Showing 281 - 290 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Imelda

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Mar-05-2002
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A physician recounts an experience he had assisting an American plastic surgeon as he performed charity surgery in Honduras. One young woman, Imelda, dies of malignant hyperthermia prior to surgical repair of her cleft lip. After her death, the surgeon returns to the patient to finish the surgery. The narrator tries to imagine the surgeon's motivation for this act, as well as the family's reaction to it.

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Death of Marat

David, Jacques-Louis

Last Updated: Feb-12-2002
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Marat, a leader of the French Revolution of 1789, is portrayed just after being stabbed to death in his bath by a fervent revolutionist, Charlotte Corday. The faked letter of introduction with which she fraudulently entered his home is still held in the dead man's hand. Three quarters of the gray-brown bathtub is covered by a wooden board. The background, shades of gray, is entirely bare.

Warm yellow light further softens the horror of the scene. Both dagger on the floor and wound in the breast are barely visible in the shadow. In fact, emerging from a gray-white turban, the dead man's face--eyes closed, mouth partly smiling--appears calm, as in a gentle sleep. The inscription on the side of a wooden block makeshift desk reads "À Marat/David."

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Summary:

In 1871 the Polaris, a rebuilt tugboat commissioned by the U.S. Navy, set sail with a dual mission: planting the stars and stripes on the North Pole and providing scientific data and specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. A number of poor decisions were made early on in the planning and initiation of the expedition, including an inadequately structured vessel, a vague power distribution lacking a clear absolute authority, and a sailing captain with a significant alcohol problem.

The power struggles begin early. By the third month of the voyage the ship is in physical trouble and the designated expedition head (Charles Francis Hall) has died suddenly of an unexplained illness. There is no leader and the struggle for control erupts between the German scientist/physician who is responsible for the scientific mission and the drunken whaleboat captain who is responsible for keeping his ship and crew safe.

Bad weather, terrible luck, and lack of discipline result in the loss of the Polaris, the splitting of the crew onto separate ice floes, and several months of harrowing experience trying to survive the Arctic winter and hope for rescue. The good news is that everyone except Mr. Hall miraculously survives the ordeal. The subsequent Naval inquiry into the failed endeavor ends without resolution as to the cause of Hall’s death despite hints from crew members that it was not natural. In 1968, long after all crew members had expired, Hall’s grave was located and forensic samples proved that he had died of arsenic poisoning.

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Walt Whitman's Civil War

Whitman, Walt

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book presents the "War of Attempted Secession" through the eyes of America's great poet. It consists of letters, dispatches, articles, and prose selections from Specimen Days (1882), Whitman's quasi-autobiography. In addition, all of Whitman's Civil War poems are included, some interspersed through the text and others collected in an Appendix.

The editor has arranged this material into 14 thematic chapters, beginning with "an introductory section in which Whitman discusses the general character of the Civil War" and including chapters containing material on his visits to the front, life in Washington during the War, letters to his mother, his admiration for Lincoln, and other topics.

Of particular interest is "The Great Army of the Wounded," a chapter composed of dispatches to the New York Times and Brooklyn Eagle, in which Whitman describes the military hospitals surrounding Washington and his own work as a volunteer nurse, scribe, and friendly visitor. In "Dear Love of Comrades," he presents a number of "specimen" cases of sick or wounded soldiers. "O My Soldiers, My Veterans" consists of letters written to soldiers, or for soldiers to their families. Another chapter, "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," presents Whitman's positive assessment of black regiments serving in the Union Army.

Many of the war poems appear in topically appropriate chapters; among the most effective of these are "A Twilight Song," "Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice," "Pensive on Her Dead Gazing," "Dirge for Two Veterans," "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," "O Captain! My Captain," and The Wound Dresser (see annotation in this database).

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William Wilson

Poe, Edgar Allan

Last Updated: Dec-19-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

As the narrator, an "outcast among outcasts," begins to recount his story, he cautions the reader that "William Wilson" is not his real name; he doesn't want the page to "be sullied with my real appellation." The miserable man tells of his childhood and his life at school, where he encountered another boy who looked exactly like himself and had the same name and birthday.

All the children at school recognized the narrator's preeminence among them, except for this strange double. While the first William Wilson was aggressive, witty, and imperious, the double presented himself as quiet, gentle and wise--but unthreatened. In the end their feelings towards each other "partook very much of positive hatred."

Many years later, as the narrator was busily engaged in cheating at a game of cards, the second William Wilson suddenly appeared out of nowhere and revealed Wilson's scam to everyone present. Subsequently, time after time, just as Wilson was about to achieve some nefarious end, this anti-Wilson unerringly stepped in and destroyed Wilson's chances.

The last straw occurred in Rome during Carnival; just as Wilson was about to seduce a married woman, his double arrived to squelch the affair. Wilson flew into a rage and killed his nemesis, only to discover he had stabbed a mirror--but the dying image in the mirror whispered, " . . . How utterly thou hast murdered thyself."

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Mirabilis

Cokal, Susann

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In fourteenth century France, a 15 year old virgin, Blanche, levitates in church and nine months later gives birth to a daughter named Bonne. When Bonne is only 12 years old, Blanche is burned alive along with other "sinners" in a church. Bonne becomes a professional breast-feeder or "wet nurse." Her breast milk never stops flowing and seems to have restorative powers.

She finds herself catapulted from outcast to saint despite a series of catastrophes. When her town of Villeneuve is under siege and starving, she breast feeds not just children but many of the townspeople as well, asking only to listen to the individual's life story in exchange for her milk. Bonne's fate becomes deeply entangled with the lives of three friends: Godfridus (a chaste sculptor who goes mad), Hercules Legrand (a dwarf), and Radegonde Putemonnoie (a wealthy pregnant widow who hires Bonne).

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Inside the Halo and Beyond

Kumin, Maxine

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In July 1998 the poet Maxine Kumin was thrown from her carriage when her horse bolted during a competition. The type of cervical (C1-C2) fracture that she sustained is fatal before reaching the hospital in 95% of cases, and if survived, usually results in quadriplegia. This book is a memoir written in the form of a journal that begins on the day of the accident. In fact, it was nearly a month after the accident that the poet's daughter brought writing materials to the rehab hospital, and Maxine began to dictate the journal, and the two of them filled in the temporal gaps.

The journal covers her experience in the acute care hospital, the rehab facility, and the following months of convalescence at home. It ends on April 23, 1999, when Maxine climbs a hill (unassisted) near her Vermont home, looks out over the early spring vista, and concludes, "I am letting myself believe I will heal."

The journal describes the poet's physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences as she struggles, first to survive, and then to live with the "halo vest" that for months she had to wear to stabilize her fractured neck bones, and finally to regain her function and equilibrium. Much of the story is about her family--husband, son, and daughters--who mobilize from various points around the world to support her. Comments about her doctors and the medical care she received constitute only a small, at times almost incidental, part of this narrative.

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The Cherry Orchard

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Aug-29-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Madame Ranevsky returns to her estate after five years in Paris, where she had fled after the accidental death of her young son. In the interim her brother and adopted daughter have been running the estate, which has gone hopelessly into debt, largely because of Madame Ranevsky's improvident life style. As she and her adolescent daughter Anya arrive, friends and retainers have gathered to greet them. Among these are Trofimov, her dead son's tutor and an ineffectual idealist; and Lopahin, a brilliantly successful businessman whose father had once been a serf on the Ranevsky estate.

The family's beloved cherry orchard, along with the house and the rest of the estate, are about to go on the auction block. Lopahin proposes a solution: break up the cherry orchard into building plots and lease them to city folks to build summer villas. This would generate an annual income of 25,000 rubles and, thus, solve all of Madame Ranevsky's financial problems. She refuses to consider cutting down the orchard. Her brother, Gaev, gravitates ineffectually around the problem, suggesting various harebrained schemes to raise money, but in the end he believes there is no solution: "Someone gets sick, you know, and the doctor suggests one thing after another, that means there's no cure . . . " (p. 346)

The auction occurs, and, lo and behold, Lopahin himself has purchased the estate with the intention of developing the property for summer villas. In the last act, as Madame Ranevsky and her family prepare to vacate the house, workmen hover in the background, ready to begin chopping down the orchard. Madame Ranevsky departs for Paris, and Lopahin leaves to pursue his business in the city. A much alluded-to liaison between Lopahin and Varya, the adopted daughter, dies on the vine, apparently because the businessman has neither the time nor inclination for romance. As the house is closed up, Firs, the senile 87-year-old servant, is inadvertently left behind.

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The Tenth Circle

Zimmer, Paul

Last Updated: Aug-22-2001
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Zimmer's poem begins with policy guidelines for landlords whose elderly tenants may be calling the switchboard more than three times per month for health emergencies. According to the guidelines, such patterns suggest that the resident, no longer capable of independent living, can be moved to a health care center.

In response to the policy passage, an advisory poem is constructed by the narrator for his own father who, we can assume, values his independence. In essence the son advises silence about medical events such as a fall: "tell no one." If an ambulance should arrive, don't get in.

The strong warnings reflect contemporary health care systems in which the prevailing practices correspond to Dante's Inferno, particularly the tenth circle. At that level, everyone faces one direction and people are "piled like cordwood inside the cranium of Satan." Cries for help are unheard and unanswered.

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The Black Snake

Oliver, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-22-2001
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Mary Oliver's six stanzas are a meditation on the processes of life and death. The narrator observes the death of a snake by a truck that "could not swerve." The occurrence of sudden death is, after all, "how it happens" and the snake now lies "looped and useless as an old bicycle tire." For most observers of this familiar sight, that would be the end. The narrator, however, stops his car and carries the cool and gleaming snake to the bushes where it is as "beautiful and quiet as a dead brother."

Upon continuing his drive, the experience generates reflection about death: its suddenness, its weight, and its certainty. At the same time the narrator notes that dying and death of others ignites a brighter fire, one of good fortune: "not me!"

The final stanza describes the innate drive and tenacity of life forces. Because life, rather than death, is at the center of each cell, unimpeded by death, the snake and all other forms of life move forward tenaciously, unimpeded by the threat of death.

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