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Our Relationships with Others Define Who We Are

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‘Our relationships with others help us to define who we are.’

Context 4, Sample B
This sample uses the prompt to show understanding of the text, brings knowledge of various texts to the discussion and shows good control in the writing.

Bruce Dawe suggests in the introduction to his anthology of poetry, that ‘Each of us is both a private person and a public person.’ Despite this simple truth, our personal sense of identity and individuality is under serious threat from two entirely separate, though equally negative entities, alienation and conformity. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye struggles to find a sense of belonging in a world that he feels is increasingly demanding conformity, resulting in his self-imposed isolation and lack of genuine sense of self. As a young person, about to embrace a largely foreign world, it is imperative for myself and other young people to find a balance between our own individuality and the concession we choose to make in regards to our individuality when seeking connections or relationships with others. Everyone must realise that while we are each unique, we are also members of the human species, sharing universal characteristics and experiences. Therefore, the relationships we have with others will inherently help determine much of who we are. Only once we have made these realisations can we begin to gain a coherent understanding of the functioning of society and avoid Holden’s predetermined fate of loneliness.
From birth, we are assigned concrete features of our identity. We cannot control the family or culture we are born into, but the relationships we form with our immediate family, at least initially, will define certain aspects of who we are. Bruce Dawe’s ‘Life- Cycle’ discusses the revered cultural icon that is the Australian Rules football supporter. Every child born into a football-mad household in Victoria is instantly given a focus and a structure to their lives. All over the world, fanatics are inextricably tied by the fortunes of their team. Even those who choose not to belong and rebel against their families have consequently shaped elements of their identity.
Holden Caulfield for instance, does his best to alienate himself from the people closest to himself, even the person he loves most, Phoebe. Despite this, Holden still strives from a sense of belonging and though he feels he has a strong sense of genuine individuality, it is severely restricted by his lack of proper relationships with others. But in most cases, our immediate family will provide protection, nurture and love giving us a stable platform from which we will begin our eternal quest to discover more about our ever-changing identity.
Many people will mask, or even forfeit, their true sense of self, in order to gain acceptance, but this will only lead to the dangerous notion of conformity and ultimately superficial relationships. This is extremely common in school situations. Holden Caulfield’s teacher, Mr Antolini, describes him as ‘falling and falling’, acting out, metaphorically, the fate of James Castle who was driven to suicide by his peers, demonstrating the high cost of not fitting in. Though this is an extreme case, a lack of relationships with peers and teachers at school will almost always result in isolation and perhaps even depression. As John
Donne writes, ‘No man is an island entire of itself’ as we cannot identify who we are alone. Similarly, Bruce Dawe states that we are all ‘part of the shimmering web’ whether we are ‘vast’ or ‘small’, meaning that we must learn from those around us in order for society to function as a whole. Thus, we must identify our individuality through both introspection and from the things we learn from our relationships with others.
It is necessary to adapt our identity to our milieu, but it must not come at the cost of conformity. In the poem, ‘Enter Without So Much as Knocking’ Dawe illustrates the inherent dangers of conforming to the ‘Americanised’ values of a consumerist, capitalist society. As a result of the trepidation of alienation and loneliness, too many people sacrifice too much of their individuality to find belonging. However, it is crucial that we always maintain a connection to our inner core strength of self. The power of the group can be hugely overwhelming, at times resulting in the severe repression of minorities and extreme violence and brutality, as evidenced by Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR. To evade these tragic consequences the solution is simple: retain a sense of self whilst creating the relationships necessary to strengthen it.
A dimension of the private self may need to be sacrificed so that we can build strong connections to those around us, but that does not mean that we can afford to lose sight of who we really are in the process. All of us need to be respectful of the rights of individual, not only for the sake of the individual but for the benefit of society as well. Finally, Bruce Dawe encapsulates all of these ideas by stating that our character is constructed in ‘the stream of the world’ and that while ‘talent is built on solitude’ it cannot be wasted in isolation.…...

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