No Face, No Gain: Freudian Analysis of “No Face” by Junot Diaz
In his short story “No Face”, Diaz explores how a man’s mental growth is stunted by his community’s perpetual scrutiny of him for reasons beyond his control. One’s superego represents societal ideals as seen by an individual and while No Face aspires to one day achieves his, he has been told since infantry that he will not before his face is restored. This story’s theme is that without the opportunity to satisfy the superego through societal fulfillment; a person may become supremely id driven and is likely to depend on defence mechanisms to cope, specifically regression in the case of Ysrael.
Ysraels’s hyperactive id is seen in his consistently impulsive behavior and continuous fulfilment of the pleasure principle (Krapp 157). After scavenging for money, Ysrael’s first thought is whether to buy a bottle of soda or a johnnycake when he should be saving to afford his surgery (Diaz 154). Impulsive again, when he is driving as a motorcycle passenger with Padre Lou, Ysrael leans on their turns to create a more thrilling ride despite the padre’s warnings that this may tip the borrowed vehicle (Diaz 158).
Ysrael thinks back to a moment when he had scratched the sores off of his litte brother’s scalp, a harmful impulse that is rooted in the displacement of Ysrael’s anger towards those who bully him onto the boy (Diaz 159). He has learned to surpress this id driven impulse but continues to fantasize when affectionately touching his brother. The id is immature and impulsive, just as the behaviour displayed by Ysrael. When a person reaches maturity they learn to control id impulses as their superego grows to provide a moral code and sense of reality (Krapp 157).
Though Ysrael is learning through experience, as demonstrated in his resisting picking Pesao’s scalp, his id continues to control his conscious unless he is forced to see firsthand consequences like Pesao screams and blood. Without an unconscious reference prompting Ysrael to stop his actions, his id prevaiils because his supergo is underdeveloped due to his denying of reality through regression and other defences. Regression, a Freudian defence mechanism, is seen in the super-hero like commands Ysrael gives himself in times of turmoil.
This is Ysrael’s ego taking initiative, giving him the tools necessary to endure reality. When the town boys ambush Ysrael, he shouts “STRENGTH”, forcing his attackers off of him so he can scurry down the street to the safety of the church (Diaz 156). Ysrael practices the power of “INVISIBILITY” as well as a means of avoiding such ambushes (Diaz 155). Ysrael states, “So many wish him to fall. So many wish him gone” in his head. This is an accurate depiction of the community’s oppinion of him, but the way he hears it as a catchphrase from a comic book shows the blending of reality and fantasy (Diaz 155).
After a day of fending off bullies, Ysrael tells Pesao he is “fighting evil” rather than getting beat up and abused, and denies that his brother would enjoy fighting evil with him (Diaz 160). Though imaginary, the superpowers Ysrael has bestowed upon himself are reflective of the power of the psyche to relieve the realistic anxiety he experiences (Krapp 158). The attitude of Ysrael towards his brother shows that Ysrael feels he is unique in being a superhero; his id is constructing a reason for him to feel extraordinary in comparison to others.
Ysrael’s ego has become accustomed to defending itself by regressing to this childlike behaviour; providing feelings of heroism as opposed to those of victimization. By positing the society that he has been excluded from as the villan, Ysrael posits himself as superior, protecting his ego. Ysrael struggles to construct the core values within his superego because the societal ideals of his peers and family are not applicable to him due to his physical differences.
Ysrael finds similarities between him and comic book characters such as Kaliman because his turban covers parts of his face, much like Ysrael’s mask (Diaz 155). Ysrael susbstitutes expressing the ideals of his society with embodying those of fictional characters, expanding his id further as his superego cannot. This exemplifies again how closely the progression of the id or superego causes the opposite in the other. The yearning of Ysrael for a more prominent superego is seen in his concious mind’s reaction to his unconscious thoughts.
Ysrael has reoccuring nightmares that force him to relive the day when his problems began, the day he was attacked by a pig (Diaz 157). He was too young to have remembered the incident himself but the story has been told too repetitively, engrained so deepy in his mind, that it has become a traumatic facet of his unconscious mind nonetheless. Once the dream reaches one of many bitter closes Ysrael’s unconcious has concieved, he awakens and comes to consciousness where he lays restless until he tells himself to “be a man” (Diaz 158). To Ysrael, becoming a man is representative of success in the eyes of his community. He wants acceptance, but the opportunity to achieve it was taken from him on this day he recalls so regularly.
There are desires of the unfilled superego that are presented in Ysrael’s unconcious mind. Upon awakening Ysrael is forced to confront them in a conscious state where he a reveals his concealed and insatiable desire – to “be a man”. This is the only time in “No Face” when Ysrael recognizes his desired change rather than suppressing it through regression and abiding by his id.
In “No Face”, Diaz expresses the human desire for societal recognition and acceptance through exposing how it’s inaccessibility affects the psyche. We learn how closely connected the notion of growing up is to the flourishing of the superego as it prevents the formation of a boisterous id. Psychosexual development is a vital factor in Freudian psychology but is not the focus of this essay; it would be beneficial to pinpoint which stage of human development the attack on Ysrael interupted to further discuss how it damaged him in the future.