A major part of Nash’s story remains more or less hidden in accounts of his life outside of A Beautiful Mind (including the popular film adapted from the book). Nash was likely a closeted bisexual who had turbulent relationships with both men and women. He kept this side of his identity somewhat concealed, though his involvement in the mostly male academic world produced some complicated affairs with other men. However, he was unable to keep his desires completely under wraps. While working as a consultant for RAND, a military think tank, he is arrested in a police raid targeting homosexual men cruising others (seeking out sex partners) in public bathrooms. In a parallel thread of narrative, Nasar details the hidden life of Alicia, Nash’s wife and a brilliant scientist in her own right. Alicia’s own career was significantly overshadowed by her husband’s achievements and spectacular mental collapse. Yet Alicia Nash becomes her husband’s savior, caring for him even after they divorce, when he lives as a boarder in her house in Princeton (the two later remarried). Through these two distinct but thematically similar currents in Nash’s story, Nasar emphasizes that private, hidden lives have a way of inevitably affecting public lives and highlights the power of love and desire—which often lead people to hide or sacrifice parts of their lives in the first place.
Though Nasar notes that Nash “did not think of himself as a homosexual,” he often expresses his homosexual desires in subtle ways, revealing his “private self” to the men who become the objects of his affection. The most notable of these is Jack Bricker, a graduate student at MIT who captures Nash’s attention when they meet in 1952. Nash and Bricker “made no secret of their affection, kissing in front of other people” and maintaining a “secret friendship”; Nash describes his relationship with Bricker as “one of three ‘special friendships’ in his life.” At the same time, though, Nash begins to date Eleanor Stier, a nurse whom he views as a more societally acceptable match. Nash realizes that openly engaging in relationships with men will make him even more of a social pariah. Yet Nash never commits to marrying Eleanor, even when she becomes pregnant, likely because of his strong feelings for Bricker. Nash writes that “he experience of loving and being loved” by Bricker “subtly altered Nash’s perception of himself and the possibilities open to him,” though he also viewed the relationship as incompatible with his desires for fatherhood, family, and normalcy.
Despite their public displays of affection, Nash and Bricker’s relationship ultimately crumbles, and he turns back to Eleanor, abandoning Bricker and quashing the bisexual desires he had experienced so strongly. But shortly thereafter, Nash is arrested in California, charged with “indecent exposure” in a men’s bathroom. Though this is part of a police set-up, Nasar suggests that Nash was indeed attempting to solicit men for sex, unable to repress his sexuality. In the end, Nash cannot keep his mostly private desires from interfering with his public life, despite his best attempts. This hidden part of his identity proves too powerful.
Similarly, Alicia Nash’s hidden role as Nash’s behind-the-scenes caretaker and supporter greatly impacts his public life, helping to restore him to health, and to academic prominence, after his mental collapse. Though Nasar implies that Alicia was mostly invisible to those around Nash because of the countless sacrifices she made for her husband and family, she also shows that Alicia was indispensable to her husband’s recovery, and that her love for him was powerfully influential.
Nash and Alicia meet at MIT, where he is an instructor and she is an undergraduate student. Nash “was the closest thing to royalty” to Alicia as a student, and despite his slightly aloof manner, she finds him and his intellect irresistible. Alicia becomes determined to woo her teacher, but her relationship with Nash proves to be her undoing: this “romantic girl […] would most agonizingly disappear in just a few years” after meeting Nash, subsumed by the crushing impact of his mental illness. Alicia and Nash marry, and Alicia becomes pregnant shortly after Nash begins experiencing severe schizophrenic episodes. As Nash grows more emotionally distant and turbulent, “her starry-eyed view of her new life” as Nash’s wife “gives way to a darker, more somber perspective.” Alicia’s love for Nash leads her to sacrifice her own job as a scientist to take care of Nash and prevent him from doing harm to himself or others. Alicia manages to “hide her fear” about her life with Nash from her friends and confidants, becoming mostly invisible: she sacrifices her life for the sake of his well-being.
Though Nash and Alicia divorce after his mental collapse, Alicia offers to let him live with her in Princeton in 1970, since she is “moved by the conviction that she had something more to offer Nash than physical shelter.” Alicia is convinced that living in Princeton, in an academic community, will do Nash well. “Moved by a very personal and direct identification with his suffering,” Alicia feels strongly about helping Nash, despite the aggression he has shown her in the past during his worst schizophrenic breaks. Nasar credits Alicia with healing Nash, since she provides him with a kind of sanctuary as he begins to recover. Alicia is gentle but encouraging and firm, helping Nash to find a comfortable home in Princeton and likely saving him from homelessness. Living in Princeton allows Nash to reengage with intellectual life, eventually leading to the rediscovery of his seminal work on game theory.
By focusing closely on Alicia’s side of the story, Nasar restores her to a position of importance and emphasizes the redemptive power of love and desire. Alicia’s love for Nash leads directly to his recovery, and though she often seemed invisible, Nasar insists that Alicia played a central role in his survival. Though Nash’s romantic relationships with other men are not as positive overall as his relationship with Alicia, Nasar underscores the importance of both of these hidden parts of Nash’s life. Nash is an aloof, highly rational individual who nonetheless experiences the profound effects—both positive and negative—of love and desire and whose private life influences his public identity.
Love, Desire, and the Impact of Hidden Lives ThemeTracker
Love, Desire, and the Impact of Hidden Lives Quotes in A Beautiful Mind
Underneath the brilliant surface of [Nash’s] life, all was chaos and contradiction: his involvements with other men; a secret mistress and a neglected illegitimate son; a deep ambivalence toward the wife who adored him, the university that nurtured him, even his country; and, increasingly, a haunting fear of failure. And the chaos eventually welled up, spilled over, and swept away the fragile edifice of his carefully constructed life.
More than a decade later, when he was already ill, Nash himself provided a metaphor for his life during the MIT years, a metaphor that he couched in his first language, the language of mathematics […] The equation represents a three-dimensional hyperspace, which has a singularity at the origin, in four-dimensional space. Nash is the singularity, the special point, and the other variables are people who affected him—in this instance, men with whom he had friendships or relationships.
Nash displayed a rather curious inconsistency in his attitude and behavior toward his son. At the time of his birth, he had reacted in neither of the ways one might have expected of a young man confronted with the pregnancy of a woman with whom he has recently begun sleeping, eschewing both the high road that would have led to a shotgun wedding, as well as the more commonly elected low road of flat-out denying his paternity and simply vanishing from his girlfriend’s life. He doubtless behaved selfishly, even callously […] But…it is natural to conclude that Nash, like the rest of us, needed to love and be loved, and that a tiny, helpless infant, his son, drew him irresistibly.
Despite Alicia Larde’s crush [on Nash], which seemed to have erased the earnest student of science, she was playing a serious game. Her romantic dreams of becoming a famous scientist herself hadn’t survived the harsh reality test provided by MIT. As she put it later, “I was no Einstein.” Pragmatically, she recognized that marriage to an illustrious man might also satisfy her ambitions. Nash seemed to fit the bill.
The truth, however, is that the research has not been the main thing in [Nash’s] present life. The important theme has been reconnecting to family, friends, and community. This has become the urgent undertaking. The old fear that he depended on others and that they depended on him has faded. The wish to reconcile, to care for those who need him, is uppermost.
The extraordinary journey of this American genius, this man who surprises people, continues. The self-deprecating humor suggests greater self-awareness. The straight-from-the-heart talk with friends about sadness, pleasure, and attachment suggests a wider range of emotional experiences. The daily effort to give others their due, and to recognize their right to ask this of him, bespeaks a very different man from the often cold and arrogant youth. […] In deed, if not always in word, Nash has come to a life in which thought and emotion are more closely entwined, where getting and giving are central, and relationships are more symmetrical.