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Explanations > Identity > Masks

Description | Discussion | See also



Our true identity is often hidden behind the masks we wear.

Masks contain complete social schemas. Others look at the mask and understand what it represents and know what mask to wear themselves. Like a formal ball, the masks thus dance with one another with our selves safely concealed beneath.

Masks thus protect the person and facilitate interaction with others. I wear a mask in different situations to be the person I want to be there.

Masks may be provided by others who interpellate people into subject and cultural roles.

Masks provide a position of safety as we hide our anxieties behind masks of power and security.

We wear layers of masks, such that if one is removed, the true self is not found beneath, but just another mask.


In the movie 'Vertigo', Hitchcock shows first the Pygmalionesque recreation of Judy into the adored and sophisticate Madeleine does a double-twist as the layering of the mask upon Judy shows Madeleine to actually be more like Judy than the elegant lady of his ideal.

The metaphor of wearing masks is not new and we wear them to protect our vulnerable inner true selves. We also need to fit in with society and so wear masks that project social conformance. Masks lie, however, hiding our true selves, albeit with fair purpose in protection and acceptance. They are useful in being largely-positive forms of coping mechanism that help us to handle the difficulties of social life.

Theatrical director Keith Johnstone, one of the originators of the 'impro' method of improvized acting, uses physical masks in training actors and has noted how masks seem to become imbued with a character.

In primitive native contexts, masks are used in rituals to symbolize gods and ancestors. The masks are considered to either contain spirits or act as a channel. The wearer of the mask goes in to trance as they are taken over by the spirit and 'become' the mask persona. This can make them brave, wise, authoritative, and so on.

See also

Movies and Identity


Johnstone, K. (1981). Impro: Improvisations and the Theatre, London: Methuen


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