Self-identity is one of the vital themes of one’s freedom as a human being. One cannot be a human being without a unique identity. An identity of a person ought to be one that is chosen by that person. When an identity is forced upon that person, then he or she is not their true self. This is not self-identity but an identity that is socially constructed. Identity can be taken away or altered in a human in the form of their bodies, minds, grief, trauma, etc. In the texts studied in this course, one can find an array of different forms in which the identity of the character has been altered or taken away from them. The texts I mention in this essay are Beloved by Toni Morrison, and 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. In Beloved, Sethe among other characters of the novel is a slave whose identity is taken by social construct of discrimination and the extreme racism of her time causing immeasurable pain. As a slave, Sethe is more of a liability than a woman. When Sethe escapes from human slavery, she is still enslaved by the remnants of slavery within herself. This includes memories that induce fear and trauma. Sethe never truly belongs to herself until re-memory. Until re-memory, Sethe is “nobody”. Sethe does not have an identity she herself has chosen. Work and negligence forces itself upon her body and mind from the time she was enslaved, thus compelling her into taking extreme actions even when she is “free”. Sethe attempts to kill her children in fear they will also be enslaved. Instead, she only manages to kill one of her daughters by cutting her throat with a saw (Morrison). This action shows that Sethe’s identity of sane humanity is taken from her and is encouraged to act as an overprotective animal-like mother. Sethe is forced to be a slave to owners. When she is free, Sethe is enslavement is restricted by the trauma of slavery and her missing identity. Re-memory is the only way she is freed from her past and can live within her own self-identity. While Sethe’s identity is taken by the slavery of her body, the character in Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis has her identity taken away by her own mind. It is revealed early in 4.48 Psychosis that the main character (who remains unnamed throughout the entire play) suffers from clinically diagnosed “pathological grief” (Kane). The name of the play; 4.48 Psychosis is derived from the time of when the speaker is often awake from crippling depression. It is when she decides to hang herself. (Kane). The speaker cannot place actions unto her body and cannot make decisions she wants to because of her illness, thus making her “nothing”. The speaker becomes a body to dissect. The speaker is overrun by medications that don’t help and doctors who only “take a piss” (Kane). Self-identity is not possible for the speaker in 4.48 Psychosis. The thesis of this assignment attempts to prove that self-identity can only be attained through freedom from trauma, using both texts.
The ultimate theme in Beloved that contributes to the loss of Sethe’s identity is slavery. In the beginning of the novel, the reader learns that Sethe has been an ex-slave for around eighteen years. Sethe lives with her youngest daughter Denver. Sethe’s dead daughter Beloved haunts their home, 124 Bluestone Road. Although slavery should no longer be present in Sethe’s life, suffering in the sense of the sublime still is. The theme of the haunted at the beginning of the novel is introduced even when slavery is supposedly finished with Sethe. Critics describe slavery as a ghost (Bast). This image suggests that slavery is not an entity that goes away when the mortal part of the entity is dead. Slavery is somewhat immortal. If slavery is immortal and slavery is what causes Sethe’s separation with her identity, then one can imagine the difficulty, even the impossibility of Sethe regaining such identity at all. There is still a way in which Sethe could regain the fullness of herself. Linda Koolish resolves this regaining of identity after slavery as a “struggle for psychic wholeness … which requires to access painful memories” (Bast). In Beloved, Sethe must first face her past; the “painful memories” that keep her enslaved and keeps the ghost of slavery within her. Sethe’s most painful memory is the one where she murders her daughter. Sethe cuts her daughter’s throat in grave attempt to save her from slavery. Sethe was desperate to keep her children away from the treatment that Sethe had faced during slavery (Morrison). This occurrence demonstrates the ghost that slavery is. Although Sethe had killed her daughter out of an abundance of love for her through her attempt to “save” her from slavery, Sethe is haunted by Beloved’s ghost even when freedom should have been claimed through her daughter’s death. Slavery and the ghost of slavery thereafter is the biggest part of Sethe’s identity. Until she relives what has caused her pain, she cannot achieve the “psychic wholeness” a person should have (Koolish).