The Case of Marilyn Monroe: Identity Crisis

In her short life she attained unprecedented fame. It has remained undiminished in the decades since her death. Despite the sublime beauty and light-heartedness that Marilyn projected on screen, her inner world was mired in darkness. Born Norma Jean Baker, the first step in her transformation was the change of name, orchestrated by a studio boss. She would forever seek to escape the ordinariness of Norma Jean and embody the star quality of Marilyn.

All her life Marilyn was plagued by self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy. As a result, she was always looking outside herself for approval and affirmation. No doubt this is what drew her to acting – the applause of adoring fans. With her third husband, Arthur Miller, her fragile ego was given a much-needed boost. He became a father-figure and safe haven from the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype which Hollywood had imposed. If a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, desired her for a wife, then she must be worthwhile and not just a dumb blonde. Less than five years into their marriage, when she dared to read his journal, she discovered his changing assessment of her, and she was emotionally devastated. Ref: ‘Love, Marilyn’, documentary film,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6gDT6V1Zr4

What followed was an inevitable divorce. But did she ever recover from this disappointment. She wrote in her journal that “on the pitch black of the screen, the monsters come”.

In the documentary of ‘the body of Marilyn Monroe’, it was revealed that she suffered from night terrors and insomnia since her days at the foster homes. She is reported to have had several miscarriages and even more abortions. One of her deepest desires was to be a mother, and her failure to conceive would only have re-inforced her sense of inadequacy.

Over the course of her life, Marilyn had many mentors or influencers e.g. Arthur Miller, Milton Green, Lee and Paula Strasberg. She was drawn to older men and women – the parents she never had from whom she was always seeking unconditional love. But the payback was that Marilyn had to perform – she had to excel at the image she had created for herself but could never be herself. Those who eventually saw Marilyn for what she was, could not cope for long with the cognitive dissonance that she was the very opposite of what she portrayed herself to be – she was sad, fragile, empty and desperate to shed the demons of her past that she was unloved and unlovable, and would never be good enough.

Post the Miller divorce, Marilyn’s life began to unravel at a faster rate– frequent visits to her psycho-analyst and psychiatrist, a cocktail of pills, a visit to a mental asylum to monitor her for suicide attempts and try to wean her off barbituates and sleeping pills, suicide attempt. Although the coroner wrote her cause of death as probable suicide, there are those who contend that Marilyn was in a good point in her life, and that suicide would have been the farthest thought from her mind. In the days preceding her death, she despatched a letter to Lee Strasbourg, indicating her career aspirations for the future. Fox Studios had just offered her a contract for $1 million – a welcome about-face from their decision months earlier to fire her from the set of ‘Something’s Got to Give’. Whether, the reader believes that Marilyn killed herself or not, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility. She certainly demonstrated many of the typical symptoms of suicide completers, and it may have been a final act born out of momentary despair. She may have finally succumbed to the unrelenting conclusion that her fractured identity would never be healed, and that the wholeness she sought would always elude her.

Ref: ‘The Body of Marilyn Monroe’, BBC documentary 2004, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbIDy4JAOYs

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