There will be time . . .
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; T.S. Eliot
Masks are void of all substance. They hide identity and project the image of another personality.
In tribal societies the mask is used to protect the individual from isolation, and to unite him, say, with his ancestors. Masks are used extensively to connect the individual and the tribe with curative and spiritual beings. The Greek drama is famous for its use of masks, and in Japan they were an essential component in the Nõ Plays. Eugene O’Neill used masks in his dramas, as did Yeats in the later plays. In dance and drama the wearer of the mask, no matter what the trauma, is left unchanged.
The funeral mask is used to pin down the wandering soul. In fertility rites the mask is used to reinvigorate the present by relating it to the past. Masks are used to prevent, to protect, and to cure, but they can also be liberators. They leave the individuality behind them free.
Masks sometimes confuse: After plastic surgery she didn’t look like a woman of forty, she looked like a woman of fifty-five without wrinkles.
Willy Loman has become uncertain of his identity. He tells us: “I still feel kind of temporary about myself.” His mask is one of loyalty to the firm, the system, the country, and it rewards him with a sense of emptiness.
On a daily basis we use many different masks: Today I have worn the mask of a writer, a sportsman, a father, a friend, a cook, a spectator and a literary critic. Sometimes the masks we choose to wear become too powerful and can take over, witness the mask of the psychopath, the hypochondriac or the fool.
Psychotherapy, I suppose, is concerned with the stripping away of masks. Something like peeling a perpetual onion.