In Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, Ophelia explains how she has “run” away from being raped. I think she not only struggled to run away from being raped she also struggled to run away from her ethnic identity. “[…] I’m not quite what I pretend to be. I walk these streets a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes of some upon me, and I must lower mine, a negress again” (Trethewey, 7). Deep inside, Ophelia identifies herself to be a black woman but she was raised in a way to pretend to be white.
She was born to a white father and a black mother. Ophelia compares prostitution and her childhood education, and does not find the both to be dissimilar. “It troubles me to think that I am suited for this work-spectacle and fetish- a pale odalisque. But then I recall my earliest training-childhood-how my mother taught me to curtsy and be still so that I might please a white man, my father” (Trethewey, 20). She has spent her childhood trying to please her father, a white man and now she works in a brother trying to please other white men.
Race is a social construct based merely on the segregation of various ethnicities and not on skin. Due to the rarity of miscegenation in the early 20th century, Ophelia is somewhat unique. Even though, Ophelia has a white skin and has the manner of a white woman, she is socially identified as a black woman. She consumes arsenic tablets to appear as white as possible. “Later, I took arsenic-tablets I swallowed to keep me fair, bleached white as stone” (Trethewey, 20). Due to her past, she strives to become someone else and free herself from her memory. “I want freedom from memory. I could then be somebody else, born again, free in the white space of forgetting” (Trethewey, 24). Ophelia wants to be born as someone else. I think she is referring to being born as a white person. Being a white person, she wouldn’t have to suffer from the racial distinction she has to suffer from.