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There is certain symmetry to this transformation. If, according to the game's own logic, to be female is to be a captive, then to rid oneself of one's femininity is to be liberated. Existing in the subliminal space between conventional notions of male and female, Sheik is freed from the constraints of either. The result is an inversion of the usual order of videogames: While Link incubates, he is passive, inert - a prisoner. Meanwhile, Zelda-as-Sheik is free to wage a covert war against the forces of evil. During this time, it is Sheik, not Link, who is the hero of the tale.
Even when Link returns to the world, Sheik assists in an entirely different capacity than Zelda. As an omnipresent source of intelligence, Sheik proves to be an ally and an equal rather than a simple plot hook. Where Zelda needs constant guardianship, Sheik is removed from the classic triumvirate of hero-villain-maiden. Any idea that is formed about the character must be weighed solely by Sheik's individual presence and actions. Put another way: In ceasing to be strictly male or female, Sheik is free to simply be a person.
This sort of instability is inevitability short-lived, however. Though Sheik is able to operate for a time outside of conventionally gendered archetypes, the game has not forgotten about them. Without Zelda, there is a vacuum; with nobody to kidnap or save, Link and Ganon seem dangerously close to calling the whole thing off. Once Link conquers the penultimate dungeon, Sheik reveals himself as Zelda, returning to her original form. Mere seconds later, as if on cue, she is snatched up again and imprisoned in crystal. The message could not be clearer: Sheik may be free to roam the world, but Zelda belongs under glass.
But while the problem of identity is quickly reconciled within Ocarina's story, the uncertain space that Sheik occupies within the game world remains unresolved. Is Sheik simply a character devised by Zelda, a stock figure in her play-within-a play? Is it her attempt to "pass," or disguise her gender so well as to survive inspection, a process so tied to personhood that to hide one's self is to adopt another? Or is Sheik something more definite, a separate, alternative identity, produced in response to a world without a savior? It becomes a question of autonomous self: Where does Zelda end and Sheik begin?