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Red Noses

Barnes, Peter

Last Updated: Feb-18-1997
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Plays — Secondary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This play is set in Auxerre, France, in 1348 in the midst of the Black Plague. The main character is Marcel Flote, a wandering monk who after an inadvertently humorous run-in with a flagellant discovers what God has called him for--laughter in the face of plague, "bright stars not sad comets, red noses not black death. He wants joy."

Flote then sets forth with a troupe of clowns (a new order without order) to make merriment against all odds. Although initially supported by the Church in this endeavor (for its own gain), the Church in the end (not surprisingly) turns against Father Flote and his anti-establishment followers.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

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

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dick and Nicole Diver are a sparkling 1920’s expatriate couple with two small children. They are whiling their life away on the French Riviera. Dick is a psychiatrist who, when we first meet him, is not practicing. Nicole had been his patient at an exclusive clinic where she had been admitted after a "nervous breakdown" (schizophrenia) occasioned by an episode of incest with her father.

The first section of the book presents the Divers through the eyes of Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress who is vacationing with her mother and develops an ambiguous relationship with Dick. Later, in a long flashback section, we learn the story of Nicole’s illness and treatment, culminating in Dick’s marriage--with the support of her family--to the incredibly wealthy Nicole. In the interest of Nicole’s health, her sister (“Baby”) helps Dick purchase an interest in the clinic. The remainder of the novel describes a gradual role inversion, whereby Nicole grows strong, healthy, and sympathetic; while Dick gradually weakens, succumbs to alcohol, divorces Nicole, and is finally left drifting from practice to practice in upstate New York.

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The Anatomy Lesson

Connell, Evan

Last Updated: Feb-18-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

During an art class on anatomy, an art instructor in an undergraduate curriculum addresses the students on the dedication and vision an artist needs to become a true artist.

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The Joys of Motherhood

Emecheta, Buchi

Last Updated: Feb-18-1997

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Nnu Ego is the daughter of a great Nigerian chief. She is expected to have many sons. With her first husband who beats her, she has no children. She leaves him and is married to a man who works on the coast in a British colony. Her life there is miserable. She and her husband slowly lose their village values and begin a daily battle for food and money.

Nnu Ego nevertheless becomes pregnant. Her infant son dies suddenly and she nearly goes mad. She recovers and produces many children, including two sons. Her eldest son goes to school in America, marries a white woman, and rarely contacts his mother. Certainly, he does not financially support her as village ethics demand. Her younger son follows in his brother's footsteps. Nnu Ego is considered a success in her village, but she dies alone. Her eldest son returns to Nigeria and pays for a big funeral in order to prove what a good son he is.

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The Bell Jar

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Feb-17-1997
Annotated by:
Schaffer, Amanda

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this autobiographical novel, Plath's protagonist, Esther Greenwood, sinks into a profound depression during the summer after her third year of college. Esther spends the month of June interning at a ladies' fashion magazine in Manhattan, but despite her initial expectations, is uninterested in the work and increasingly unsure of her own prospects.

Esther grows disenchanted with her traditional-minded boyfriend, Buddy Willard, a medical student who “had won a prize for persuading the most relatives of dead people to have their dead ones cut up, whether they needed it or not . . . . ” Returning home to a New England suburb, Esther also discovers that she's been rejected from a Harvard summer school fiction course. Her relationship with her mother is painfully strained.

Suddenly, Esther finds herself unable to sleep or read or concentrate. She undergoes a few unsuccessful sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr. Gordon, as well as terrifying electroshock therapy. She becomes increasingly depressed, thinks obsessively about suicide, then attempts to kill herself by crawling into the cellar and taking a bottle of sleeping pills: "red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down." Esther vomits, however, and so, does not die. She is taken to a city hospital and then, through the financial intervention of a benefactor, to a private psychiatric institution.

There, Esther begins gradually to recover. She enjoys the pleasant country-club surroundings and develops a closeness with her analytically-oriented psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan. Esther also undergoes a more successful regimen of shock therapy, after which she feels the "bell jar" of depression lifting.

The stigma of attempted suicide and hospitalization seems to free Esther to behave less traditionally; defiantly, she loses her virginity to a man she's met on the steps of Harvard's Widener Library. At the novel's end, Esther is preparing to leave the psychiatric hospital and is describing herself, optimistically, as transformed.

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The Visionary

Livingstone, Douglas

Last Updated: Feb-13-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A witch doctor treated a man for trachoma with a caustic root, and the man went blind. Terrified and depressed, he sat in the doorway of his home for two years while "his wives ministered" to him. One night he went off on his own and "fell into a dry well and died upside down."

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The Biopsy

Jones, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-11-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet undergoes a breast biopsy under local anesthesia: "I had thought my skin was a permanent seal. / Now I watch this layer of myself / . . . sprout red flowers . . . . " She observes the (male) surgeon closely, imagines her tissue on its journey to the pathology laboratory, and listens carefully to the surgeon's first words: "this man / who went beyond my skin / as no one else has . . . / as he made me for the first time, his."

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Heart Transplant

Holub, Miroslav

Last Updated: Feb-06-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In typically terse poetic structure, utilizing fresh new images, Holub visualizes removal and replacement of a human heart during a transplant procedure. He describes the throb of the extracorporeal circulation mechanics as an "inaudible New World Symphony" as he elevates the imagery of the hole in the chest where once resided the "king of Blood" transiently into the cosmos. With the arrival of the "new heart," the imagery again becomes earth bound: the structure is sewn in place, the beats resume and the "curves jump like / synthetic sheep" as the EKG rhythm resumes.

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Parasite

Holub, Miroslav

Last Updated: Feb-05-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

On surface, this metaphorically endowed poem details the life cycle of a tapeworm, beginning as a tiny resident in the "protective slime" of mucosae, eventually outgrowing the host, and overrunning the environment as it attains a "philosophical dimension / in which it's the only form of matter. . . . " The parasite shrinks again into "little spores of embecile agreement" which wait for another chance, another cycle of growth and power. The parasite metaphor works beautifully for a wide variety of social and political phenomena the poem does not identify.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Seventeen year-old Phyllis Halliday lives with her parents near the maximum security penitentiary in Kingston, Canada. In the year 1919-20, she establishes a forbidden, epistolic relationship with convict Joseph Cleroux, who is serving a sentence for theft and extortion. Messages, money, and small gifts of tobacco, chocolate, and a ring, are concealed in the quarry next to her home where the convicts are sent to work. Influenced by the newly released film with Mary Pickford, she dubs her new friend "Daddy Long Legs," and herself, "Peggy."

Both Phyllis and Joe fear being caught, and they suffer from parallel illnesses. As she falls in love with the man whom she has never met, she neglects her studies, hoping that he will come for her when he is discharged. However, on that day, he is immediately put on the first train out of town. His letters dwindle and cease, but Phyllis continues to wait and hope.

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