Study Guide

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Identity

By Laurence Sterne


Tristram Shandy wants to know which came first: the chicken or the egg? It might be a tired question, but Tristram treats it in a brand new way. Can education and knowledge change identity, or is it fixed from birth? And how do you figure out who somebody is? If Tristram is right, identity seems to form in your relations to other people. There's no individual identity outside of family, just as there's no individual identity outside of the place you belong. Looks like we'll be eating scrambled eggs.

Questions About Identity

  1. Do people seem to have fixed personalities in Tristram Shandy, or do their identities change over time?
  2. What role does writing have in establishing Tristram's identity? Is being a writer an important part of his self-conception?
  3. How important is Tristram's family to his sense of self? Does he see himself as an individual or as a family?

Chew on This

In Tristram Shandy, identity is fixed before a person is born, and it never changes.

Tristram suggests that nature rather than education or experience is responsible for a person's identity.

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