Study Guide

Hard Love Identity

By Ellen Wittlinger

Identity

"And so I became Marisol Guzman, Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." (1.52)

From the get-go, Marisol knows who she is. Or at least, she claims to. But can she really be summed up with this list of adjectives? For example, later on, she mocks the idea that everyone at her school is "gifted and talented." It looks like her identity isn't as stable as she tries to make it out to be.

"I'm not gay," I told her, though I really had no strong evidence for saying so. "At least I don't think I am."

"There are other closets." (2.66)

It turns out John isn't gay, but he is lying to himself and others about who he is and what he thinks. He barely interacts with anyone except for Marisol, and generally hides inside the world of his writing. He isn't up front with his parents about how he feels about their divorce, or how it makes him feel about love.

"I need to figure out what it all means by myself. I need to have a world that is not open to my mother. I need to cross barriers by myself, not holding her hand." (4.11)

We get it: Marisol wants to learn about herself and her desires without her mom breathing down her neck. We can't say we blame her, yet we can't help but wonder whether she's guilty of hiding herself, just like John. If she wants her mom to back off, why doesn't she just tell her?

But my smile got shaky when Marisol stared at me, her dark eyes snagging mine like a fish hook. "Well, you should," she commanded. "If you don't know who you are, how is anybody else supposed to get to know you?" (4.84)

When Marisol asks John if he cares who he is, and John claims he doesn't, she gets annoyed. We love how she lays into him for this. Why? Identity is a big deal to her. Marisol spends so much time identifying herself that she can't understand why others wouldn't do the same.

"I have to leave to find out who I really am inside this person my parents have tried to manufacture. But I don't run from my feelings. Believe it or not, I love my parents. Sometimes it scares me to think about leaving them and going off by myself. What if I can't make it on my own?" (5.68)

The word that stands out to us the most? Manufacture. It's as though her parents are mass-producing a set of Marisols. Okay, okay, maybe she doesn't mean it like that—but she does mean to take the agency away from herself and give it to them by using that word. She's not in charge of who she is in her life.

"I know it goes back to being adopted; I know this. I'm a confident person, I have loving parents, I am, for God's sake, 'gifted and talented.' And some days I'm crazy about myself. But somewhere down deep I think people don't really want to be with me. And if I let them see that I like them (as I did with Kelly), they'll run away (as she did, as you did)." (9.53)

In her letter to her mom, Marisol gets real with her. She accuses her mom of being partly to blame for her own hang-ups and issues, though she also thinks she gets her identity from her mom, even though she hasn't met the woman since she was a baby.

"Well, give me a clue here. Who am I supposed to be, anyway?"

"Yourself! Look, I'll tell them right now if you want. 'Marisol is a lesbian. She has no interest in me whatsoever. This whole thing is a farce.' Okay?"

I could feel anger heating up my face, but who was I mad at? (11.41-43)

Hmm… it seems like John is more annoyed by the fact that Marisol is gay than the idea that he should tell everyone about it. Perhaps this is because he's not comfortable with her identity. As much as he knows who she is, he wants her to be someone different so they can be together.

Natural born liar strikes again. I promised myself I'd stop just as soon as I cleared things up with Marisol and could start being myself, my real self, whoever that might be. (14.16)

We can't help but notice that John promises himself he'll be his real self before saying he's not sure who that is. How can he possibly figure that out without at least trying to be honest? John's been playing around with his identity so much that he doesn't know who he really is anymore.

"Besides, most of my friends don't like it here."

"Why not?"

"The gay thing. It makes them uncomfortable."

"You don't mind, though." She shook her head. "I like people who aren't afraid of themselves." (15.10-13)

Diana's open enough to share stuff with John about her identity. She doesn't care if people are gay or straight like some of her friends do; she only cares about people confronting themselves and who they really are. Isn't that what John's been afraid of this whole time?

I am lying in a clapboard shack the wind blows through. It has followed me all the way from Boston to this sheltered harbor where I am less protected than I've ever been. Invisible as a fish in the ocean I've tried to listen, to understand the mystery of two people who could almost touch, except they have in common trusting no one. I'm not lying when I say I tried. (15.73)

John's poem talks a lot about lies and truth, but it also tells us who John's become. In the beginning, he is self-conscious about his writing and how people perceive it, but now he openly shares his most honest poem with the crowd. He's "less protected" as he says, but he's also more secure in himself.