Study Guide

Crispin: Cross of Lead Identity

By Avi

Identity

For as long as I could recall, my mother had simply called me "Son," and, since her name was Asta, "Asta's son" became my common name. In a world in which one lived by the light of a father's name and rank, that meant—since I had no father—I existed in a shadow. (3.2)

Sexist as we might find this today, in Medieval England (and many other places), a person's legal existence was tied to the adult man in his or her life, whether that person was a father, brother, husband, or son. In return, this person was supposed to provide protection (and there was a lot to protect people from). This lack is the heart of Crispin's identity crisis.

"Asta's son, listen to me with the greatest care. When I baptized you, you were named… Crispin." (8.44)

Try to imagine never being called anything but the child of your parents. Then imagine someone just tells you that you have another name. Weird, right? No wonder it throws Crispin for a loop.

Occasionally I would say the name Crispin out loud. It was rather like a new garment that replaces an old: desired but not yet comfortable. (9.2)

If you think breaking in your new kicks is rough, says Crispin, try breaking in a new name.

"Because I have no name," I said, my rage bursting forth. "No home, no kin, no place in this world. I'm a wolf's head. Any and all may kill me when they choose. Even you. You say you want me to do things. Think things. But when I won't be able to, you'll shun or betray me like the rest." (25.9)

All these things would indeed go a long way toward contributing to the low self-esteem Crispin exhibits throughout the first part of the book. He has sunk so low that anyone can kill him without penalty. It's rough seas, but things do start to turn around for Crispin after he stops meekly accepting his fate and starts fighting back—in the form of outbursts, at first.

Her calling me "Asta's son," since I was all she had, and that was all she could say. But all the same, christening me secretly with my father's name. (50.7)

Crispin is reflecting on all the weird things about his life with his mom in Stromford. She couldn't tell anyone who his father was, but she left a clue by giving him his father's name.

He sought to kill me because of who I was. No, not who I was, but who my father and mother were. For me—as Widow Daventry had said—they cared not so much as a rooster's tooth. (50.16)

This is totally unfair: Crispin hasn't even done anything, and people are out to get him just because of his parents. It's quite insulting when people who don't care anything about you want to kill you.

No, I had to remind myself. Not because of me, or anything I'd done, but because I was—Lord Furnival's son. The only question was, now that I knew who I was, what should I do? (50.20)

We applaud Crispin's realization that none of the bad things that are happening to him and others are his fault. It's all down to Lord Furnival's general jerkiness. Even so, Crispin faces a problem: Does he have a responsibility to help those he can anyway, even though none of this is his fault?

I kept asking myself if I felt different, if I was different. The answer was yes. I was no longer nothing. I had become two people—Lord Furnival's son… and Crispin. (51.2)

Crispin says he's become two people. How are those two people different? How are they different from the "nobody" he was before?

Just to see him in his exalted state, made me know with finality I was not him. No, not any part. I was myself. What I had become. (55.12)

Crispin sees a painting of Lord Furnival in all his glory and rejects that part of his identity. What has Crispin become, if not the son of his parents?

And my name—I knew with all my heart—was Crispin. (58.46)

This is the last line of the book, the idea we leave with. What is so important about this name? How is Crispin able to accept it even though it's his less-than-stellar father's name?

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