The immigrants by Margaret Atwood and Borders by Thomas King - Essay Example

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Majority of people experience this struggle in their youth, when they start to discover and express their choices in life. Meanwhile, some people experience a never-ending struggle because they refuse enculturation. In…
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The immigrants by Margaret Atwood and Borders by Thomas King
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Cultural Assimilation and Acculturation Every person undergoes the struggle for personal identity. Majority of people experiencethis struggle in their youth, when they start to discover and express their choices in life. Meanwhile, some people experience a never-ending struggle because they refuse enculturation. In Thomas King’s “Borders” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Immigrants,” the two authors show people’s strong resistance to cultural assimilation and acculturation, thus highlighting their need for personal identity.
The main character in “Borders” pays a lot of importance to personal identity. When asked of her citizenship, she always declares that she is a “Barefoot.” It takes her and her son days to pass through the borders going to Salt Lake City because of her unwillingness to identify herself as a Canadian. She also brings a lot of food to avoid buying from convenience stores and dresses up in their old ways because she did not want “crossing the border looking like Americans” (King 133). The narrator observes his mother’s resistance of acculturation and allows her to do what she likes. He can guess what she is about to tell the immigration personnel but never contradicts her even though her manners would cause a big delay.
The mother’s attitude is opposed to her daughter’s. Laetitia, shows clear signs of acculturation. The latter is more lenient and ready for assimilation because she claims that her “Dad’s American” (King 131). She likes living in Salt Lake City on her own, and boasts about the city’s improvements with her mother. Despite her defiance of acculturation, the mother is not totally against other cultures. The fact that she marries an American illustrates her openness to assimilation. Likewise, she pays a visit to her daughter to see Salt Lake City and buys Mel from duty free a souvenir hat as a sign of friendship.
In Atwood’s poem, the persona presents an example of acculturation as she expresses disgust at the sight of immigrants who lurk in the streets, thus:
I see them coming
Up from the hold smelling of vomit
Infested, emaciated, their skins grey
With travel, as they step on shore. (Atwood l.10-13)
The negative images that the author uses lead readers to form a similarly negative view of the immigrants.
Nevertheless, while the persona expresses resistance to assimilating the immigrants’ culture or behavior, she admits the fact that she herself is an immigrant, saying, “I wish I could forget them/and so forget myself” (Atwood 31). This means that while she loathes the immigrants, she recognizes her complete assimilation and acculturation to an identity that other American immigrants have established. By forgetting the immigrants she observes, she could then forget herself. This implies that the narrator despises the thought of being an immigrant as it reminds her of her own lack of identity.
The persona attempts to show contrast between her and the immigrants as she declares that “the towns pass laws that declare them obsolete” (Atwood l.9). Noticeably, she uses the plural term “towns” to mean that several people from different places have agreed to have the immigrants leave the country. Likewise, she uses the term, “obsolete” which could pertain to the permit that allows the immigrants to stay in America. Nevertheless, the use of the word connotes bias and mistreatment because living beings can only be alive or dead, not obsolete. Being obsolete could simply mean forgetting them or letting them exist but not caring whether they live or die in the cold.
The last stanza of the poem reveals what the persona wishes for herself. Claiming that her mind is “a wide pink map…across which move…arrows and dots,” (Atwood 32-33), she describes travelling from one place to another and seeing a lot of people. The pink color may represent neutrality and calmness. Likewise, it is also a very feminine color, which implies the gentleness and acceptance of the persona to things she encounters, moving from one place to another. Recalling the image of people “riding across an ocean of an unknown/land to an unknown land,” (Atwood 39-40), the persona expresses her wish to find her own identity amid the changes around her.
The writings of King and Atwood similarly show the people’s struggle for personal identity. Although they differ in their views on cultural assimilation and acculturation, both authors who have Canadian ancestry deal with the issue of establishing one’s own identity. The mother in “Borders” strongly resists the American and modern-day influences while the persona in “The Immigrants” tries to embrace a new found identity, which she takes from people who have succeeded in their journey as immigrants as well.
Works Cited
Atwood, Margaret. “The Immigrants.” Book, ed. Place: Publisher, year: pages.
King, Thomas. “Borders.” Book, ed. Place: Publisher, year: pages. Read More
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