Showing 161 - 170 of 879 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

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.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is an autobiographical novel in which the author relates the emotional life of a childhood and young manhood lived with cerebral palsy. The disease is never named (except on the fly-leaf of the book cover); its impact is revealed through incidents and personal relationships experienced by the protagonist in a narration which reflects by its style, the intellectual maturation from childhood to adulthood.

As a child, Felix spends long periods in a children’s home, to receive therapy and educational training, and to relieve his family of the strain of his care. Felix learns to walk with painstaking effort and surges of determination, but the reactions of others, even of his mother, make clear that he is not normal. His social life is complicated by anti-semitism and by just being from a different religious background. With puberty comes sexual longing and the need for female affection, and eventually the painful recognition that his desire will not be reciprocated. What saves Felix is the life of the mind and a love of literature and writing which a few influential mentors and a clever, similarly disabled friend help him to develop.

View full annotation

Autobiography of a Face

Grealy, Lucy

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Lucy Grealy, poet, tells the story of her childhood and young adulthood, a twenty year period of overwhelming physical and mental suffering. Yet the author is so resilient, so intelligent, so insightful, and such a good writer that her story transcends mere illness narrative. At age nine, first misdiagnosed and finally identified as having facial bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma), Lucy underwent several surgeries and more than two years of intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Pain and nausea, anxiety and fear of more pain and nausea were only part of the ordeal.

The young Lucy became aware of what it is to be severely, chronically ill. Her sisters behaved differently toward her: they were polite. "Suddenly I understood the term visiting. I was in one place, they were in another, and they were only pausing." Even her father felt uncomfortable at her hospital bedside, and Lucy was relieved that he came infrequently.

But being at home was worse: in the hospital the other patients and the staff expected little from her and she felt no guilt or shame; amidst her family, she blamed herself for the tension, arguments over money, and her mother’s depression, even though these elements had existed prior to her illness. Her hair fell out and she became dimly aware that people were staring at her face. Nevertheless, "I . . . was naturally adept at protecting myself from the hurt of their insults and felt a vague superiority . . . . "

Well enough to return to school, Lucy’s disfigured face drew taunts from classmates; she understood finally that she was perceived as ugly and that she would not be loved. Only on Halloween, when she could mask her face, did she feel free and joyful, unconcerned about her appearance, "normal." Her moods now alternated between despair, determination, and escapism. She became convinced that only facial reconstruction and a restored appearance would make life bearable.

During years of reconstructive surgery Lucy evolved complex rationalizations to give meaning to her suffering. Two anchors had stabilized her existence throughout the misery: a passionate adolescent love of horses, and an adult love of poetry. Eventually outward appearance and inner life became harmonious. "The journey back to my face was a long one."

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The author, a scholar of autobiography and other forms of life writing, has expanded his scholarship to include what he calls "autopathography"--autobiographical narratives of illness and disability. This book is the result of an extensive study of such narratives. The works discussed are full-length and recently published--most were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Couser is particularly interested in issues of narrative authority, in how autopathography can be counterdiscursive to the prevailing biomedical narrative, and, especially, in how autopathography is counterdiscursive to the cultural stigmatization and marginalization that often accompany illness or disability ["insofar as autobiography is the literary expression of the self-determined life" (182)].

Since social/cultural counterdiscourse is of particular importance to Couser, he has focused on four specific illnesses/disabilities that have been associated with stigma: breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and deafness (182). His analysis of each condition is diachronic because he is searching for "the enrichment of the genre by successive writers who defy, complicate, or refine its conventions" (44). In addition, Couser asks, to what extent do authors "integrate illness narrative into a larger life narrative?" (14). He considers who narrates illness stories (biographer or autobiographer), how the stories are constructed, whether and how they achieve a "comic plot" and narrative closure.

The book's introduction (chapter 1, "Human Conditions--Illness, Disability, and Life Writing") provides a framework, relating what will follow to current issues in life writing, "identity politics," the culture of medicine, and illness experience, as well as to other work on illness narratives such as Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography and Arthur Frank's The Wounded Storyteller (annotated in this database).

Chapter 2, "Medical Discourse and Subjectivity," develops further the questions of narrative authority, representation, and resistance to a dominant medical or cultural narrative. Each subsequent section--breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, deafness--is prefaced by an informative discussion of the cultural and narrative issues that are relevant to the particular condition; the subsequent analyses of individual texts further elaborate these themes.

View full annotation

The Steel Windpipe

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jan-04-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A little girl is brought to the rural hospital by her mother, who throws himself at the feet of the young doctor, “Please do something to save my daughter!” It seems that she has been suffering from a sore throat and is now having difficulty breathing. The doctor looks into her throat; diphtheria is evident.

At first he scolds the mother for not having brought the girl earlier. Then he suggests surgery: a tracheotomy. The doctor knows this is the only way he might save the child, but he is consumed by anxiety because he has never performed the procedure. At first the mother objects to surgery, but then relents. The tracheotomy is successful and the child survives.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

This anthology culls 1,500 excerpts from approximately 600 works of literature primarily written in the past two centuries and representing all major genres--the novel, drama, poetry, and essay. These brief selections highlight how literature portrays the medical profession and also provide ample evidence of many recurrent themes about the doctor-patient relationship and the personal lives of physicians present in the pages of fiction.

The book is organized into eleven chapters devoted to the following subjects: the doctor's fee, time, bedside manner, the medical history and physical examination, communication and truth, treatment, detachment, resentment of the medical profession, hospital rounds, social status, and the doctor in court. Many well-known authors including Anton P. Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, and William Carlos Williams are featured in this anthology but less notable writers are also introduced. A twenty-three-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources is a useful element of the book.

View full annotation

Ghosts

Ibsen, Henrik

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Oswald Alving has returned home to visit his mother on one of the occasional visits he has made since leaving home as a young boy. He was sent away to prevent him from becoming morally contaminated by his father, Captain Alving, who subsequently died of syphilis. This time, however, he intends to stay and marry the maid, Regine; he is unaware that Regine is his half-sister, sired by the profligate Captain Alving.

Parson Manders, the mother's former lover, also visits and reprimands Mrs. Alving for not living a more conventional life and rearing her son. In the play's climax, Oswald reveals that he, too, is suffering from syphilis and will inevitably develop dementia. To make up for the past and to prove her love, Oswald asks his mother to give him a fatal dose of morphine when signs of dementia appear. At the end of the play it is not clear what she will do.

View full annotation

The Country Doctor

Balzac, Honore de

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The country doctor, Monsieur Benassis, practices in a village called Voreppe at the base of the Grande Chartreuse Mountains. He is a seedy and unkempt, but very kind-hearted, bachelor of 50 who lives with his authoritarian housekeeper. Benassis was brought up in the country, but had lived for many years in Paris where he enjoyed a dissipated life and loved two women. He left the first, only to learn later that she bore him a son and died of heart disease. Later his illegitimate son died.

His second love, Evelina, broke off their engagement when her parents objected to the suitor’s sordid past. Benassis became very depressed and considered suicide. After visiting a monastery in the Grand Chartreuse region, he decided to move to Voreppe and devote his life to serving the poor rural people. He not only practices medicine, but over the years has also initiated a number of economic and community development projects in the area.

Above the village is a hamlet that contains a dozen cretins among the thirty families who live there. Cretinism is common in the region. Dr. Benassis decides that it would be good for the public health to have all the cretins sent to an asylum in Aiguebelle, some distance away. When Benassis becomes mayor, he arranges to have the cretins transported to Aiguebelle, despite opposition from the local people. One cretin remains "to be fed and cared for as the adopted child of the commune."

Benassis later moves the other inhabitants of the hamlet to a new, more fertile, site in the valley and installs an irrigation system for them. At the end of the novel, Benassis has a stroke and dies. He is the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

View full annotation

In the Land of Pain

Daudet, Alphonse

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) developed the form of tertiary syphilis called tabes dorsalis in the early 1880’s. Tabes progressively destroys the structures of the dorsal column of the spinal cord, leading at first to lower extremity ataxia and neuropathic pain, and eventually to paralysis of the legs associated with intractable pain. Daudet sought treatment from the leading neurologists of his time, including J. M. Charcot and C. E. Brown-Séquard, but the disease progressed relentlessly.

At some point Daudet began making notes for a book about his illness. He spoke to several of his contemporaries about this project, but the book never became more than a collection of brief notes, which were collected and published posthumously as "La Doulou" (Provencal for "pain"). This short book, translated here by Julian Barnes, consists of "fifty or so pages of notes on his symptoms and sufferings, his fears and reflections, and on the strange social life of patients at shower-bath and spa." (p. xiii)

The notes are generally in chronological order, beginning with short comments like "Torture walking back from the baths via the Champs-Elysées" (p. 4) and "Also from that time onwards pins and needles in the feet, burning feelings, hypersensitivity." (p. 6) In a long section toward the end Daudet comments on his experience at Lamalou, a thermal spa that he visited annually from 1885 to 1893. "I’ve passed the stage where illness brings any advantage or helps you understand things; also the stage where it sours your life, puts a harshness in your voice, makes every cogwheel shriek." (p. 65)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel, with the help of some friends, Gregor Samsa has survived his seeming death at the end of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and joined a freak show in Vienna. A little man named Amadeus Hoffnung, who suffers from Werner’s syndrome (premature aging), runs this Chamber of Wonders. The human sized cockroach proves to be a big hit with the public and a good friend for his assorted colleagues, who come to admire his optimism, compassion, and sense of social responsibility. Gregor thrives, except for the festering wound in his carapace (back) that will not heal--the wound made when his father threw an apple at him during his traumatic early life in "Metamorphosis" as a human-turned-insect.

In 1923, as a result of an life-changing encounter with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and in the context of growing anti-Semitism in Central Europe, Gregor flies (literally) to New York, where he takes up residence and soon runs into Mr. Charles Ives, the composer and insurance executive, who gives him a job as an actuary. The novel describes Gregor’s subsequent adventures over the next 20 years--as a surprise witness at the Scopes trial, as the subject of Ives’s famous "Insect" Piano Sonata, and finally as the confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and member of his "brain trust." Along the way, Gregor contributes greatly to the science of risk analysis and management.

In 1943, at the president’s request, Gregor joins the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he serves as risk analyst and all-around moral questioner during the bomb’s development. Finally, Gregor Samsa, having survived 30 years as an insect, becomes physically ill as the old apple-infection turns to septicemia; and he becomes existentially ill, as he confronts the implications of nuclear warfare. He decides to commit suicide by placing himself among the instruments at Ground Zero of Trinity site, vaporizing in the explosion of the first atomic bomb; indeed, "Gregor’s was the most expensive assisted suicide in history." (p. 458)

View full annotation