Identity Confusion: Zibby O'Neal's The Language of Goldfish
Marcia F. Nash and David B. Daniel
The time between ages 9 and 14 is a period when humans begin the journey from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. The physical changes that begin during this time are predictable and universal. Although we pass through the changes--in body shape, skin, hair, and hormones--at different rates and to varying degrees, puberty is an observable, biological process. Adolescence is much more complicated. It encompasses physical, social, and cognitive development. All of this development takes place in a cultural context that offers complex, and sometimes contradictory, expectations, values, and models of psychological health. Identity conflict/confusion is relatively common during early adolescence. For some, it is a time to begin the search for the "right mask." But others will take an active part in their own development and grow beyond the need for a mask.
Carrie Stokes, the protagonist in Zibby O'Neal novel The Language of Goldfish is teetering on the edge of her childhood. At 13, she is beyond the boundaries of childhood as they are defined in her insulated, uppermiddle-class community and by her family. Carrie and her family moved to Northpoint, an exclusive suburb of Chicago, when Carrie's father finished medical school and began his private practice. Carrie's mother has taken on the role of suburban housewife, running the house with the help of a maid and trying to provide her children with the skills and the tools they need to survive in their new environment. Carrie's 15-year-old sis-