Rene Magritte's Son of Man and the Struggle Between Good & Evil
by Javin Sterner
The first time I saw Rene Magritte’s painting, the Son of Man, I was confused and felt a little mislead. The man in the painting is standing erect and dressed in classy, professional attire. At a glance, I was lead to believe this man must be successful. The confusion hit when I first saw the apple covering the man’s face as if he were hiding behind it. I knew at that moment that this was not just a portrait of a successful man, but of a confused man.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the green apple covering the man’s face. All the lines of his suit, from the button seam to the outline of his shoulders, led my eyes right up to the apple. Why was it there? Is he hiding from something? Magritte obviously wanted the apple to be the focal point of this painting.
In my case, I can sense that the man is very uncomfortable from the pose Magritte chose to put him in. His arms are tightly held at his sides with one hand showing and the other slightly behind him. Why is he holding his one hand behind him? My only explanation for this is that he may be trying to hide something. It could be something he is ashamed of and wants nobody to see. The way Magritte drew the hand behind him might explain how the thing he is ashamed of is in his past. This part of the painting also shows how this man could represent anyone. There are a lot of people who have things in their past that they don’t want anyone to know about.
The plot or story of this piece, I believe, revolves around the apple. Its bright green color reveals a sense of greed, which is associated with money and its similar color. The apple serves as a way to demonstrate this man’s sin. From the beginning of man, the apple has represented sin and all that is evil. Magritte uses the apple to illustrate that the man is not perfect, even though he is dressed to look like he is. The apple does not let the man’s face to be revealed, allowing this painting to symbolize anyone. The title of the piece, Son of Man, also hints at this signifying every man.
After looking at this painting very carefully, it is easy to locate many different artistic choices. The colors illustrated in the man’s suit are there for a reason. The overpowering black coat shows evil is upon this man. Magritte might have chosen black to continue the theme of sin.
When I saw the white undershirt I thought of purity and how deep inside of everyone there is a touch of goodness. Exposing the white shirt could be a way to give you an idea about this man’s confusion. The goodness inside of him is trying to overcome the evil he portrays on the outside.
The lust red tie is also blocking out most of the white shirt. Since this painting was done around the time of the “free love” era, the tie may be a symbol of an obstacle in his struggle with good and evil. He knows the idea of “free love” is an evil thing and by complying with it he is not allowing the goodness inside to shine through. The outline of the suit also accentuates the uptight manner of the man’s posture.
Magritte uses juxtaposition to emphasize different parts of the painting. He uses the apple to symbolize sin and places it over the man’s face to show that this could be anyone. In the background the ocean and the clouds are placed together to illustrate the man’s confusion and freedom. He might know where he wants to go, but can’t find a way to get there. The stone wall between the man and the ocean also serves as a way to demonstrate a barrier blocking his freedom. When you break down the positioning of everything in the painting, it is easier to get an idea of the whole meaning.
The man is placed in the foreground to show that he is the focus of this painting. Everything in the background is just reflecting a deeper meaning. The background shows a scene from, what I think, is inside the man’s mind. It is very cloudy and unclear exemplifying his confusion. He might know where he wants to go with his life, but is unable to get there due to his lack of clear vision. I think he feels lost in a storm of thoughts not knowing which one to follow.
Magritte chose to paint the ocean in the background and with a bright blue color. When I see a blue ocean I think of freedom, almost like driving on an open road. The man wants to be free from his confusion and is trying to find a way to get there. The problem shown in the painting is an obstacle, which the man must conquer to be free. This obstacle is represented by a stone wall, which is in close proximity to the man, and is located between him and the ocean. How he is going to conquer the wall is unknown, but I think he needs to clear the clouds from his head before he can press on.
The whole meaning of the painting revolves around the apple, which is the focal point. Could it be about the fight between good and evil? Is it about all the sin in the world? Does it show how everyone hides behind sin because it is the easiest thing to do? The only thing I can think of is that Magritte wants to embody all people with this painting. The apple signifies the sin of everyone, the clouds illustrate the uncertainty and confusion felt by all, and the stone wall shows how there is always obstacles in a person’s life. He is trying to say that everyone has a bad side and is in constant confusion on where their life is going. This painting really hit home for me because I am unsure about what I want to do with my life. Also, I sometimes do things I probably shouldn’t and I find myself trying to hide from the consequences.