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Bellocq’s Ophelia

In Bellocq’s Ophelia, Violet has high expectations for herself because she was light-skinned and had an education. She cannot find employment, but, she sees “dark maids ambling with their charges” (p.7). She is forced, by having no money and being evicted from her hotel, to take work as a prostitute. She writes,” please do not think me the wayward girl you described. I alone have made this choice…Now my labor is my own” (p.15). She does not enjoy her work. However, it feeds her and allows her financial freedom. She continues to dress properly when she is not working, unlike the other girls who choose to be covered only in their undergarments. She doesn’t want her position as a prostitute to define who she is, thus allowing her to keep her dignity.

She states, “It troubles me to think that I am suited for this work…But then I recall my earliest training…my mother taught me to curtsy and be still so that I might please a white man…” (p.20). Is she losing herself because of her work, or was this her lot in life regardless of her advantages of light-colored skin and her education?

The photographs Bellocq takes of Violet allow her to be the lady she proclaims to be, beauty and grace in an ugly world, even if only for a moment. “Now I face the camera, wait for the photograph to show me who I am” (p.21).  However, the camera shows “half-truths” (p.30). She purchases her own camera hoping to capture beauty through her lens, but she sees how fragile life, like the photographer’s plates, can be. She attempts to take a picture of a red bird, but it flies away, and instead, she photographs rats eating garbage. A photograph can be manipulated, unlike life, to show only the beauty, to focus on the good.


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