Shades of skin, and what’s within

Is Don Gately white?

In my mind, the answer is no. I have always pictured Gately as a Pacific Islander. How did I get that impression? I think it may have had something to do with the passage comparing his head to an Easter Island head. It was only on my second read-through that I realized Gately’s race is never explicitly stated. Does that make him white?

What about Poor Tony Krause?

I have always pictured him as a black person. Only this week did it occur to me that I may have completely imagined that. The only clue I could find about his race is the fact that, during his Withdrawal, his skin turns the color of summer squash, which probably eliminates the possibility that he could be black.

And then there’s Mario. This week, we learned of his origins and his myriad physical deformities. We also learned that his skin is greenish gray. Among the many characters of ambiguous race, we have one who, despite being technically Caucasian, doesn’t look like he belongs to any race whatsoever.

Mario is the epitome of otherness. His disabilities are many, and the description of his physical appearance, while exhaustive, is so bizarre it’s hard to picture. Yet despite these challenges, he’s a beloved figure at ETA. He’s carved out a niche for himself as a documentarian. As someone who has undoubtedly drawn the stares of strangers throughout his life, he responds by turning the camera around, rendering himself sort of invisible. If we compare Mario with Poor Tony, another paragon of difference, the text seems to be telling us that sublimation is the way to overcome the challenges that come with otherness. Don’t turn to vice, as Poor Tony does to heroin. Instead, create. Mario uses his camera as a mirror, to reflect people’s reactions to him back to themselves. After all, aren’t our reactions to outward otherness really a fear of the otherness we all sense within ourselves?

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