When one is travelling, identity is something to be examined. In The Sheltering Sky, it is said of Port, “Whenever he was en route from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual. It was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary,” (98).
Bowle’s ideas about identity might be summed up nicely by Port’s exclamation that “I don’t have to justify my existence by any such primitive means. The fact that I breathe is my justification. If humanity doesn’t consider that justification, it can do what it likes to me. I’m not going to carry a passport to existence around with me, to prove I have the right to be here! I’m here! I’m in the world! But my world’s not humanity’s world. It’s the world as I see it,” (88). This is a very existentialist view on identity. “Existentialism believes that self-identity, in every case is a matter of choice. Jean Paul Sartre believed that there were no set standards for self-identity, either for individuals or for people in general. There is no such thing as "human nature" and what we are-and what it means to be a human being-are always matters of decision. There is no correct choice, there are only choices,” (Solomon). Port seems to hold the belief that self-identity is a choice.
In The Sheltering Sky, there is a loss of identity. This begins very literally with the loss of Port’s passport. At first Port is upset. He says, “ever since I discovered my passport was gone, I’ve felt only half alive. But it’s a very depressing thing in a place like this to have no proof of who you are, you know,” (154). Later on he decides that “it rather suited his fancy to be going off with no proof of his identity to a hidden desert town about which no one could tell him anything,” (163). Eventually Port loses his identity altogether by dying and therefore surrendering to nothingness. This could be seen as a choice, considering that he did not get vaccinated against any diseases. Port seems to be attracted to the unknown (“the abyss”) and in the end surrenders to it, losing himself.
After Port’s death, Kit also suffers an identity loss. She also appears to make a conscious choice to lose herself when she leaves Port’s dead body and walks into the desert. Her views also switch from superstitious to a more existentialist outlook; “instead of feeling the omens, she now would make them, be them herself. But she was only faintly astonished at her discovery of this further possibility in existence,” (263). In the desert, Kit eventually loses her identity. “She had no feeling of being anywhere, of being anyone,” (294). Kit’s loss of identity isn’t synonymous with death as it was with Port, but rather becoming “savage.” One can conclude this from Miss Ferry’s reaction to Kit in the end of the book. She says of Kit’s clothes (which were more like the native’s) that “her own cleaning woman, bought better looking ones in the Jewish quarter,” (309). Miss Ferry concludes about Kit that, “My God, the woman’s nuts!” (312).
The Sheltering Sky takes on a very existentialist approach to the idea of identity, and shows the loss of identity through its main characters. Port chooses to cease existing by giving in to death and Kit chooses to stop existing by disregarding society and becoming “savage” or “uncivilized.”