Showing 2491 - 2500 of 2743 Literature annotations

Out of Mind

Bernlef, J.

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the first person narrative of Maarten, a seventy-one year old man who is experiencing a rapidly progressive loss of intellectual function. It is a harrowing yet poetic account of mental deterioration, revealed in an on-going chronicle of daily life and disjointed memories. The reader experiences what Maarten experiences, not only through descriptions of what life is like, but through the sequencing of thoughts and actions.

At first Maarten is just aware of being uneasy and anxious, "this feeling of being absent while being fully conscious" and he knows, from the comments of his wife, that he must be behaving absent-mindedly. His hold on familiar certainties becomes shaky--he’s not sure of how the rooms in his house are arranged. His wife, Vera, is his anchor and he realizes that his behavior has become deeply disturbing to her, as well as incomprehensible to himself. As Maarten becomes increasingly forgetful and unable to function, Vera is alternately worried, exasperated, and profoundly understanding.

Finally, Maarten is institutionalized--his thoughts disintegrate--yet we know from his observations of "the utterly moronic community" that he still has some awareness of what is happening. Although he no longer recognizes his wife, he listens to "a woman" whisper that "the spring is almost beginning . . . ."

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Cathedral

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This short story opens with an irritated and sometimes hostile narrator whose wife has invited a blind friend to spend the night. The narrator tells us immediately that his visitor's blindness bothers him and that he is not looking forward to having a blind man in his house. The vehemence of his prejudice is surprising. His initial anger and anxiety seem way out of proportion to the situation, as if this blind man were threatening him somehow.

Gradually, as the evening wears on, the narrator begins to relax with the blind man, though he still challenges him in all sorts of ways, such as drinking, smoking cigarettes and dope, and turning on the TV (which, of course, the blind man cannot see). A documentary about cathedrals is showing. The narrator tries to describe a cathedral in words. When that doesn't succeed, the blind man holds the narrator's hand as he draws a cathedral on a paper bag. The experience of this successful communication transforms the narrator.

As the blind man says, "Terrific. You're doing fine. Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime?" The narrator closes his eyes and draws blind, saying, "So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now." The ending leaves us pondering about how much more the narrator is learning about himself and about human communication than the blind man is learning about cathedrals.

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All We Need of Hell

Lesser, Rika

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection of poems, the author details her descent into the hell of bipolar disorder and the re-integration of her life, thanks to lithium therapy. In "Other Lives" she describes herself as "mother of none, good friend to all, / who for no apparent reason, / tries to kill herself, twice." She writes angrily to the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed her and prescribed the wrong medication: "Your first mistake was to see me at all. / Your second, prescribing the Elavil." (in "Shocking Treatment") While she misses the productivity and "rush" of her hypomanic episodes, she realizes this is the price she has to pay to avoid another "two years of pain or nothing, numbness."

As the author's health improves, she cares for friends who are dying of AIDS and for the dying father of a friend: "I'm learning, as I nurse / my father that the worst / would be protection from / death's reality." (in "For Jean") The collection is interlaced with a series of poems called "Black Stones" in which the author encounters very directly the reality of death. In the last of these, she cries out the words of her friend Matthew who has just died: "Rika, dear friend, live and live and live!"

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

William Osler served as one of Walt Whitman’s physicians from 1884, when he moved to Philadelphia to become Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, until 1889, when he left Philadelphia for Baltimore. Osler was introduced to Whitman by a mutual friend, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman’s avid disciple and biographer. After his stroke of 1873, Whitman suffered from recurrent episodes of illness (perhaps small strokes?). Osler first paid a call to Whitman’s home in Camden at Bucke’s request and subsequently visited him on numerous occasions.

Published in this book for the first time is Osler’s unfinished 1919 manuscript for a lecture recounting his relationship with Whitman. Much of the book is a gloss on this short manuscript. The book actually deals as much (or more) with the remarkable figure of Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman’s spokesman and the developer of a theory of "cosmic consciousness," as it does with the two title characters. In sum, Whitman respected Osler, but did not particularly like his sunny, optimistic bedside manner. Osler respected Whitman, but for the most part did not like his poetry. (Leon, however, discovered some handwritten notes on Osler’s copy of Leaves of Grass that suggest Osler grew in his later years to appreciate Whitman’s poetry.)

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

For forty years, James Langstaff (1825-1889) practiced medicine in a small town near Toronto. He witnessed the advent of anesthesia, antisepsis, new drug remedies, germ theory, and public health. Chapters are devoted to his management of surgery, obstetrics, and diseases, especially in women and children, his finances, and his role and that of his suffragist wife in the political and social fabric of their community. A reformer and temperance advocate, Langstaff was quick to adopt medical innovations, but slow to abandon familiar practices.

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The Culture of Pain

Morris, David

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

On the first page, Morris summarizes his project in this book: to "describe how the experience of pain is decisively shaped or modified by individual human minds and by specific human cultures. It explores what we might call the historical, cultural, and psychosocial construction of pain." Contemporary Western culture tries to convince us that pain is nothing but an aspect of disease and, therefore, a medical problem. But pain only exists in human experience; nerve impulses are not pain.

In calling our attention to the social and cultural meanings of pain, Morris begins with Tolstoy's short novel, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (see this database). He then presents various images of human suffering: gender-based pain, as in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's, The Yellow Wallpaper (see this database: annotated by Felice Aull, also annotated by Jack Coulehan); religious views, as in the stories of Job and the Christian martyrs; the aesthetic ideal, as manifested in the romantic idea of the sublime as painful; social uses, as in satire and torture (see Kafka's In the Penal Colony, annotated in this database); the relationship between pain and sex, as in the work of Marquis de Sade; and tragic pain, as evidenced in Sophocles' Philoctetes.

Throughout the book, Morris refers to the "invisible epidemic" of chronic pain that exists in the United States today. This epidemic of chronic pain can be adequately understood and treated only by approaching it with a cultural model, rather than a disease model.

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The President

Barthelme, Donald

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The new U.S. President is tiny, strange, and apparently brilliant. Somehow the people believe that he will identify problems and find solutions. People are fainting. No one seems to know what is going on. No one thought such a tiny man could be elected President, but he won in a landslide. The society seems to believe the President can do great things; but no one seems to have any idea what those might be. Meanwhile, people keep fainting.

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Dwarf House

Beattie, Ann

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

James, a dwarf, lives in a dwarf house and has a dwarf girl-friend. His brother, MacDonald, thinks of James as a dwarf first and a person second. MacDonald is really bothered by James wanting to marry--as if marriage and sexual relations were something dwarfs shouldn't do. When MacDonald tells his mother James has other people to talk to in the dwarf house, she says, "Dwarfs, not people. He's hiding from the real world." She too does not see dwarfs as real people, and sees herself as punished by giving birth to a dwarf. Yet at the wedding itself, the bride is genuinely happy, as MacDonald recognizes to his surprise.

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The Dwarf

Bradbury, Ray

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Aimee and Ralph work at a carnival, Ralph collecting tickets at the Mirror Maze where uneven mirrors reflect distorted images. A dwarf named Mr. Bigelow comes to the maze; Ralph takes Aimee in to spy on the dwarf as he goes into a mirror room which reflects him as tall and slender. Ralph enjoys sneering at the dwarf, but Aimee feels sad and also feels very attracted to him. She investigates, learns he's a writer, wants to help him.

She decides to buy a mirror like one in the maze that reflects him as normal. Ralph, out of spite and perhaps some jealousy, replaces the enlarging mirror with one that makes people seem tiny. The dwarf "shrieking hysterically and sobbing" runs out of the maze. Aimee feels desperately sad and guilty, because Ralph would not have played that trick if he weren't irritated by her interest in Mr. Bigelow.

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The Traveler

Gilchrist, Ellen

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

An overweight, young teenager whose mother is having a nervous breakdown, and whose father doesn't know what to do, is invited to spend the summer with her cousin in Mississippi. Through telling lies about her background, she works her way into popularity on her cousin's coattails. Then a boyfriend tells her she should lose weight, and she pretends there is something wrong with her thyroid. Still, she jumps at the challenge of swimming across the lake (five miles) with him, which she accomplishes to great applause, but when she gets back, her parents are there to take her home. Back in Indiana, she tries to keep the glow of the summer dream.

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