The question of identity is a prominent theme in Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book. Can anyone truly be him- or herself? Everyone is influenced by his or her experience and the observation of others. People take some aspects of someone they know and infuse them into their definition of self. In his writing, Jelal states that people can only be themselves if they forget everything that they have ever learned or read. The true identity of a person appears once it is stripped of all memory.
Samples of how Pamuk poses the question of identity include the actions of Jelal, one of the main characters, who uses many different pseudonyms. He reads constantly, mostly histories of Turkey. But he also reads poetry and fictional stories from which he lifts material, rearranges it, and writes it in his newspaper column as if it is his own. He dresses in disguises when he goes out in public, not wanting anyone to recognize him so he can more freely watch other people. Who is the real Jelal? When Jelal goes into hiding t the end of the novel, he is losing his memory. Jelal never actually appears in the novel except for when his murdered body is discovered.
There are also several characters that want to be someone else. Galip, the protagonist, wants to be Jelal. He slowly takes over Jelal's life as the novel progresses. There is also the character called Belkis who appears momentarily. Belkis confesses to Galip that she has always wanted to be Ruya, Galip's wife. Even as children, she wanted to be Ruya. She tells Galip that she constantly watched Ruya and the way Galip treated her. Belkis's obsession is so deep that even as an adult, she would follow Galip and Ruya as they walked along the street, or when they went to the movies. She wanted Galip to be in love with her.
Nationality is another aspect of identity that is explored in Pamuk's novel. Turks, the novel argues, do not know who they are. They try to copy the manners and appetites of Western countries such as those in Europe and the United States. But this does not work very well. Turks come across as poor actors and their ways are criticized for being too backward and folksy.
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