,
“O Lord, Harriét… let us go home. I can't stay here no ways in this world. I don't like their vittles, an' I don't like to wear a cap; I want to go home and do different. The currants will be ripe, Harriét. O Lord, thar was almost a chink, thinking about 'em. I want some of 'em; an' the Porter apples will be gittin' ripe, an' we could have some apple-pie. This here ain't good.” (Wilkins, 148)
This shows how no matter how much better another life seems to be, people will always go back to their old way of life for the life they have gotten used to defines who they really are.
Another story that show how growing up means defining who you really are is told in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” The story tells of how one experiences that Goodman Brown went through in his young days completely changed his outlook on life. His journey through the forest wherein he met the mysterious figure which many associate with the devil may indeed be a dream. However, that experience opened his eyes to the reality that people may not be what they perceive him to be. The good Christians that he thought they were may actually simply be a cover-up of their real selves. Although it could be a dream, the experience was enlightening for Goodman Brown. More importantly, it was very influential in molding the personality of Brown and his outlook on life.
After the experience, Goodman Brown ended up becoming a cynic. He was always wondering whether the people around him were who they really were. In fact, Goodman Brown even began to doubt the sincerity of his wife, whom he used to love and trust dearly. After the said event, he turned into a cynic, wary and pessimistic of his wife and his faithfulness and fidelity.
The last paragraph of the story explains the effect that the experience in the forest had on him. In the said paragraph it was stated:
“A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers…” (Hawthorne, 127)
The stories provide evidence of how experiences mold and shape the identity and personality of the individual. Both Goodman Brown and the sisters demonstrated how they are made by their experiences. Thus, it can be said that growing up and aging is a process of defining one’s self. It is a process of discovery brought about by life experiences where lessons are learned and imbedded in one’s way of life.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature and society: An introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction. 4th ed. Eds. Pamela Annas, Robert Rossen. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007, pp 117-127.
Wilkins, Mary. “Mistaken Charity.” Literature and society: An introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction. 4th ed. Eds. Pamela Annas, Robert Rossen. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007, pp 140-150.