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Tommy Deconstructed

By Bruce Fink, Ph.D

To understand the truly traumatic nature of the scene portrayed in Tommy, and the overwhelming importance of the mirrior in the staging of the play, we should look to the work of a French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan on "The Mirrior Stage". Indeed, I wondered wether Pete Townshed and Des McAnuff hadn�t in fact been reading Lacan's work as they prepared their script.

The traumatic event-Tommy's loss of sight, hearing, and speech- occurs while Tommy gazes at himself in the mirrior. According to Lacan, mirrior images are involved in the development of a child's sense of self. Without such a sense of self, a child can never learn to say "I" or speak of himself as a someone. As parents know, children have a hard time learning how to use the personal pronound "I". A sense of self has to develop before they are able to do so.

What happens to Tommy's sense of self during the traumatic scene? His self-image- which had originally been positive and coherent- breaks down. His former sense of self shatters when he is confronted with his parents' powerful new view of him as highly dangerous. He is a someone who could, with one false move or inadvertently uttered word, destroy the whole family forever.

Townshend and McAnuff imbue this scene with a monetum unsuspected by those familiar with the record, the volume growing to a cresendo as Tommy's biological parents reunite in the urgent attempt to not merely silence Tommy, but to make him block out the whole affair:"You didn't hear it, you didn't see it�" they sing ever more loudly and forcefully. Yet the self known as Tommy did see and hear it and instead of blocking out the incident, he blocks himself out.

Tommy understands that to keep his family together, he must - according to his parents - sacrifice himself. Rather than give up his mother and his new father figure, he prefers to give up his own precious seeing, hearing, and speaking self. He thus paradoxically chooses to dissapear in ordere to continue to be loved.