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Set in the ecumenical land of America is the tale of two protagonists, Barbara Ehrenreich of Cultural Baggage and Toby of This Boy's Life. Both the stories unravel the chronicles of the protagonists who shed their cultural baggage and religious inhibitions in search of their identity and social acceptance.
Barbara Ehrenreich, an epitome of the contemporary generation has accepted and applied various cultures in order to try new things and create an identity of her own that is not reflected by her ethnicity but herself. The essay strongly conveys her belief in letting go ones culture and tradition in order to try new things to shape a more versatile identity. Unlike her acquaintance she derives no exuberant joy in rediscovering her past or doing the "same things".
The following quoted line from the essay cultural Baggage "...I was raised with none, we'd eaten ethnic foods in my childhood home, but these were all borrowed, like the pasties, or Cornish meat pies, my father had picked up from his fellow miners in Butte, Montana. If my mother had one rule, it was militant ecumenism in all manners of food and experience. "Try new things," she would say, meaning anything from sweetbreads to clams, with an emphasis on the 'new," explicates that the protagonist was able to follow the concept of trying new things and thinking by herself rather than abiding by set standards mainly due to the motivation from her parents.
This shedding of a cultural baggage has raised a new light in the discovery of Barbara's identity that searches for freedom, a liberal world that is free of norms and cultures creating a space for the "none" culture.
Running parallel with the common theme of searching identity to the above essay is the story of the young dreamer Toby from This Boy's Life.
Toby akin to Barbara Ehrenreich castoffs his ethnic values and religion to transform to the person he desires to be. In the anguish to pursue his dreams and transform his identity he takes no time to amend his old family name "Toby" to "Jack".
"I wanted to call myself Jack, after Jack London. I believed that having his name would charge me with some of the strength and competence inherent in my idea of him". (pg 5) The following quote showcases the amount of gravity Jack paid to his family name, even after his father's objection and mother's hesitance he stays adamant towards changing his name.
Even though Jack had a liberal mother who yearned for a life of freedom she paid attention to religious adherence. She agrees to the change in the name of her son Toby on the condition of him attending "Catechism Classes" and the process of the name change to be baptized. But the adherence is more as a doing away duty than as a belief.
The nomadic lifestyle of Jack and the lack of a guiding father figure play an important role in defining his formulation of his identity. His character development lacks male qualities and tends him in developing a more feminine attribute, making him dreamy and a sufferer of hardships of life. Unlike Barbara's parents Toby never experienced guiding lessons of believing in himself and "Always ask why" making him a more obedient and submissive child.
Even though both the protagonists were given almost equal liberty to choose and follow their own path in search of their identity, they derive it in different ways. Barbara incongruent to Jack's self sabotaging and destructive life experiences a happier and content life.
This is because in contrast to "cultural Baggage" the young boy Toby sheds his cultural identity for a social acceptance than believing in himself. He lets go off his background and ethnicity to live up to the expectations of the people around him than himself.
He lives a farce identity to impress his pen friend Alice, his mother Rosemary and every other character that plays a vital role in his life. And this life of imitation makes jack live multi identities to an extent where he is betraying himself, apart from his other acquaintances.
Disparate to Barbara's parents who always boosted her confidence and told her "Think for yourself," there was no one to heighten his morale. Instead much of his confidence was shattered due to his tumultuous childhood, his never encouraging abusive step father Dwight and unstable living location
Though abandoning of roots and culture has given Barbara an identity of her own and an opportunity to live and relish different cultures, it has worked against Jack, who due the lack of guiding light and religious adherence has succumbed to lies imagination, petty crimes and unaccomplished dreams and fantasies.
Deriving an understanding from both the stories, I would like to conclude that culture and religion shapes the character of a man. It guides him at every aspect of life and makes him a more civilized human being. But it should be considered as the only parameter of an identity to a living being. Such a restriction would lead to a more fundamentalist society which would refrain a person from exploring the more beautiful and undiscovered avenues of life.