We are who we are. We define ourselves. We make our own decisions. Our influences have great impacts on our lives. For example, vertical influences, as in families, want their offspring to be more like them. Our horizontal influences, as in society and foreign traits not given by a parent, drift one’s offspring away from the world they know. Is it possible to become exactly as we are expected to be by our parents and society? No. It is impossible to know the outcome of our identities no matter how we are raised.
There are both positive and negative influences of the vertical and horizontal identity that a human being acquires to make them who they are. No one knows who we really are, or who we can be, we just must trust that the way we are brought up and what we are exposed to outside our family life is the correct way to a good life. Andrew Solomon, the author of “Son”, has many theories as to our identities. We have two identities, both a horizontal and a vertical. A vertical identity, as explained by Solomon is the traits shared with one’s own parents.
A horizontal identity is an acquired trait that is foreign to one’s parents and therefore inherited usually from a peer group. Andrew, being gay, is not accepted by his family nor peers because his family does not realize that this horizontal identity cannot be changed or fixed, and this horizontal identity is different from that of his peers. It is a part of him. Just like a child with disabilities cannot be changed, it is also a foreign trait because it is an identity unknown to his or her parents.
Solomon thinks that parents need to accept and embrace these traits, and Nafsi shows a clear example of Solomon’s way of thinking and how both our vertical and horizontal identities need to be accepted. One’s vertical identity is shown through attributes and values are shared through DNA and cultural norms from a parent to child. In Azar Nafsi’s writing, Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is quite easy to show that vertical identity is not only highly privileged, but highly enforced.
This is first shown in an introductory paragraph to Reading Lolita in Tehran in The New Humanities Reader by Richard Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer that Nafsi explores her complicated struggles with a mother whose overwhelming expectations virtually ensured that her daughter’s future life would be successful but unhappy (279). Now as shown in Andrew Solomon’s essay-our parents need to realize that we cannot necessarily find happiness where they found it.
Nafsi’s vertical influences have contributed to her unhappiness because her parents are trying to make her vertical identity identical to what they would like their child to be- a self-image of her parents. As Solomon informs us, horizontal identities come from somewhere outside of our family influences. Nafsi does start to form her own horizontal identity after she quits teaching at the University of Allameh Tabatabai and starts her Thursday morning seminars in her home. On her last day of Thursday morning seminars, her and her students take two photographs.
In one, they are dressed entirely in black robes and head scarves- the law of Iran, and in the other they have taken off their coverings wearing normal, common articles of clothing. Of her two photographs of her class she explains the one photograph in which the women are not wearing their coverings in much more detail. She proceeds to state that once all the women had taken off their coverings, each has become distinct. She has made a clear understanding of what Solomon so brilliantly states in Son that our differences unite us (371).
Horizontal identities make us unique to our parent, whether it be a recessive trait or an environmental stimuli. Nafsi shows such great detail when describing the women in her Thursday morning seminar. She sees beauty and she notices the differences in each woman’s own horizontal identity. Now in Azar Nafsi’s world the government shows too much control in their powers. So much control that it appears difficult for any woman in Iran to even attempt to find the horizontal parts of their identities.
The government is showing strict fundamentalism empowerment of Islamic women in Tehran, so far as to attempt to separate men from women in classes at universities, force women to always travel with a male chaperone, and to always wear the Muslin veil . Yes the government has set such strict standards that they are creating a realistic dream for everyone else. Nafsi’s vertical identity is linked in a way straight to the government’s fundamentalism due to the fact that her own mother has attempted to plan her life.
The government’s strict control shows that every woman’s horizontal identity should be identical. Nafsi follows Solomon’s beliefs on this issue that everyone should be free to express a horizontal identity just as freely as they are allowed to a vertical identity. Vertical identity is too highly privileged in Nafsi’s society. For women, horizontal relations as well as horizontal identities are on the verge of elimination. Women are raised to follow a vertical identity, due to the strict government policy now in place.
Solomon argues that many vertical identities make people uncomfortable and yet we do not attempt to homogenize them (371). Yet the government has so much dedication to fundamentalism that the officials, as it would seem, fear differences. So the government does what it can in order to keep change out- attempt to eliminate horizontal relations within the women of their society. Nafsi would like to see difference in people as Andrew Solomon does. All people should be able to freely think not only alone, but in discussion.
Nafsi thinks that a person’s ability to think freely would cause a more peaceful bond between the people and the government. Nafsi wants to see the free expression of oneself, just as Solomon wants to see within our horizontal identities. A large inheritance of identity from our parents other than physical attributes is our moral beliefs. For example, religion. That leads some to wonder what vertical identities do those who participate in secular societies hold. A secular society seems somewhat totalitarian in the eyes of Azar Nafsi. Totalitarian is completely alone in an illusionary world full of false promises where you can no longer differentiate between your savior and you executioner” (Nafsi – 293). No vertical identity can be formed and therefore identity is looked at solely in horizontal relations. Now those of secular societies find self- acceptance within themselves, but are independent and alone with very little, if any vertical relations. In this kind of a society here is no social or familial acceptance. Without these acceptances, life is not understood as it should be.
Happiness cannot be an attainable goal when one’s world is so self-absorbed. There needs to be more of a vertical source helping him or her along- a vertical influence would be a savior, where as a horizontal influer the executioner. Secular societies in Solomon’s point of view seem more likely to show failure and disappointment due to not being able to develop a sense of familial and self- acceptance through an identity. As shown in Nafsi’s essay, some societies can have great impact on a person’s fundamentals.
For example a strict Islamic government can force women in particular to practice the beliefs of Islam and the government trying to promote this. Although these promotions impact the fundamentals of the people they provide to be useless- they have no meaning other than a law. Another example of a negative impact on a horizontal identity of an individual is clearly shown when Andrew Solomon goes through years of torture and distress due to the fact his sexuality was not of that of the majority.
Ironically, in the same sense, without society Azar Nafsi and Andrew Solomon would not be who they are today without both the positive and negative impacts of society. In conclusion to become who we are, we need both a positive and negative vertical influence, as well as a positive and negative horizontal influence. One with just a vertical identity cannot be his or her own person just as a human being with just a horizontal identity cannot be entirely his or her own.
We must realize that difference and change is not always for the worst, just as identically and similarity is not always for the worst. Our parents cannot expect us to be just like them even if they imagine us just like them, we have different influences. We are who we are and our difference in mind, body, sexuality, fundamentals, and human relations are what make us unique and unite us. Our identities are a distinct personality. Our identities define us from each other and unite us. To achieve the goal of a happy lifestyle is to become who we are supposed to be.