As Nash begins to unravel mentally, he believes that “men in red neckties” are following him around the MIT campus, tracking his movements and interactions with others. The men in red neckties carry two layers of symbolic significance in the book. Firstly, they highlight how fear and paranoia don’t often spontaneously emerge but are instead feelings that are rooted in reality. Although these men in neckties are only paranoid delusions—figments of Nash’s imagination, which schizophrenia has forced into overdrive—Nash is deeply fearful of them, and as he begins to worry that the government is surveilling him, he writes nonsensical letters to government officials, attempting to put a stop to the “surveillance.” Nash’s paranoia is grounded in reality. In the 1950s, the U.S. government tracked down and arrested many academics accused of spying for the Soviet Union, including several MIT professors who had been active members of the Communist Party. Though Nash was not a communist, his mentor at MIT, Norman Levinson, is questioned and treated with suspicion; Nash himself begins to feel worried about the government’s “witch hunt.”
The men in red neckties also speak to the way that Nash’s mental illness was in many ways compounded by his own experiences and unique skills as a thinker. As a mathematician, Nash sought to find patterns in the notoriously difficult math problems he researched, discovering meaning, order, and solutions where other mathematicians saw only chaos. By imagining these men in red neckties and attempting to understand patterns in their movements, Nash demonstrates the very skills that made him a great mathematician. The men might therefore be seen as a symbol for Nash’s obsession with “patterns,” which contributed to both his skills as a mathematician and his own mental deterioration. Ironically, Nash’s schizophrenia is heightened by his own powers of mind; the mental illness wreaks havoc on his life, forcing him to quit his job as a professor and straining his relationships with friends and family.
Men in Red Neckties Quotes in A Beautiful Mind
[Nash] began, he recalled in 1996, to notice men in red neckties around the MIT campus. The men seemed to be signaling to him. “I got the impression that other people at MIT were wearing red neckties so I would notice them. As I became more and more delusional, not only persons at MIT but people in Boston wearing red neckties [would seem significant to me].” At some point, Nash concluded that the men in red ties were part of a definite pattern.