Author Archives: aldrichm10

Psychological Analysis of the Identity Crisis of Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian According to Erik Erikson

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.

Works Cited:

Sigelman, Carol K., and Elizabeth A. Rider. “Forging A Sense Of Identity”. Life-Span Human Development. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012. 358-360. Print.

An Analysis of the Portrayal of a Homosexual in The Yacoubian Building

In Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, the author chronicles the everyday life of an assortment of people who live and work in this antiquated downtown Cairo building in the 1990’s. Among the main characters that the story follows is Hatim Rasheed, the respectable editor-in-chief of Le Caire, a French newspaper, and a homosexual. While it might be expected for a novel situated in such a culture as that of Egypt, in which homosexuality is taboo, to present this subject fairly negatively, I believe that in many instances the author actually depicted this character in a more positive light than what most readers ascertained.

When the reader first meets Hatim he is walking into Chez Nous, a bar under the Yacoubian Building that is frequented by homosexuals, with his lover, Abd Rabbuh.  Instead of causing a scene, the drunken customers offer the well-known editor and his lover respect: “The people in the bar were drunk, shouting and singing loudly. All the same, as soon as Hatim entered, their racket diminished and they took to observing him with curiosity and awe…even the most impudent and obscene of the customers could do no other than treat him with respect” (pg 37). Aswany continues to paint Hatim as a respectable character when he describes his professionalism, saying that though all of his employees are aware of Hatim’s homosexuality, they do not sense it nor does he make a show out of it at work; rather, he is quite stern and serious with them (pg 178-179).

The author also describes homosexuals as “also excel(ling) in professions associated with taste and beauty” (pg 130) and goes on to say “ it is well known that the most famous clothes designers in the world are homosexuals, perhaps because their dual sexual nature enables them to design women’s clothes that are attractive to men and vice versa” (pg 130). Some readers might interpret this as offensive, yet nowhere in the text is Aswany restricting homosexuals to these standards; he is simply presenting a popular observation and, in my opinion, complimenting those who do succeed in these fields.  Moreover, Aswany gives his two main homosexual characters occupations that do not even directly relate to beauty or taste and makes a heterosexual character a shirt maker, proving that he does not believe that homosexuals’ talents are limited or that career choice and sexual orientation are that strongly correlated.  This view is further proven in this description, “Hatim Rasheed is not merely then an effeminate but also a talented and inquiring individual who has learned much from experience and whose competence and intelligence have brought him to the pinnacle of professional success. Moreover, he is an exquisite intellectual…” (pg 180). The author identifies Hatim’s homosexuality, but does not let it define or confine him intellectually or professionally.

Another way Aswany presents Hatim Rasheed in a likeable manner is by giving him a past with which the reader strongly sympathizes. His father, Dr. Hassan Rasheed, was an overly devoted lawyer and professor of law and through dedication and “uninterrupted work” (pg 74)  rose to become the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Cairo University and one of the hundred most prominent lawyers in the world.  Like many of the great intellectuals of his time, Dr. Rasheed had studied abroad in Paris, and brought back with him a wife and a love of western values and lifestyle.  As a result, Hatim was raised in an entirely European household while still having to assimilate into an Egyptian society.  Like his father, Hatim’s mother’s main priority was also her career and she spent most of her time working as a translator at the French Embassy.  Because his parents were too busy to actually raise him, Hatim spent his childhood “sad and lonely, to the point that in contrast to all other children he even liked school days and hated the long summer vacations, which he spent on his own with no friend to play with… (He had) feelings of alienation and mental confusion from which the children of mixed marriages suffer” (pg 74).  Spending all of his time with the servants brought about the development of his first serious relationship with the much older servant, Idris when he himself was just nine years old.  Hatim loved Idris and shared his first homosexual intercourse experience with him, later noting that “when (he) now thinks back to that first time with Idris, that same strange piercing sensation that he knew that day for the first time come back to him but he cannot remember feeling any distress at all” (pg 75).  By portraying young Hatim as a neglected, lonely, confused, and naïve boy being actively and indirectly molded by both the people present and not present, respectively, in his life, the author gives the reader the idea that perhaps his “faults” as an adult are merely a product of his childhood and not something for which the reader should blame him.  Also, showing Hatim as capable of both love and despair makes him seem more human-like as opposed to villainous as some readers might view him.

Many readers automatically assume that the author of the book they are reading share their same biases and subsequently depict the characters accordingly.  However, in the case of The Yacoubian Building, Aswany’s purpose was not to portray a homosexual in a negative light, but to illustrate Hatim Rasheed: a flawed but likeable character, who also happens to be homosexual.  By using heartening flashbacks and positive descriptions, Aswany is able to present Hatim Rasheed as more relatable than his general audience would usually be willing to consider a homosexual character.