Monday, May 10, 2010

Clues About Ellen Raskin in The Tattooed Potato

Cover of The Tattooed PotatoI admit I undertook my recent rereading of Ellen Raskin's The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues as a way of finding out more about the author's life.

The book is set in a Greenwich Village brownstone that Raskin acknowledged was based on her own home, and the main character, a young woman named Dickory, is an art student, as Raskin was early in her life.

We see Dickory in her art classes and hear the words of her teachers, and I couldn't help wondering how much of this came from Raskin's life, or from the experiences of her friends.

The book is focused on disguises. Garson, the artist who hires Dickory as his assistant, is both obsessed with how people disguise themselves and with disguising himself.

At one point, Garson objects to the nature of photography:

"Bah, photographs prevaricate," he grumbled. "Cameras lie. These are pictures of masks worn consciously or unconsciously by the posers. Red hair appears black; eyes are in shadow; the curve of the chin, the contours of the cheek are flattened onto the two-dimensional emulsified paper as though the face had been rolled under a paving machine."
Knowing that Raskin kept an extensive photo clip file for reference in her illustration work, I found this speech fascinating, revealing her nuanced perspective on the nature of representation.

One thing I hadn't remembered was the plainness of Dickory as a female character. There are no details about what she looks like. She has no female friends, and really no friends at all (just an occasional, platonic-appearing connection with a fellow art student named George). She is walled off from everyone else in her life.

I know it's simplistic to conflate an author with her character, but in the case of Dickory and the Tattooed Potato, there are tantalizing clues about Raskin herself.


crunch-a-bunch said...


I just finished reading The Tattooed Potato (having read it four or five times previously,) and I was once again left wondering--why does Garson tattoo the word potato on his arm? Is it because potato is almost an anagram of the word tattoo, just as Kod and Noserag are almost anagrams of Dock and Garson? Was Garson giving Dickory a clue about the sailor's real identity?

Or is there something else I'm totally missing?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

Daughter Number Three said...


I have to admit I never thought about that. But it's now been long enough since I reread that I would have to reread again to have an opinion!