Showing 311 - 320 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

A Prayer for the Dying

O'Nan, Stewart

Last Updated: Dec-21-1999
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jacob Hansen is sheriff, undertaker, and pastor in the little Wisconsin town of friendship. A Civil War veteran like many of the men in his town, he has seen many faces of death and knows how to balance compassion, prayer, and practicality in the presence of grief. When he recognizes a diphtheria epidemic as one after another the people of Friendship fall ill and die, he has to shoulder responsibility for protecting public health.

This means imposing and enforcing quarantine, extending even to the encampment of religious revivalists at the edge of town who mostly keep their distance and their own ways. Jacob's equanimity falters when his wife and baby daughter succumb; he keeps them alive in his mind and unburied for days, unable to acknowledge his own loss, though he helps others through theirs.

Finally he forces a passing railroad engineer to transport the survivors across the quarantine border into a neighboring town for safety, but the train is sabotaged, wrecked, and the fugitives killed. Jacob survives almost alone to return to what is now a ghost town and cope with the grim fate of survival.

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Avalanche

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Dec-21-1999
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Amidst the desolate pampas of Argentina, two nameless fugitives serendipitously meet and fall deeply in love. The woman, an orphan, is running from her tragic past and sheltered life. The man, a gaucho, is fleeing from the seven vengeful brothers of a man he killed during a fight.

Although both are emotionally wounded and isolated, they become joined by the simple act of cleaning and dressing the deep laceration of the gaucho’s arm. When they discover the ecstasy and contentment of love, their passion is abruptly and violently challenged by the gaucho’s injured arm which becomes infected with tetanus.

The woman faithfully cares for her suffering lover who silently endures the fever, severe muscle spasms, and wasting of tetanus before succumbing to the painful death of lockjaw. Ironically his face is paralyzed with a twisted smile due to the persistent muscle contractions.

The brothers of the man whom the gaucho had killed arrive too late to exact their revenge so they set fire to the couple’s farmhouse and burn it to the ground. The woman places a handful of her lover’s burning ashes in her mouth thus preserving his remains and uniting his spirit with hers forever.

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Summary:

Carl Elliott and John Lantos have brought together a collection of 12 essays that explore the complex work and person of Walker Percy. Personal reflections and stories capture the importance of Walker Percy in the lives and work of several of the essayists, while others offer commentaries on various aspects of Percy's life and work. All of the contributors reveal their affection and appreciation of Walker Percy as physician, novelist, and philosopher.

In addition to the editors, the contributors include Robert Coles, who was Percy's friend; Ross McElwee, the documentary filmmaker; Jay Tolson, Percy's biographer; author and historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown; scholars Martha Montello and Laurie Zoloth; and physicians Brock Eide, Richard Martinez, and David Schiedermayer.

The collection covers many topics and themes. Percy's biography is reviewed: the early losses of his father and grandfather by suicide, the early death of his mother, his medical education and subsequent struggle with tuberculosis, his turn from medicine to philosophy and literature, his marriage and conversion to Catholicism, and his long and productive life as a philosophic novelist.

The essays explore Percy as both physician and patient, and how, as diagnostic novelist, he gives us characters and stories that caution about the technologic-scientific worldview that dominates not only medicine but western life. The many wayfarers are discussed, including Binx Bolling from The Moviegoer, Will Barrett from The Last Gentleman, and Dr. Tom Moore from Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome. [These novels have been annotated in this database.]

Percy's spiritual and religious views are reviewed, along with his moral concerns about a post-modern world before anyone had coined the term. The problems of isolation, alienation, and struggle for meaning are apparent in all of his works, and many of the essayists explore the connection between his novels and these existential concerns. The importance of Kierkegaard in his work, his theory of language, and his early essays are discussed.

The contributors give examples of how Walker Percy's life and work are incorporated in medical education and the practice of medicine, both in personal and theoretical terms. Percy's work reminds practitioners of the necessity for human connection in the midst of scientific and technologic paradigms that distance practitioner from patient. Likewise, medicine and medical education shaped Percy the novelist, where keen observation and sustained searching for answers are to be found in all of his fiction.

A feminist critique of Percy's development of women characters, reflections on physician characters in Percy's work, his personal struggle with a family history of depression, and his attitudes about psychiatry and psychoanalysis complete the collection.

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Whither Thou Goest

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-05-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story draws attention to subtle ramifications of organ transplantation for the survivor(s) of the donor as well as for the organ recipient. Also at issue is coming to terms with the sudden death of a loved one. Hannah, a woman in her thirties, finds that three years after the violent death of her husband, she is still caught, "unable to grieve or get on with her life . . . . "

The physician in charge had persuaded her both to allow life-support to be terminated for her brain-dead husband, and to agree to organ donation. "That way your husband will live on." Seven different people are the living recipients of his organs. To Hannah, it seems that her husband is both dead and not dead, an intolerable situation.

She becomes obsessed with trying to meet the person who received her husband's heart. This will be the means by which she can re-connect to the living and achieve closure--she will hear and feel her husband's heart in the chest of the recipient, her ear "a mollusc that would attach itself . . . and cling through whatever crash of the sea." At the end of the story, Hannah has succeeded in her quest and the man who is the heart's recipient, at first suspiciously hostile, has become Hannah's co-conspirator and protector.

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Futility

Owen, Wilfred

Last Updated: Oct-27-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem begins: "Move him into the sun." It has snowed overnight, but now it grows warmer. The sun has always awakened him before, but will it now? "Think how it wakes the seeds." It even gave life to "the clays of a cold star." Surely, there must be more warmth, more life, and more meaning than this. "O what made fatuous sunbeams toil / To break earth's sleep at all?" [14 lines]

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Our Mutual Friend

Dickens, Charles

Last Updated: Sep-22-1999
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The multiple plots of Our Mutual Friend, Dickens's last complete novel, twine around the miser John Harmon's legacy of profitable heaps of refuse ("dust"). Harmon dies and leaves the dustheap operation to his estranged son John, on the condition that he marry Bella Wilfer, a young woman unknown to him. When a body found in the Thames is believed to be the younger Harmon, travelling home to receive his inheritance, the dustheaps descend instead to Harmon's servant Noddy Boffin ("The Golden Dustman").

Boffin and his wife respond to their new status by hiring Silas Wegg, a "literary man with a wooden leg" to teach Boffin to read; arranging to adopt an orphaned toddler from his poor great-grandmother; and bringing the socially ambitious Bella Wilfer into their home, where she is watched and evaluated by John Rokesmith, a mysterious young man employed as Boffin's secretary.

Rokesmith is actually John Harmon, who has survived betrayal and attempted murder and is living incognito so that he can observe Bella. Boffin's negative transformation by his wealth, Bella's moral awakening as she witnesses the changes wealth produces in Boffin and in herself, and the developing love relationship between Rokesmith and Bella form one key sub-plot.

Another is the romance between gentlemanly idler Eugene Wrayburn and Lizzie Hexam, the daughter of the waterman who finds the drowned body. Class differences and the obsessive love and jealousy of schoolmaster Bradley Headstone threaten their relationship, but they are finally married with the help of the crippled dolls' dressmaker Jenny Wren. The smaller plots that interweave these sensation/romance narratives comment on the hypocrisy of fashionable life ("Podsnappery") and the destruction of the family lives of both rich and poor by an industrialized, materialistic society.

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Picking Up the Pieces

Calvert, Patricia

Last Updated: Jul-07-1999
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Megan was one of the best players on her school basketball team until she accepted a ride home on the back of a motorcycle that slid on gravelly surface, overturned, and left her with a spinal cord injury. Now, a few months later, in a wheelchair, with no sensation in her feet or legs, she is packed up with all her equipment to spend the summer with the family on the island where they've always vacationed.

At first she can hardly bear being confined to watching from windows or negotiating makeshift ramps where she once ran so freely in woods and rowed so happily on the lake. When a boy appears from the neighboring cabin and tries to make friends she resists at first, but is finally drawn into a friendship that gives her the courage to "pick up the pieces" of her broken life and try new ways of being active, including, at the end of the summer, a wheelchair race on the mainland.

She also finds herself befriending the boy's grandmother, an aging actress turning alcoholic because she can't come to terms with aging and the loss of romantic leads in film. As Megan learns to come to terms with her own limitations, she is able indirectly to help the older woman come to terms with her own sense of loss.

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The Ghost Road

Barker, Pat

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the third novel in Pat Barker's trilogy about a group of shell shocked soldiers in World War I who are treated by Dr. William Rivers at Craiglockhart War Hospital. The protagonists include historical characters like Dr. Rivers (1864-1922), an eminent psychiatrist and anthropologist, and the poets, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), as well as fictional creations, like Lieutenant Billy Prior, a working class man elevated to the position of British officer.

As The Ghost Road begins, Prior has been cured of shell shock and is preparing to return to the front in France. Rivers takes care of his patients and his invalid sister, amid memories of his experience ten years earlier on an anthropological expedition to Melanesia (Eddystone Island). He befriended Nijiru, the local priest-healer who took Rivers on his rounds to see sick villagers and also to the island's sacred Place of the Skulls.

Rivers entertains very un-British thoughts about the morality of these headhunting people, and about the power of symbolic healing. As these thoughts intrude upon his consciousness, Rivers is himself in the process of curing by suggestion a soldier with hysterical paralysis. Meanwhile, Billy Prior returns to the front. It is the autumn of 1918 and the last inhuman spasms of the war are in progress. In a futile battle that takes place a few days before the Armistice, Billy and his friend Wilfred Owen are killed.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

In July of 1986, author Andre Dubus was assisting some stranded highway motorists when he was struck by a car. After two painful months of hospitalization, one leg had to be amputated at the knee; the other leg, damaged and immobilized in a cast for many months, became virtually useless, but still painful. Dubus was forced to "accept life in a wheelchair." (106)

In meditating on events and people in his life before and after the accident, Dubus leads us to the interior space of his suffering, fear, moodiness, stoicism, and religious faith. Like the Hemingway character he describes in "A Hemingway Story," he has both gotten over and not gotten over the consequences of his accident.

"Sacraments" interweaves the receiving of religious sacraments with the concentration, care, and love associated with making sandwiches for his two young daughters, the emotional pain of carrying on a love relationship by telephone because of his limited mobility, the received sacraments of learning how to drive his specially equipped car, and of getting a bargain from a swimming pool contractor--"the money itself was sacramental: my being alive to receive it and give it for good work." (95) Concluding with the recollection of his father's death; Dubus notes that "I had not lived enough and lost enough" to recognize the grace that accompanied past pain.

Pain and grace continue to compete for his attention: "The memory of having legs that held me upright at this counter and the image of simply turning from the counter and stepping to the drawer are the demons I must keep at bay . . . So I must try to know the spiritual essence of what I am doing." (89) Similarly, mourning--for what he can no longer do-- and gratitude--for what he once was able to do-- go hand in hand as Dubus remembers the joy of running for miles in the countryside (" A Country Road Song").

The body's memory and the losses suffered figure importantly also in "Liv UIlman in Spring." In this powerful piece, Dubus describes his meeting with the actress, how he was moved to tell her "everything," how, bent low, "her eyes looking at mine" she said, 'You cannot compensate.' " (130) For her honesty and understanding Dubus was enormously grateful.

"Witness" relates the uncanny experience of meeting a woman who had witnessed his accident. Wonderment, fear, depression, inspiration, and writing about this incident were the result. As always, Dubus wrote in order to be led to some further understanding. The essay ends, "Today the light came: I'm here."

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Rhymes of a Red Cross Man

Service, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-14-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a collection of poems based on Robert Service’s experience as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France during World War I. The book begins with the patriotic call to war: "High and low, all must go: / Hark to the shout of War!" Some of the volunteers never come back (e.g. "The Fool," "Our Hero," and "My Mate"). Others are severely wounded (e.g. "The Convalescent" and "Wounded").

Many of the narrators express their love of home, family, and especially their fellow soldiers (e.g. "The Man From Athabaska," "Carry On," and "Bill the Bomber"). Only a small number of these poems evoke specifically Red Cross work. One of these is "The Odyssey of ’Erbert ’Iggins," in which two medics carry the wounded from the battlefield. Another is "The Stretcher Bearer," in which the narrator is unable to clean a blood stain from his stretcher and wonders, "if in ’Eaven’s height, / Our God don’t turn away ’Is Face."

Throughout the collection there is evidence of ambivalence toward the individual German soldier. In some moments he is "Only a Boche" (or Hun) who has killed the soldier’s buddies, but in other moments the narrators reflect that their opponents are also ordinary men, sons and fathers, who love their families.

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