When the average person looks upon their past, they usually recall memories and facts that categorize them into a predefined group of people. Seldom can a person not find some sense of belonging in their lives, whether it be belonging to a culture, to a nation, or to a religion. The idea of not fitting in to any social group is a surreal one to say the least. Even so, that seems to be the tragic case brought to light by Meena Alexander in her 1993 autobiography entitled, Fault Lines.
In this autobiography, Alexander uses a unique style of language that includes excellent diction and tone, among other rhetorical devices, to delve into her scattered and uncertain identity. After reading the selected passage from Alexander’s autobiography, it’s hard to come away from it without a feeling of how much Alexander belittles herself in her work. Throughout the text Alexander uses many questions concerning her identity to show her lack of conviction as to who she really is. The angle from which she poses these questions tends to conjure an image of a person who has a low self-esteem.
She seems so torn by her inability to define herself by her past that she gives off a general vibe of hopelessness. Though it is obviously only an exaggeration of her sorrow, she paints a picture in the reader’s mind of her having a deformed face. To her, not being able to piece together her identity makes her less of a person, so much in fact that she at one point thinks that she can define herself with a dictionary. As if any group of words, let alone a single definition, can adequately represent a human being. By setting such a negative tone in the passage, Alexander really invites the reader to sympathize with her.
As the reader does this, they get closer to Alexander’s heart, thus allowing the reader to not only think about her problems, but to actually feel them too. Though Alexander’s writing sounds like it’s straight from the heart, she obviously took some time to incorporate superb diction and other literary devices that heighten the readers experience even more. Her use of words like, “splintered”, “fractured”, “shards”, and “cracked” manifest her feelings of a shattered identity. In her mind, this identity is shattered into far too many pieces to allow for it to be put back together in any recognizable fashion.
Alexander focused on the word fault when she attempted to define herself using the dictionary. To her this word is exceptional in that its two prominent meanings both apply directly to her. On one hand she sees herself as a defect or imperfection, on the other she sees herself as split in multiple directions. Alexander lists the various meanings of the word fault in the passage as well as listing a few other things. In listing all the languages she has learned and used and all the places she has lived, she further demonstrates that traditional thought processes cannot encompass her being.
These lists are evidence of the jumbled masses of background information in her head that she just can’t find a way to form into her identity. Maybe her past is just too complex for her to be able to decipher it into a socially acceptable notion. Speaking of society, while Alexander portrays herself as utterly alone in her world of fractured identity, must not there be thousands, if not millions, of people who share her dilemma? Clearly Alexander’s identity issues pose a great problem for her, so naturally they should be addressed as such.
One cannot help wondering, though, what shaped this hopeless outlook of hers. The reader knows that there exist some peaceful memories in Alexander’s mind, memories that are not tainted with feelings of displacement and segregation, happy memories. Was it just that these memories are from a time before Alexander could contemplate a fractured identity, or is there some tidbit of information that the reader lacks? Either way, it’s hard to argue that Alexander’s style doesn’t provoke intense thought and provide the reader with valuable insight into issues otherwise seldom discussed in the everyday world.