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Monday, April 9, 2012

Analysis of Lucy Grealy, in A"utobiography of a Face"

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Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy, is a memoir of disquieting candor and power of a cancerous adolescent experiencing and experimenting with the repercussions of chemotherapy and the threats of a manipulating society. Grealy gives her adult years somewhat shorter shrift than they deserve, but the account of her arduous coming of age is both haunting and inspirational as she makes a lyrical statement about the complex relationships between beauty and self-worth in our humanity, about the ruthless “ importance in this world of having a beautiful face.” Her journey entailed a painstaking recovery from physical deterioration, through mental and intellectual maturity and growth--regarding the intrinsic impact of society’s discrimination on appearance, towards a receptive, introspecting human being.


Obliviously diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, and staunchly put under operation after operation, bone grafts deteriorating time and time again, destroying and un-mending her jaw, Lucy initiates her thoughts quite early, saying, “I was my face I was ugliness�though sometimes unbearable, also offered a possible point of escape “ (7). She quickly accepted her eccentric reflection in the mirror as nothing but a label on her inner self, and struggled between confronting her conflict and running away from it to find refuge. Strangely, the hospital became a refuge for her, despite the pain of chemotherapy. (“ Pain, if nothing else, was honest and open�you new exactly what you were dealing with”, indicating she was comfortable with things that she had over, a strange sense of control and stable expectation, whereas school continued to be intolerable and home was increasingly unstable). The world seemed a far scarier place than the operation table, and the jeering of strangers cut deeper incisions than a surgical knife. The hospital was the only place she didn’t feel self-conscious or inferior in, and there, she tried to come to terms with her disfigurement. It was during lonesome afternoons in Intensive Care, that she came across cognitive epiphanies, even during her teen years after she believed her face to be a locus of despair and an excuse for being “unlovable”. “Instead of proving my worth on the chemo table, I would become a hero through my understanding of the real beauty that exists in the world�I decided that it was my very ugliness that allowed me access to this other beauty” (150) she said, after having difficulty in understanding and disgust towards patients who were having cosmetic surgery that didn’t appreciate how lucky they were to be merely healthy, let alone normal---so she demonstrated with her decision, the strive for remarkable stoicism and effort to transcend petty needs for insubstantial things like boyfriends, and attraction.





Her mother’s weakness to confront disconcerting and painful situations like illness, permeated its way through Lucy’s mind , during her later years, when she not only suppressed tears during chemotherapy, but ,also, natural desires of every teenage girl the desire to be pretty. Her sister was going through puberty and there were times when, she couldn’t help but wish for an aesthetic face, only to quickly respond to her envious reaction with, “ My face was my face, and it was stupid to wish it any other way” ( 140), bluntly illustrating her, self-enforcing a burly fa├žade as a defense mechanism. This improved her skills in detaching herself from her desires, lowering her expectations, and hence, decreasing any disappointment that would follow. It also protected whatever ounce of surfaced dignity that remained when not distrustfully reminded by a mirror. However, repressing had its toll, and the more she negated her feelings, “the more they crowded in”, and spiraled into a vapid, self-destructive and loathing cycle. This ultimately separated herself from people whom she thought never have experienced the depth of “ bottomless grief”. (Ugliness). Her life was put on pause because of the reverberations of suppressed jealousy. A ‘pause’ meant, an indifference towards surrounding, a form of seclusion, and she believed being beautiful was to live with just the opposite sensations of life, “ without the great burden of isolation, which is what feeling ugly felt like” ( 177). This feeling produced a deeper one of confinement, and extrication from society and the community�getting a job wasn’t something she was up for because her face posed as more of a problem than her r�sum�. Her isolation and image only served as an underpinning to the definition of her “ self”, which only assisted her drowning self-esteem. Her obsession with the disadvantages of her looks eventually took a deeper dive into an aura of guilt “ I wasn’t worthy of being looked at….my ugliness was equal to a great failure” (185), and thus a person with that intensity of shame, definitively would develop deeper tendencies to either thrive, or die, in the world of the introverted.


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Lucy, plunged into the pools of thriving and dying when it came to the consequences of living in one’s own head. Her fate and faith increased now and then, as illustrated when she stated, “ I considered the desire to have my body develop into a woman’s body a weakness, a straying from my chosen path of truth…as I lay in bed at night I considered by powers my heightened sense of self-awareness, feeling not as if I had chosen this bath but that It had be chosen for me” (151). Her gender role and development was warped through society’s critiquing which soon became mainly her own constant critiquing. The function of beauty, as society portrayed to women was to obtain the norm of love, attraction, and need. Her void being just that, a healthy social life was out of the question, even when she attended the University of Iowa and shamefully surfed through transient partners to obtain the missing construct of loving and belonging. (That she rarely received from her alienating family). That, along with random taunts in the streets from strangers, solidified all feelings of anomaly---as a woman, a member of society, a partner, and an individual.


Lucy spent her entire lifetime searching for self acceptance through other people’s acceptance, ignoring the reality of her true conflict clarifying her identity as something apart from her face and the extrinsic world. She managed to become very self-actualized, and wise, it being an obvious auspice when she realizes the greatest ignored realities of such things as pain early on her life--- “Anxiety and anticipation, I was to learn are the essential ingredients in suffering from pain, as opposed to feeling pain pure and simple”(16). She used intelligence to anchor herself superior to all that had hurt her in the past, and to all that continuously intimidates every imperfect person in today’s society. The negative but typical role of society in her life would have been (and was for a few years), to obliterate her mental image and composure, but she promoted her ends by intuitive self-counseling, worldly exploration of human life, and surpassed universal truths. All forms of pain and anger, both emotional and physical, eventually found healthy expression through creative observing and writing�and she first found this gateway of escape in college as she notes, “Language itself, words, and images, could be wrought and shaped into vessels for the truth and beauty I had so long hungered for” (1). Writing represented her first sense of control over a creation pertaining to something appealing and beautiful. (As opposed to, for example, makeup). Through developing a full sense of self-definition, she enhanced mental aptitude and strength to retain equanimity while living in a judgmental, unforgiving world, and blessed herself with her own forgiveness, and liberation of genuine quality; Never again to feel or face the threat of a shallow, indecent, expecting society.





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