Past Experiences Shape Identity

Topics: African American, White people, Black people Pages: 5 (2000 words) Published: August 9, 2005
"Past Experiences Shape Identity"

Many believe that whatever situations have happened in the past should be left in the past. To others, the past holds a special place in their hearts because it has helped in shaping the person they have become today. One should always appreciate his or her ancestors and the struggles they have gone through throughout history such as slavery in order to bring us to where we are today. Though negativity can affect past experiences one should not dwell on it, but learn to move forward and look for the positive aspects of life. Without the past there wouldn't be any great myths, any personal memories, and nothing for our future generations to learn from. Past experiences also helps people to learn from their mistakes in the past so they will know not to repeat them. One should also remember the good memories that the past has brought forth and should learn to appreciate them and the people who helped us to gain them. (Maya Angelou, author of the excerpt "Mary", Zora Neal Hurston, author of the essay "How it feels to be colored me", Gwendolyn Brooks, author of the poems "Sadie and Maud" along with "We Real Cool", and Annie Proloux, author of the essay "The half Skinned Steer", proves that through past experiences, whether negative or positive, the memories or struggles that people have encountered influences the way that people live their lives in the future and helps in shaping the individuals identity.) In the excerpt "Mary", Angelou recalls her poverty-stricken childhood and the struggles she went through while growing up in the racist south, post-slavery. Angelou remembers how she thought that white people were strange and had developed a negative attitude towards them. Though only ten years old, Angelou worked as a kitchen servant to a woman by the name of Mrs. Cullinan (Angelou 4). She remembers how her identity was taken away when Mrs. Cullinan and the white women that would visit Mrs. Cullinan. These women changed Angelou's first name from Margaret to "Mary" without her consent because they felt that her name was too long to say (Angelou 5). Margaret and many other African Americans of her time felt that being called "called out of his or her name" in the south was considered to be as insulting as if they were being called "niggers, spooks, blackbirds, crows, or dinges"(Angelou 6). Maya had also encountered being called "dumb" by a white woman because she was shy and didn't say much (Angelou 5). No child should ever have to go through being called a name such as "dumb" because it could affect how they will view themselves when they become older. This was their way of degrading Margaret as many white people did to the African Americans in the south post-slavery. Mrs.Cullinan never cared whether or not Margaret liked the name given to her. Though it took away part of Margaret's identity, Mrs. Cullinan only cared whether it benefited her sake. She made it seem that since Margaret was an African American, she wasn't important. By changing her seem that since Margaret was an African American, she wasn't important. By changing her name, Mrs. Cullinan may have felt that it was her way of controlling Margaret and saying that Margaret belonged to her. Deeply affected, Margaret gets revenge on Mrs. Cullinan by breaking her glass dishes. Margaret then gains back the respect of being called Margaret (Angelou 7-8). Experiences like the experience with Mrs. Cullinan changed Angelou for the better. Using the negative experiences she encountered as a child has helped her to move toward a positive life. Writing about her experiences while growing up in the south has shaped her into becoming a famous African American writer and poet. Some past experiences only prove that although things may get tough and there is negativity around, one can still look at it in a positive way and still be proud of their identity even though others like them may not see it that way. Like Angelou, Hurston remembers...

Cited: Angelou, Maya. "Mary". Literacies.2nd ed. Ed. Terence Brunk et al. New York: Norton, 2000.3-8.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. "Sadie and Maud". 1945.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. "We Real Cool". 1950.
Hurston, Zora Neal. "How it Feels to be Colored Me". Essays and Articles. 152-155.
Proulx, Annie. "The Half-Skinned Steer." Close Range: Wyoming Stories. New York: Scribner, 1999. 21-40.
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