Sunday, February 11, 2007


Lately I've been thinking alot about persona.
As a writer, a teacher, a father, and even a human being, my persona changes depending on the situation. We're all like this. Persona, in case you're unfamiliar, is derived from Latin word for mask or character. We have all these different masks that we use on a daily basis.
Leab the teacher
Leab the dad
Leab the husband
Leab the friend
Leab the son
Leab the brother
Leab the neighbor
Leab the blogger
Sometimes these come together, but the way I act at school is not the way I act at home. Though I am forthcoming with certain aspects of my life with my colleagues or my students, there are many things that I do not discuss. Same with my family. Same with the blog.
As a side note, I have no idea if any of my students read this anymore, and I really don't care. I know
Michele has the same issue. I also couldn't care less which of my colleagues have been or are reading.
Back to the point. Persona. It also spreads to authors.
In particular, I'm thinking of Samuel Clemens, who was better known as Mark Twain.
Several of my colleagues are teaching Huck Finn to their 10th grade students. As we've already seen this year in Lakeville, some folks are not ok with the book. In particular, it's because of the character of Jim. In the book, he's known as Nigger Jim, because he's black.
So in comes the problem: do you allow Twain the use of the term because of the time period, or do you damn him for using a derogatory term?
This is not a debate I can answer, but this is what I have been discussing with some colleagues. I have always looked at the story like this:
Clemens created the persona of Twain so that his alter-ego could say things he couldn't. Twain is a great writer. I admit that I fall in the apologists category. I truly believe Twain is satirizing the deep south in the 1840's to show how idiotic the thinking was at the time. Jim is the only complete character in the entire story. Does Huck Finn have writing conventions? Sure. The fact Tom Sawyer shows up to save the day is coincidental....Almost too easy.
Think of it this way. How do you get people to change the way they are thinking? You have to start by showing them the way they think. Present it to them. Then, you need to show why the way they think is incorrect. This is what, in my opinion, Twain is trying to do. He uses Jim to show the readers that their misconceptions about African-Americans, in particular former slaves, need to be eradicated.
So why use the persona of Twain? Well, and again this is my opinion, Twain is to Clemens as Borat is to Sascha Baron Cohen. A character used to help the real person. That's the idea of persona. A mask that the real person uses to put forth a point that they cannot do themselves. Another example? Bruce Wayne and Batman. Batman is Bruce Wayne's persona.
And then there's Tom and
Arthur Willoughby. Again, persona.
Sometime you should watch how you speak to people. Do you talk to your significant other the same way you talk to your friends? What about your parents? Do you talk to them the way you talk to your siblings?
I teach, but I talk to each of my classes differently. It's like knowing your audience. I try very hard to bring "the Real Leab" to the classroom, but, amazingly, I'm a little bit of a private person.
Take a moment and think about it, and you'll understand what I mean. Think about how you deal with people and how different you are.
Leab the person is abrasive because he tells people what he thinks. There's not "politics" or anything like that. The problem is that when you tell people the truth as you see it, they get angry.
That's why we create personas. So we can find ways to truly say what we feel.
Then again what do I know? I'm Leab the crazy person. I could be wrong.


Helen's daughter said...

Well said, Leab. Right on all counts. Keep it up.

-bt said...

well, you've got at least one student reader... wait... am i still considered a student of yours? hmmmm.....