According to renowned Psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of development, older teenagers and young adults are in the stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion. During this stage, adolescents have either committed to a set of morals and ideas about themselves that they can relate with others and have thus successfully developed an identity, or are unsatisfied with their self-image and confused about how they relate to the rest of the world. When the latter is the case an identity crisis generally occurs. There are four statuses in relation to identity crisis that an individual can hold: diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achievement (Sigelman, 358-359). In Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul, Armanoush, the daughter of an Armenian-American father, and a small town, American mother, goes through an extensive identity crisis that spans through all the identity statuses and leads her across the world and into the past to find her true self.
Being a child of resentful, divorced parents, Armanoush spent her entire life being passed back and forth between Arizona, where her overbearing, flighty mother and Turkish stepfather lived, and San Francisco, where her father and his huge, interfering, Armenian family lived. Because each side was vastly different and demanding, Armanoush was forced to continuously change her identity to appease both sides. For example, concerning her dating life, “Armanoush had tried to date Armenian boys in San Francisco and anyone but them when she was in Arizona” (Shafak, 92). Because of these differing expectations, she was never able to choose her own identity for herself but rather, accepted the identity bestowed upon her by her parents and family. At this point Armanoush is in the foreclosure status, briefly committing to whatever identity the side of her family she is with wants at the time. However, because she goes back and forth so often, she is never able to fully commit to either. When she was young and only concerned with pleasing her family, and not with figuring out who she really was, Armanoush could also be said to have been in the diffusion stage, not entirely committed to one single identity, but not having experienced an identity crisis yet (Sigelman, 359).
As Armanoush gets older, however, she realizes how unfulfilled she is with her lack of a complete identity and begins experiencing an identity crisis. “Because of her fragmented childhood, she had still not been able to find a sense of continuity and identity” and she decides that it is time for her to search for herself on her own, coming to the conclusion that “she had to make a journey to her past to be able to start living her own life” (Shafak, 116). Armanoush realizes that she has been living the Janissary’s Paradox (Shafak, 114), abandoning her Armenian community in order to make peace with her mother, and abandoning her American heritage in the presence of her Armenian family. She questions her Armenianess and chooses to explore this identity by traveling to Istanbul, the birthplace and home of her grandmother before the Armenian Genocide and diaspora, knowing that the answers she seeks can only be discovered in the past. Once there, Armanoush stays with her step-father’s Turkish family and searches the city for any remnants of her Armenian ancestors. At this time, she is in going through the moratorium status, which is evident in the fact that she is undergoing an identity crisis and is actively pursuing different identity roles (Sigelman, 358).
When Armanoush is unable to find any traces of her Armenian family in Istanbul she takes mainly to interacting with the Turks and comparing herself to them. She finds that they are similar in many ways, including cuisine and traditions, yet they differ drastically on their interpretations of the past. Armanoush, who grew up being told the precise details of her family’s history in the Armenian Genocide, is concerned with the past and believes it directly influences her, which is why she looks to it to find herself. However, when she tells the Turks about the injustices suffered by her people because of their ancestors she is met with disbelief and denial. Because the Turks view the past as a separate time, not continuous with the present, they can sympathize with her but are unable to feel personally responsible for what their people did, that is, if they even admitted that the genocide actually occurred. This difference of opinion helps Armanoush solidify her identification with her Armenian past, stating on her Armenian online chat room, “I have never felt more Armenian in my life. You see, for me to fully experience my Armenianess, I had to come to Turkey and meet the Turks” (Shafak, 182). Nonetheless, Armanoush develops a strong affection for the Turkish family she is staying with and begins to better understand them. She is finally able to see the beauty in the city that exiled her family so long ago.
It was precisely then that Armanoush felt the pulse of the city for the first time since she had arrived in Istanbul. It had just hit her why and how people could fall in love with Istanbul, in spite of the sorrow it might cause them. It would not be easy to fall out of love with a city this heartbreakingly beautiful (Shafak, 257).
By showing Armanoush that not all Turks are the arrogant, self-righteous people her father’s family describes them as and helping her discover and experience the city of her ancestors, the Turkish family is able to help her reconcile her past while affirming her identity as a proud Armenian. During this time, Armanoush successfully reaches the status of identity achievement by resolving her identity crisis and committing to a particular set of beliefs and values (Sigelman, 360).
Armanoush starts off the novel not fully committed to any identity and confused as to where she fits into the dynamics of her world. Determined to figure out where she belongs, she travels to another continent to explore her ancestors’ homeland and delve into her past, where she eventually finds the answers she is looking for and commits to the identity she discovers. According to Erik Erikson’s developmental theories, this is a perfect example of a successful identity crisis.
Sigelman, Carol K., and Elizabeth A. Rider. “Forging A Sense Of Identity”. Life-Span Human Development. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012. 358-360. Print.