Showing 151 - 160 of 878 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

The Pearl Diver

Talarigo, Jeff

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.

Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.

As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.

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Gilead

Robinson, Marilynne

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

John Ames narrates this story in the form of a lengthy letter to his young son. Ames is a 76-year-old minister suffering from angina pectoris and heart failure. He has spent almost all of his life in Gilead, a small town in Iowa. His first wife died during childbirth along with a baby girl. Ames remarried a younger woman who is now 41. They have a son almost 7 years old.

Because Ames believes his death is close at hand, he pens a missive to the boy. Its purpose is to teach his son about all the important things in life Ames may not be around to share with him. During the course of composing the letter, Ames reflects upon his own existence. He recalls the experiences of his father and grandfather who were also ministers.

Reverend Ames likes to think, read, and pray. Born in 1880, he has lived through three wars, the Great Depression, a pandemic of influenza, and droughts. His hope is that his young son will grow into a brave and useful man.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Subtitled "Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History," the book chronicles the medical and societal treatment of tuberculosis in the United States from the perspective of individuals who suffered from the disease. The author includes illness narratives derived from letters and diaries of the afflicted; her analysis spans the period in American history from the nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is divided into four sections. Part I, "The Invalid Experience: New England Men, 1810-60" and Part II, "The Female Invalid: The Narrative of Deborah Vinal Fiske, 1806-44" reveal an interesting contrast in the medical/societal treatment of tubercular men and women, and the resulting differences in their lives as "consumptives." Whereas men were expected to seek a cure by embarking on sea voyages and other travel, women remained at home and sought to control the disease by adjustments in domestic life. For men this meant major disruption and even change of career along with a sometimes exhilarating change of scene; for women it meant relentless anxiety and elaborate coping strategies.

Part III, "Health Seekers in the West, 1840-90" describes the role of cure-seekers in the westward migration and demonstrates how the culture of the time, an optimistic faith in nature and in the economic promise of the newly settled western territories, was reflected in the treatment regimen for tuberculosis. Interestingly, much of the promotional effort to bring "consumptives" west was initiated by physicians who were themselves tubercular.

The final section, "Becoming a Patient, 1882-1940," moves into the modern era with the discovery of the tubercle bacillus, public health measures, and the illness narratives of people who were confined in sanatoriums. Rothman points out that this period marked a transition away from the patient’s ability to understand and determine his/her treatment to one more like the current one in which the medical establishment is the authoritarian "expert."

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The Body Silent

Murphy, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Robert Murphy was a professor of anthropology at Columbia University when he became progressively paralyzed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor. His book is a personal journey through profound physical disability, an exploration of the self, and a study of the social construction of disability ["Disability is defined by society and given meaning by culture; it is a social malady" (4)]. As he writes The Body Silent he is virtually quadriplegic, hitting the keys of his computer with the eraser end of a pencil held in place by a 'universal cuff' wrapped around his palm. He is still traveling to Columbia to teach his classes.

Murphy applies the metaphor of an anthropological field trip to his experience: "This book was conceived in the realization that my long illness with a disease of the spinal cord has been a kind of extended anthropological field trip, for through it I have sojourned in a social world no less strange to me at first than those of the Amazon forests. And since it is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their travels . . . this is my accounting" (ix). Drawing not only on his own experience but also on research for which he received funding, Murphy instructs his audience in the metaphysics of his situation, and in the social as well as physical challenges of disability.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist. The story is told by means of a journal which the narrator secretly keeps against the orders of her physician-husband, who believes this intellectual effort is contributing to his wife-patient's nervous condition. The narrator, a new mother, has been brought to a country house for a "rest-cure" by her husband; he selects for her the room with the yellow wallpaper, the (former) nursery, where the "windows are barred for little children" and the bed has been nailed to the floor.

Forbidden to write and think, prescribed for and infantilized, the narrator becomes increasingly dysfunctional. She obsesses about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to emerge. The narrator finally "escapes" from her controlling husband and the intolerable confines of her existence by a final descent into insanity as she peels the wallpaper off and bars her husband from the room.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This great literate novel is the tale of Hans Castorp, the "delicate child of life" whom we first meet at age 23, ambivalently embarking on a career as a ship-building engineer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany. Before beginning his professional work, however, he journeys on what is intended to be a vacation and a pro forma visit to see his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, at a sanatorium in the mountain town of Davos, Switzerland. Yet as the train pursues its course through the alpine scenery, Hans and the reader become aware that this is no ordinary journey. The impressionable Hans is transported away from the life and obligations he has known, to the rarefied mountain environment and insular community of the sanatorium.

At first uneasy, he soon becomes fascinated with and drawn to the routine established for the "consumptives" and to the social scene which flourishes there. Ordinary life seems increasingly unreal to him; his perceptions are heightened and he becomes aware of his physical, spiritual, and emotional vulnerability, as well as of his own sexuality. He is greatly attracted to one of the patients, a married woman of Slavic background, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. She reminds him of a schoolboy to whom he had been strangely drawn as a child. The turmoil brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish.

As his intended stay of three weeks nears its close, the director of the sanatorium advises Hans to stay on to recuperate from a heavy cold, which appears to reveal an underlying case of tuberculosis. Hans is almost relieved at this news, for it provides him with a reason for remaining near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions and cogitation about illness, life, time, death, religion and world view initiated by another patient, Herr Settembrini.

Settembrini is an Italian man of letters and humanist who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Hans remains at the sanatorium for seven years, freeing himself from the constraints and conventions of life "in the flatlands" and instead engaging in a prolonged "questioning of the universe." This questioning includes a critical flirtation with death, stunningly described in the chapter, "Snow." Hans does not return home until the outbreak of World War I, in which he fights and survives.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

This thought-provoking book is a collection of readings which the editors have found to be particularly useful for a course they teach, "What’s Normal?" It is their intent to facilitate consideration of how the world is experienced by those who are socially marginalized because of their physical appearance. The title of the anthology derives from an article written by the literary critic, Leslie Fiedler, and reproduced as the lead-off essay. Fiedler argues that the propensity of cultures throughout history to define the normal and to make political decisions about physical "abnormality" has reached a point where the rich will perpetuate the cult of normalcy (by paying for medical treatments that ensure it) while "the poor . . . will be our sole remaining Freaks."

The anthology is divided into several sections: Part I contains nonfiction articles, essays, and excerpts from books. Part II reproduces fiction, poetry, and drama and is further subdivided into "Abnormal Weight and Eating Disorders"; "Abnormal Height-Dwarfism"; and "Deformity and Disability." Many of the pieces have been annotated individually for this database (e.g. Fat by Raymond Carver, annotated by Carol Donley and also by Felice Aull and Irene Chen; Skanks by Rennie Sparks; The Fat Girl by Andre Dubus; Weight Bearing by Patricia Goedicke; Dwarf House by Ann Beattie; The Song the Dwarf Sings by Rainer Maria Rilke; The Dwarf by Ray Bradbury; The President by Donald Barthelme; The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance and others).

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On Being a Cripple

Mairs, Nancy

Last Updated: Jan-14-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

In this superbly written essay, Nancy Mairs, a feminist writer who has multiple sclerosis, defines the terms in which she will interact with the world. She will name herself--a cripple--and not be named by others. She will choose a word that represents her reality, and if it makes people "wince," "[p]erhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (9). She muses on the euphemisms that are used by others, concluding that they describe no one because "[s]ociety is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles."

Mairs describes the uncertainty of a (correct) diagnosis early on, the kind of person she was before, and how that has changed and not changed since her illness. She discusses her need for assistance, but balances that by saying that there are many people around her willing to help; she describes her dependence on her family and how lucky she was to have a husband and children before she was taken ill. Nevertheless, there "always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple" (15).

Mairs has many astute comments to make about how disability does not fit well in our youth-oriented, physical-fitness-obsessed culture, and on how social expectations influence whether she adapts or fails to adapt. She also understands what is at stake for the medical professionals who care for her: "I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are" (20).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In short, episodic chapters that move unpredictably and unchronologically through the years between 1956 and 2003, Nick Flynn tells us about his father, Jonathan Flynn--a man of many trades, a writer, an alcoholic with a prison record, a homeless person--and of his own life, which sporadically interweaves with Jonathan's. When Nick was six months old, his 20-year-old mother left Nick's father and made a meager life for herself and her two young sons. A string of her live-in boyfriends and one more failed marriage wound their way through Nick's young life, which was in the seaside town of Scituate, Massachusetts, "the second most alcohol-consuming town . . . in the United States" (77).

At 12, Nick is drinking beer; at 17 he is drinking to get drunk, sometimes with his mother, and smoking marijuana (and later doing other drugs). For years Nick's father "had been manifest as an absence, a nonpresence, a name without a body" yet, "some part of me knew he would show up, that if I stood in one place long enough he would find me, like you're taught to do when you're lost. But they never taught us what to do if both of you are lost, and you both end up in the same place, waiting" (24).

The place where Nick and his father "end up" is the Pine Street homeless shelter in Boston where 27-year-old Nick is a caseworker and Jonathan Flynn appears, a few months after being evicted from his rooming house. Reluctantly, Nick gradually acknowledges his father's presence in the shelter, and gradually, during the next 15 years, reconstructs the lost years through conversations with his father and his father's acquaintances, letters, and manuscript excerpts. The title of the memoir is what Jonathan Flynn mutters at night, when he is looking for a place to sleep (205).

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Angels in America

Kushner, Tony

Last Updated: Jan-12-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Angels in America is really two full-length plays. Part I: Millennium Approaches won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This play explores "the state of the nation"--the sexual, racial, religious, political and social issues confronting the country during the Reagan years, as the AIDS epidemic spreads.

Two of the main characters have AIDS. One, Prior, is a sane, likeable man who wonders if he is crazy as he is visited by ghosts of his ancestors, and selected by angels to be a prophet (but the audience sees the ghosts and angels too). The other main character, Roy Cohn, based on the real political figure, is a hateful powerbroker who refuses the diagnosis of AIDS because only powerless people get that sickness.

A rabbi opens the play, saying that in the American "melting pot" nothing melts; three Mormons try to reconcile their faith with the facts of their lives. Belize, an African-American gay nurse, is the most compassionate and decent person in the play, along with Hannah, the Mormon mother who comes to New York to try to untangle the mess of her son and daughter-in-law’s marriage. In contrast to their commitment, Prior’s lover, Louis, abandons him in cowardly fear of illness. The play portrays a wide range of reactions to illness, both by the patients and by those around them. Included is the realization that much of the nation’s reaction is political and prejudiced.

The second play, Part II: Perestroika (winner of a Tony Award), continues the story, with the angel explaining to Prior that God has abandoned his creation, and that Prior has been chosen to somehow stop progress and return the world to the "good old days." Prior tells the angel he is not a prophet; he’s a lonely, sick man. "I’m tired to death of being tortured by some mixed-up, irresponsible angel. . . Leave me alone."

Ironically, Belize is Roy Cohn’s nurse, as Cohn--even as he is dying in his hospital bed--tries to manipulate the system to get medication and special treatment, and to trick the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg into singing him a lullaby. Meanwhile, the Mormon mother, Hannah, manages to help save the sanity and integrity of her daughter-in-law, Harper; and she also is a good caregiver for Prior.

At the end of the play, we see Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah sitting on the rim of the fountain in Central Park with the statue of the Bethesda angel. They say that when the Millennium came, everyone who was "suffering, in the body or the spirit, [and] walked through the waters of the fountain of Bethesda, would be healed, washed clean of pain."

These four characters represent Jews and Christians and agnostics; homosexuals and heterosexuals; blacks and whites; men and women; caregivers and patients; two generations--the American mix, in this case, caring about each other. Somehow, although the real angels in this play seem inept and reactionary, these folks together at the Bethesda angel fountain seem competent contributors to the future.

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