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Dr. Raman, a fictitious physician in the imaginary South Indian city of Malgudi that is the microcosm for many of Narayan's stories, is renowned for his diagnostic acumen and "certain curt truthfulness; for that very reason his opinion was valued; he was not a mere doctor expressing an opinion but a judge pronouncing a verdict." When Dr. Raman is called upon to make a house call and subsequent operation on his dearest friend, Gopal, he faces a very difficult professional ethical dilemma.
For Gopal is very sick (dying in Dr. Raman's judgment) and requests a truthful prognosis in order to settle his will and avoid the "endless misery for his wife and children" that an unsettled will would entail, a realistic eventuality with which Dr. Raman concurs. Yet, if Dr. Raman reveals his pessimistic opinion, which he does to his assistant, i.e., that Gopal will not survive the night, then it would "virtually mean a death sentence and destroy the thousandth part of a chance that the patient had of survival."
Dr. Raman does "a piece of acting" and assures his friend and patient that he will live. Gopal replies, "If it comes from your lips it must be true . . . . " Gopal lives and Dr. Raman remarks to his assistant, "How he has survived this attack will be a puzzle to me all my life."
Bette is a poor spinster, a frequent visitor at her cousin Hulot’s household. When the story opens, the Hulot family fortune has been decimated by Baron Hulot’s mistress. He spends all his money on her, leaving his wife, Adeline, and daughter, Hortense, to struggle meagerly along. Hortense, whose dowry is shrinking daily, mindlessly amuses herself by teasing Bette about her "lover", the sculptor, Count Steinbock, who lives above Bette’s apartment. Bette treats the sculptor maternally but loves him with a jealous affection.
Hortense decides she must meet Steinbock and the two fall in love at first sight. Though Steinbock has little money, Adeline agrees to their marriage, but the engagement is kept from Bette. Baron Hulot’s mistress leaves him and he becomes invoved with Madame Marneffe, the wife of one of his employees.
Cousin Bette is bitter towards the Baron and his family because they treat her like a servant. When she hears about Hortense’s engagement to her friend Steinbock, she determines to destroy the whole family. Bette introduces Crevel (whose mistress Hulot once stole) to Madame Marneffe and he becomes a rival lover. Bette also anonymously has Steinbock imprisoned for his unpaid debts.
Meanwhile, Madame Marneffe seduces Steinbock. She then secures her power by telling each of her lovers that he is the father of her unborn child. Hulot reaches the end of the line shortly thereafter, when it is discovered that he has been stealing money from the government. Hulot’s brother dies of grief and Hulot himself goes off to live with a seamstress in the slums.
Madame Marneffe and Crevel also meet miserable ends. Several months later, Adeline discovers her missing husband while on a charity mission. He comes home, but soon seduces the maid. Adeline then dies, her emotional reserves exhausted.
Mrs. Turpin and her husband enter their doctor's waiting room and immediately Mrs. Turpin begins to assess the other patients present: a pleasant, well-dressed lady; a "white trash" woman and her mother and son; a fat adolescent with acne. She and the pleasant woman strike up a conversation about the importance of refinement and good disposition. They discuss, for example, how you have to be nice to "niggers" to get them to do any work. The "white trash" woman counterpoints with comments that indicate her ignorance and poor breeding.
Suddenly, the fat adolescent throws her book at Mrs. Turpin and tries to strangle her. The girl is subdued by the nurse and her mother and the doctor sends her by ambulance to the hospital, but before being taken away, she whispers to Mrs. Turpin, "Go back to hell where you belong, you old wart hog." At home, Mrs. Turpin confronts God. Was this experience a message from Him? She demands of God, "Who do you think you are?" As the sun sets, a "visionary light" comes over her and she has a vision in which the "niggers" and "white trash" march on the bridge to heaven ahead of good, respectable people like her.
Summary:The narrator describes the profound impact of motherhood on her life, so profound that she can barely remember a life without children. There has been a conversion to total commitment, " . . . that / instant when I gave my life to them," but when and how did it happen?
Summary:A daughter sits with her dying father during the day, thinking about their relationship, keeping him company as he tries to swallow a little coffee, holding the cup for him to spit into. At night he sleeps with his wife; the next morning he sits again in his chair and looks out at the dawn and seems to be waiting for his daughter once again.
These three short plays (approximately 30 minutes each) were commissioned for use in readers' theatre (see Commentary). Each addresses a specific patient/provider concern at the end of life. "Journey Into that Good Night" by Berry Barta is the story of a dying adolescent coming to terms with her mortality. Her physician demonstrates gratifying sensitivity in his understanding of her emotional struggle and the girl's mother progresses perceptibly in her own grief process in the course of the dialogues.
Marjorie Ellen Spence offers "Stars at the Break of Day," set in a nursing home where a middle aged man dying of cancer is confined. The reader meets a spectrum of elderly residents whose antics provide the humor necessary to keep the piece from becoming maudlin. There is discussion about assisted suicide as well as a view into one mode of accepting pain and impending, albeit untimely, death.
The third play, "Time to Go," by C. E. McClelland, is a fantasy which combines comic whimsy with a penetrating and profound sense of reality. The central issue is that of "letting go" of a son who has long lived in a persistent vegetative state following an accident. The victim's story is articulated in conversations between him and visiting "Friends" from another realm. Without introducing theology or politics, the conversations direct the reader to focus on the parents' reluctance to make a decision to discontinue life support.
A frantic phone call from an elderly mother to her middle-aged daughter opens this somewhat surreal and menacing short story. What follows is the daughter’s search for her father who has been missing for one and one-half days. Is he lost because of the stroke he had suffered or merely being wickedly mischievous as his wife suggests? Or is he hiding in anger or seeking revenge? Or, is he dead?
The menacing tone to this story is a result of the author’s skillful use of the second person voice: "Dad? Daddy? you whisper. You imagine you hear low, throaty laughter--unless it’s the wind . . . the door to the closet is open, your mother preceded you here, desperate in her search; you know no one is hiding inside but you can’t stop yourself from peering in, holding your breath. Then you switch off the closet light, you switch off the lights in the room, shut the door and walk away."
A man called "The Counselor" is wandering the deserts, plains, and villages. He teaches scripture and rebuilds churches, like a monk, eating and sleeping very little. He attracts an odd group of followers--cripples, murderers, fanatical boys--and leads them to Canudos where they build a town and a glorious cathedral. The town is designed in imitation of Jerusalem. Many people flock to the site to see The Counselor; he heals them with a touch and washes them clean of sin.
The newly-installed conservative government is suspicious of Canudos, seeing it as a bastion of progressive sentiment. They resolve to attack the town and wipe it out. The Counselor, however, has long warned his followers that the Dog and his forces of evil will try to ruin their sanctuary.
When the small branch of the army sent to destroy what they think is a band of cripples and madmen arrives, they are slaughtered with all the vengeance of a holy war. The angered government sends a larger force and the town is eventually destroyed, but the few survivors insist that they saw The Counselor ascend to heaven, and so his reign lives on.
This anti-war novel is written from the point of view of an injured World War I infantryman (Joe Bonham). As the plot progresses we realize how severe the injuries are (most of his face has been blown away and eventually his arms and legs must be amputated--leaving a faceless torso) and why the story is being told by an interior monologue voice.
Interspersed with recollections of Joe Bonham's life is a description of his amazing struggle to remain human. Joe's quest begins with a search for "time," and once time has been found, he begins to "organize" his world. After many years of struggle to orient himself, he tries to reach out to others by "communicating" with them. Unfortunately, his initial attempts to move his head in Morse Code are initially misconstrued as seizures, for which he receives sedatives. Eventually, a nurse new to his care realizes what he is trying to do and informs his doctors.
What Joe wants most is to let the world know about the horrors of war. He assures his keepers that he could support himself in this venture if only they would let him out (people would be glad to pay to see a "freak" such as himself). The answer he receives in return, one which had to be "literally" pounded into his forehead: "What you ask is against regulations."
This story is a reminiscence of the care provided to a dying grandmother when the Latina narrator was a teenager. She recounts the turmoil of her home life and the love and protection her grandmother provided. Grandmother's home, with its flowers growing wild on the front porch and smells of chiles frying in the kitchen, was a refuge of living things, a place where an awkward young woman could come into her own.
In the story's remarkable ending, after Abuelita (grandmother) dies, the granddaughter carefully undresses her, and then enters the cleansing waters of the bathtub with her. There she waits for the moths to come--the moths which Abuelita told her of "that lay within the soul and slowly eat the spirit up." The moths do come, and then she cries, sobs, for herself, her mother, and grandmother--"there, there, I said to Abuelita, rocking us gently, there, there."