Study Guide

Neuromancer Identity

By William Gibson

Identity

The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. (1.17)

Case's inability to be console cowboy seems to change how he views himself. He thought of himself as unstoppable as a console cowboy until they, you know, stopped him. Now, he's a hustler, and he holds no value in what he is anymore.

What did [Case] know about [Molly]? That she was another professional; that she said her being, like his, was the thing she did to make a living. (4.14)

These two subscribe to the you-are-what-you-do rule of life. Case and Molly find their initial connection in the fact that their identities are entirely wrapped up in what they do for a living. Molly is a razorgirl, Case a console cowboy.

[The Modern's] face was a simple graft grown on collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides, smooth and hideous. It was one of the nastiest pieces of elective surgery [Case] had ever seen. (4.40)

This Modern has undergone surgery to promote his identity as a Panther Modern. In a way, it's the extreme, and probably more painful, version of buying clothes from certain stores to advertise who it is you think you are. Or maybe who you'd like to be.

Aside from the huge pair of sunglasses concealing her mirrored insets, [Molly] managed to look remarkably like she belonged there, another tourist girl hoping for a glimpse of Tally Isham. She wore a pink plastic, a white mesh top, loose white pants cut in a style that had been fashionable in Tokyo the previous year. (4.53)

People ascribe the identity of others as quickly as a first glance. As a result, identity can often be fooled by something as simple as the type of clothes one wears. In what ways does Neuromancer force us to look beyond these surface details and see what's underneath?

Translated French medical records explained that a man without identification had been taken to a Paris mental health unit and diagnosed as schizophrenic […] He became a subject in an experimental program that sought to reverse schizophrenia through the application of cybernetic models. (6.27)

Corto is cured of his schizophrenia and becomes Armitage. But is it really a cure if he becomes an entirely different person? If we can't consider it a cure, then what is it exactly?

The suggestion of brutality offset the delicacy of his jaw and the quickness of his smile. (7.122)

Riviera's features have been altered to make him physically appealing, but his underlining brutality shows through like a wolf wearing sheep's clothing, or a wolf wearing any clothing for that matter.

"Your mistake, and it's quite a logical one, is in confusing the Wintermute mainframe, Berne, with the Wintermute entity." (9.112)

Wintermute basically says that his hardware is different from his software. This is the computer version of saying that the body (hardware) is separate from the soul (software).

"I don't know. You might say what I am is basically defined by the fact that I don't know, because I can't know. I am that which knoweth not the word." (14.115)

In a way, people are as equally defined by what they don't know as Wintermute is. If you don't know anything about building bridges, then you can't go around saying you're a bridge builder, can you?

Armitage had been a sort of edited version of Corto, and when the stress of the run had reached a certain point, the Armitage mechanism had crumbled; Corto had surfaced, with his guilt and his sick fury. (17.12)

The Armitage personality is like a computer program, and Corto is the original buggy program Armitage was based on. So, when Armitage broke down, all that was left for backup was Corto, the oh-so buggy personality. The results ain't pretty, Shmoopers.

"Unlike my brother. I create my own personality. Personality is my medium." (23.54)

Neuromancer's identity is personality, something more human than artificial intelligence. See, computer programs are typically made to do one thing and do it very, very well. As people, however, we can change ourselves through learning new subjects, acquiring new skills, changing our mood, or altering our diet. In the same way, Neuromancer can change his personality in the same way—although jury's out on the whole diet part.