Red = X

“…I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it. But this separation of consciousness is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us….” (105)

The quote above from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red connects to the queer identity. We grow up in a world that assumes similarities until the differences are made explicit. The idea of coming out is built around heterosexuality and cisgender people who are considered “normal”. We assume that people come with default settings and it isn’t until someone tells you I’m not blank I’m actually blank instead of everyone saying I am blank. We grow up learning people are different and somehow the lessons of childhood are the ones we forget to apply. Geryon begins to grow up and notice how he is different from others. He understands the world through pictures better than words, he likes males. The quote is a reminder that there is no normal, we all see, and experience things differently.

It is made clear that red is significant to Geryon and his story. So what is red? What are we seeing differently? I think red symbolizes the parts of ourselves that we haven’t fully dealt with or embraced. The readers know red is so ingrained within Geryon but that doesn’t mean it is seen. The following quote has lead me to what I think red is “To deny the existence of red is to deny the existence of mystery. The soul which does so will one day go mad” (105). I argue the specific symbolism of red to Geryon isn’t what is important but the general idea of what red represents. Red equals the variable x because red is just a symbol for our denied self and that is different for everyone.

Besides the word “red,” I thought it was important to define the word “mystery”. A mystery is something unknown and or obscure. The readers follow Geryon from a young age growing up and when growing up people slowly uncover mysteries about the world as well as themselves. Some have argued that deep down people know who they are and what they want but they deny the existence and bury it so far down that even they can’t consciously reach the answer. Placing the idea of denying something about yourself and the second part of the quote sends a pretty clear message. To deny a part of yourself will drive anyone crazy. You are never truly yourself until you come to terms with who you are and let yourself fly.

Geryon is a red-winged monster. He knows he is different and he tries to bury and hide his differences like his wings. All Ancash wants is to see Geryon spread his wings and fly. To be free and to fully accept himself. “There is one thing I want from you. Tell me. Want to see you use those wings” (144). I believe Geryon’s wings represent the strength and power that comes from the parts he has denied. It is when he fully accepts all of himself he has strength.

Circling back around to the first quote if red is something that someone is denying and there’s strength once we embrace it then I think the message isn’t just about we assume a “normal” exists among people but also communication is what opens the avenues to acknowledging our differences once we own them. Geryon buries red and hides it away because he has been conditioned to believe that he is different and that it’s weird “[F]ailure of communication” leaves us blind. Blind to our differences and blind to potential acceptance. If people communicate with each other openly and honestly, we can have some understanding of how we see red.

2 thoughts on “Red = X”

  1. The way you describe the concept of normal is really unique and I had never thought of your default setting analogy. This reminds me of when we read Written on the Body because I kept looking for the narrator’s gender, because that was my default. However, as I kept reading, I discovered the individuality of the narrator and that there is no normal, so why is this something that I need to know? It makes you think deeply about society and the labels that have been created for people.

  2. This is a really interesting analysis – I love the idea of red as something Geryon either denies or doesn’t know about himself. Replacing the word “red” in your quoted passage with your argument, “I think red symbolizes the parts of ourselves that we haven’t fully dealt with or embraced,” I’m curious about the ways in which other people see the parts of ourselves that we can’t or refuse to examine. “I will never know how you see red” becomes “I will never know how you see the parts of myself I haven’t fully dealt with or embraced.” It’s interesting and perhaps uncomfortable to consider how other people perceive our “red” – what does Geryon not know about himself, and how do the people around him see that red X, that missing variable that he hasn’t found yet, as part of him?

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