Superman In Conflict With Himself
The enigma of Superman consists of three main dualities of his being. The mystery behind
this American superhero is in his contradictory characteristics. In 1900, Sigmund Freud
published "Interpretation of Dreams" revealing the conflict of the individual's heart for the first time in the public eye. In 1903 W.E.B. DuBois published "The Souls of Black Folk" which employed his idea of "double consciousness" or the understanding of the self through the eyes of others, in the specific case of African Americans. These and other sociological studies lead to a body of thought devoted to the duality of the self. In this era, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the legend of Superman.
Superman fights the Thing from 48,000 AD.
The first of Superman's dualities is the most obvious, his true superself and his
facade of Clark Kent. Clark Kent is the name his American foster parents gave to him
as a combination of his mother's maiden name, Clark, and his father's last name, Kent.
His parents and doctors in Smallville insisted that he keep his superpowers a secret,
thus he invents the assumed identity of Clark Kent. He chooses a pair of glasses so
that people will think he is quiet and reserved. This use of eyewear further
perpetuates an American myth of the nerd, something Seigel and Shuster attempted to
break down by making the nerd the most powerful man on Earth.
Clark is the hard-working reporter at The Daily Planet. He is quiet,
reserved, and has an unrequited love for Lois Lane. He hides beneath his glasses
and maintains the image of an unsuspecting reporter. He is a sexless man until
one night in 1976...
The next morning after Lois and Clark's dinner date.
...But the focus of this article is on the Clark of 1938 to 1942. It is suspected
that Clark's personality mirrors that of his creators, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster
(for more see Mirrored Images). Similar to Clark's
character, his profession is another lifelong dream of Seigel's: the journalist.
Gary Engle writes, "Clark Kent is the clearest stereotype of a self-effacing,
hesitant, doubting, middle-class weakling ever invented. He is the epitome of
visible invisibility" (from What Makes Superman So Darn American?).
Superman's dual identity is a necessary part of his heroism in order to be uniquely
American: half where he came from, half where is is now.
While, on the other hand, Superman may not be the most garrulous figure he
certainly is more outgoing than his other half. He's altruistic and fearless,
ready to jump in the face of danger. All these characteristics are accentuated
by his comparison to Clark Kent. He is swooping and daring. He attracts women,
especially Lois, and he is the center of attention.
Clark's place of employment, the office of The Daily Planet, (renamed from The
Daily Star), highlights the utter importance of location within the solar system.
The history of Superman is laden with imagery of being foreign, alien, or an immmigrant.
For example, the reason for Luma Lynai's speedy departure from Earth is her adverse reaction
to the sun's yellow rays. The symbolism of Superman's ability to stay on Earth in order
perserve the memories of the destroyed Krypton is hugely significant in a nation of immigrants.
Much like the Clark Kent and Superman dualities, his ethnic dualities are components of
his uniquely American superheroity. No one gets more American than Superman as he is United States resident and
immigrant in one. All Americans are or are ancestors of immigrants. The reconciliations of American 'self' and 'other' change
through media. For example, Natty Bumppo is an immigrant character who, now nativized, rejects
new immigrants encroaching on his settlement. Another example of this kind of assimilation is
vaudeville shows that demonstrated stereotypes of different minority groups. Superman in radio, comics, and
television is another step in Americanizing the 'other'. His foster parents find his abandoned rocket
in a field just outside Smallville, U.S.A. Jonathan and Martha Kent are small, independent farmers in the midwest.
There are many theories of the significance of their names, ranging from personal names in Seigel and
Shuster's lives to Biblical allusions. However, it is interesting to note that Clark's foster
mother's name is the same name as the United States first First Lady, Martha Washington. This
significance of the location in the midwest is the placement on the frontier, about the
100th meridian. West manifests Superman's primary purpose in its representation of
independence, individuality, freedom, and justice, as expressed by Frederick Jackson Turner's
Significance of the Frontier in
Superman, a little bolder than Clark.
Turner's Frontier Thesis is further related in Smallville's close relation to the
encroaching Metropolis closing in on the frontier. In the comic frame to the left the
new technologies are apparent in the power lines, barbed wire fences, and the beat-up pickup
truck. The Kents are known to be "good parents and fine citizens" and are obviously
middle-class Americans indicated by the condition of their democracy-mobile, that is, the
pickup. They are law-abiding citizens and insist from their death beds that Clark use
his superpowers for good only and make him promise to uphold the law and order. It is
interesting that Seigel and Shuster must create a character to uphold the law in a nation
with a police force. During the 1930s many citizens had lost faith in authority.
Ambiguity exists in the collective feeling about the national government. Until Franklin
D. Roosevelt's New Deal's plans were realized people had little faith in the powers of protection.
Thus Seigel and Shuster create a character, superpowerful, who can take care of anyone from
common criminals to superevils, in case the police can not. The artists portray the police
force as inadequate or dim-witted at times. Also, it is ambiguous whether Superman is a
real "good guy" until after the New Deal. For more see COMIC RADIO.
Collision of Two Worlds
Superman's immigrant life is represented in the few memories of Krytpon he retains.
His Kryptonian life is truncated when Krypton explodes due to proximity to the
Krytonian sun. However, his Kryptonian parents retain significant value in his life, and like, the
Kent's, they are "good" people. His father, Jor-El is a well-known scientist on Krypton, self-
sacrificing sending his son to Earth. His mother, Lara, is noted for her intellect and
beauty. Her name also begins a long line of women in Superman's life whose names are
initialled L.L. (for more see Superman's Sex Appeal).
Inside his Fortress of Solitude, his weekend getaway home, Superman constructs memorial
rooms to the most influential people in his life. Two rooms are dedicated to each set
of parents, respectively, with wax figures of them. There is also a room which reveals
the Clark Kent/Superman dual identity with wax figures of both and secret insciptions at
the bottom of the constructs. However, this room will self-destruct should an enemy enter
the Fortress of Solitude, to forever maintain the secret identity. In this way, the
Fortress of Solitude is Superman's way of compromising his Kryptonian self and his American
self. It is interesting to note, too, that this foreign figure is the main defense for the
Although it is insignificant to the time focus of 1938-1942, Superman's duality extends
in one more direction, that is, in the enemy foils of his character. The most extreme
opposite of the enemies is Bizarro Superman who first appears in the Superman comics in
1959. He is Superman's grotesque imitation, possessing all the superpowers of Superman, but
lacking all the characteristics that make Superman the American icon. Bizarro's flaws
highlight Superman's attributes. For example, while Bizarro has poor grammar saying things
like "Me like cookies!", it is easily noted by the reader that Superman is an intelligent man
as well as being a superhero. Also, Bizarro is deathly pale while Superman maintains an all
-year tan. Bizarro is plain ugly while Superman is an Apollo-figure. Moreover, Bizarro
has a backwards conscience causing him to misunderstand the difference between right and
wrong. Bizarro's problems of discernment originate from his life on Htrae (Earth
backwards), where everyone behaves backwards and foreign. On Htrae kids are rewarded for
misbehaving, Families go to boring movies together and people are complimented for their
unattractiveness. Most importantly, Bizarro is allowed to consummate his relationship with
Bizarro Lois (created when Superman had to shoot Lois Lane with the replicator gun to save
her), whereas Superman may never sully his virginity, even for true love. The real Superman
must maintain his hallowed virginity like a Saint, which is the cause for his love triangle
of Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Superman.
A Day On Htrae
Superman's identity is easily traced through his interactions with enemies and through time. His characteristics
must be foiled for instructional purposes as soon as Superman becomes a cultural hero.
For more on the altering characteristics of America's favorite superhero through media see