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New Social Compact

A Prose Fiction: The ‘Coming of Age’ and the Problems of Youth

Kagusthan Ariaratnam



The influence of family, school, church, and peers mold us into who we are for a life time. This essay will discuss the coming of age (problems of youth) as depicted in Willa Cather’s (1905) Paul’s Case and J.K. Rowling’s (1998) Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Paul’s and Harry Potter’s transition from childhood into adolescence will be examined. The influence that social forces have on the coming of age, including family, school, church, and peers, will become evident as Paul and Potter transition into very different adolescents.

Set in the early years of the 20th Century in Pittsburgh, Willa Cather portrays Paul as an introvert, homosexual school boy. As such, Cather illustrates the social forces that fail to support and protect Paul’s vulnerability, including his single-parent household, his educational system, his church, and his peers. These pillars of society express no empathy or sympathy for Paul’s unrest. Paul’s loss of his mother, a primary caregiver, leads to his absence of attachment to his motherly figure. Paul’s school teachers and principal refuse to accommodate his differences, and instead, suspend him for his misdemeanors. Paul’s religious institution refuses to accept homosexuals.  Paul’s religious institution also fails to approach and support Paul as a vulnerable individual. Paul’s acquaintances, who are narrow minded, cannot accept Paul for who he is and ultimately mistreat him. Because of this unacceptance by society, Paul did not experience a sense of belonging; rather, he felt excluded. Paul is thus confused about his identity which contributes to his eventual suicide.

In contrast, Harry Potter leads a much better and flourishing life. J.K. Rowling draws on the successful story of a wizard as influenced by positive role models, his skills in witchcraft and wizardry from Hogwarts, and his peers. Harry Potter loses both of his parents and spends his childhood in his aunt’s household. Like Paul, Potter went through similar childhood experiences, as he did not have a primary caregiver whom he could attach to. However, Potter had the opportunity to go to Hogwarts wherein he had great role models and peers, including Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid. Thus, school was a positive experience for Potter, and it symbolizes hope compared to Paul. Potter was born a gifted wizard and spent his life believing in magic. Unlike Paul, Potter had a sense of belonging within the wizardry world. Potter also had supporting peers whereas Paul did not have peers to look up to. Although Potter did not have a family to care for him, his social forces had a positive influence on his life.

According to psychologist Erik Erikson, a lifespan model of development from infancy to adulthood consists of eight stages. Erikson suggests that the first five stages, between birth and twelve years of age, are critical for a child’s attachment, trust, autonomy, and initiative to properly develop towards his/her caregiver (Erikson, 1986).Erikson puts a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent period, between twelve and eighteen years of age, concluding that it is a crucial stage for developing personality, identity, and role confusion in society (Erikson, 1986). Erikson’s theory applies to Paul’s early childhood since he lost his mother when he was a few months old and thus lost a primary caregiver. Consequently, in not experiencing the love or care from a motherly figure, he becomes detached from the world around him. To make matters worse, Cather portrays an unhealthy relationship between Paul and his father wherein Paul was never close to his father nor showed any respect for him. Due to a lack of communication between the two, Paul’s father had very little understanding of or sympathy for Paul’s anxiety. Cather also implies this lack of understanding as the result of a generational gap between the two. Overall, Paul did not develop a sense of belonging, thus becoming confused of his role in society. He did not develop a positive sense of identity because his school did not support him, his father scolded him, his friends teased him, and the church did not condone his different beliefs.

Potter also grew up without primary caregivers and thus did not have the motherly or fatherly figures necessary for attachment. Potter’s aunt and uncle did not care for him like a son, and so, Potter does not properly develop attachment or trust. That being said, Potter grows into adolescence differently due to his role models and peers. At Hogwarts, Potter meets his life-long mentors including Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid whom he looks up to as role models providing him with positive guidance and care. In essence, for Potter, Hogwarts is much more than a school as it symbolizes a sense of belonging in his quest to fit in. Therefore, it is clearly evident how important the school and education system is for Potter’s transition into adolescence.

Paul’s sisters’ dull and boring personalities further alienated him from his immediate family. A family is a social and/or biological system made up of a set of people related by blood or intention (Bloch, 1984). In other words, a family is a whole made up of interacting parts. You cannot add these parts together and get a total system – the system is more than the sum of its parts (Bloch, 1984). Therefore, when one member of a family is missing, as is Paul’s mother, the system becomes dysfunctional. If Paul had caregivers that loved him as a child, he would have become a different person. Potter experiences tragedy with the death of both his parents; therefore, his family system becomes dysfunctional in a similar way that Paul’s had. Potter’s uncle Dursley, who is a father figure, also mistreated him and continuously scolded him. As such, Potter’s childhood home was not characteristic of positive interaction thereby affecting the family system as a whole.

The ancient Roman poet Virgil reminds us, “As the twig is bent the tree inclines” (Evans, 1947, p.321).This quote is about children and how they are raised. The significance of this quote is that if children are raised correctly, they will do well in their society as they grow into adolescence. If they are allowed to misbehave from the beginning, it will become much harder to correct their behavior later in life. Paul’s life fits right into this notion because as a boy Paul internalized his obsessions for Opera music and art, and as a result, Paul longed for a luxurious life. Paul did not have any interest in his school; moreover, the education system failed to accommodate Paul’s artistic and vulnerable personality, responding with punishment. Paul also did not like his middle-class life and went to symphony halls and art galleries on a regular basis to escape the reality of his “mundane” life (Cather, 1905). Paul’s early misbehavior at school leads to a series of misbehavior later in life which could not be corrected. On the other hand, Potter’s opportunity to attend Hogwarts and his innate and masterful wizardry skills nurtured him into a completely different adolescent. He was guided and instructed by his school and mentors, and although he was scolded by his uncle, he was always obedient. Therefore, Potter did not misbehave and grew into a model citizen.

As Cather (1905) portrays, the red carnation that Paul wears is a symbol of homosexuality. The church that Paul attends, however, does not condone homosexuality. Paul is not able to tell his father or friends of his homosexuality, instead he buries it inside. Paul secretly spends his time with Charley Edwards, who is also gay as indicated through his attire and acting career (Cather, 1905).On the other hand, for Potter, Hogwarts replaces and symbolizes the church. Potter cannot live without Hogwarts because that is where he feels a sense of belonging. Although Dobby warns Potter that his life is in danger at Hogwarts, Potter still returns to his place of hope.


Paul took his own life because he did not want to return to his mundane and boring lifestyle. Paul did not want to face his father whom he did not feel attached to. Paul’s inner circle of family, church and school have a discontentment toward his sensitive, artistic, and vulnerable personality, and as such, they would alienate him more if he had returned. Lastly, Paul failed to accomplish the American dream. Alternatively, in defeating the evil at Hogwarts, Potter became a hero. Potter was very brave in this venture, and more importantly, it was his choice to do so. With nurturing role models, Potter had morals and a sense of belonging wherein he internalized these positive influences which ultimately molded him into a successful wizard. Overall, the coming of age is crucial for one’s development into successful adolescence.


  • Bloch, Donald A. “The family as a psychosocial system.” Family Systems Medicine 2.4 (1984): 387-396. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. Retrieved from
  • Cather, Willa. “Paul’s Case – A study in Temperament.” Fiction 100- An Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. James H. Pickering. Boston: Pearson Education Inc, 2012. 195-209. Print.
  • Erikson, E. H. Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton. (1986). Print.
  • Evans, William Arthur. Basic principles of child “conditioning”: “as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined”. Dallas, Texas. Institute of Human Technology, Inc. (1947). Print
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury. (1998). Print.

Kagusthan Ariaratnam is multi-skilled security, defense, intelligence, and counterterrorism analyst with over 25 years of experience. He currently works as a research analyst at Project O Five. Kagusthan can be reached by email at Kagusthan[at]

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New Social Compact

Herat, the fire’s bride



The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.

Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.

Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.

She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.

According to Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.

In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.

The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.

They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.

Although the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.

85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.

One of the most influential thinkers and leading Afghan practitioners in the field, Dr. Djawed Sangdel says: “Education is a key. This country needs a thorough horizontalisation of education for all.”

80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.

Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.

The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.

Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.

After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.

Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.

Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.

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New Social Compact

The Modern Tragedy of Child Marriage



Authors: Pooja Shah & Russell Whitehouse

“And just like that, my mother was married to the village chaiwala when she was 14!” I distinctly recall my grandmother saying as we sat together on the front porch, warmed by the mid-summer breeze.“14? She’s a child!” I gasped out of horror. “How can she be married? Her parents allowed it?” I ignorantly continued.

It was July 2011. I was visiting my now-late grandmother in Ahmedabad, Gujarat after a two-month writing excursion through Mussoorie. The first few days of my stay were filled with pleasantries and questions about school and life in “Amreeka”, quickly followed by the incessant questioning of when I would get married and if I found a suitable companion yet… Of course, to a 19-year old college sophomore student barely at the cusp of adulthood, marriage felt like an intangible figment of my imagination, as it did for most of my peers back home who were too occupied by finalizing our majors and what party to attend next weekend. However, as my grandmother spoke, summoning stories of her own mother, it became dauntingly obvious that not only marriage was the traditional norm, but marrying early was the expectation in the era she grew up in.

12% of girls in the developing world will be married off before the age of 15; in many of the world’s poorest countries, like Bangladesh, over half of girls will be married off before the age of 18.  According to the IWWC, over 400M women aged under 50 years old are survivors of child marriage. .Western countries aren’t exempt from this scourge: over 200k girls have been married in this current century in the US.

Although theoretically child marriage is outlawed in India, in many rural areas, impoverished families will often “give away” their children in exchange for fleeting economic security. Rooted deeply in religious, traditional and cultural norms, and often motivated by economic factors, many families view child marriages as a means to end their economic suffering.

My grandmother confided in me that her mother, a child herself, gave birth at the age of 16 with a husband who was nine years her senior. Dadi dismissed my shocking reaction and confirmed, once again, that this was not atypical. I began to realize over the course of our conversation the very limited rights and personal choices these children, particularly young girls, have. Their lives are a mere transaction: exchanging their livelihood and existence for a few rupees on their families behalf, all while being forced to forego their educations, childhood, hobbies, and sense of independence.

This commodification of the lives of girls reinforces a culture of deep misogyny. Being married off while school-age tends to end a girl’s education; less than half of child brides have completed primary (let alone higher) education.  This can create economic shackles for a girl in a marriage; without even a basic education, a girl or young woman is unlikely to find a job that can create any level of financial freedom.  Being saddled with a child from a young age also impedes a girl’s ability to leave the house to find work.  With this reality in mind, it’s no shock that child brides are 9% more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse (generally by a husband or parent in-law) than women.  A young lady with little education is less likely to be aware of legal options to end this suffering, like filing a domestic abuse complaint with the police or filing for divorce. 

Such a culture is likely to continue other degrading practices, like female genital mutilation and widow ostracizing, as well as create whole generations of traumatized girls and young women.  The systemic rape of young girls inevitably moves the social Overton window, making the rape of women, men and boys seem less important or even noteworthy.  Growing up in a household featuring such disparate power dynamics is liable to create a twisted sense of self-esteem and justice among children of child brides.  Mothers are one of the primary sources of the pedagogy of a child.  Thus, girls who were taken from their schools to get married would be less well equipped to contribute to their children’s education.  This would be especially apparent in terms of sexual education; a culture of child brides is intrinsically less able to teach its children about health topics like STDs and birth control, to say nothing of ethical issues like consent.

My dadi also revealed how her own mother suffered multiple miscarriages throughout her youth, as her body was not fully equipped to bear pregnancy. This is unsurprising; young girls aren’t biologically ready to go through the physical traumas of pregnancy and giving birth.  Pregnant girls under 15 have quintuple the maternal mortality rate of women; 88% of them suffer obstetric fistulae, which often lead to permanent disability.  Girls are also disproportionately likely to receive cervical lacerations during intercourse, which can lead to cervical cancer down the line.  The children resulting from these underage marriages suffer similar hazards.  Babies born to child brides are 28% more likely to die within their first 5 years of life than babies born to women.

When confronted by my bachelorette status (as I often was when I visited India), I remember I would always counter with “I have to finish school first”, acknowledging the privilege I had to control my education and career aspirations. When it comes to these child brides, often times marrying at a young age will likely mean an end to their education, and in turn, will hinder their ability to obtain the skills and knowledge that is vital for income-generating employment.

That day I was enraged by the fact that child marriage continues to exist in the 21st century, as well as my personal lack of awareness on the issue. It has been over eight years since that enlightening conversation, and thankfully due to the tireless efforts of activists, legislators, and advocates there has been movement towards ending child marriage. In fact, UNICEF and Indian Wedding Buzz joined forces earlier this year on Valentines’ Day to #EndChildMarriage, demonstrating that one of the most crucial steps in eradicating this humans right issue is to stand against it. By utilizing their global social media platform and influential magazine, the #EndChildMarriage initiative was aimed at raising awareness of the implications of child marriage and more importantly, how we, collectively, can help put a stop to it. The campaign further empowered young girls in many South Asian and African countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, among nine others) with the information and resources to understand the implications of what they are being forced into. Furthermore, the program continued to develop national strategies with the efforts of government investments, religious leaders, and of course our community. This social media sensation, backed by Indian Wedding Buzz, demonstrated their respective commitment to being part of the change, so that we as South Asians, as Americans and as humans can follow suit to be part of this revolutionary movement. After all, there is strength in numbers.

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New Social Compact

Marcia Andrade Braga: A ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

MD Staff



Brazilian peacekeeper Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga serves in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Photo: MINUSCA

Training gender advisors and focal points in the Central African Republic (CAR) has earned a Brazilian United Nations peacekeeper a special gender advocate award, it was announced on Tuesday.

Secretary-General António Guterres will bestow naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga, with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award during the 2019 Peacekeeping Ministerial conference due to be held at UN Headquarters in New York this Friday.

“UN Missions need more women peacekeepers so local women can talk more freely about the issues that affect their lives”, said Lt. Cdr. Braga.

“I am so proud to be selected”, she said, upon receiving news of her award, also expressing gratitude to her colleagues in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Serving as the Military Gender Advisor at MINUSCA Headquarters since April 2018, Lt. Cdr. Braga has helped to build a network of trained gender advisors and focal points among the Mission’s military units and promoted mixed teams of men and women to conduct community-based patrols around the country.

These “Engagement Teams” were able to gather critical information to help the Mission understand the unique protection needs of men, women, boys and girls, which in turn helped develop community projects to support vulnerable communities.

Projects include the installation of water pumps close to villages, solar-powered lighting and the development of community gardens to cut down the distances women have to travel, to tend their crops.

Lt. Cdr. Braga is also a driving force behind MINUSCA leadership’s engagement with local women leaders, making sure that the voice of Central African women is heard throughout the ongoing peace process.

Moreover, as a former teacher she has also helped train and raise awareness among her peers on gender dynamics within the Mission.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN Department of Peace Operations, spelled out: “Marcia Andrade Braga is a stellar example of why we need more women in peacekeeping: Peacekeeping works effectively when women play meaningful roles and when women in the host communities are directly engaged”.

Created in 2016, the UN award recognizes the dedication and effort of an individual peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security, which underscores the “3 Ps”, to prevent conflict; protect women and their rights during and after conflict; and to increase the numbers of women participating in all mechanisms, to prevent and resolve conflict.

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