It’s All Show

One of GHOST WORLD’s strengths is its ambivalent ending, which refuses the novel a tidy narrative arc that moves Enid from a state of confusion to one of insight.  Simply put, one expects Enid to mature by the story’s conclusion.  However, the final page of GHOST WORLD implies that the seemingly more mature young woman into whom Enid appears to have grown is yet another of Enid’s roles.  It’s a reading that is not only supported by the artificiality of the line “You’ve grown into a very beautiful young woman” and the dramatic backdrop against which the line is delivered—about which one could also say that Enid still has her head in the clouds, regardless of the clarity she intends to convey—but also by the fact that Clowes lays out the page so that Enid seems to be saying the line to herself.  If we follow Enid’s gaze into the next panel, we find another image of Enid.  It’s as if, in a way, Enid is looking at herself or rather watching herself adopt yet another role.

The sense that this newfound maturity could very well be just another role is further emphasized by the costume Enid is wearing.  Her haircut, clothing, and the train case she carries all suggest somebody who stepped directly out of the 1960s, a character who wouldn’t have been out of place in THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, a movie that Enid enjoys enough to own.  That, coupled with the fact that the very last image we see of Enid is a silhouette in which all details are blacked out—emptying her personality of any significance and suggesting it’s really just a blank slate—stresses that her transformation is of little substance.

And this is bound to cause problems for Enid, who has been searching throughout the book for what she thinks is an authentic identity.  For example, the opening of the chapter “Punk Day” shows Enid singing along with not just any Ramones song, it is “Carbona Not Glue,” a song from the Ramones’ second album, Leave Home, that is only to be found on the original pressing and was quickly removed for legal reasons.  Even in private, then, Enid has to prove to herself that she’s no cheap rehash of punk, she’s 1977 punk.  She’s real.  So in that final scene, despite the fact that she only brings the train case with her, we know that Enid is carrying lots of baggage that will follow her to wherever the bus drops her off.

Enid may think that running away from her childhood is necessary to become “a beautiful young woman,” but to avoid future pain, she’ll really need to understand that role-playing is never a stopping point, it’s dynamic and never-ending, our roles shifting to meet the needs of the scene from which they arise.  It’s only really authentic in its seeming inauthenticity, so to keep looking for some “real me” is a doomed enterprise that Enid cannot escape until she truly learns to moves on.

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