Theme of Identity Formation in the Novel 'Jasper Jones' and the Film 'In the Wild'

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Memories are the architecture of our identity, designed by our parents. Together the protagonists from the novel ‘Jasper Jones’, and the film ‘Into the Wild’, have grown up with memories built around their parents, and what their parents have emphasized as their identity. Charlie and Chris have had their identities shaped by the way their parents have raised them. Ever since a young age, parents have always been there in our memories. The things that have been there since childhood is what is held in our memories for the rest of our lives; although, we can choose to change that. The voices that are heard when we are young is what we see in our mirror image of identity. In ‘Into the Wild’ Sean Penn represents a unique example of how parents shape identity. Although through the movie Penn represents and shows the idea of escaping true identity and emancipating one’s self. Whereas in ‘Jasper Jones’ Craig Silvey writes of a journey about a boy, Charlie, who doesn’t run from his true identity but somewhat experiences it. Charlie’s perception has been reshaped by encountering trauma, resulting in a loss of his innocence which forever changes who he is and what he believes in. This leads to how memories hold significant reminiscences of our parents and the relationships between them and how that correlates to identity.

Charlie and Chris both share a disagreeable relationship between parental figures and children. Penn, director of ‘Into the Wild’, has portrayed a recalcitrant relationship between father and son. This creates the perception of how parents shape identity. Chris, being the ‘bastard’ son, has always felt indifferent from his family and has already been told who he is meant to be. Whilst his father, Walt McCandless, didn’t care for what Chris wanted, he forced Chris to have the life he did. Chris McCandless states: “…and I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong… To measure yourself at least once in the most ancient human conditions. Facing the blind death stone. With nothing to help you but your hand and your own head”. Chris has enough money to give him a life people back then would kill for. Him stating this could indicate that he wants nothing to be handed down to him and he wants to escape the identity that his father wants for him. In order to discover and create a new identity Chris becomes Alex Supertramp rather than remain Chris McCandless: “I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, then fame, then fairness… give me truth”. It may be his true identity that he is escaping but it isn’t ‘truly’ the identity he believes that defines who he is.

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Silvey, writer of ‘Jasper Jones’, delivers a classic Australian piece of literature, depicting a boy Charlie, who goes through traumatic events which shape and changes his identity. Throughout the novel Charlie is caught between his father’s cautious personality and his mother’s more confident personality. His father is gentle and his mother is stern and disciplinary. Except Charlie being a teenager is trying to forge his own unique identity, however Charlie discovers things he never knew about his mother and father which also changes Charlie’s perception and now it’s like every memory he ever had of them was wrong. “I don’t understand a thing about this world: about people, and why they do the things they do. The more I find out, the more I uncover, the more I know, the less I understand” (Silvey, page 198). Charlie witnesses his mother’s betrayal and this is how Charlie ends up belonging very much to his father. Both Chris, ‘Alex’, and Charlie are deemed to be afraid to heal because their identity is centered around the trauma they’ve experienced; as they have no idea who they are outside of this trauma. Which is why the relationship between parent and child plays of an extreme role in developing and changing personality especially through memories. You can’t change where you live necessarily, but where you live can change you.

Joy and misery are greatly determined by our environment: the kinds of walls, buildings and people that surround us. Yet the way our surroundings and environment are built by the people in our lives play the architect of our memories, by the choice of our parents. Memories are made with significant motifs such as our parents, based around where you grow up. Chris McCandless, grew up with wealth which provided him with status, power, and opened doors to acquiring education. Chris had wealth that subsumed himself and substituted what he really wanted, which was a deep human connection with environment, and someone to share his happiness with. This represents an important correlation, before Chris died, he said something, “Happiness is only real when shared”. Maybe for Chris, when he left home, his identity didn’t just change because of where he ended up being but because of the people he met along the way who were also changed by their surroundings. Each person he met, and shared memories with, changed his perception of the world. The most significant part of the film, which Penn captured well, was using the belt as a motif. Chris made his belt with the veteran, Ronald Franz, who teaches him how to leatherwork. The belt acts of an emblem, showing the many objects and people Chris eventually had to leave behind to go on to the next part of his journey and is the most important of all his belongings. It is useful and pretty as it symbolizes the promise of tramping life and following each different type of environment Chris had discovered. Chris’ parents shaped his identity to a degree, but furthermore pushes him to discover his true hidden identity.

Charlie is exposed to the struggles of his identity versing belonging in ‘Jasper Jones’. The novel is set back into the 1960’s, where feminism and racism of white privilege played a huge impact, as Charlie’s mother Ruth is a perfect symbol of feminism by having no job, and also Jasper being an example of how they used racism in the novel. Charlie grows up fast, witnessing the complexities of life, his parents’ relationship and the emblematic changes of his surroundings. The town Corrigan, was used and described in the novel like an ordinary place with people who lived by the rules. When Charlie first discovers Laura’s body, that’s when Charlie started noticing the towns buried secrets coming out one by one. First was the unraveling of Laura which lasted the whole book until the end, but throughout the novel, Corrigan a place Charlie felt safe and called home was forever changed. This resulted in a change of his identity whether he wanted it or not, he had no choice in the matter. Charlie had his best friend Jeffrey, someone he trusted and deeply cared for, except despite everything happening Charlie felt alone. His whole world was changing and he couldn’t even tell Jeffrey. The last thing that happens in both of the texts was when Chris and Charlie felt a sudden realization, the whole film and novel were all leading up to it with everyone knowing and seeing but them. It’s only until the end we see them realize how much they have changed and how much change they notice themselves.

We idealize the transformative life into a life of extraordinary experience, and of deep realization. Having a realization of finding your true identity is experiencing a deep and lasting inner peace of happiness, by finding a meaning and a purpose. Chris felt that his life had only been of one purpose and that was to try and find who he really was because being his parents was not something he desired. Chris’s mind, body and heart played an equal role to develop his true identity, and the final moments before his death he felt somewhat content with where he was and who he identifies as, rather than when he was with his family. Chris stated: “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism… The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”. This represents he is at content with his life and has reached his goal of finding who he really is, even if it came to a short end in the ‘magic bus’, because he was at peace and free. Towards the end of ‘Jasper Jones’, Charlie felt witness in one life changing summer. He solves a sad mystery, falls in love, and helps his newfound friend Jasper re-unite with his lost grandfather. Charlie is a representation of how the novel demonstrates one’s limitations and strengths of identity. Whilst this is all in comparison to the racial and feminist background setting. This novel also reveals how things can lurk behind a town, a place and a person’s virtues. This all holds an important feature for memories. Charlie will continue to grow and change his identity further in life whilst still holding the memories of what has happened to his life. Charlie makes a realization right at the end of the novel although it isn’t necessarily towards himself but it is being said to his newfound love Eliza when he feels confident and is at peace with who he is as well.

Starting over can be the scariest thing in the entire world. Whether it’s leaving your family such as Chris or becoming independent and at one with yourself like Charlie. As it all depends on how much you are willing to change yourself. If it wasn’t for our parent’s we can’t say we would be the people we are today, sometimes necessarily the way your parents influence your identity is the way you are going to see the world unless you change it. The memories both Chris and Charlie made with their parents when they were young is the starting point of how new memories are going to change them into the person they are. Sometimes the things that we don’t even notice can come into developing our identity whether that be, our relationships between parents, where we live and grow up and finally when the time is, that we realize who we are.

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Theme of Identity Formation in the Novel ‘Jasper Jones’ and the Film ‘In the Wild’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Theme of Identity Formation in the Novel ‘Jasper Jones’ and the Film ‘In the Wild’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Theme of Identity Formation in the Novel ‘Jasper Jones’ and the Film ‘In the Wild’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Theme of Identity Formation in the Novel ‘Jasper Jones’ and the Film ‘In the Wild’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:

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