A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

by

Sylvia Nasar

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A Beautiful Mind: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By Labor Day of 1952, Nash has moved back to Boston, living on 407 Beacon Street, a boardinghouse run by an elderly widow. Another male boarder later recalled that though Nash never had any visitors, he woke up in the middle of the night once to hear a sound coming from Nash’s room: a woman’s giggle. This is Eleanor Stier, Nash’s first female love interest. Nash meet Eleanor, a nurse, when he goes to the hospital in September to have some varicose veins removed. They later run into each other in a department store in Boston. Nash seems fascinated with Eleanor and begins to joke around with her in public; she is charmed by his attention.
Though Nash never seemed interested in serious romantic relationships before, meeting Eleanor seems to change him. Nasar suggests that for all of his obvious eccentricity, Nash possessed a deep desire to be “normal”: he was ashamed of his desires for other men and wanted to have a girlfriend, like other men his age.
Themes
Love, Desire, and the Impact of Hidden Lives Theme Icon
Eleanor is 29, an “attractive, hardworking, tenderhearted woman” who had a difficult childhood. She feels protective of Nash, who is five years younger than her, even though he comes from a wealthier background and is an MIT professor. On their first date, Nash only seems to speak about himself, but Eleanor is somewhat relieved: she doesn’t want to share much about her troubled background.
In some ways, Eleanor and Nash seem like a good match. She tolerates his narcissism, since she is infatuated with him and less inclined to talk openly about herself. Later, though, Nash’s lack of empathy and self-centeredness will cause severe problems for their relationship.
Themes
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
It is not exactly clear why Nash begins to court Eleanor, since he hadn’t seemed interested in Ruth Hincks, and he rarely expressed interest in women in general. Nash may have wanted to prove his own “masculinity” by dating Eleanor. Nash also feels that he maintains the “upper hand” with Eleanor, who is poorer and less educated than him. Yet Eleanor also embarrasses Nash: he considers introducing her to his friends at MIT and later thinks better of it
Nash’s relationship with Eleanor may have served as a “cover-up” for his own homosexual desires, which he was determined to keep hidden away. Moreover, instead of providing Nash with an opportunity to become a more caring, giving, and empathetic person, dating Eleanor seems to provide him only with an ego boost: Eleanor reveres Nash, affirming his own self-confidence.
Themes
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
Love, Desire, and the Impact of Hidden Lives Theme Icon
In November 1952, Eleanor realizes that she is pregnant. To her surprise, Nash is “pleased” and “proud” of having fathered a child. As the pregnancy progresses, however, Nash and Eleanor’s relationship unravels: Nash finds himself “irritated” by Eleanor, and Eleanor is frustrated by his lack of commitment to her. Nash refuses to marry her, and when their child is born, he does not put himself down as the father on the birth certificate. After the birth, Eleanor manages to find a live-in position with an employer who lets her keep her infant with her, but because Nash often comes to visit—despite the employer’s “no male visitors” rule—she loses the job and is eventually forced to place their child, John David Stier, in foster care.
Though Nash is excited by the idea of becoming a father—which seems to confirm his own masculinity and virility—he is also unable to commit to the responsibilities of fatherhood, and his reckless, thoughtless decisions negatively impact Eleanor and his son.
Themes
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
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Eleanor is devastated by the idea of giving up her child and begins to feel resentful of Nash, whom she blames for most of their troubles. Nonetheless, Nash and Eleanor continue to see each other, though Nash does not tell his colleagues or friends about Eleanor or his son. Eleanor continues to hope that Nash will agree to marry her. At one point, Nash may have wanted to marry Eleanor, but he may have also believed that Eleanor was content to be his “mistress.” Moreover, Nash has a strong sense of “social snobbery”: Eleanor’s lower-class background would not have made her suitable to be his wife.
Nash’s actions with Eleanor prove his “singularity” comparison to be true. He thinks of himself as superior to Eleanor and wrongly believes that she is content to be a mere “variable” in his life: as their relationship grows strained, she becomes a person of fleeting importance to him, devastating her.
Themes
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
Eventually, Nash suggests to Eleanor that she put John David up for adoption, and their relationship falls apart shortly thereafter: Eleanor realizes that Nash does not want to marry her and become a real father for their son. Later, John David would say that Nash was too narcissistic to be a father. By 1959, Nash would disappear from John David’s life altogether, though he later sent his son a “beautifully made wooden airplane”: “a lovely thing,” John David recalled.
One of the most devastating byproducts of Nash’s inability to understand other people’s needs and emotions is the loss of his relationship with his son, John David Stier. Though Nash makes an attempt to reconcile with John David by sending him a wooden airplane, this feeble effort does not seem to make up for his prolonged absence from John David’s life.
Themes
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
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