Why Not?


A Mask? by Hersh T.
November 5, 2009, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Hersh

In the chapter, “Pig and Pepper” (found in my copy of The Annotated Alice), the cook is stirring his pot violently and Alice comments,

“there’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!”

This actually, is very normal. When one of our attributes is weaker than another then we tend to overcompensate in another aspect of our life. Similarily, if the soup had slightly spoiled vegetables or meat than the addition of pepper could mask that weakness. For example, if we are really good at speaking, but not as good at writing then we tend to speak more, and do more things related to speaking than writing. This idea of a mask is very intriguing, if we take that idea and expound then we can say that Carroll is masking his real identity behind the back of Charles Dodgeson.

What is the point of a mask? To hide our identity? Or to free us from the burden of being ourselves? To protect us? Or to free us?

Masks can provide many many things depending on the focus of the person. For example, in the movie the Dark Night the henchmen of the joker used masks to protect their identities. However, in the book Lord of the Flies, the boys use paint to help mask themselves. Not to not get caught, but simply to lose themselves and not be responsible for their actions. In the ancient ballroom tradition of having the mask over your face so you do not know who you are with is an innocent example of masks and rather heartwarming. However, the idea of a mask often has a negative connotation. As an experienced writer, Carroll was most likely aware of this.

The real question now is, what does Carroll have left to hide?


20 Comments so far
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Interesting connection. I remember that later on in the story, when Alice meets the “nice” Duchess, she assumes that the reason that she was mean at first was because of excessive pepper in the soup. Maybe it wasn’t the pepper, but what the pepper was “masking” that did this to the Duchess. Could it be possible that the Duchess did not even know that this was happening, that she was set up to become this cruel person and cause herself to be imprisoned?

You are right, there are many different kinds of masks, and they serve many different purposes. Pepper could be used to make something more flavorful. It could also be used to hide a taste that shouldn’t be there, like, as you said, something stale, or even something much darker, like drugs or poison. Ski masks can be used to keep someone warm, or to disguise one’s identity when committing a crime.

So, although masks do have various different uses, what is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think the word, “mask”? Is it a pretty Mardi Gras mask? A metaphorical mask, such as the example of speech vs. writing? A sleep mask? A burglar’s ski mask? Something that “masks” the flavor or truth of something? Personally, I think of the ski mask, or even a clown mask. I’m afraid of clowns; they’re creepy and seem like they’re hiding something behind that goofy mask and happy face. I associate the general term “mask” with deceit and even violence. I agree with you that the average connotation of masks is negative, and that Carroll probably knew this.

However, I also agree with Darcy on the fact that he really did not mention masks often in the story, so he may not have wanted this much insight into them. That being said, this is literature, there is usually a deeper meaning, it is open to speculation, and is kind of interesting, so what the heck?

Comment by Kathy B.

Very interesting question, Hersh. Well if you were to ask me, chaos might be a risk. If chaos was to be a reward, it would have a positive connotation to it, but most people have a very negative connotation for chaos. In some cases if you are attempting to create chaos for your own personal reasons, of course it would be a reward, but most of the time chaos will end up causing UNWANTED confusion and that makes it a risk.

Comment by Rivu D.

‘chaos might be a risk’ .. ‘if chaos was to be a reward’ .. ‘positive and negative connotations people have for chaos’ .. but chaos is beyond what one or another thinks of .. risk, reward, negative positive connotations, they are all subjective approaches .. nature use chaos .. we ourselves are the products of chaos

Comment by Savvas

What you just said is the reason that all arguments between respectable individuals usually end in an impass. Well done. You are right, I think we must now agree to disagree. In this completion of this argument however, a new seems to have popped up in my mind.

I am currently confused about the relation of risks versus outcomes and I want to know what you think in regard to chaos as a risk, or a reward?

Comment by Hersh T.

Good point, but we originally defined chaos, did we really define the idea of chaos and the psychology and philosophy behind all of it? Chaos itself is utter and complete, but the idea itself is so broad that it has a degree of slight pandemonium. To put it slightly numerically, order would be ground zero, slight pandemonium would be stage one, chaos would be in the at stage two, and outright chaos would be step three. You could also go the other direction, with below zero being strict militaristic rule with no room for freedom, while order is merely keeping the peace, in a sense. But yes chaos itself is only complete and utter by denotation, but perhaps other people have a different connotation.

Comment by Rivu D.

Good point, however, if we take chaos as how we had originally defined, you had agreed to the fact that it was “utter” and “complete”. So if it is utter and complete how can there be “slight” pandemonium in relation to chaos. Chaos, as an idea, cannot be given a degree. For it has only one, complete and utter.

Comment by Hersh T.

Good point. Well everything has more than one degree, a degree of zero and the highest degree. Chaos itself doesn’t have a degree, but the idea of chaos has multiple degrees, because the idea of chaos also includes its polar opposite of order, so the idea of chaos has the degrees order, slight pandemonium, chaos, and outright chaos. Chaos itself is only part of the idea of chaos.

[Or perhaps Rivu is merely pushing on the boundaries of language, semantics, and mental lexicon to see if he can create intellectual chaos here. — Mr. Long]

Comment by Rivu D.

If it has a degree, but it is only one degree then doesn’t it not have a degree? Think about it my friend. It was a good point, but I think that if something has only one of something then it doesn’t matter.

Comment by Hersh T.

Well I looked a few places, and the denotation of chaos is “a state of utter confusion and complete disorder.” or a “total lack of order and civility”. Now that that’s out of the way, the first thing you notice about those definitions is the words utter, complete, and total. Thus chaos DOES have a degree attached to it, a degree of something that is at an absolute maximum. This is one of those cases where my denotation is the exact same as my connotation.

Comment by Rivu D.

But daniel, if it has nothing to do with identity then why do those people feel that they can do anything? Is it not because they feel as thought it is not them? Which is their identity?

Comment by Hersh T.

Before I answer this question, we must observe the idea of your definition of chaos. Often before conducting an argument, we must make sure both sides agree on the basis of the argument. If they do not, then this is when arguments go haywire. My answer would be, which order?

Comment by Hersh T.

For some reason when wearing a mask people think that all of the sudden it is okay to do something that it wouldn’t be okay to do if you weren’t wearing a mask. I guess they think that because there true identity is hidden. Also hunters now a days very rarely put face paint on or wear masks. If they were to do that it would just be to blend in with their surroundings, it has nothing to do with having a different identity.

Comment by Daniel L.

Indeed the rules are incredibly confusing. Its almost as if they are meant to be mirror images of the rules in the real world. In the real world, thing generally make sense, but in wonderland, they don’t. Perhaps Lewis Carroll simply made two worlds that are opposite to eachother to entertain children. To answer your question of what is chaos, I think the best way to define it might be to say that it is the opposite of what is order. Your right, chaos doesn’t seem to be a word with multiple degrees attached to it. But then you have to ask yourself, what is order?

Comment by Rivu D.

I believe you are right. That Wonderland does have its own rules, and that they make the world make sense. These rules are very confusing and often less organizing then chaos. What is chaos? Is there is extreme chaos? Or mild chaos? Doesn’t chaos have one degree? Because then it wouldn’t be chaos right?

Comment by Hersh T.

Excellent point about rules being meant to be broken. If you ask me, rules are almost like figureheads in a sense, they are more representational than actually useful. However I wouldn’t go as ridiculously far as saying they arent completely useful, as without rules, everything would be chaos. Or maybe that would be going too far as well, because wonderland doesn’t really have rules and one would not describe IT as chaos. Or maybe it does have rules, but the rules are just different? Without rules it seems to me as if everything would be a little helter skelter.

Comment by Rivu D.

That is true Rivu. The blending in with our surroundings is true. It does make us better hunters which does defend your rule. And your masterful command of the knowledge of rules and exceptions makes me waver on my next point. However, I shall plunge on. Since rules were made to be broken, doesn’t that defend the point that all rules are in the end, not exactly useful. I know that they are, but theoretically?

Comment by Hersh T.

Perhaps hunting masks such as face paint would be an exception to my idea of masks bringing out a persons best inner qualities. A rule without an exception is an exception to all rules after all. But maybe hunting paint does make us better in a sense. As you point out, face paint makes us blend in with our surroundings. But, blending in with our surroundings makes us better as hunters, so the mask that is face paint does in reality make us better by making us first blend in but then proceeding to make us more effective hunters conequence of the blending in with ones surroundings.

Comment by Rivu D.

That is true Rivu. I agree, maybe a mask does not free, protect, or even hide but bring out our best qualities. However, if we take this to be true, then what is the point of hunting paint, or wilderness masks? Are they not there to hide our face so that we can blend in? Not to simply bring out our eyes.

Comment by Hersh T.

A trifling question. I compliment your ability to take a seemingly meaningless exclamation and discover a deep philosophical question inside of it.

I believe masks are ignorance. This may be a very blunt opinion but in all truth, thats what we can dig down to: masks are used for the desire to hide our shameful atributes and forget them in order to bring about bliss. They give us away to be what we want to be without having to face an aweful or unwanted truth. It is without a doubt that there are tacit motives behind the usage of masks, but we can’t really figure out if they are beneficial or necessary rather than harmful towards us.

When the truth is hidden, false realities begin to bloom and there is a creation of a web of lies which would not be present if the truth is hidden. In the end, there is nothing to gain but more pain, if one’s mask ends up cracking.

However, I don’t think Carroll plays around with the mask philosophy in the text very often, so it might be that the subject of duel personalities is sketchy to him, and best avoided if he is to continue being the Alice-loving Lewis Carroll.

Comment by Darcy S.

Perhaps the point of a mask isn’t to hide identity or to free and protect us necessarily, but to play off our own strengths and to make us look better than we really are. Your statement “When one of our attributes is weaker than another then we tend to overcompensate in another aspect of our life” would also suggest this. Perhaps we, as human beings, want to appear as though we are better than what we actually are, and thus, we show the side of us that is factually good instead of displaying our weaker side. To use your example, take writing and speaking. If a person wants to look good and has a talent for public speaking, he will most likely prefer speaking to his say, mediocre writing. Not to free or protect himself or even to hide his identity or free him from burden, but to make his identity more positively pronounced.

Comment by Rivu D.




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