Showing 151 - 160 of 1136 annotations tagged with the keyword "Human Worth"

A Question of Power

Head, Bessie

Last Updated: Nov-18-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this autobiographical novel, written while the author was under severe mental strain and as she recovered from psychotic breakdown, Head tracks the protagonist Elizabeth’s struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her. Elizabeth, like Bessie Head, was conceived in an out-of-wedlock union between a white woman of social standing, and a black man--a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa.

Like the author, Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son--but without her husband, from whom she is fleeing--to live in neighboring Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the African villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behavior. Further, they bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the "bushmen" who are a despised tribe there.

Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American peace corps volunteer, Tom, who acknowledges that "men don’t really discuss the deep metaphysical profundities with women" (24). During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by tribal suspiciousness, terrifying dreams, economic hardships, and two hospitalizations for mental breakdown, it is Tom, and her own love for and obligation to her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel takes place during the Ice Age at a time when modern humans (Cro-Magnon) have immigrated into northern Europe and begun to interact with the Neanderthal people, who have already been successful inhabitants of Europe for perhaps 100,000 years. Within several thousand years of this fateful encounter, which took place about 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthal people had completely died out. Early mitochondrial DNA evidence indicated that modern humans are unrelated to the Neanderthal--their gene pool simply disappeared--although more recent studies show that perhaps 2 to 3% of our mitochondrial DNA was inherited from the Neanderthals, who prbably died out as a result of modern humans' greater success in competing for food and other resources.

In this scenario modern humanity originated from a version of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, of brother "killing" brother, except in the paleontological case the younger brother was responsible for the demise of the elder. Bjorn Kurten, an eminent European paleontologist, used this novel to present his ingenious theory to explain what happened.

The story is told from the perspective of Tiger, a young black (Cro-Magnon) man whose father is killed in a raid by men from another band of blacks. Later, he devotes his life to searching for his father's killer. In the process he travels widely and encounters a band of whites (Neanderthal), a seemingly primitive form of humanity known to Tiger's folk as "trolls." The trolls have a high-pitched, bird-like language that Tiger is eventually able to learn, even though it is virtually impossible for whites (trolls) to learn the black language, because they are unable to articulate the broad range of vowel sounds it includes.

The whites are also different in that their bands are equalitarian, with women playing major leadership roles, while black tribes are strictly hierarchical and patriarchal. Tiger travels with the white band and mates with Veyde, one of its prominent members. However, one day the band is decimated by a marauding black tribe led by the warrior, Shelk.

In the story's climax Tiger carries out a scheme to infiltrate the "bad" tribe and kill Shelk, who he believes is his father's murderer. In fact, ther real murderer was Shelk's twin brother, also called Shelk. The two had used the same name to make it appear that "Shelk" could be in two places at once, thus proving he had supernatural powers. We learn that the Shelk twins had mixed black-white parentage. Children of such unions seem god-like in that they are stronger and more attractive and creative than "normal" people of either group. The "good" Shelk finally finds the white father he has been searching for all his life. And, Tiger lives happily ever after with his white mate Veyde, but their children, though strong and resourceful, will inevitably be sterile. 

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Townie

Dubus III, Andre

Last Updated: Oct-13-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir spins out in detail the despair and violence that emerges from a childhood of poverty and parental absence. When Dubus was preadolescent, his writer father of the same name (see Andre Dubus), took up with a student of his, and the parents divorced. Andre's mother became a social worker, working full-time with no support system, exhausted. Although Andre's father lived nearby and paid child support, it was never enough to keep the four children and their mother out of poverty. They moved frequently, always to the rough sections of depressed Massachusetts towns on or near the Merrimack River. The memoir describes vividly the smells of the polluted river; garbage strewn lawns; smoky, raucous bars; afternoons and evenings spent aimlessly watching television and, in adolescence, neighborhood kids and punks doing drugs and sex in Andre's home - before his mother arrived back from work each evening  .

At school, in bars, and around the neighborhood, kids and adults beat each other up - violence was a constant. Andre was slight and fearful but also drawn to watch the frequent fights. He avoided direct involvement when he could, was beaten up when he couldn't, and loathed himself in either case. He felt like a non-person: "There was the non-feeling that I had no body, that I had no name, no past and no future, that I simply was not. I was not here" (78). Finally, after being unable to help his brother during a fight, Andre resolved to build himself up physically--lifting barbells, bench pressing, and eventually taking boxing lessons.

Now when there was the threat of a fight, he plunged in quickly, inflicting damage. He could defend himself and those he cared about. But always there was the need for vigilance and the need - frequently actualized - to explode in rage. Later, he came to realize that being quick to jump into fights was a way "to get out what was inside him. Like pus from a wound, it was how [I] expressed what had to be expressed" (191). Gradually Andre came to think there might be other ways "to express a wound."

In the second part of the memoir, Dubus writes of how that other way evolved into creative writing. Training for physical prowess had imposed some discipline in his life, which meant being able to concentrate in school, do homework, and read. There were stints in and out of college (eventually he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin), making ends meet as a gas station attendant, construction worker, fast food manager, bartender, and later-- halfway house counselor. At the local Massachusetts college he attended for a while, he overheard himself being called a "townie." He navigated at the interface of the old neighborhood where he still lived and the life of the more privileged. He became more self-aware, more interior, and at the same time, more interested in the larger world. Threaded throughout this period is a developing relationship with his father, whose writing he admired and whose approval he craved.

In spite of the author's ambivalence toward his father - "where were you when I needed you?" (333)--one probably cannot overestimate the role that the senior Dubus played as a writer model for his son. Dubus read and admired his father's stories. He saw the discipline required to write, even though Dubus senior's weekends were often spent unwinding in bars (sometimes with the younger Dubus). Andre met his father's academic colleagues, met other writers, met writers who had stable relationships with a spouse.

He even learned that a writer can be a sports fan (Boston Red Sox), and avid sports participant (jogger). One of the most moving chapters in the book describes the first baseball game Dubus ever attended or watched - at age 13 - (with two tickets from his father), to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in Boston. Dubus went with a friend who explained the game to him as it unfolded. Dubus was stunned: "Every time one of them walked up to home plate with his bat, hundreds of men and boys would yell insults at him I couldn't quite make out, just the tone, which I knew well, but it wasn't directed at me or anyone I would have to try to protect, and I felt relieved of everything, part of something far larger than I was, just one of thousands and thousands of people united in wanting the same thing, for those men from our team to beat the men from the other team, and how strange that they did this by playing, that one beat the other by playing a game" (161-162).

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Summary:

In the eighteenth century, Europe began to take stock of the horrific infant mortality in foundling homes and hospitals. Infant feeding and care became a major preoccupation for charities and philanthropic doctors. Some organized systems of wet nurses in the communities and institutions to provide for motherless children. 

At the same time, syphilis was becoming a serious problem in newborns. The sexually transmitted disease, which swept the continent following the voyages of Columbus, was known to affect babies born to infected mothers. Since the early sixteenth century, doctors had been convinced that mercury was of benefit.

Founded in 1724, the Vaugirard Hospital of Paris was the city’s home for orphans. By 1780 it had made room for mothers with syphilis and their children.  Sometimes the mothers died, or well-off families would abandon their sick children. Healthy wet nurses were engaged to feed these babies.

Eventually, the wet nurses were viewed as a technology—a vehicle--for administering mercury to the babies through their milk. Many of these healthy women fell ill, either from the mercury or by infection from their charges. Nevertheless, the practice continued into the nineteenth century. The wet nurses did not know (or were not told) that the children were infected. The physicians in charge of this experiment also attempted unsuccessfully to vaccinate the wet nurses against syphilis. That experiment also spread the disease.

Remarkably, some wet nurses brought suits against the doctors or the birth families. Occasionally they won damages, and finally the law was changed to offer greater protection.

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The Office

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: Nov-28-2010
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A woman writer, frustrated by attempts to carve out space and time for her craft at home, tells how she decided to rent an office. It had to be simple and inexpensive. She finds a suitable room owned by a couple who occupy the apartment below. The wife, who will clean, seems delicate, defeated, but kind. The small upstairs bathroom is shared with unoccupied offices along the corridor and cannot be locked.

The writer sets up a card table and chair, and savors her few weekly hours of solitude. But her landlord keeps interrupting to offer things that she doesn’t want--conversation, a chair, a plant, a teapot, tales of himself, salacious details about her predecessor tenant, a chiropractor.

Conscious of her inability to be rude to someone who is being rude to her, she lets him intrude, annoyed with herself for not being firm. Determined not to let him win by forcing her out of the office, she begins to express her wishes. He resents these attempts at honesty, and she worries that she has hurt his feelings.

Gradually she realizes that he is spying on her through his set notions of what a proper woman should be doing in such a space – or any space. One night she returns to find him peering at her work, hoping, she suspects, that she has written about him. He hints that she has been using the office for parties and sex, and then accuses her of defacing the open bathroom with obscenities scrawled in lipstick. He tells her that the mess could not possibly be cleaned by his wife who is a decent person who stays at home.

The man is insane. The salacious activities of her predecessor must have been a delusion—and he may well have lipsticked the bathroom himself. She gives up the office.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

An engaging historical analysis of several aspects of the history of madness and art. It includes chapters on the history of

- the portrayal of mentally disturbed people;

- the idea that creative genius is enhanced by mental illness;

- architecture of psychiatric hospitals;

- art therapy; and

- the use of art as a semiotic tool for diagnosis.

Several case studies of individual artists, such as Richard Dadd or Adolf Wölfli are used to exemplify each theme. Special attention is given to artistic movements such as romanticism and expressionism. It is completed by excellent endnotes, a good bilbiography, and detailed annotated index.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On July 5, 1998, physics Professor Alan Cromer suffered a heart attack on a plane, and survived after almost an hour of resuscitation efforts, but sustained brain injury from lack of oxygen.  In this chronicle of caregiving, his wife, a psychiatric nurse by training, gives a very personal, detailed account of the radical adaptations his disability required of both of them.  Her story includes reflection on his and her own emotional adjustments to loss of parity in communication and awareness, practical adjustments to physical limitations, and social adjustments to family, friends and professional colleagues.

Arduously, over time, Alan regained some ability to read and speak--indeed, he spoke to groups with Janet about their life together during the peak of his rehabilitation.  But the road to even partial recovery was bumpy, and the writer fully acknowledges the pain, grief, irritation, and deep frustrations that intersected moments of authentic pleasure, discovery, and mutual kindness.  Professor Cromer died September 3, 2005.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins, cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge "became the first immortal human cells grown in a laboratory"(4).  Known as HeLa cells, they are still reproducing today and are used world wide in research for cancer, cloning, genetics, Parkinsons, and many technologies. Henrietta's family did not know she was the source of these immortal cells until scientists began testing the family members too.  Poor and black, they were very angry to find the white establishment had made fortunes using HeLa cells while the family got nothing for it and couldn't even get good health care. In her thorough and careful investigation, Rebecca Skloot interviewed the Lacks family; scientists, doctors, and others who worked with HeLa cells; historians; journalists; ethicists. This book traces the complex stages of her search for the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Perillo's essays offer a lively, variegated view from the wheelchair of a woman with multiple sclerosis who is also a naturalist, an outdoorswoman, a wife, and an award-winning writer.  Not all of them focus on her condition, though observations about living with the disease occur in most, and are thematic to some.  Most are also laced with wry humor.  One comes to see in these sketches from the Pacific Northwest how full and rich a life it is possible to live while also fully acknowledging and even lamenting the loss of mobility.  She invokes Thoreau several times, and her work may be easily situated in his tradition of personal, reflective essays on the natural world.  For her, the natural world extends to the world of the body, linked as it is with the bodies of all living things.

            

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Summary:

At first the title seems to relate to the main character's lay-off or departure from his job as a professional cellist in a bankrupt and dissolving orchestra.  As the story continues, the title's unpredictable meaning becomes clear. 

Not surprisingly, jobs for cellists are difficult to find. Shattered by his desperate situation, Daigo, the central character (Masahiro Motoki), and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), return from the city to his hometown where they begin to experience stresses and discomforts associated with joblessness.  After a long period of searching, Daigo responds to an ad for someone to work in departures. Believing that he is applying for a travel advisor job, he discovers that the position involves the ceremonial art of caring for the bodies of those who have recently died--or departed.  He learns about encoffination, the elaborate ritual of washing and dressing the body before placement in the casket prior to burial, from Sasaski (Tsutomu Yamazaki), his new employer. 

Mika is so appalled and ashamed when she learns about his new career, she decides to leave him.  In spite of his own unhappiness, Daigo continues on.  With the remarkably skilled Sasaski at his side, Daigo develops great sensitivity in the ritualized care that is provided before family mourners.  Each of the caring situations becomes for Daigo, a rich story about the textures of human life.  He seeks solace for himself and another measure of dignity for the departed by playing beautiful music on his cello.  Most viewers, including the eventually reconciled Mika, are impressed by the beauty of this probably unfamiliar Japanese ceremony.

Another moving dimension of Daigo's personal story occurs when information is revealed about the father who had abandoned him when he was a child.  Circumstances intervene so that Daigo's new skills and sensitivities contribute to an understanding of that distant past and an opportunity to provide his father with a dignified departure ceremony.    

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