Tuesday, 18 November 2008

you make an interesting point...

My seminar leader made an interesting point today, something that i guess i had always known, but never really considered in much depth.
Today's seminar discussion concerned the nineteenth century novel Villette by Charlotte Bronte. The narrative is entirely from the main character's perspective, yet you never really feel as though you know the character, and at one point where she lists the assumptions other characters have made about her personality (which, you realise are the ones you, the reader, have also made), she ridicules them because she tells you she is not at all like this. The author and narrative have both misled you.
The narrator (Lucy Snowe) presents herself to other characters as frustratingly blank and quiet. She seems to wear a mask, and has to keep up a certain level of disguise as people in her environment are obsessed with spying. Her self-imposed mask, at one point, leads to a minor mental breakdown as a result of imprisoning herself within her pretence. It is odd that a first person narrative, which is typically confessional, manages to withold so much from the reader. The narrator doesn't mention parents or much of her childhood. She is a character without roots which emphasises the complete blankness she presents.

The discussion soon led to these points:
  • Wearing a deliberate mask of 'frostiness' or of 'blankness' invites attention and curiosity, and encourages others to project their opinion of you onto your 'blankness'. They, therefore, create their own image of you - for example, if you appear to be quiet, you are perhaps dismissed by others as shy, or thought to be 'up to something'.
  • The Freudian idea that what some people hate/criticise about other individuals are the qualities they loathe most about themselves.
I don't regard this as particularly negative, but the discussion encouraged me to think more deeply about the issue. I believe that, in certain situations, maintaining an air of mystery can be a good thing. Perhaps, as a newcomer to an environment you're not totally comfortable with, being quiet while you observe is useful, and maybe everyone doesn't need to know your life story just yet. Or maybe you don't trust everyone in your company. Or you might not always care what people think or will think of you, you may be quite happy to entertain your own satisfactions. Obviously, we all use common sense; there's no point in being aloof when the occasion doesn't call for it.

But at what point should you start caring that people have 'projected their opinion' onto the blank face you present? At what point does it become a danger?

I consider myself to be a confident individual, and I'm just as comfortable being quiet as I am speaking my mind. I don't go out of my way to be over-confident and talk to as many people as possible, yet the people I do talk to know me reasonably well. However, some of those only acquainted with me have, in the past, assumed me stuck up or rude, and after conversations with me, confessed they thought this and that they were shocked that I'm the opposite of their initial assumptions. Is my mask that good (or bad)?

Everyone has a mask. Some people have several. A professional mask, for example, because you need to appear efficient and competant, well-abled and qualified for your job so that you are appreciated for your input and your skills. You wouldn't necessarily act this way whilst relaxing with friends.

Before I digress any further, Lucy Snowe creates a disguise for herself to hide her true self from those she is at first unfamiliar with. It is argued, though, that building an exterior of yourself for others to see is building a prison for yourself. Relate this to 'coming out of the closet'. Denying to everybody else (and even yourself) makes the admittance harder.

I found this topic interesting, and having never studied psychology or sociology, etc, it's relatively new ground for me.
So, I'm curious to hear another's perspective on this.
At what point do the masks we create/use become dangerous?

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