The Escape Of Houdini's Box By Adam Phillips

2005 Words 9 Pages
Everyone has something that they want to escape, and most people try their whole lives to escape. Some people like Harry Houdini will always be remembered and defined for mastery of escape. In the essay by Adam Phillips, "Houdini's Box," Phillips discusses the many things Houdini was trying to escape, and how his fears influenced his life. He also looks at how contradictory Houdini was, and the many lines Houdini crossed involving the law and how Houdini also yearned to not be forgotten and never wanted to be outdone. Phillips also explores on how Houdini used America and American things to his advantage while also resisting assimilation.
When Harry Houdini came to America, he was known as Erik Weisz, and he had to "sell newspapers, shine
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Houdini was also looking for a way to escape the mundane life most people live, by mystifying people by dangerous acts and creating a show that revolved around self-torture. Phillips mentions that if Houdini "wasn't busy being born in these boxes he was busy dying" (497). Houdini compulsively put himself into boxes so that he could free himself over and over again, and if he was not freeing himself then he was dying. Houdini was so afraid of ending up like every other person he saw and grew up around, that if he was not doing the one thing that set him apart from people he was not alive. By trapping himself and freeing himself, or planning his escapes, he was not assimilating into the American immigrant culture that his father fell into. In Houdini’s mind and from what he saw when immigrants assimilated into american culture they lost their passion and were left to do work no one else wanted to do. However, Harry Houdini also unwillingly fell into the contradiction of not wanting to assimilate but by making his own success assimilating to the American dream and he aligned his own ideals with those of the majority of Americans. By being a hard-working self-made man and having had to "work very hard for everything he …show more content…
Each of these myths is about "the inescapable, about the painful discovery of powerful constraints" and the life of Houdini falls in line with this description (495). Narcissus ended up staring at his reflection until he lost his will to live, like how if Houdini was not escaping he was dying. Narcissus also stands for vanity and Houdini was quite vain. In fact, Philips mentions that Houdini did not “recognize no one as my peer” or in other words, Houdini saw himself as above other magicians (494). Houdini thought of himself as better than other Americans and other immigrants, he loved that he could take christian things and use them when he was jewish. Prometheus is credited with giving fire to mankind, and Houdini gave audiences an acceptable way to watch his self-torture in some cases. In both cases the people are doing something that is forbidden or at the very least taboo. Houdini’s self-torture was praised even when in any other situation other than performance his audience would be appalled. Antigone defies the law her brother sets in place, just like how Houdini defied laws and nature. Lastly, Oedipus left his home to avoid a prophecy and in the process fulfilled the exact prophecy he wanted to avoid. Houdini was not trying to avoid a prophecy, but he was trying to avoid assimilation, and a boring life, which led to him assimilating and having to constantly try

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