In the novel Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, the main character has yet to reveal his name. He introduces everyone in his life by name, but never his own. Although this could be a side effect of the story being told through his point of view, which most people don’t tend to view themselves in third person or say their own name in their thoughts. However, the dialogue between other characters also doesn’t reveal his name. We saw a similar phenomenon in Zone One by Colson Whitehead, where the main character never reveals his real name, he just goes by a nickname given to him by another character: “Mark Spitz.” The lack of real names for both of these characters signals their search for an identity.
Both of them are going through a series of unfortunate circumstances. In Mongrels, the main character is going through most of his life dealing with the tragic circumstances on his family, most of which stem from them being werewolves. Mark Spitz is living through an actual apocalypse and trying to survive it. Despite the vast difference in their situations, both characters are on journey’s to discover themselves. Mark Spitz had cruised through life, not really knowing where he was going or what he was doing before the apocalypse occurred. When the plague hit, he found a sense of purpose in killing the zombies. Despite this, his real name was never revealed because it was remnant of the past, he gladly accepted “Mark Spitz” because it was a testament of his newfound identity.
In contrast, the main character in Mongrels is still searching for an identity. He refers to himself in the book at different points as a “journalist,” “biologist,” and even “vampire.” (Jones). Most of all, he wants to be a wolf. The idea itself creates an identity crisis for him, since he isn’t adapting to certain patterns that his werewolf aunt and uncle follow. For one, he is unable to eat raw meat and has to eat it with copious amounts of ketchup (60) and he hides the fact that he enjoys “bland human food” from Darren (his uncle) and Libby (his aunt) (61). He does all of this to prove that he is a werewolf, when in fact he knows within himself there is a possibility he is not like his family members. This on top of being a teenager, a time when people are searching for their identity and purpose, heightens his identity crisis. There is also the possibility he does not reveal his name because it ties him too close to his mother, who went from very human to an uncontrollable monster. Circumstances which lie on opposite sides of the spectrum, he is seeking balance in becoming a werewolf. Also, he doesn’t even know who his dad is, and therefore is lacking a part of what most people use to form their identities. Another major factor that helps kids form an identity is school. Since his family was constantly moving around, he was unable to ground himself and find an identity in relation to school. This occurrence is paralleled in real life, where one study found that:
“…the working-class girl’s persona did not connect with school and other public-sphere institutions; her everyday life is cut off from them, partly defined in opposition to them.” (Gee).
In other words, the stress from her home life overtook what was going on at school, and she based her identity on her home life. Similarly, the main character in Mongrels, was limited to his home life to find himself since it was so overpowering. As much as he tried, he was unable to and even discouraged by his uncle at one point, to conceive himself as something other than a werewolf. Without a name, he isn’t bound to a certain identity human or otherwise, no matter how much he desires to be an actual werewolf.
Gee, James Paul, and Valerie M. Crawford. “Two Kinds of Teenagers: Language, Identity and Social
Class.” Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Publishers, 1998, pp. 225–45.
Graham Jones, Stephen. Mongrels. HarperCollins.