Showing 21 - 30 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

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.

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The Metamorphosis

Kafka, Franz

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

First published in 1915, this is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with and financially supports his parents and younger sister. One morning he wakes up to discover that during the night he has been transformed into a "monstrous vermin" or insect. At first he is preoccupied with practical, everyday concerns: How to get out of bed and walk with his numerous legs? Can he still make it to the office on time?

Soon his abilities, tastes, and interests begin to change. No one can understand his insect-speech. He likes to scurry under the furniture and eat rotten scraps of food. Gregor's family, horrified that Gregor has become an enormous insect, keep him in his bedroom and refuse to interact with him. Only his sister Grete demonstrates concern by bringing his food each day.

When Gregor breaks out one day and scurries into the living room, his father throws apples to chase him away. One becomes embedded in his back. Eventually the apple becomes rotten and infected; Gregor wastes away. When he dies the cleaning woman throws his remains into the garbage.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

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

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is confined to her bedroom in a summer house as part of the rest cure for her "nervousness." A nursemaid takes care of the baby. Her husband John is a physician who insists that she remain completely inactive, not even picking up a pen to write.

The bedroom was formerly a nursery. It has ugly yellow wallpaper with a recurring pattern that begins to obsess the narrator. Given her loneliness and lack of emotional support, she begins to see a woman confined in the pattern of the "repellent, almost revolting" wallpaper. Eventually she decompensates and has a complete emotional breakdown.

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Morphine

Bulgakov, Mikhail

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Bomgard, a young doctor recently transferred from a rural area to a small town hospital, receives an urgent message from Polyakov, the doctor who replaced him. Polyakov has become ill; he needs medical help. Before Bomgard can respond, however, Polyakov arrives at the hospital, dying of a self-inflicted wound. In his last moments, he gives Bomgard a notebook, on which is recorded the story of Polyakov's addiction to morphine.

Polyakov first took morphine to relieve an abdominal pain. He found that it also relieved his despair over the loss of his lover, an opera singer in Moscow. Morphine relieved his loneliness and improved his work. He gradually increased the dose until he became hopelessly dependent on the substance. He failed in his attempts to break the habit at a clinic in Moscow. Eventually there is nothing in life but the drug and Polyakov suicides.

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Having it Out with Melancholy

Kenyon, Jane

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

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A poem in nine parts telling of the poet's life engagement with melancholy. She encounters melancholy first as an infant, when it hides "behind a pile of linen" in her nursery. She passes through a life's worth of bottles of anti-depressant medication. The moment she sees that she is "a speck of light in the great / river of light," melancholy alights on her "like a crow who smells hot blood" and pulls her "out / of the glowing stream." Then she discovers monoamine oxidase inhibitors. "High on Nardil," she finds beauty in the world and is "overcome / by ordinary contentment."

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The Wounded Storyteller

Frank, Arthur

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Frank argues that the modernist conception of illness is a form of "colonization" in that the ill person hands over his or her body (and life narrative) to biomedical expertise. In a post-modern conception, however, the ill person reclaims the authority and ability to tell his or her own story, and to construct a new life narrative from the "narrative wreckage" of serious illness or injury.

Frank identifies four dimensions by which one's relationship to the body may be understood: control versus contingency, self-versus other-relatedness, dissociation versus association with the body, and desire versus lack of desire. Frank presents a diagram (p. 30) in which he sketches four "ideal typical bodies" that arise from various combinations of control-contingency, etc. These include (a) the disciplined body, (b) the mirroring body, (c) the dominating body, and (d) the communicative body. While the first three lead to problems in constructing a satisfactory illness narrative, the last is an "idealized type" in that it is not only descriptive, but also "provides an ethical ideal for bodies." (p.48)

Frank then categorizes patients' illness narratives into three main themes: (a) restitution narratives, in which the plot involves returning to one's previous state of health; (b) chaos narratives, in which all life events are contingent and no one is in control; and (c) quest narratives, in which illness is seen as a spiritual journey. This understanding serves as a starting point for a narrative ethic of illness.

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The Alienist

Carr, Caleb

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story begins with Theodore Roosevelt's funeral. The narrator, a reporter with the New York Times, decides to tell a story that happened more than 20 years earlier in 1896 when Roosevelt was Police Commissioner of New York City. A serial killer is murdering young male prostitutes.

Roosevelt invites the infamous Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to form a special unit to track down the killer. The unit also includes the narrator and three members of the police department. Kreizler's qualification is that he is an alienist who champions the radical new concept of forensic psychiatry: the belief that one can predict a criminal's behavior by reconstructing his personality based on evidence in the crimes themselves. This concept smacks of determinism. Thus, Kreizler was violently opposed by many, including the religious establishment, who believed Kreizler was denying that people were morally responsible for their crimes.

Because of the sensitivity of their mission, the small investigative unit operates secretly, but runs into powerful opposition. Over several months Kreizler and his colleagues perform the seemingly impossible job of identifying and tracking down the killer, using Kreizler's psychological methods.

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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.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This volume of new and selected poems was compiled during the last year of Jane Kenyon's life, while she was suffering from leukemia. It includes generous selections from her four published volumes of poetry, as well as 20 previously uncollected new poems. The book ends with an Afterword written by Kenyon's husband, poet Donald Hall, and the last poem she wrote, The Sick Wife (see annotation).

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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.

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