The Blue Man is a character in Mitch Albom’s popular novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven. His real name is Joseph Corvelzchik and is a polish immigrant who moved to the US when just a boy. From a poor family, he was forced to work in the factory since the age of 10, but the chaos and noise of factory labor made him a nervous child. To combat his nerves he was told to take silver nitrate, which in reality was poison. When he ingested extremely large amounts to overcompensate for his problematic nerves, he turned an ash color, then blue. After no one would hire him because of his coloring, Joseph joined a traveling and eventually stationary freak show at a place called Ruby Pier. The main character of the novel, Eddie, whose death is the focus of the book, runs in front of the Blue Man’s car as a child, causing the Blue Man to swerve out of control and because of his anxiety, have a heart attack. When Eddie comes to heaven, the Blue Man teaches him that all life and everyone is connected whether you knew the person or not. This popular and iconic book with the freak of the Blue Man was then later made into a TV movie in 2004 with Jeff Daniels playing the Blue Man in a heavy foreign accent.
The Blue Man fits into Bogdan’s classification as a non-western freak, as he is polish, which reinforces the idea of the freak as being other, belonging to a different foreign category. Similarly, Allison Neal explains the existence of the Victorian Freak Show and subsequently the Blue Man, as a way to distinguish “what it means to be ‘normal’ and ‘British’ [or American] as opposed to physically and ethnically ‘other,’” (560). This idea is embodied in both the movie and book where he is portrayed with a heavy accent, even though he has been in the US since he was a toddler. It is also portrayed in the way he is marketed in the Freak Show: as “The Blue Man from the North Pole, or The Blue Man from Algeria.”
Rosemarie Garland Thompson would also argue that American movements of modernization and standardization reinforce this foreign categorization. In fact, during the time period industrialization “effected a standardization of everyday life … producing and reinforcing the concept of an unmarked, normative, leveled body as dominant subject of democracy,” (12). As a result of this standardization of the human body, Freaks became the cultural other, the bodies onto which all societal anxiety of the time period was projected upon. In other words, the freak of the Freak Show became the symbol of anxiety of the other in an age of conformity. The Blue Man embodies these early American anxieties as his nervousness literally stems from working in factories. It is his anxiety about the industrial system that drives him into drinking silver nitrate and to become the freak he is. Furthermore it is this nervousness of society that finally kills him in the end, in the form of a heart attack.
The blue man is considered a freak because he is “other” belonging to no known category and is disconnected from society. The lesson he teaches in the book and movie however, is that all life and everyone is connected, despite his freak status. So life and destiny do not render to the human categories that exclude him from society. Life and destiny exist outside of boundaries, just like the “the freak” so as a result the Blue Man teaches the reader and audience that life is freaky.
Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven. New York: Hyperion, 2006. Print.
Bogdan, Robert. “In Search of Freaks.” Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988. N. pag. Print.
The Five People Your Meet in Heaven. Dir. Lloyd Kramer. Perf. Jon Voight, Jeff Daniels. Lionsgate, 2004. TV Movie.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “From Wonder to Error: A Genealogy of Freak Discourse in Modernity.” Introduction. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York UP, 1996. N. pag. Print.
Neal, Allison. “The Continued Fascination with Freaks.” Journal of Victorian Culture
17.4 (2012): n. pag. Print.