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Posted on September 9th, 2012, by

The formation of an individual’s identity occurs under the impact of multiple factors, which are often perceived by an individual at the subconscious level. At the same time, people are closely intertwined with those places where they grow up and where they spend the major or the most significant part of their life. In such a way, the geography and location can be mirrored in an individual’s identity and many artists working in different field attempted to convey this idea of the dependence of an individual’s identity on geography and location. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the film “Smoke Signals”¯, books “The Art of Emily Carr”¯, “Places of Their Own”¯, and “Housekeeping”¯.

These books and film provide numerous examples when artists as well as ordinary individuals were affected by their physical environment, nature and location where they lived and which they constituted an integral part of. Hence, it is obvious that an individual cannot live in a complete isolation from his natural environment which inevitably influences his identity, traits of character and personal philosophy.

On analyzing aforementioned works, it should be said that many characters and artists were quite different from ordinary people. In fact, some of them are quite eccentric and unusual people which lead a different lifestyle that distinguishes them from other, “normal”¯ people. At the same time, the feature that unites all of them is their devotedness to the places where they spent their childhood and most important years of their life. They are practically tied to those places which they believe to be their own places where they can feel comfortable, calm and secure. These unique places are different and specific for each individual. It seems as if there are as many of such places as there are individuals in the world, but the authors of the works mentioned above agree at the point that many people forget these places and start living a standard, routine life, which is deprived of the charm of the original life, when people perceive themselves as a part of nature and when people’s identity is deep-rooted in the places and locations where they spent their most important years and where their identity had been actually shaped.

In this respect, it is possible to refer to the film “Smoke Signals”¯, which focused on the life of two main characters, Thomas and Victor. In fact, it is through the contrast of these two characters, the director of the film reveals the extent to which geography and location can affect an individual and, at the same time, people can be remote from their native land that dispatches them from their own culture and deprives them of their cultural identity. To put it more precisely, Thomas is apparently a protagonist of the film who attempts to live in accordance with norms and traditions of his culture. He leads a traditional lifestyle and, what is more, he attempts to find the balance and harmony with nature that makes his life meaningful and pleasant. In spite of all the difficulties and hardships he faces, such as a violent behavior of Arnold, Victor’s fathers who saved Thomas from a burning house, where his biological parents had died, Thomas is still satisfied with his own lifestyle because he feels that he has found his own place which can call home and where he always feels at ease.

However, his lifestyle and his devotedness to old traditions look quite eccentric to Victor, who has abandoned his home and moved to the city where he became a successful basketball player. The remoteness of victor from his native land, from his home, the land where he was born and grew up, results in the total change of his lifestyle and his philosophy. Being a Native American by origin, Victor becomes a stranger for his own people. In fact, he becomes an ordinary American and shares the values of the modern society, which is too concerned with social status, prosperity, individual success, etc.

In such a context, Thomas is absolutely different and his lifestyle is incomprehensible to Victor. Obviously, Thomas wants to live in the wilderness, far from the civilized world. He cannot afford living in large cities, where the life is absolutely different from the life he get used to. He prefers to spend his life in the location he get used to from his childhood, being close to nature and any change in his environment hurts him a lot. At the same time, the film shows that such people as Thomas are a kind of outcasts, while people similar to Victor are dominating in the modern society. Hence, Thomas may be viewed as a very symbolic character, which reminds people of their origin and their traditions, which can be totally forgotten in the contemporary, pragmatic and consumerist world.

At this point, the film is similar to the novel “Housekeeping”¯ by Marilynne Robinson. The main character of the novel, Ruth, resembles Thomas in the film “Smoke Signals, because she is also devoted to the traditional lifestyle, she maintains the traditional cultural norms and she is idealistic in a way as Thomas does. Even though the lifestyle she get used to is quite different from the “normal”¯ lifestyle since Ruth becomes transient as her aunt, who actually takes care of Ruth and her sister Sylvie. At the same time, the vagabond lifestyle is perceived by Ruth as normal and she is unwilling to refuse from her habits and from her original, if not to say eccentric values. In stark contrast, her sister, Sylvie cannot afford living as a transient. Instead, she wants to live the life other people do in order to become a “normal”¯ person.

However, such a unwillingness to live the life she get used to eventually leads to the growing gap between her original inclinations and habits and her new environment. Sylvie is forced to start a new life, when she abandons her sister that causes a lot of problems for her. As for Ruth, she does not feel dissatisfied with her life and she readily focuses on routine chores which she get used to perform since her childhood with her aunt. She is content with her life and is unwilling to change it. As a result, when her well-being is under a question, it does not bother her much because she got used to the life full of challenges and permanent struggle for the survival. Remarkably, at this moment, even Sylvie cannot help from returning to Ruth and assisting her that means that people cannot totally forget their past and they will always return to their traditional lifestyle and environment, when they face unsurpassable barriers in their life. In such a context, housekeeping, which is a part of the routine life of Ruth, is quite symbolic because it implies not only the cleaning of the house, but also the cleaning of human spirit and soul. In such a way, the life in harmony with the environment a person is accustomed to leads to the spiritual purity and happiness of an individual.

At the same time, it is not only fictional characters, which are highly dependent on their environment, geography and location they grew up in, but real people are also susceptible to the profound impact of geography and location on their cultural identity and lifestyle. In this respect, it is possible to refer to books “The Art of Emily Carr”¯ by Frida Kahlo and “The Places of Their Own”¯ by S.R. Udall. In actuality, both books are focused on the life and works of outstanding artists. Many of the artists discussed by the authors of the two aforementioned books are similar in a way to eccentric characters of “Smoke Signals”¯ and “Housekeeping”¯, Thomas and Ruth because they are also inclined to their own traditions which they absorbed from their environment which they grew up and lived in a considerable part of their life. For instance, Emily Carr travelled to remote regions for inspiration and she encountered a lot of new people, who could be quite unusual, strange or even eccentric, for an ordinary individual living in a contemporary city. However, the artist was really inspired by the encounters with these people, by their lifestyle and environment, which was absolutely different from the urbanized environment which surrounds the overwhelming majority of contemporary people. In fact, her artistic work mirrors locations and people she observed during her voyages. In a way, it is possible to view her works as chronicles of the rich culture of the Northwest indigenous people and the dense forest of the West coast. At the same time, Carr attempts to contrast the life of these people and wild nature to the modern cities and people living there.

Similarly, Georgia O’Keeffe also attempts to depict unusual places and people she saw during her travel. She also recalls her past experience which inspires her creative work and enriches her works consistently, because it is through her past experience and her recalls of the environment she get used to, the artist manages to convey her ideas accurately and comprehensibly to the audience.

Thus, taking into account, all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that people are, to a significant extent influenced by geography and location, which can define the lifestyle of people, their habits, cultural norms and traditions. At the same time, people are often unable to maintain the contact with nature and those locations which they get used to call home, which produce a particularly significant on an individual’s identity. In such a situation, often people who are totally devoted to their locations and traditional lifestyle or, to put it more precisely, the lifestyle they get used to, are considered to be eccentric, strange and other people do not always understand them. However, in actuality, geography and locations as well as people, which seem to be strange and eccentric at first glance, can be a source of inspiration for artists.

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