Showing 1 - 10 of 114 annotations contributed by Belling, Catherine

Monet Refuses the Operation

Mueller, Lisel

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Claude Monet (1840--1926) was a French impressionist painter. As he aged, he developed cataracts, but refused to have them surgically removed. In this 46-line free verse poem, Monet, the speaker, tries to make the doctor understand his reasons for refusing the operation.

What the doctor sees as deterioration, an "aberration" and an "affliction," is for the artist the result of a long process of development, a kind of culmination of his life’s work: exploring the way that people (rather than eyes) see. For Monet, removing the cataracts would "restore / my youthful errors" of vision, a world seen according to "fixed notions" of discrete objects rather than as the flux of pure light it has become. Monet wishes the doctor could see what he does: "if only you could see / how heaven pulls earth into its arms . . . ."

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Two Views of a Cadaver Room

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is divided into two formally identical halves of eleven lines each. The first part describes a visit to a "dissecting room," a Gross Anatomy laboratory. The female visitor dispassionately observes the four male cadavers, "already half unstrung" by dissection, and the students, "white-smocked boys," who work on them. She observes the fetuses in bottles, "snail-nosed babies," which are given a kind of power and fascination absent from the cadavers. Finally, "he," one of the students, hands her the "cut-out heart" of his cadaver.

This disturbing valentine is indirectly elaborated on in the second half of the poem, which describes Brueghel’s painting The Triumph of Death (1562), a "panorama of smoke and slaughter." The speaker focuses on a pair of lovers who, in the lower right corner of the painting, seem entirely unaware of the horrors around them. Enclosed by their love, they form a "little country," admittedly "foolish" and "delicate," but spared from encroaching death--if not by love itself, then at least by the arresting effect of art’s image, for desolation is "stalled in paint."

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this novel, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, is autistic (or, more accurately, probably, has Asperger's Syndrome). He lives with his father and believes his mother died two years before. Christopher is extremely good at mathematics, seems to have a photographic memory, but does not like novels (other than detective stories, which are about observation and logic), because he cannot empathize with human emotions or make sense of the indirect or figurative. For Christopher, metaphors, like fictions, are lies. He is very fond of dogs, and hates to be touched by people.

When a neighbour's dog is killed, he decides to investigate and, with the encouragement of his teacher, to write a book about his investigation. He quickly makes some very disturbing discoveries. He learns that his mother is not dead after all, but living in London with the husband of the dead dog's owner. The fact that his father has lied to him devastates Christopher. He runs away to London to find his mother, and his courage and tenacity allow him to solve not only the mystery of the dog's death but that of his family's past and future.

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The Ballad of Typhoid Mary

Federspiel, J. F.

Last Updated: Jul-21-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel's narrator is a widowed 58-year-old Swiss-born physician, Howard J. Rageet, who lives in New York City. His son is a pediatrician, his daughter a medical student. Rageet himself is terminally ill. He is writing a "little biography," of Mary Mallon, the infamous "healthy carrier" also known as Typhoid Mary. Rageet's grandfather, also a doctor, had kept a journal about Mary and his rivalry with his friend, (the real) George A. Soper, whose life's work became tracking Mary and proving that she was responsible for the typhoid outbreaks. Elaborating on the journal, Rageet recounts Mary's life in America.

Born Maria Anna Caduff in the same part of Switzerland as Rageet's ancestors, she arrives in New York Harbor in 1868, aged 13, on a crowded immigrant ship, a fifth of whose passengers had died en route from Europe. The dead include Mary's family. She had been taken care of by the ship's cook, who evidently both taught her to cook and used her for sex. When the ship docks, Mary tries to jump overboard, but is stopped by a physician, Dorfheimer, who smuggles her through Ellis Island and takes her home with him. He is also a pedophile, and he has sex with her. Rageet calls this kidnapping a "humane, benevolent crime." Not long after, Dorfheimer dies of typhoid fever.

Rageet's "ballad" then traces Mary's various positions as a cook (and, often, sexual object), most of which end quickly when the household is infected. She has two relationships that do not lead to the disease. One is with a small girl who has Down Syndrome. Once her connection to typhoid is suspected, the child's family hire Mary to live alone with the child and care for her, hoping the child will be infected and die. The child never becomes ill. The other is with a disillusioned anarchist, Chris Cramer. She lives with him and falls in love with him, but he is not sexually interested in her.

Soper encounters Mary when he is asked by a wealthy Oyster Bay family, her former employers, to investigate a typhoid outbreak in their household. He manages to track her down and eventually, after much resistance, she is arrested, tested, and quarantined. She escapes and continues to work as a cook until her re-arrest. Promising to try and imagine Mary's motives, Rageet breaks off his narrative. He is dying. The novel ends with a postscript written by Rageet's daughter. Implying that her father committed suicide, she tells of Mary's stroke and the last years of her life as a paraplegic, and she provides a final document, the menu for one of the very elaborate meals Mary would have cooked.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) lives in the Sun City retirement community in Arizona with Doris, his companion of 20 years. When Doris dies, her children sell their home and Lenny's son and daughter, both in their late 30's, become responsible for his care. Wendy (Laura Linney) is a playwright in New York City. Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater professor in Buffalo. Niether has seen Lenny for many years. He had been an abusive and violent father. The mother is absent, apparently having abandoned the family when the children were young. Both Wendy and Jon seem lost. Wendy is having an unsatisfying affair with a married man and Jon's partner, Kasia, is about to return to Poland because her visa has expired and he is not ready to marry her. Reaquainting themselves with their father forces them to confront the danger of letting unhappy childhood haunt them, and makes them recognize their difficulties being adult (they have Peter Pan names).

Lenny has dementia, probably Parkinson's. Wendy and Jon find him in restraints in a hospital bed. He is hostile from the outset. They take him from the bright light in Arizona to dark sleet in upstate New York, and they put him in a nursing home. Wendy stays with Jon as their father "settles in." She feels guilty but does all the wrong things in trying to make up, while Jon is pragmatic and resentful. Brother and sister get to know each other better. As they bicker, their father seems to watch from a distance with an opacity that is also a kind of dignity. His condition deteriorates and he dies in the nursing home. Wendy returns to New York.

Six months later, Wendy's play about their childhood ("Wake Me up when it's Over") is being produced in New York, and Jon is on his way to give a conference paper ("No Laughing Matter: Dark Comedy in the Plays of Brecht") in Poland where he plans to be reunited with Kasia.

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A Spot of Bother

Haddon, Mark

Last Updated: Jun-12-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

George Hall has recently retired when he discovers a lesion on his hip which he takes to be skin cancer. Even though his doctor tells him that it is simply eczema, George is not reassured for long. His worry gradually becomes panic. He learns that his wife, Jean, is having an affair with an old friend of his, that his daughter, divorced single mother Katie, is going to marry a man he disapproves of, and that his son, Jamie, intends to bring his gay lover to the wedding. At this point his hypochondria becomes distinctly pathological. He attempts to excise the lesion himself with kitchen scissors and ends up in hospital.

With the help of antidepressants and psychotherapy, he begins to recover, and then, finding other marks on his skin, relapses. Things come to a climax at Katie's chaotic and (for the reader) very funny wedding, where George, on a risky mixture of valium and alcohol, makes an overly confessional speech and then physically attacks his wife's lover. Order is restored with the help of Jamie and Ray, the groom, who turns out to be heroically kind and efficient (and whose working-class status is then forgiven by George and Jean), and the novel ends with happy reconcilations. George's health anxiety has not, though, entirely disappeared and the novel ends with a clear sense of the mental effort required, especially as we age, not to give in to our fears of disease and death.

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Childless Woman

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker, the "childless woman" of the poem, describes the way infertility has rendered her body aimless and horrible. Her womb, like a dried-out plant, "rattles its pod." Her body is a knot, lines turned back on themselves instead of leading to the future, making it unnatural, "Ungodly as a child’s shriek." All her body can produce is the blood of menstruation, which signifies her own death, and a surreal and horrifying landscape "gleaming with the mouths of corpses." (18 lines)

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Therese Raquin

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Jan-28-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Madame Raquin, a widowed haberdasher, lives with her son, Camille, who has a history of poor health and is weak and uneducated, and her niece, Thérèse, conceived in Algeria by Madame’s soldier brother and a “native woman,” both of whom are now dead. Raised by her aunt as companion to the invalid Camille, Thérèse is a model of repression. When Thérèse turns twenty-one, she and Camille marry, and the three move from the country to Paris. One day Camille brings home an old friend, Laurent. He and Thérèse become lovers and decide to murder Camille so they can marry. On an outing they go boating and Laurent drowns Camille.

The murder replaces their mutual passion with guilt, remorse, and evenutally, hatred. The two must wait before they can marry without arousing suspicion; they are both increasingly haunted by memories of Camille and visions of his corpse. When the aging and still-bereft Madame Raquin actually helps arrange for them to marry (to ensure that they will take care of her), they torture each other with their proximity, and they torture Madame Raquin, now immobilized and silenced by a stroke, by allowing her to learn that her trusted caregivers killed her son. The three live in torment until, finally, Thérèse and Laurent kill each other.

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Summary:

The Cold War. America and Russia (or rather "us" and "them") have both developed miniaturization technology that enables them to reduce objects, including human beings, to microscopic size. The Americans are unable to control the objects’ return to normal size after an hour; the Russians can. An American spy called Benes has stolen this information from the Russians but on his return to America he is injured when the Russians try to kill him. He develops a blood clot in his brain.

To remove the clot, a team of western scientists, led by the surgeon Duval (Edmond O’Brien) and a British vascular specialist, Michaels (Donald Pleasance), is miniaturized inside a submarine which is injected into Benes’s carotid artery. Dr. Duval has a laser gun with which he is to destroy the clot. Also on the submarine are Grant (Stephen Boyd), a military employee in charge of security, and Cora Petersen (Raquel Welsh), Duval’s technical assistant.

The team has an hour to reach the patient’s brain and destroy the clot. They overcome various hurdles, including being washed through an arterial-venous fistula in the jugular vein, having to travel through Benes’s heart (which is temporarily arrested by the outside surgical team to keep the submarine from being crushed), being attacked by antibodies in the lymphatic system, and having to replenish their air supply by breaking through the wall of an alveolar sac.

Finally, they reach the brain and find the clot, but Dr. Michaels turns out to be spying for the other side, and tries to sabotage the mission. He crashes the submarine, but is thwarted by Grant and ingested by a white blood cell. Duval destroys the clot and the crew escapes Benes’s body via the optic nerve. They are washed out in a tear just as they are beginning to return to normal size. Benes is never seen to wake up, but the film’s ending implies that the mission has been successful.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This Japanese horror story is set in a hospital in financial crisis, short of supplies and staff. We see various nurses and doctors struggling with their working conditions. A patient is injured falling out of bed, a nurse practices her IV technique on an unconscious burn patient, a demented woman wanders the hallways talking to apparitions she sees in mirrors. Two events set the central plot in motion: the burn patient dies because of a medication error and those present—Dr Akiba (Koichi Sato) who was responsible and Dr Uozumi (Masanobu Takashima) who was supervising, as well as the nurse who gave the lethal dose and her supervisor—decide to cover up the mistake, and a patient is brought to the ER suffering from a mysterious infection that is liquefying his internal organs.

Dr Akai (Shirô Sano), a senior physician, demands that Drs Akiba and Uozumi begin a study of the infected patient, despite their terror. The patient is never shown directly, but we see green ooze running from his bed. Akai argues that that discovering the pathogen causing this illness will raise money for the hospital, but the real incentive he offers is blackmail: he knows about the mistake and the cover-up.

As the night proceeds, all those involved in the error are infected, taking on zombie-like characteristics, behaving abnormally (a nurse attempts to transfuse her own blood into a corpse; a doctor tries to strangle a patient who has asked to have his pain relieved) and oozing green fluid before dying. With Dr Akiba, however, we begin to realize that the pathogen is not purely somatic. Dr Akai may in fact be the dead burn patient, the “green” ooze is red blood seen through the distorted perception of those haunted by guilt, and the title’s infection is the contagious fear felt by health care professionals who, for various reasons, are incapable of the infallible work of healing that is expected of them.

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