The concept of Identity in “About A Boy” by Nick Hornby
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Identity, as Oxford Dictionary defines, is simply who someone is. This definition opens up the concept of identity to many interpretations, an example of which is shown through the novel, “About A Boy” by Nick Hornby. The novel is essentially about a man and a boy helping each other find their own identities. Will, is a 36 year old man who is unwilling to settle down in life, while Marcus is a 12 year old boy who spends the day stressing about his suicidal and depressed mother. Will, being cool and trendy, is contrasted with Marcus, who is old fashioned and traditional. Already, we can see a mix up of identities. Through their conflicting personalities, Marcus helps Will grow up, while Will helps Marcus become a kid. Hornby intended this to reveal to the readers the concept of social or personal identity.
He shows, through the depiction of these two main characters, that identity is not how other people see you, rather it is how you see yourself. For example, does what his mother wishes him to do. This is shown when Marcus says, “But all that happens is we have an argument and I lose, and I do what you want me to do.” The quote suggests that Marcus does not think the same way as his mother, only he has no choice but to do so. Will, on the other hand, acts trendy and fashionable in order to “fit in” with society. The quote, “…how you spent Christmas was a message to the world about where you were at in life…”shows that Will does not care about any depth or meaning whatsoever- he merely cares about how he may be perceived from the outside.
Hornby therefore shows here that identity should not be how others want you to act; rather it should be what you are. Hornby also uses many literary techniques to portray his concept of identity. For example, he uses a split narration system whereby the narrator switches from Will to Marcus every new chapter. Hornby uses this technique in order to more accurately depict identity. For example, through Will’s narrations, we see that he is always thinking of families and children which suggests a mature mind. This is then juxtaposed with the thoughts that families are miserable and that caring for himself only is the way to go. Marcus’s narrations on the other hand, suggest that Marcus is perceptive of his surroundings. The quote, “Marcus never said anything when she cried.
He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t understand why she did it, and because he didn’t understand he couldn’t help…” shows that Marcus is sensitive and far too engrossed in thoughts for his age. This is then contrasted with his experience- although mature; he is nevertheless a kid and does not understand the world. Through this, Hornby has successfully portrayed conflicting identities within the characters. Another literary device constantly used by Hornby is slang. The constant pop culture references and slang used by Will emphasise the fact that Will’s identity is moulded by society and highlights Will’s rebellious and youthful nature. Contrary to this, Marcus’s lack of slang and pop culture references emphasise his differing identity- though young, he does not follow the trends.
Hornby’s use of slang here therefore denotes youth, which helps him further illustrate the conflicting identities within the text. Nick Hornby’s key interpretation of identity is that, though it is moulded by society, identity is nevertheless what one person thinks of themselves. The fact that Marcus and Will are depicted as having the wrong identity, shows that what society makes us out to be may not be the same as what we really are. He suggests that each individual has a different identity and it is up to that individual alone to discover what that may be. His purpose was to reveal to the readers the true meaning of identity and individuality, and in that he has succeeded. His depiction of change within the major characters is applicable in society, and, furthermore, Hornby’s constant pop culture references make the story even more relatable in society.
As Marie Claire puts it, About A Boy is “a book which tells you more about late 1990s cultural life than any. number of flash mags ever will.” In terms of comparing it to Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs, the two texts are rather similar in some ways. Although one is fictitious, and the other is only half fictitious, both texts reveal changes in identity throughout the course of the text, and both texts contain characters moulded by society. In Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James is depicted as trying to impress his classmates through altering his identity. As the story unfolds, he begins to find his own way of doing things, thus representing a personal VS social identity notion.
However, in About A Boy, the central theme concerning individuality is that of conflicting identity- the notion that neither Marcus nor Will are acting their age. As the story unfolds in About A Boy, a concept of identity similar to that of Unreliable Memoirs is portrayed- that is, the notion of personal VS social identity. In closing, Hornby’s primary interpretation of individuality is that, though society plays a part in shaping one’s identity, it is nevertheless up to the person to find their own identity. Through uses of slang, pop culture references and multiple narrations, Hornby has come up with his own interpretation of identity.