The Three Faces of Anne: Identity Formation in ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’

Of all the characters that have appeared throughout the 12 seasons that together make up Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, one of the least understood and examined characters is Anne Steele (played by Julia Lee). As far as screen time goes, she was a relatively minor character, appearing in only five episodes total, two on Buffy (“Lie to Me” 2.7 and “Anne” 3.1) and three on Angel (“Blood Money” 2.12, “The Thin Dead Line” 2.14, and “Not Fade Away” 5.22). Such a minor character can easily be dismissed on most shows, but the fact that the writers kept returning to the character of Anne, even years after her original appearance, demonstrates something about the character that continued to fascinate both the writers and the audience.

Anne is an intriguing character because, although she is tangentially touched by the supernatural occurrences that are regular events on both programs, she maintains her identity as a “regular” individual throughout. This ability to live a normal life (despite her first-hand knowledge of the existence of vampires, demons, and zombies) demonstrates her strength of character and also allows the writers to explore the elements of an important psychological concept outside the supernatural realm that permeates the series, the concept of identity formation. Naturally, all of the characters on both programs have strong identities that form as the shows progress, but Anne is different in that, while many of the other characters develop identities that are very much determined by their experiences with the supernatural, Anne’s identity develops outside the supernatural realm (the way the identities of those young people watching the show develop).

Modern theories about identity formation began in 1963 with Erik Erickson’s groundbreaking work Childhood and Society in which he first coined the phrase “identity crisis.” According to Erickson, identity is “a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image” (as quoted in Cherry 3). An identity crisis frequently emerged during the teenage years as a “time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself” (as quoted in Cherry 2) during which individuals struggle between feelings of identity versus role confusion.

In 1966, James Marcia expanded on Erickson’s initial theories in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled “Development and Validation of Ego Identity Status.” He posited that the identity crisis discussed by Erickson eventually leads to an identity commitment, which occurs when the individual makes a firm commitment to an identity (social role or value) that he or she has chosen for himself or herself. After interviewing numerous adolescents and young adults for his study, he concluded that there are four separate “identity statuses” that make up psychological identity development:

Identity Diffusion

The status in which the adolescent has not yet experienced the identity crisis. They have not yet explored any meaningful identity alternatives and have not made any commitments to identity.

Identity Foreclosure

The status in which the adolescent has made a choice to a commitment but has still yet to undergo an identity crisis. The adolescent has not yet had the opportunity to experience alternatives. The adolescent accepts what others (frequently parental figures) have chosen for him. These same adolescents identify greatly with the same-sex parent and typically try to emulate the choices that he or she has made (i.e., if a young boy’s father is a mechanic and owns his own business, then the boy will become a mechanic as well and take over the business when his father retires).

Identity Moratorium

This status is a brief period in which the adolescence is on the verge of his or her identity crisis; however, the adolescent still is undetermined about making a commitment. It is a period of delay. It is during this time that adolescents will experiment with a variety of different identities and roles and explore different life philosophies in the hopes of finding a compatible one on which to commit.

Identity Achievement

This status occurs after the period of identity moratorium and after the adolescent has undergone the identity crisis. This status indicates that the adolescent has made his or her decision for life identity. These individuals have explored all the different roles and opportunities and have come to conclusions and made decisions on their own.

Marcia was very adamant that these four statuses were not stages that every individual went through in a strictly sequential process…

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