Showing 41 - 50 of 271 annotations tagged with the keyword "Suicide"

Madness

Hornbacher, Marya

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir of a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, complicated by eating disorders and alcoholism, records the internal experiences of mania, confusion, depression, delusion, anxiety, terror, wild impatience, discouragement, and at times clarity and resolve that alternate in her life of recurrent struggle.  Diagnosed somewhat belatedly as rapid cycling type 1 bipolar disorder, her disease drove her to one disastrous coping strategy after another until she was hospitalized for her eating disorder and for cutting herself.  After years of intermittent hospitalizations and encounters with several incompetent psychiatrists as well as a few who were consistently helpful, she has come to understand exactly the kind of help she needs-at times trusting others' assessments of her condition more than her own, accepting supervision, abstaining from all alcohol-a critical factor in avoiding psychosis.

Her doctors continue to recalibrate her complicated drug therapies, and her moods and control remain precarious, but she has learned to live with a disease that seems still to be poorly understood, accept the limits it imposes, and handle it with intelligence, humility, and even at times a wry note of humor.  She has learned to accept help from the husband whose love survives recurrent unintentional abuse, and from parents and friends who remain supportive.  She ends the memoir on this note of acceptance, appending to it a list of facts and statistics about bipolar disorder designed to help situate it for the reader relative to other diseases and disorders.

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Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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The Good Soldier

Ford, Ford Madox

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham in a German health spa is the center of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles, and deaths. John Dowell, a memorably "unreliable" narrator, calls it "the saddest story I have ever heard" (7). His narrative distance stems partly from the pastness of the events, partly from his absence for some of them, but mostly from his ignorance or denial of realities as intimate as his wife's serial deceptions of him.

Heart disease is the central narrative trope, a literary device easily unpacked as a site of irony: Each of the two major characters who have a "heart" (i.e. heart condition) is faking it, in service of his/her serial "affairs du coeur." Florence fabricates her heart trouble before her marriage is ever consummated, using it to turn Dowell into a cardiac nurse and keep him out of her bedroom. Edward Ashburnham fakes his illness to escape his military post and take his latest love object (and his stoically Catholic wife) to Germany.

The extramarital romps occasioned by Dowell's solicitude for Florence's "heart" comprise the main gag of this novel's comic beginning. When the focus shifts to Edward, Leonora, and their ward Nancy Rufford, The Good Soldier becomes a tragedy of emotional sadism, sentimental martyrdom, madness, and moral exhaustion that leaves us unsure about who in this novel has a literal or figurative heart.

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North and South

Gaskell, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Margaret Hale is raised in fashionable Harley Street along with her cousin Edith, but when Edith marries, Margaret returns to Hampshire County in the South of England to live with her mother and her father, a country clergyman. The pastoral life she has imagined is quickly disrupted by her father's confession that he is no longer able to remain true to the Church of England and will leave his position to become a tutor of adult learners in the northern manufacturing town of Milton. The traumatic relocation is exacerbated by Mrs. Hale's diagnosis with a "deadly disease" (probably cancer) soon after the move.

Margaret takes charge of most of the practical aspects of the move and then assumes charge of her mother's illness, acting as an intermediary between the doctor and her parents. As well as learning more about her own family's servant, Dixon, who has been with her mother since her girlhood, Margaret becomes friendly with textile worker Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessy, who is dying of consumption (tuberculosis) from inhaling textile dust. The Milton workers' activism and independence appeal to Margaret; she rethinks both class and labor relations as a result, including charitable relationships. Her strong opinions and actions bring her into conflict with the family of John Thornton, a factory owner and self-made man who is also one of her father's students.

When Margaret shields John from a stone thrown by a striking worker, however, he avows his love for her. A series of obstacles to the relationship include Margaret's initial rebuff of John and her dishonesty about her exiled brother's secret return to his mother's deathbed. Before the ending brings John and Margaret back together--as well as calming the tension between workers and factory owners--Margaret experiences not only the deaths of almost everyone she loves, but also the suicide of one of the striking workers.

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Claire's Head

Bush, Catherine

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.

Initially, Claire's search is motivated by concern for Rachel and intensified by fears that Rachel's worsening migraines may have caused her to take desperate action. Her need to find Rachel is inevitably intertwined, however, with her own migraine experiences and with her drive to individuate within her family and her longterm relationship with her partner Stefan.

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The Pearl Diver

Talarigo, Jeff

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.

Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.

As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.

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Meditation in Hydrotherapy

Roethke, Theodore

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This short poem appears chronologically just before another poem entitled "Lines Upon Leaving a Sanitarium." The narrator describes a treatment he is undergoing for suicidal depression--soaking in a warm bath for hours each day. Rhyming couplets chillingly (in contrast to the water temperature) relate how the treatment is supposed to work to "refit" him for life. But the narrator is numb: "I do not laugh; I do not cry; / I'm sweating out the will to die."

He notes in ending, the paradox of mental illness: that recovery requires disposing of the past. But how can one dispose of that which is a part of the self? What does it mean to "be myself again"? Is it possible to be yourself if you lose your past? In another poem, In a Dark Time, Roethke asks, "Which I is I?" (see this database).

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The Tennis Partner

Verghese, Abraham

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, this book is, in a sense, a sequel to Verghese's earlier memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (see this database). The Tennis Partner tells the parallel stories of Verghese's disintegrating marriage as he establishes new roots in El Paso, Texas and of his new deep friendship with a (male) medical student who shares his passion for tennis. Both men are struggling to re-establish order in their personal lives: Verghese, in easing himself out of a dying marriage while trying to maintain a close relationship with his two sons; David (the tennis partner), in remaining drug-free and successfully completing medical training, which had been interrupted by his addiction.

Verghese, an experienced physician trained in infectious disease and an expert on AIDS treatment, relishes his role as David's mentor; David, a former tennis "pro," enjoys teaching Verghese how to play better. Playing tennis together for the sheer joy of it, each finds release. Tennis becomes the route through which each can unburden himself to the other, seeking solace in a difficult time. Through it "we found a third arena outside of the defined boundaries of hospital and tennis court . . . at a time in both our lives when friendship was an important way to reclaim that which had been lost." (339)

While the reader suspects that David must have a drug problem because the Prologue to the book, narrated in the third person, describes a "young doctor from El Paso" in drug treatment, Verghese the biographer has no inkling of the problem until one-third into his first person narrative. He is shocked, but in some ways the bonds of their friendship are strengthened. Each has only the other as a confidant.

David, however, has another addiction: women. The friendship becomes increasingly complicated as Verghese tries to remain both supportive and objective. Eventually David resumes "using" and Verghese must decide how to respond, both professionally and on a personal level. The turmoil in both lives ends tragically for David and causes profound grief in Verghese.

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Summary:

Spoiler alert: for educational purposes, this annotation reveals plot lines and may interfere with some viewers' enjoyment of the film. In the opening scene, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), looking ashen, drawn, and nervous, sits in an airport as her much younger and radiant sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) rushes to meet her.  Léa brings an eager, if somewhat forced cheer to their halting conversations during this meeting and in their car ride to the home Léa shares with her husband, their two small adopted Vietnamese daughters, and her mute father-in-law.  From this awkward beginning, the sisters try to cross the chasm of a fifteen-year separation.  The cause and nature of the separation gradually unfold in small, slowly paced scenes of ordinary life at home, at work, in a café, during dinners with friends.  These scenes form the visible surface under which secrets and plangent, unacknowledged emotions lie, sometimes erupting into view, sometimes gently suggested.
    
The cause of the separation is the prison term Juliette has served in England.  We eventually learn that the sentence has to do with the death of her child, with her being a physician, with her child's suffering from cancer, and with the application of her medical knowledge to end his pain.  Following the court sentence, Juliette's parents refuse to acknowledge her, her husband divorces her, her sister buries memories of their childhood and chooses not to give birth, family and friends never visit her in prison.  We also learn that Juliette remained inexplicably silent throughout her trial.  She continues to say very little as she settles in with Lea's family and circle of friends, who are baffled by her sudden appearance in Lea's life.  But as Juliette's participation in her sister's circle increases in fitful starts, she becomes cautiously more communicative and brighter.

During a confrontation with Léa at the end of the film, Juliette reveals that, more than avoiding a shameful appraisal from others, she remains silent because there are no words to express her pain.  Being in prison made literal the isolating psychological state she inhabited.  "The worst prison is the death of one's child," she says.  "You never get out of it."  With these words, the film places the wound and the pain at the core of its main character in the inescapable vulnerability of motherhood.    

    

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On Being a Cripple

Mairs, Nancy

Last Updated: Jan-14-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

In this superbly written essay, Nancy Mairs, a feminist writer who has multiple sclerosis, defines the terms in which she will interact with the world. She will name herself--a cripple--and not be named by others. She will choose a word that represents her reality, and if it makes people "wince," "[p]erhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (9). She muses on the euphemisms that are used by others, concluding that they describe no one because "[s]ociety is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles."

Mairs describes the uncertainty of a (correct) diagnosis early on, the kind of person she was before, and how that has changed and not changed since her illness. She discusses her need for assistance, but balances that by saying that there are many people around her willing to help; she describes her dependence on her family and how lucky she was to have a husband and children before she was taken ill. Nevertheless, there "always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple" (15).

Mairs has many astute comments to make about how disability does not fit well in our youth-oriented, physical-fitness-obsessed culture, and on how social expectations influence whether she adapts or fails to adapt. She also understands what is at stake for the medical professionals who care for her: "I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are" (20).

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