Throughout the years many media sources use social constructs to make their audience conform to an ideal. This essay uses three media sources to show that making the audience conform to a set ideal can be detrimental to people and their culture. The first source, Minik: The Lost Eskimo, expresses how conforming too much to surroundings can make a person become the other in society and could lead to the objectification of that person. The second source, The Stranger, expresses how conforming to people’s expectations and seeking their approval and acceptance, leads to dependency, abuse of influence, and creates a person viewed as different.
The last source, Things Fall Apart, expresses how not conforming leads to a person becoming an outsider to their own world. A trend found within all three sources is that with conformity and nonconformity comes a separation between society and people who are outsiders, or the other. The process of conformity creates an oppressive system that destroys previously established cultures and objectifies people deemed as “the other” for adapting too much or not adapting at all. Due to the opportunist views of America, Minik conformed to a culture that considered him to be an object, which they could profit from.
After his arrival to America, “people were upset the Inuits weren’t on display at the museum” (Engstfeld), objectifying Minik and his family. By the Americans objectifying Minik and his family, they force the Inuits to become the other. However, when Minik “stayed in New York [while] the other Inuit went back to the Arctic” (Engstfeld) he embraced the American culture as the Wallace family adopted him. Rather than incorporating his culture with American culture, he completely conformed to American culture through schooling and living with the Wallace family.
By never being exposed to the Inuit culture as his mind developed, the American society coerces Minik into becoming the other. While realizing that he was the other subliminally, people began to describe him “as a national guest and national prisoner who was becoming a national disgrace” (Engstfeld). By describing him in such a way, citizens have the opportunity to understand and empathize with Minik and his situation as the statement subliminally mentions America’s selfish ways and the impact it would have on Minik if America continued to objectify him.
However, even with this comment, America continued to be selfish as it profited from Minik and the Inuits due to their bones being left in the museum as artifacts and being tested to prove that there was no hierarchy when it comes to people’s genetics. Because of America’s self-motivation, people in power perceived Minik as a prized possession rather than a human, therefore ignored his needs and wants. Because Minik conforms to every setting, he becomes an outsider to his own culture and the American culture, which results in his objectification after his death.
Because Minik realized America didn’t accept him as a human, he returned home where “he forgot the language and part of the culture” (Engstfeld). By him forgetting his own culture and language, not only did it instantly make him the other, but it also made the Inuit tribe appear to be the other to him as well. As he tried to assimilate to his culture once more, he began to feel “alone and tormented in both [his] own home and America” (Engstfeld).
Due to him conforming to his surroundings every time he went to a new place, he realized that he would be the other wherever he went because he integrated American culture into his life from the age six. Upon this realization, Minik returned to America where “the flu reached the lumberjack camp he worked on and he contracted the virus” (Engstfeld), resulting in his death. His return to America foreshadowed his death as he already disliked the American culture, but only returned because he felt comfortable there.
His death sparked a hange in heart for America, therefore “all the Eskimos bodies were taken back to Greenland where they could be in their home while Minik was left buried in America” (Engstfeld). Having Minik’s remains stay in America rather than Greenland signified that he was no longer identified as Inuit. Minik’s remains left in America indicated how America objectified him, therefore making him property of America and not of the Inuit tribe. Similarly, in The Stranger, Meursault depends on the expectations placed on him by other characters, therefore conforms for others, causing him to become the other.
A signifier of Meursault’s dependency is when Meursault takes off for work due to his mother’s funeral and says “it’s not my fault” (p. 3) to his boss. Meursault apologizes to his boss in order to make the situation better as his boss was mad that he needed the days off. Later when a coroner asked Meursault if he’d like to see his mother, he says no and then “felt [he] shouldn’t have said that” (p. 6). The expectation in the situation is that he should stare at his mother’s body as a way of mourning. However, when Meursault rejects the expectation, he later feels regret, but doesn’t make any action to recover from his mistake.
Another example of his dependency is when he’s offered a cigarette to smoke in front of his mother’s dead body and he thinks “I [don’t] know if I could do it” (p. 8). His contemplation of whether or not he should smoke in front of his mother’s dead body expresses his dependency on expectations. Once he realized that the expectation was for him to smoke the cigarette, he took part in smoking and was happy about it. Due to his reliance for expectation, Meursault allows others to control his decisions and actions with their suppositions.
Because of his dependency, Meursault also seeks approval and acceptance from his peers, therefore conforming to the archetypes they create for him. An example of Meursault looking for approval is when Raymond wanted him to talk to the cops and be a witness, but Meursault “didn’t like cops” (p. 37). Rather than Meursault doing what he wanted, he went to the cops like Raymond wanted and became a witness for him. The reason for Meursault talking to cops, even though he didn’t like them, was because he wanted to be accepted by Raymond. The acceptance of Raymond meant that Meursault would become friends with him, something Raymond wanted.
With Meursault being friends with Raymond, Raymond could create an archetype of what a friend is and what friends do for each other. An example of Raymond creating an archetype for Meursault is when Raymond tells Meursault to take a guy if a third man showed up to their fight, in which Meursault “said ‘yes” (p. 53). Because Meursault conforms for Raymond in order to establish acceptance and approval, Raymond abuses this, causing Meursault to do anything Raymond wants. Because Meursault depends on others’ approval of him, he allows them to control him, even against his own resolve.
Therefore, by Meursault giving his autonomy away to create approval and acceptance among his peers, he allows them to oppress him. Likewise, in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo forces himself to become the other by following the goals created for him by others due to his own insecurities. Though Okonkwo was strong, he still had “the fear of failure” (p. 13). By Okonkwo being afraid of failing, he pushed himself and his family to be the best, which made them the model for their tribe. By Okonkwo and his family becoming the archetypal family in their community, they’re objectified by others as people aspire to be like them.
Due to his insecurities, he also permits others determine his actions as “he was afraid of being thought weak” (p. 61). Due to Okonkwo becoming the archetype for his tribe, he limits his autonomy as he begins to make decisions based off of people’s opinions of him. Okonkwo’s action of making decisions based on other’s opinions resembles how Meursault based his actions on people’s expectations. Because Okonkwo constantly struggled to stay the best in others’ opinion, he relinquished his autonomy, therefore subliminally conforming to the goals others’ set for him.
However, due to Okonkwo’s hubris, he resists conforming to the Christian missionaries, making him continue to be the other, ultimately leading to his objectification. Because Okonkwo was “one of the greatest men in Umuofia” (p. 208), he became full of himself and stubborn. To be known as the “greatest” means that all your decisions must be correct. With this notion, Okonkwo limits himself to his ideas and the opinions he believes are best, which closes his mind to other contrasting ideas and opinions.
Therefore when the Christian missionaries “bring civilization to different parts of Africa” (p. 08), Okonkwo resists their ideas and beliefs. By disregarding the missionaries’ beliefs, not only does he seclude himself from the majority of his culture, who conform to the new culture, but he also rejects the imperialistic actions of the missionaries. Though the missionaries believe they’re doing the best by bringing “civilization” to Umuofia, there is an established culture already set up. Okonkwo realizes this and therefore ignores the ideas of the Christians, however because the majority of his community adapts to the Christian ideas, he is left isolated.
His isolation leaves him seen as different by people who once respected him and the Christians, who have become heavily influential in the community. By becoming the other to both his culture and the Christians, a Christian missionary contemplates writing “not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph” (p. 209) about Okonkwo. By the Christian missionary writing about Okonkwo, he objectifies and simplifies Okonkwo and his life. He simplifies Okonkwo’s life as he’d only write a “reasonable paragraph” about him, where he should write more than that because Okonkwo, just like many people, is complex.
He objectifies Okonkwo as he would write about him and profit from his story, whereas Okonkwo wouldn’t profit at all as he’s dead. Consequently, Okonkwo’s arrogance lead to him becoming an outsider to his community and the Christian missionaries, as well as the objectification of his life. Throughout all three media sources, conformity, whether too much or not enough, leads to a road of becoming the other, or different, and objectification. By conforming too much, a person tends to become dependent upon the expectations, approval, and acceptance of others.
By not conforming at all, a person closes their mind off and therefore limits themselves to what they can do as well as seclude themselves from others. Each of these scenarios put people in oppressive systems as they choose to relinquish or not relinquish their autonomy to outside influences. It also allows outside influences to objectify them as the outside forces view them as things that they can abuse for profit or control. The question left over after this realization is, how much conforming should one do in order to establish a balance between the expectations set for them by outside influences and their autonomy?