Dual Identity Essay

Writing Prompts

Begin by exposing students to each text (texts listed below). As students read, watch, or listen to each text, they can gather detail connected to DuBois’ concept of Double consciousness. Students can gather detail that supports the claim that 1) the person has experienced Double Consciousness and 2) analyze how experiencing Double Consciousness has impacted the formation of their identity.

Note: If there is not enough time to analyze each text, choose from the list of provided texts. It is vital students read the excerpt from The Souls Of Black Folk and understand the concept coined by DuBois. Once students read that text, however, teachers can decide which texts to analyze. For example, teachers may decide to only read Inside Out and Back Again, “Transcultural Identities”, and “Mother Tongue”.

This is a possible summative assessment assuming teachers decided to only read these three texts. If students analyzed additional texts, those texts can be added into the summative assessment.

Essential Question: Is Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”?

Unit Objective: Students will synthesize across genres and demonstrate their ability to form and defend a position by determining if the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”.

Summative Assessment (Synthesizing: Putting It All Together)

Prompt: Determine if Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Include at least three pieces of text-detail in your analysis from each of the texts: Inside Out and Back Again, “Mother Tongue”, and “Transcultural Identities”. In addition, be sure to use text-detail from the W.E.B DuBois text The Souls Of Black Folk.

You may choose to structure your essay in the following way:

Paragraph One: Introduction: Include a hook, background information of each text you will be using, and thesis statement.

Possible Thesis:

  1. Dubois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experiences of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”
  2. DuBois’ concept of Double Consciousness is not embodied in the experiences of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”

Paragraph Two: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside out Back Again. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from Inside Out Back Again, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.

Paragraph Three: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue”. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from “Mother Tongue”, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.

Paragraph Four: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from “Transcultural Identities”, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.

Paragraph Five: Conclusion: What was your essay about? What are the main points you made? What is your final thought that you want to leave the reader with? Why?


RL.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.8.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text.

W.8.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

W.7.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Note: This is a group task that can help students meet the demands of the summative assessment.


  • As a group determine if Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Include at least three pieces of text-detail in your analysis from your second text (Inside Out and Back Again, “Mother Tongue”, and “Transcultural Identities”).
  • After responding to the question, explain which piece of text-detail is most relevant. Which detail best supports your claim?

Group Roles:

  1. Leader/ researcher (you determine),
  2. Official Recorder/ researcher (you determine)*
  3. Researcher (Inside Out Back Again),
  4. Researcher (Mother Tongue),
  5. Researcher (Transcultural Identities),
  6. Researcher (you determine).

*The official recorder will record the detail that their partners used on chart paper to help teach classmates.

Please be prepared to defend your position!

Vladimir Nabokov was a lepidopterist. No, really. While Proust wasn't actually a neuroscientist - just an extremely intuitive novelist - Nabokov spent six years as a research fellow at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, obsessing over the details of the Polyommatus blues. Furthermore, his speculative hunch about the evolution of these blue butterfly turns out to have been exactly right. Here's Carl Zimmer:

In a speculative moment in 1945, Nabokov came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves.

Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.

“It’s really quite a marvel,” said Naomi Pierce of Harvard, a co-author of the paper.

The surprising accuracy of Nabokov's research helps overturn a longstanding impression among biologists that the novelist was a mediocre scientist, dabbling in insects while waiting for Lolita. Over at Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer has an excellent post on an old Stephen J. Gould essay that castigated Nabokov for his "intellectual promiscuity," his unwillingness to focus exclusively on fiction:

The late Stephen J. Gould pondered Nabokov's legacy as an author-scientist in "No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts: The Lepidoptery of Vladimir Nabokov" (collected in I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History). Gould concluded that Nabokov was brilliant in one domain, but not the other: the novelist's "general genius" did not in fact make "his lepidoptery as distinctive and worthy as his literature." But would the belated verification of Nabokov's blue butterfly hypothesis force Gould, if he were here today, to revise this conclusion?

Gould's argument goes something like this: when a genius in one field (like art) spends substantial intellectual capital laboring in another field (like science), it troubles us. Why was Nabokov dabbling with pedestrian butterfly morphology instead of writing anotherLolita? (My personal variation on this lament: why on earth did Dorothy Sayers abandon her delightful Lord Peter Wimsey novels to write theology? It's so. . . unjust!)

Gould calls this, somewhat obscurely, "the paradox of intellectual promiscuity." Basically, he says, we try to explain away the "wasted" mental effort which could have produced another classic like Lolita in one of two ways: either the hobby or diversion took so little time that it had trivial impact on the genius's creative output (don't worry, Nabokov didn't waste much time on butterflies), or the second activity somehow wasn't a waste at all. Gould explores (and dismisses) two variations on the second solution: that the hobby was really unrecognized genius-level work (Nabokov was a scientific genius too, people just don't appreciate it!), or that it somehow enhanced the artist's "true" vocation (Lolitawas so great because Nabokov studied butterflies).

It's worth pointing out that Nabokov himself would have fervently disputed Gould's assertion. The novelist didn't see his butterfly science as wasted effort or academic frivolity. (He frequently described his life pleasures as "the two most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting.") Instead, Nabokov saw his arcane butterfly knowledge as a crucial element of his fiction, an intellectual love that inspired many of his literary themes. (Indeed, his fiction is dense with abstruse references to various butterfly and moth species.) As Nabokov noted in Strong Opinions:

Frankly, I never thought of letters as a career. Writing has always been for me a blend of dejection and high spirits, a torture and a pastime - but I never expected it to be a source of income. On the other hand, I have often dreamt of a long and exciting career as an obscure curator of lepidoptera in a great museum.

How did butterfly research improve the art? Nabokov believed that his background in lepidoptera helped develop his deep passion for detail and precision. The same obsessive interest that helped him catalogue insect species also allowed him to write ecstatically vivid prose, for what Nabokov said about literature is also true of science:

One should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected. We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know. When this new world has been closely studied, then and only then let us examine its links with other worlds, other branches of knowledge.

For Nabokov, the entire universe was just an elaborate puzzle waiting to be figured out. It didn't matter if one was talking about a novel or the evolution of an insect or a chess problem: Nabokov knew that the way to solve the puzzle was to focus on the little things, to begin at the beginning and inductively work your way upwards. While Gould saw his dappling in science as a diffusion of his genius, Nabokov (convincingly) argued that his genius was actually a merger of these two distinct disciplines: "I think that in a work of art there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science."

It's also important to note that the advantage of having a "dual-identity" - being both a novelist and a scientist, for instance - isn't limited to Nabokov. According to a study led by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, people who describe themselves as both Asian and American, or see themselves as a female engineer (and not just an engineer), consistently display higher levels of creativity. In the first experiment, the researchers gathered together a large group of Asian Americans and asked them to design a dish containing both Asian and American ingredients. In the second study, they asked female engineers to design a new mobile communication device.

In both cases, subjects who are better able to draw on their mixed backgrounds at the same time were more creative than those who could only draw on one of their backgrounds. They designed tastier dishes and came up with much better communication devices. Because their different social identities were associated with different problem-solving approaches, their minds remained more flexible, better able to experiment with multiple creative strategies.In contrast, Asian Americans who felt that they had to "turn off" their Asian background in an American setting - this is an example of "low identity integration" - or female engineers who believed that they had to be less feminine to be effective at work, had a harder time drawing on their wealth of background knowledge. Such research makes me particularly hopeful in light of this news on the surge of people who identify as "mixed-race":

The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States, and they are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage.

One in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to data from 2008 and 2009 that was analyzed by the Pew Research Center. Multiracial and multiethnic Americans (usually grouped together as “mixed race”) are one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups. And experts expect the racial results of the 2010 census, which will start to be released next month, to show the trend continuing or accelerating.

The cognitive advantage of having a dual-identity returns us to the reason Gould was wrong about Nabokov. The novelist knew that his art benefited from his science, from his ability to see the world in terms of its gleaming particulars. Nabokov was right about the blue butterflies, but he was also right about his background in lepidoptery. Pluralism is always practical.

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