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We saw Groucho's fixation with signs, and his subsequent identity problems, in the mirror scene. In Horse Feathers we get the best examples of the ways he and his brothers construct identity, and how Harpo and Chico do so more successfully.

From the very start of the film, Groucho's identity is problematic. He seems aware of the importance of performance, but seems to ignore it. By placing a cigar in his mouth and a professor's robe on his back, he gives signs precedence over performance. He hints
from
Horse Feathers
Wagstaff: I don't know what they have to say,
it makes no difference anyway--
whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it!

Your proposition may be good,
but let's have one thing understood--
whatever it is, I'm against it!
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it!
at the importance of role performance by suggesting that the former president's wife won't notice a difference, but he still asks for a marriage license, the sign of weddedness. In Monkey Business Groucho suggested that marital problems may have resulted from the husband mistakenly getting a dog's license. Furthermore, when Chico joins the school, Groucho gives him the hat (of course), coat, and pennant that signify a student. Groucho cannot escape signs. He also sings the song "Whatever it is, I'm against it." In doing so, he attempts to make a negative identification of his self, without asserting what he really is. At this point, he has no positive identity, and cannot even stick to the song. He shifts to another, "I Always Get my Man." Despite the confusion, he remains president of Huxley simply because he still performs the role.

The same time of confusion existed in Monkey Business. Groucho knows he can fool others by wearing the captain's hat because people rely heavily on signs, but he also fools himself. When asked who he is, he has to look at the hat on his head before answering, "I'm the captain." His role performances throughout the movie are rather weak. He fails at being Briggs's underling (which really is no surprise for a man who once "licked his weight in wild caterpillars") because he does not maintain the performance. He switches sides, and in the end gives up being a gangster to try his hand at sportscasting. He fails at this performance by being unable to stick with one sport. Throughout the movie, he never seems to secure an identity.

Returning to Horse Feathers, we see that Chico and Harpo have a better grasp of the importance of performance, and can even handle several jobs. First, they are ice men, and they enact this performance even when it is unwanted (as when Harpo walks into Connie Bailey's room only to throw the block of ice out of the window). They do these jobs in highly idiosyncratic ways--such as by walking across furniture to deliver ice--and thereby display their specific identities. Harpo also works as a dogcatcher, and even continues to perform this role while playing football. In fact, only after asserting this aspect of his identity does Harpo lead his team to victory (in a garbage-can chariot). He utilized this part of his self earlier to point out the necessity of performance. When a police officer confronted him, Harpo mocked his actions. By writing himself a fake ticket, Harpo showed not only the officer's impotence, but also the failure of signs to secure meaning. When the officer showed his badge, the ultimate sign of power, Harpo revealed his own multitude of badges. The ensuing chase ended with Harpo fulfilling the officer's duty by locking up the man.
from
Horse Feathers
Baravelli: Who are you?

Wagstaff: I'm fine, thanks. Who are you?

Baravelli: I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.

Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?

Baravelli: Oh no, you gotta tell me! Hey, I tell you what I do... I give you three guesses. It's the name of a fish.

Wagstaff: Is it Mary?

Baravelli: Ha ha! Atsa no fish!

Wagstaff: She isn't? Well, she drinks like one.
Ultimately, though, Harpo is not a police officer--he is a dogcatcher. In case we don't understand, Harpo sports an enormous badge that reads "Dog Catcher." To further prove this point, he pulled down a sign on his wagon advertising a "police dog." These displays merely mock the use of signs, as the officer is clearly not a dog, but a man, and Harpo is what he does.

Harpo's confidence in his performances shows up in his ability to play with signs. For example, when asked for the password at the speakeasy, he pulls out a fish with a sword in it. He goes beyond the mere knowledge of the word, he mocks the very nature of signing it, and in his play gains access to the club. Signs, while ultimately meaningless in identity construction, serve as a useful way to navigate successfully through society. Interestingly, Groucho hints at his knowledge of performativity here by guessing "Mary" as the name of a fish because "she drinks like one." Harpo continues his play with signs in the other films. In Duck Soup when asked to identify himself, he shows Groucho a picture of himself on his arm. Famously, he also portrays himself as a puppet in Monkey Business by adopting the proper signs. He does this act merely to play a prank on the officers chasing him, since he has no intention of creating a puppet identity. After showing the absurdity of the captain's acceptance of surface indicators, Harpo exits merrily on a little wagon.

Chico, too, has secured his identity, and can play with signs. He and Harpo show quite dramatically
from
Animal Crackers
Ravelli: How did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?

Chandler: Say, how did you get to be an Italian?

Ravelli: Never mind. Whose confession is this?
in Animal Crackers difference between signs and performance. They decide that they recognize Chandler as the person who used to be Abie the Fishman from Czechoslovakia. To prove it, they unveil a birthmark on his arm. Then the brothers show the tenuous nature of this man's shifting identity by stealing the some of his signs, including his tie and handkerchief. Further discrediting superficial indicators, Harpo steals his birthmark. At one point in the discussion, Chandler asks Chico how he got to be an Italian, but Chico does not need to respond because, to him the answer is apparent. He is Italian because he performs Italian. Chandler's past identity is never revealed, as he continues to perform the part of the rich art collector.

With a firm grasp of the necessity of performance in establishing idenity, Chico and Harpo assert their identity in one final way--through music. Chico entertains at the piano. He is talented, but his gimmicky style is more about being fun than being impressive. Through this type of performance, however, we get a look at the essential Chico Marx. In A Night at the Opera he appears most in his element when he plays for a group of children. Harpo, of course, best expresses himself through the harp. He takes this music seriously and rarely clowns around while playing the harp. In Horse Feathers he even expresses his love through his music. The filming of these scenes also adds a personal nature to them. Frequently, the camera is close to the performers. Harpo often removes his hat, as well, which removes a superficial sign of identity. Compare each of these brothers with Groucho, who plays guitar, but only for comedic effect. After his song in Horse Feathers, Groucho tosses his guitar into the lake. The recurrence of these musical scenes strengthens identity. As Judith Butler points out, repetition is necessary because identity "requires to be instituted again and again."1 This repetition demonstrates the performative nature of identity maintenance in practice. In various ways, Harpo and Chico assert their identities throughout the films.

With their stronger sense of identity, Chico and Harpo can make Groucho the foil for many of their routines, such as Duck Soup's telephone game and sidecar routine. They also can impersonate him and his movements, as in the mirror scene (that's Harpo to the right). This sense of power suggests that Groucho truly has a weak identity, somewhere between his foils' and his brothers' identities. However, if we continue to the next page, we can see the true nature of Groucho's identity.

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1Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. ed. Diana Fuss. New York: Routledge, 1991: 13-31, p. 24.