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Levy, N.J. (1961). The Quest For Identity. Allen Wheelis. W. W. Norton, New York. 1958. $3.95.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 21(2):285-288.

(1961). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21(2):285-288

The Quest For Identity. Allen Wheelis. W. W. Norton, New York. 1958. $3.95.

Review by:
Norman J. Levy, M.D.

In his foreword Wheelis writes that this book, an essay on the individual in mid-twentieth century America, is concerned with man's changing character, his loss of old identity, and his search for a new one. He also considers the relevance of psychoanalysis in this quest for identity. Interwoven with the theoretical sections is a personal narrative of events and individuals out of the past which attempts to illustrate what we were and how we are changing. The nineteenth-century figure differs in many ways from the social character emerging today. The force of religion, the strength and meaning of family ties, the values to be admired, and the position of the individual in relation to the group are no longer the same. What was formerly known as the hard core of identity has now been called rigidity of character. Individuality has given way to group identification and conformity. Thus the sense of self has become more “diffuse, elusive, and more fluid.”

Wheelis feels that “more than ever before one is aware of the identity he appears to have, and more than ever before is dissatisfied with it…. It doesn't fit, it seems alien, as though the unique course of one's life has been determined by untoward accident. Commitments of all kinds—social, vocational, marital, moral—are made more tentatively. Long-term goals seem to become progressively less feasible.” Although individualism in the sense of “self-reliance, productive self-sufficiency, following one's chosen course despite social criticism, and bearing personally the risk of one's undertakings” is on the wane, awareness of one's individuality has increased.

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