How to be an Individual: Zulus edition

While reading Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, I came across a sentence that made me immediately think of Zulus. On page 45, he states that “…the definition of ‘culture’ has been linked to questions about the cultural construction of identity and meaning , particularly in relation to the broader operations of power in society.” Now, this quote comes from the second chapter of his book and the chapter goes on to discuss and analyze the connection between literature in culture. I am not blind to the fact that there are many other noteworthy ideas in this chapter that I’m sure could also be connected back to the topic of our conversations lately, but this particular sentence was the only one that made my mind immediately jump to Zulus and for that I believe it to be post-worthy. 

I began thinking about culture in general vs. the culture depicted in Zulus and its relationship with identity. In Zulus, being unique is a crime. Alice is perpetually paranoid of people looking at her for her weight, for people always stare since she does not look like everyone else. Furthermore, when Alice decides it is too dangerous to continue life as Alice, she decides she needs a new identity. The ease with which she acquires a new identity, that of Esther MacAree, depicts the disregard for identity and individualism in this society. No one cares who you are. All she did was look through an archive of people (a graveyard, to those who missed our class discussion) and find one that would have been around her age and take on that name. Since no one in society cares about identities, why would anyone bother to check that that one was her own?

In our society, kids are constantly preached at about individualism. “Own your identity,” “be yourself,” “there’s only one you!” are becoming the new Golden Rule for elementary school kids these days. We are becoming more and more (without getting into the debate over gender/sexuality/race acceptance all over the world, as those are very serious and important topics that I can not do justice to in this post) accepting of people as they are. Society, for the most part, is coming around to accepting various views and identities, and we are teaching the next generation to do the same on a larger scale, a polar opposite of the society in Zulus, where not only do they have a disregard for identity, but they do not even have a new generation to teach.

While there are many aspects of the society in Zulus that are opposite from ours, the disregard for individualism and identity as a whole was the one that I find the most fascinating. Moran’s discussion of identity and literature led me to a great deal of self-reflection and thought regarding identity in our own society, and an activity that helped put the differences between the two in perspective was this: close your eyes and try to imagine living in Zulus‘s society as an individual. Go ahead, try it.

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