Study Guide

Spider-Man Identity

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PETER: Some spiders change colors to blend into their environment. It's a defense mechanism.

HARRY: Peter, what makes you think I would want to know that? 

PETER: Who wouldn't?

Peter and Harry spot Mary Jane.

HARRY: You gonna talk to her now?

PETER: Oh, no. Come on. You talk to her.

Getting bitten by a genetically engineered super spider gives Peter a host of superpowers, like web shooters and precognition, but one power Peter already had was his ability to blend in. As a social outcast who's secretly been in love with M.J. for more than a decade, the dude has compartmentalizing different aspects of his identity down cold.

UNCLE BEN: No, you're not supposed to run away, but—Pete, look. You're changing. I know; I went through exactly the same thing at your age. 

PETER: No, not exactly. 

UNCLE BEN: Peter, these are the years when a man changes into the man he's gonna become the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. This guy, Flash Thompson, he probably deserved what happened. But just because you can beat him up doesn't give you the right to.

Uncle Ben's advice game is strong here. Unfortunately, Peter's petulant teenager game is just as fierce. Ben is trying to tell him that the decisions we make shape our identities, but Peter is too angsty to really hear him—in this moment, at least. After Ben's death, his advice takes on a new significance for Pete.

RING ANNOUNCER: If he can withstand just three minutes in the cage with Bone Saw McGraw, the sum of $3,000 will be paid to—what's your name, kid?

PETER: The Human Spider.

RING ANNOUNCER: The Human Spider? That's it? That's the best you got?

PETER: Yeah.

RING ANNOUNCER: Oh, that sucks. The sum of $3,000 will be paid to the terrifying, the deadly, the amazing Spider-Man!

In addition to being a wink to the long-running Amazing Spider-Man comic, this exchange shows how Peter's identity as Spider-Man is still forming and how much he needs some guidance as it develops. We're with the ring announcer on this one. The Human Spider? For real?

MAN (voice-over): The guy protects us, you know; he protects the people.

OPINIONATED COP: Some kind of freakyloo or something. Wackadoo.

SURLY TRUCK DRIVER: He stinks, and I don't like him.

PUNK ROCK GIRL: Guy with eight hands. Sounds hot.

OFFICE LADY: He has those tights and that tight, little—

SUBWAY GUITARIST: Dresses like a spider, he looks like a bug. But we should all just give him one big hug. Look out. Here comes the Spider-Man.

This quick, informal poll of New Yorkers demonstrates how wide-ranging the public perception of Spider-Man is. He's a hero! No, he's a criminal! He's a freakyloo wackadoo!

JAMESON: "Who is this Spider-Man?" He's a criminal, that's who he is. A vigilante, a public menace. What's he doing on my front page? […]

ROBBIE: He's news. He pulled six people off that subway.

JAMESON: Sure, from a wreck he probably caused. Something goes wrong, and this creepy crawler is there. Look! He's fleeing the scene. What's that tell ya?

ROBBIE: That he's probably going to save somebody else. He's a hero!

JAMESON: Then why's he wear a mask? Hmm? What's he got to hide?

Jameson is convinced that Spider-Man is a criminal. However, as long as his antics keeping selling papers, Jameson probably wouldn't care if Spidey was stealing Jell-O from hospital patients and shooting puppies into outer space.

HARRY: You were late again? I don't get it. Where do you go all the time?

PETER: Around.

Typical Peter. Always so cagey about where he goes, what he does, and how he's in love with your girlfriend and trying to avoid being killed by your crazy-pants father.

HARRY: M.J., why didn't you wear the black dress?

Mary Jane looks at Harry.

HARRY: Just, I wanted to impress my father. He loves black.

MARY JANE: Well, maybe he'll be impressed no matter what. You think I'm pretty.

HARRY: I think you're beautiful.

Harry goes in for the kiss and gets denied.

Harry's identity is shaped by two things: his family's wealth and his dad's rejection of him. He desperately wants to impress Norman, and that includes with whom he dates and even what that lucky lady wears. He's treating M.J. like a prop here. Gross.

HARRY (on the phone with Mary Jane): "Incredible"? What do you mean he's "incredible"? No. All right, wait. Stay there. I'm gonna come over. No, I'm gonna come ov—all right. Fine. Will you call me in the morning, and we'll go and have breakfast and…um…I want to buy you something. Because I want to. It'll make you feel better. Okay. And what do you mean, "incredible"?

Peter smiles.

HARRY: All right. I'm sorry. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs—

Mary Jane hangs up.

Harry is wicked jealous of Spider-Man. It says oodles about Harry's sense of self that, when he feels threatened, his default mode is to offer to buy M.J. something, anything, because he thinks it'll make her feel better. Gee, wonder where he learned that technique?

PETER: She doesn't really know who I am.

AUNT MAY: Because you won't let her. You're so mysterious all the time. Tell me, would it be so dangerous to let Mary Jane know how much you care? Everybody else knows.

Recognition flashes across Peter's face.

PETER: I'll be right back.

Keeping his real identity hidden is central to Peter's ability to do his job as Spider-Man, but it's also imperative for the security of his loved ones. When he realizes that everybody knows he's head over heels for M.J., including Norman, he knows her safety has been compromised. Big time.

SPIDER-MAN: Don't do it, Goblin!

GREEN GOBLIN: We are who we choose to be. Now choose!

The Green Goblin lets go of Mary Jane and the tramway cable simultaneously.

Gobby's insistence that we are who we choose to be echoes Uncle Ben's conversation in the car with Pete in front of the library. Our decisions—good, bad, and somewhere in the murky middle—determine who we are. Peter, for example, decides to help as many people as possible. The Green Goblin, meanwhile, decides to ruin a perfectly good tramway.

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