Personal Identity & The Relation to Others

This week, I had the pleasure of reading works by Yehuda Amichai, Clarice Lispector, Tadeusz Borowski, and Paul Celan. Jerusalem and other poems from Amichai, The Daydream of a Drunk Woman, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Deathfugue and other poems by Celan all shared a similar theme of personal identity in relation to others. While most of these stories take place during a war, during extreme sadness felt by our characters or in some scenario that I cannot relate, it is easy to understand why a person feels the way they do. An example of this is This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, Tadek outwardly feels hatred toward everyone surrounding him, especially other prisoners by the Germans because he blames them for being in the situation that he is in. While this sounds incredibly heartless, it is understandable due to the circumstances and I would not be surprised if others felt this exact way during the holocaust.

A prime example of how people felt during the holocaust, that could be used in discussion, is Night by Elie Wiesel. An autobiography about the daily horrors of World War II. I would highly recommend giving it a read, but be prepared for it is truth and paints a vivid picture of how life was in that ghastly part of history.

History alone is an interesting subject; however the subject only gets that much more interesting when we add real people to the equation. The inner-workings of their minds, what they are thinking and why is fascinating to most people. This is what I would use as a starting topic to begin teaching this theme of inner-identity. We do not have to look very far to find examples of this in recent pop-culture. Almost any and every novel has this similar theme in one way or the other, big or small. Most movies have a character either dealing with internal crisis or outwardly displaying it in a negative fashion towards others. A movie example would be “The Elephant Man”, Merrick goes through a personal identity crisis in knowing and proving he is a human being not an animal. This is also displayed in The Daydream of a Drunk Woman. In this story, the character’s crisis was very relatable and real. It would be an interesting topic in which high school students could become quickly engaged in.

I always enjoy making lesson starters and ideas in the way that engages students rather than thinking of myself simply lecturing about a theme. Giving an in-class assignment and/or discussion about the theme of the books. How students relate and what other movies or books they can give as an example of the recurring theme is always my given starting point for a powerful theme.


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