Self, Identity, Forms-of-love, and non-fictional texts in Jenkins, Greenblatt and Armstrong: Midterm Test 1


Answer the following questions using the readings, and make sure to use direct quotes. Use Jenkins, Greenblatt and Armstrong to answer these questions. How does Jenkins define identity versus how others have defined the concept? Your answer should come from the first chapters of the Jenkins text. (300) What is the relationship between “self” and […]

Psychology Essays

Question 1: The Concept of Identity

Richard Jenkins addresses the concept of identity in his book Social Identity, where he examines social theories concerning the subject. Jenkin examines broad arguments in the book and offers an objective view of the importance of identity to an individual and community and a historical examination of identity as it evolves in society. Moreover, Social Identity manages to present a shared sense of understanding on the topic of identity as a multidimensional aspect. Jenkins argues about the role of identity for the individual and the collective, featuring some original arguments amidst a shared perspective with other scholars.

Jenkins’s description of identity consists of understanding who one is, knowing who others are in relation to themselves, or being aware of people’s collective identity. A person’s identity has a profound influence on their actions. Jenkins opines that identity is not a thing, “it is not something that one can have, or not; it is something that one does.”(5) Furthermore, identity exists as a multi-dimensional process; since it is bound to change with time, it is not a settled matter (17). Identity has evolved into a right in many spheres, including political arenas, where it forms a symbolic public good (29). Thus, some dynamic changes exist in the understanding of identity in the world, and Jenkins opines that a combined sense of similarity and difference is an essential part of identity (18) and, based on the comparison, assumes the forms of an individual as well combined recognition.

Similarly, in other literary and scholarly descriptions of identity, there is a sense of the multidimensional nature of identity. Most researchers agree with Jenkins’s views, including individual and collective forms of identity as existing in most societies worldwide. For instance, as diverse sexual identities become more acceptable in the contemporary world, there appears to be a clear correlation between individual and collective social status and relations (Robbins and McGowan 72). Moreover, it becomes a huge bone of contention in the legislative struggle to actualize the right to sexual identity. Robbins and McGowan agree on the role of society in creating identities as states and nations worldwide debate on the right to attain desired gender status (78). However, apart from the legislative power that institutions like courts exercise, Jenkins also argues that society can create individual identities.

Jenkins shares some views with other scholars while presenting original arguments on identity’s individual and collective nature. As he highlights the nature of identity as something a person does rather than poses, Jenkins introduces a new notion concerning the topic. Therefore, Jenkins’s version of identity follows a combined and individual sense of being, which can continually change over time.


Question 2: Selfhood and Identity

In Social Identity, Jenkins states that the words “self” and “identity” have parallel meanings and share certain core similarities. According to him, the self is “an individual’s reflexive sense of her or his particular identity… vis-à-vis others in terms of similarity and difference.” (50) Selfhood and identity are social constructs that arise from experiences and build an individual’s conceptions towards the person. However, selfhood is derived from the cognitive functions of the body that prioritize the various values of self-understanding. On the other hand, identity is developed from feelings and self-representation. Self and identity reflect individuals’ self-conception built on a continuous growth process through either cognitive prioritization or non-cognitive understandings expressed by feelings and representation.

In a sense, one’s identity is in the process of continuous development. Thus people change as the world continues to evolve. Today, gender and ethnicity are key social issues around identity and self (Robbins and McGowan 72). As identity revolves around personal and communal relations, it does not have a particular form.  Researchers generally agree that identity exists as a multidimensional aspect, which in turn influences self-concepts and understanding (Jenkins 17). The relationship between self and identity becomes evident as an individual’s personal and interpersonal relations considerably impact both of these concepts.

“Self” is defined as the organized perception of what a person is as he/she transacts with others. This definition is closely related to the multidimensional sense of identity. Various concepts of self, including the academic self and self-concept in relationships, identify a cognitive approach to self (de Valverde et al. 99). Thus, self-representation is built of a collective and continual prioritization of different self-concepts, accompanied by categorization and assimilation of several self-images as an individual interacts with others. However, identity comes from non-cognitive attachments based on feelings and representation (de Valverde et al. 100). Even though various areas of a person’s life may affect identity and self-representation, the two concepts bear different approaches to understanding an individual.

Identity and self are built on interactive social processes through different non-cognitive and cognitive channels. Furthermore, they reflect personal and interpersonal relationships that do not exist in any particular form, as self and identity vary with individual perception. Therefore, growth is bound to affect identity and self through time.


Question 3: Forms of Love

In the book, Conditions of Love, John Armstrong discusses love from a historical perspective. He examines love in its various forms: romantic, sexual and altruistic love, and love as possession, infatuation and desire. He examines different concepts of love put forth by scholars in the past to understand how it changed across historical accounts. The author builds an understanding of the various forms of love based on changes that affect people’s culture. Thus, love evolves with time and embraces change, creating different meanings for people worldwide.

In considering the various forms that love can take, Armstrong reviews historical literature and explores different representations made by prominent figures, including Aristotle, Stendhal, Goethe, Shakespeare, Dante, and more. For instance, Aristotle argues that there is a need to be virtuous to find love, as St. Paul defines love as finding the good in someone concealed in their shortcomings (33). On the other hand, Stendhal opines that love is an unreal ideal that a person crystallizes into what they hold in affection. Stendhal’s concept of illusory love is further discussed in the book as the author argues that modern love is a chase after what can only be built over time, not just found and reached in an instant. An account by Freud defines love as an inherited characteristic from the previous generation, which explains recurring childhood traumas in adult relationships (35). Armstrong, therefore, presents a wide range of definitions for love that became accepted in different historical cultures.

Armstrong identified the various forms of love and distinguished them from each other by embracing the changes that come with time. Love changes with time from culture to culture, but it doesn’t change the person. The author explains that this is at the core of understanding its different forms (13). Armstrong explains that love is “a kind of garment which merely goes on top of, and does not in any way change, the inner person.”(22) Therefore, just like an article of clothing, love can change in appearance but still reflect the same individual. Throughout the history of humankind, cultural contexts have influenced the forms of love that exist; love corresponds to the expectations and judgments of societies. Even today, people draw from their surroundings, community, and upbringing to shape their imaginative capacity and manifest their experiences of love. Thus, in Armstrong’s view, time and culture significantly impact love.

Love evolves with time as people embrace different forms of expression according to their particular cultures. Armstrong examines previous works on the topic of love, including Aristotle and Stendhal, to provide a broad, historically-drawn concept on the subject. Love, therefore, like identity, varies with time and draws on personal and interpersonal relationships.


Question 4: Non-Fictional Texts

Non-fictional texts cover various issues dealing with factual writing in different styles. Types of non-fiction writing include narrative, expository, persuasive, and descriptive writing. Narrative writing explains an experience concerning a person, an event or a situation, while expository texts educate a reader concerning a specific topic. Persuasive texts argue towards a particular position on an issue, while descriptive writing uses sensory language to explain an actual event or situation. Non-fiction texts never take a fantasy form, and their content is not the product of the author’s imagination.


Question 5: The Concept of Love in Shakespeare’s King Lear

William Shakespeare’s tragic novel, King Lear, expresses different kinds of love through its characters, which conform to their identities. Love and identity are presented as intricately related attributes in the play, with King Lear seemingly caught in an identity crisis of his own. Furthermore, Armstrong’s concept fits into the forms of love in the characters that reflect their real motives. Self-love and false love are shown as cheap alterations of genuine love, which often come at a cost. Thus, King Lear portrays the societal concept of love with all its shortcomings and highlights the individual need to be loved.

King Lear’s self-love reflects his identity, which he hopes to affirm through a verbal love test for his daughters. When King Lear says in the opening scene of the first Act, “Which of you shall say doth love us most, that our longest bounty may extend where nature doth with merit challenge” (Act 1 Scene 1), he falsely equates materialistic wealth to true love. Lear’s materialistic identity derives from his lifestyle as a king raised in wealth and affluence. His self-love probably identifies with the respect he believes is his due as the monarch. Armstrong defines this kind of love as an unreal ideal that people chase after. King Lear’s foolish view of love makes him set an ineffective challenge to test the love his daughters bear for him.

Two of King Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, express false love and eventually reveal their true identities in Shakespeare’s play. As they compete to prove their love for their father, King Lear can see that protestations of love are worthless. Goneril tries to quantify her love by saying, “… I love you more than words can wield the matter.” (Act 1 Scene 1) These are only empty words to cover her desire for her father’s wealth. Regan and Goneril attempt to verbally prove their love for their father but show they have no understanding of real love. In Conditions of Love, Armstrong argues that some conceptions of love may be inherited as children reflect childhood experiences in their adult life (36). In this case, Regan and Goneril grew to identify wealth as a form of love, just like their father.

However, Cordelia, Kent, and Edgar represent pure love in King Lear and remain loyal to their loved ones through stormy times. Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, provides a truthful answer to her father’s challenge when she says, “I love you, My Majesty, according to my bound, nor more nor less.” (Act 1 Scene 1) Similarly, Kent demonstrates his genuine love for King Lear when he stays with him despite the risk involved when he says, “I have a journey short to go, my master calls, I must not say no.” (Act 5 Scene 3) Edgar manages to stay with his father despite getting mistreated. As Jenkin states in Social Identity, identity is “something that one does” (5); these characters prove their true love and truthful identity through their actions, even in the face of hardship. In line with Armstrong’s opinion that love overlooks the shortcomings of a person to find their beauty, Edgar stays at his father’s side despite the unconducive environment. In the end, Shakespeare reveals the true identity of these individuals.

Shakespeare’s narrative embodies the individual’s need for love and its shortcomings often associated with it in society. As genuine love often comes at a cost, the play, King Lear, presents accounts of love in its pure and false forms among the affluent characters. Consequently, the types of love reflect individual notions of identity, such as a direct relationship between undesired traits and fake love. Like identity, love is the product of something you do rather than possess.


Question 6: Selfhood Vs. Identity in King Lear

Shakespeare’s narrative examines the tension between identity and selfhood that ultimately drives King Lair to madness. As the King struggles between two forms of identity, one given by nature and the other self-ordained, he struggles to choose one over the other. As a result, he is at odds with his own nature and suffers mental strain and illness. Thus, selfhood and identity get portrayed as intricate concepts within personal and interpersonal spaces having the potential to impact an individual’s mental health.

In Social Identity, Richard Jenkins writes, “Selfhood/personhood are aspects of individual identification, and in each, the internal and the external cohabit in an ongoing process of identification.”(50) Shakespeare uses King Lear’s character to express the tension between selfhood and identity in his tragic play. Moments before he falls into madness, the king asks, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (Shakespeare 24) Thus, a significant relationship exists between King Lear’s identity and selfhood. Earlier in the play, Lear seeks to enjoy life as a subject by ceding his power to his daughters to unburden his “crawl toward death” (Shakespeare 2). However, King Lear soon retrieves his identity as a King, sometimes assuming a double identity as both king and subject, thus revealing a high tension between his sense of self in these two roles.

King Lear is also worried about his identity and the relation of others to his authority, especially his daughters, whose love he sets out to test. As he seeks verbal affirmation of his daughters’ love, he exposes insecurity about his identity to others. Lear’s identity is based on feelings and represents his experiences, which come in different, conflicting forms. On the one hand, his daughter Cordelia expresses genuine love for the person who she sees more as a father than a monarch when she says, “You have begot me, bred me, love me: I return those duties.” (Act 1 Scene 1 4) On the other hand, there are protestations of fake love from his two daughters, Regan and Goneril, proportionate to their father’s material abundance. Thus, King Lear’s sense of identity varied based on his experiences with the other characters in the play.

The dichotomy between King Lear’s selfhood and identity emerges and becomes more evident as the play proceeds until he ultimately plunges into madness. The conflict between the King’s selfhood and identity first makes him unrealistically compare his daughters’ love for him. As he assumes the role of both king and subject, the conflict in identity emerges in the tests of love he sets in the opening scene of Act I and the trial scene of Act 3. While taking on the authoritative power of a judge in his love test, King Lear still clings to his role as king despite prematurely abdicating in favour of his daughters at the play’s onset. (Shakespeare 2) Later, Lear experiences “storms” of physical torment, which can be interpreted as a reflection of his internal turmoil resulting from the conflict between his identity and selfhood. Lear notes that the storm mirrors “the tempest in his mind,” pointing to this conflict (Shakespeare 61) and heightening tensions to the point of mental illness as the play progresses.

Selfhood and identity exist as intricately connected concepts based on cognitive and non-cognitive factors that impact our personal and interpersonal perceptions of issues such as love, with the potential to affect mental health. As Shakespeare takes his audience through the play, ending with King Lear’s mental breakdown, he illustrates the crucial roles identity and selfhood play even today in a society that is continuously looking for love. As such, education is key to avoiding the negative progression of mental health owing to identity crises in the modern world.

Works Cited

Armstrong, John. Conditions Of Love. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

de Valverde, José, et al. “Self-Construction And Creative: Life Design.” The Creative Self, edited by Maciej Karwowski and James C. Kaufman, Academic Press, 2017, pp. 99-115.

Jenkins, Richard. Social Identity. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2014.

Robbins, Claire K., and Brian L. McGowan. “Intersectional Perspectives On Gender and Gender Identity Development.” New Directions for Student Services, vol. 154, no. 2016, pp. 71-83. Wiley, doi:10.1002/ss.20176.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Oxford University Press, 1994.


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