"Language supplies us with ways to express ever subtle levels of meaning, but does that imply language gives meaning, or robs us of it when we are at a loss to name things?"(Grealy 44). Throughout her childhood and young adulthood, Lucy Grealy attempts to create a self-image based on her looks, through the reactions of others, and her own hopefulness, but these fail and she learns to forget her image completely. It is at this time of forgetting her image that Grealy demonstrates that she is able to recognize a difference between an image that is reflected in a mirror and an image that one can create through language. Grealy, in Autobiography of a Face, separates her face from her image and creates a linguistic nature of identity. This new identity allows Grealy to demonstrate "what makes us who we are" and to challenge the belief that "you have to love yourself first before any one can love you."
There are several definitions for the word image and two of these definitions are pertinent to Autobiography of a Face. The first definition of image is, "An optical counterpart or appearance of an object, as is produced by reflection from a mirror, refraction by a lens, or the passage of luminous rays through a small aperture"(Webster 671). The second definition of image is, "To describe in speech or writing"(Webster 671). The first definition of image seems to be apparent throughout the entire novel. Grealy's autobiography focuses heavily on mirrors and photographs. One of the first images of Grealy's face that the reader is presented with is the description of parents taking pictures at a pony party: "I have seen one pony party photo of me...I look frail and thin and certainly peculiar, but ...
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...e an image composed entirely of words.
Grealy's linguistic nature of identity allows her to show the importance that is placed on physical identity. She writes, "What happened to me was any parent's nightmare, and I allowed myself to believe I was dangerous"(11). This passage does not seem to show parents a nightmare of the possibility that their child could get sick, but that their child could become deformed. All the emphasis is placed on physical appearance. Grealy's autobiography serves as a lesson to show the naked truth of a world that is centered on physical appearance and attractiveness. Grealy teaches her readers to be thankful that the calamity that befell her face has not yet reached ours.
Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
"Image." "Ugly." Random House Webster's College Dictionary. 1992. Ross
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