The Man In The Iron Mask

According to various fragments of history and gossip, there was once an elderly man in an iron mask that had been imprisoned in a state of regal confinement because of the secret that his identity held. The French novelest Alexandre Dumas speculated that the man in the iron mask was really the brother of King Louis XIV and the rightful king who had been imprisoned cruelly. Some revisionist historians (I would cite names specifically, but the text where I got the information was an obscure book and I have not had it in my possession for some years), however, claim that the man was instead Louis XIV’s father, sired to commit adultery as a verile Bourbon sperm donor, given that the King of France was widely thought to be impotent. Once he had sired the king, he was imprisoned once he threatened to flee France and tell his secret, which would delegitimize the French state, and so he was kept in genteel imprisonment but kept away from anyone who could hear his secret. That is the way the story goes, at least.

If someone is wearing a mask, you can tell one of two things about them: either they are up to no good, or they are people with secrets and a rich subterranean life (which can be both a good thing and a bad thing). People wear masks often because they feel more free in anonymity to do what they wish without scrutiny. This sort of motive is present whether someone is putting on a ski mask to rob a bank, or going to a masquerade ball and at least attempting to hide their identity behind a mask (if only playfully). The same motive is what people use when they seek the anonymity of internet communication or use pseudonyms, like the author of the Hardy Boys novel using a male nom de plume because she (or her publisher) thought that boys would be uninterested in reading a series of novels about boys written by a woman. This sort of motive suggests a certain desire to pass off a false identity for shady reasons.

There are other less blameworthy motives for wearing a mask. Masks are often worn to hide vulnerabilities and present strength. There is still deception in this, but those who seek to cover weaknesses rather than deceive for personal advantage at least have the benefit of sympathy. Though I am a rather expressive person who is fairly transparent, at times alarmingly so (to myself, as I would like to disguise myself a little better sometimes, as it would make me less painfully and awkwardly obvious in my ways), I have at least some experience (which I tend to feel rather guilty about) in pretending to be alright and putting on a false pretense when things are not alright, simply because candor and escape were impossible and matters simply had to be endured. No doubt there are many other people who feel the same way and have struggled with their own putting on false fronts, which is what a mask is anyway.

As masks hide weaknesses and project strength, it ought not to be a surprise that they are so common and so popular in our dealings. Of course, masks also alienate and create distance, as there is a gulf between the appearance and reality, a gulf that is difficult to bridge, especially the more lengthy the practice one has at playing a part. If we play a part too deeply and too well, it may be impossible for us to recognize ourselves anymore. This happens whether we are actors in the traditional sense of the word or in the larger way in which we all play parts for public or private consumption. That which we do, whether it is a part of our “true” nature or not, affects the way we believe and think and feel and behave. What we do, in many cases, becomes what we are, along with the added stress we put on ourselves when we judge ourselves harshly for not being true to ourselves or others.

Among the biggest problems we face when we become too proficient at masks is the fear of letting anyone inside, for fear that they would only love the polished and smooth mask and not the often anxious and nervous and vulnerable person inside. I suppose that most of us (like myself) who tend to be somewhat anxious and nervous by nature really don’t fool anyone except those who are the most unobservant, as I have found that my own nature tends to escape rather easily no matter what I might try to do to hide it. I also find that it is generally pretty easy to recognize when other people are anxious by nature, though I tend to feel rather sympathetic, knowing how nerves tend to affect me. When I see those who are vulnerable and wounded, it is not my instinct to take advantage, but rather to encourage and help others as I would wish to be helped in those areas where I am backward and awkward and lacking in confidence and/or competence. After all, those who wrestle with dark truths are the most kind to others who walk the same road.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Man In The Iron Mask

  1. Pingback: The Man Who Suffers And The Mind That Writes | Edge Induced Cohesion

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