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What Does Identity Symbolize In The Great Gatsby Essay

“How strange or odd some’er | bear myself As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition onThat you, at such times seeing me, never shall, With arms encumber’d thus, or this head-shake… That you know aught of me: this not to do, So grace and mercy at your most need help you, Swear” (I, v, 169-174, 179-181) In the dark guard tower of Elsinore, the young Prince Hamlet discovers the truth that his father, King Hamlet, has been poisoned by the King’s brother Claudius. The King’s ghost reveals this truth and beseeches Hamlet to avenge his unjust murder.

A deluge of sadness, fury, and animosity falls upon Hamlet. Amidst these overpowering emotions, the prince is able to plot his revenge, yet he knows that he will not be able to hide the passion and furor that is slowly seeping out of his every pore. Since Hamlet foresees this issue, he concocts a brilliant plan. He reaches out to his most loyal friend, Horatio, and he forewarns that he may “put an antic disposition on” in order to mask his true emotions and plot for vengeance. Hamlet also pleads that Horatio does not intervene, no matter “how strange or odd some’er [he] bear[s] [him]self. Hamlet is able to apply a mask of madness to hide his true motivations and to excuse his strange behaviors until he is ready to execute his revenge. The desire to feign madness, as presented in Hamlet, is so poignant that is has permeated throughout time to motivate other men, women, and children to use false emotions to advance their own agendas, evade undesirable situations, or conform to a standard. Authors throughout the ages have given their characters veneers in order to allow them to escape their deepest fears, solve the mystery that slowly eats away at their sanity, or to fulfil their most ludicrous fantasies.

This can be seen even in work written even before the birth of Christ. Homer’s lliad is one of the first stories to show the world the value of a good facade. Odysseus, the protagonist of this tale, wanted to avoid being recruited into the Greek army, because he had learned that, though the war would last only ten years, he would not return home to Ithaca, until twenty years later. In addition, Odysseus had just started his family, marrying Penelope and having a son, Telemachus. Odysseus had a fortune to lose; his wife, his son, his property. He did not want to risk those by going to war, where he could die and lose his fortune and happiness.

Thus, Odysseus created an elaborate plot to appear insane and unfit to serve in the war. Modern literature reveals even more tangible examples of wearing a mask in order to accomplish something or live a better reality. The quintessential American novel, The Great Gatsby, says, “The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself … he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” (Fitzgerald 98).

In this classic rags-to-riches tale, a poor young man sees what the world has to offer, and he does everything he can to have it all. He constructs a new identity, one that embodies wealth, class, and power. He acts like royalty and is treated appropriately. Gatsby constructs a version of himself that is mysterious, wealthy, and superior; this facade enables him to rise to an elevated stratum. Elsewhere in American literature, masking and deception are used in a more practical matter. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck pretends to be a young girl to avoid being turned in to the police.

Naturally, he gets tangled up in this lie when the woman who is helping him says, “What did you say your name was, honey? ‘” ‘M–Mary Williams. ‘ ‘Honey, I thought you said it was Sarah when you first come in? ”Oh, yes’m, I did. Sarah Mary Williams'” (Twain 66). To avoid capture and get the help he needs, Huckleberry Finn quite literally puts on the costume of a girl. He simply needs a place to hide and uses a disguise so that he can get what he needs. The examples that appear in literature are mirrored by events in history. In fact, Odysseus’ strategy to evade military service has rer ilitary service has repeated itself time after time throughout the course of history. Hoards of young men feigned illness to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War. A 1966 article from The Guardian explains how, “Young men attempt[ed] to deceive their draft medical board into grading them unfit for service. Some represent[ed] themselves as… drug addicts – by pricking their arms to simulate hypodermic injections; or tuberculosis sufferers – drops of ink on cigarettes are said to produce temporary patches on the lung” (Scott).

The Vietnam War was against many people’s personal values, thus they put on whatever farsed condition they could manage and tried to escape the draft. False medical condition were, in fact, quite effective in aiding young men to evade the draft and stand up for their beliefs through protest. Not only did farsed conditions help men escape military service, they also enabled people to avoid prison and war camps. In World War II, an Irishman named lon Ferguson was captured by German troops. Destined for a brutal stay in a prisoner of war camp, Ferguson chose to display schizophrenic behavior to evade that destiny.

His feigned insanity allowed him to elude his fate of being placed in a POW camp. Similarly, criminals have pretended to have mental disorders to escape the judicial system and flee incarceration. Vincent Gigante, a New York mobster convicted of bribery, laundering, attempted murder and other mob-related crimes, walked around the streets of New York in a bathrobe and bribed psychiatrists to testify that he was insane. Garrett Brock Trapnell, a con man and bank robber, pursued a similar track in order to evade his sentencing.

He attempted to convince the court of his insanity so that they would put him in an asylum rather than prison. Not only was a facade of madness used escape things, it was also used to delve deeper into them. Nellie Bly, a young journalist in the 1880s, feigned insanity in order to increase public knowledge and do her job as a reporter. One of Bly’s first journalistic pieces was an article that detailed the experiences endured by patients and the overall conditions of the renowned mental institution on New York City’s Blackwell Island.

The journalist believed that the best way to most accurately describe every day life on Blackwell Island was to experience it as a patient, thus, she assumed the role of a patient struggling with a mental disability in order to be admitted to the institution. Bly lived in the facility for ten days and was able to reveal the conditions of the Blackwell Island facility in great detail. And somewhere today a young lady rises out of bed just as the hues of orange and red dance upon the buildings surrounding her.

The rays are so bright and harsh; they sting with heat, yet the rays bounce throughout the quiet city street below to brighten them. She jumps out of bed, hurried to complete the morning routine, first to the shower. She lathers up with the expensive shampoo that she worked every school night to be able to buy just because that is what everyone else uses. Her beautiful, curly head of hair is not what she thinks people at school will want to see. She straightens it and puts it up in a ponytail, just as all of her friends do. She just has to fit in.

Out of the house she sprints, eager to make it to the train station in time to pick up a coffee from Starbucks and an issue of People Magazine. The titles on The Atlantic look so much more stimulating and interesting to her, yet she fears being labeled “nerd” or “dweeb,” so she picks up the tabloid and proceeds on her way to school. Her mind is so much more capable, she’s more interesting, and she is more gifted than she portrays. She just has to fit in. She is a skilled runner, and her favorite sensation is the breeze hitting her face as she dashes along.

Yet, her friends all play lacrosse, so she joined the team and pretends to love it. On the inside, she knows that she could be better, that she could run towards the sun, run to a brighter future, but she just has to fit in. Gilds, veneers, and facades are the most valuable tools at the disposal of a creative character, author, con artist, soldier, or even average high school student. Whether one is hiding his plot to kill his uncle, avoiding military service, or attempting to fit in with the popular group at school, he can put on a mask of someone crazier, more ill, smarter, or classier than himself.

From the time of Homer until today, feigned emotions and conditions appeal to a number of people as a means of personal advancement. Shakespeare brilliantly weaves this theme of deception through masking into Hamlet, rendering it a timeless work. Though the relevancy of Kings, Queens, assassinations with poison, and sword fights may have faded over the past few centuries, themes of madness, deception, loss, betrayal, and revenge make plays like Hamlet pertinent and important in this day and age.

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