In is in Algeria or France. With Nina

            In Nina Bouraoui’s novel Tomboy, a
girl named Nina experiences an anguished childhood as a result of her
background. She has an Algerian father and a French mother, and these differences
cause both societies to disown her. Bouraoui employs different objects and
images to portray how Nina is treated as a foreigner by both cultures, mirrors
being one example. The reader understands the struggles she endures throughout
her life, through this medium. Mirrors allow Nina to see herself how she believes
others see her, and the judgement that comes with those perspectives.

            Nina’s consternation is evident
through her voice as the narrator, which is a result of her lack of identity.

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Nina never feels as though she belongs, whether she is in Algeria or France. With
Nina being the narrator, the only way the reader can understand how others
perceive her, is through her own eyes, which is made possible through the use
of mirrors. In the first chapter, Nina introduces the concept of mirroring,
“This life is brutal. It is voiceless and faceless. Agitated, I sleep badly and
eat little. Amine mirrors my insanity” (Bouraoui 4). Amine, who also has French
and Algerian parents, reflects what she is feeling. We quickly understand Nina’s
feelings towards her dual-cultural background, by her acknowledging that Amine
mirrors her. Amine takes on an important role throughout the novel in that
sense, as Nina consistently compares herself to Amine. In reaction to Amine
leaving Algeria, Nina loses that reference point, “with his absence, I lose my
other name, my mirror” (Bouraoui 99). This leads the mirror to become a toxic
space for Nina, as it reflects the judgements she thinks everyone else is
making of her. Usually, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you see
yourself through your own eyes, whereas Nina is so focused on how society perceives
her, that her mirror must be warped and cracked.

            Nina begins to explain another
conflict she experiences every day, when she sees some Algerian boys playing in
the street. Nina says, “I watch the boys in the street after school, playing
with the new-found sun . . . How they mirror my rage” (Bouraoui 9). Whilst
Amine reflects to Nina how society perceives her, these boys instead reflect a internal
feeling that she struggles to suppress throughout the novel. We learn later in
the novel that Nina has masculine traits and feeling, but she feels she has to
suppress them and cannot act on them. Thus, the boys playing in the street
represent how Nina wishes she could express her masculinity, and her inability
to leads her to the “rage” that the boys reflect.

            Mirrors in Tomboy play an important
role in demonstrating how you must look at other people to reflect both desires
that others act on, and those that remain hidden. Nina claims, “Each person is
someone else’s mirror as well as his defeat” (Bouraoui 22). In Amine, Nina sees
her thoughts and actions through the eyes of others. Amine is also Nina’s
defeat, as Nina realizes that Amine lacks a strong sense of self as well,
meaning she will never get any closer to creating her low sense of self, as
long as she uses him as mirror. Similarly, the Algerian boys mirror Nina’s
rage, which stems from the reason they defeat her, that she will never be able
to be a boy, as much as she feels like one. These boys reflect her inner
conflict, in the same way that she can’t act on her masculine feelings, she can
only watch them play. Nina frequently looks to the lives of others to reflect
her emotions and identity. When she is in France, Nina reflects on her identity
through her mother, “I am in my mother’s house… and all of a sudden my life
reflects hers like a mirror. In one night I replace my mother’s features”
(Bouraoui 68). It would seem that in adopting her mother’s features she finally
feels as though she belongs to her French background solely, and no longer
feels restricted by her conflicted background. As much as she wishes that she
could fully reflect her mother’s life and features, she cannot actually erase
her Algerian background, or her features. Nina can associate herself more
closely to her French roots by recognizing her similarities with her mother,
but Nina will never completely mirror her physically. Despite the fact that Nina
can’t reflect her mother completely, their shared lack of sense of self can
help Nina relate emotionally.

            Using those around her as mirrors
allows Nina to explore her thoughts and emotions, whereas physical mirrors
represent her physical definition of self. The use of physical mirrors is not
as prominent as the use of those around her as mirrors, but Nina does interact
with one as she describes herself in her apartment in Algeria, “I go all the
way to the mirror . . . I see an old man with black teeth wearing a red fez”
(Bouraoui 49). What Nina sees when she looks in the mirror tells us both about
her sense of identity, and how she actually perceives her own body. The fact
that the man is wearing a red fez tells us that she is starting to associate
herself with her Algerian heritage, and her continued association of herself with
masculinity. The man being old and having black teeth seems like a simple way
for her to indicate that she doesn’t feel comfortable in her own body, and
thinks that others may see her as less desirable as well. Despite the fact that
every time Nina has looked in an actual mirror, or used someone close to her to
mirror her own emotions, she has seen a negative portrayal of her worst traits
in her own eyes, she continues to seek out these mirrors rather than avoiding
them. Nina is constantly looking for a feeling of validation that she doesn’t
believe will never come.

            When she isn’t looking into the
mirror to see her own reflection, or that of someone else, mirrors do also
allow Nina to temporarily feel as though she belongs when she expresses her
emotions in front of a mirror. Nina starts acting like the Algerian schoolboys
in front of a mirror in Algeria, “I don’t understand all their words. ‘Yahya
Algeria’ is . . . repeated. I repeat it in front of the mirror . . . I’m as one
with those children” (Bouraoui 9). Similarly to how she falsely felt as though
she could fully reflect her mother earlier, Nina feels that by imitating the
Algerian boys in front of the mirror she will be able to fully express those suppressed
feelings that will her to be one of them. In reality, as much as she repeats
their words, Nina’s sense of belonging is only temporary as she will never be
biologically male. However, even if it is only temporary, she seems to find it
helpful to be able to feel as though she belongs, despite the restrictions of
her society.

            What become apparent through Nina’s
narration is that when we look at ourselves in a reflective surface, we can
never truly see ourselves, the way others see us. Mirrors were never going to
allow Nina to be comfortable with her sense of self on her own, it was always
going to have to come from within Nina. However, the mirrors did help Nina
realize that she didn’t feel as though she would ever belong, due to her dual-culturalism
and sex, and would never feel comfortable with her identity, until she didn’t
try to suppress those feelings, and embraced them instead. Once she realized
that, the mirrors became nothing more than everyday objects.