Showing 411 - 420 of 582 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

A Cracked River

Hirshhorn, Norbert

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is the second collection of poems by international health physician Norbert Hirschhorn. The first poem, "Number Our Days," is a meditation based on a verse from Psalm 90, "Let us number our days / That we may get us a heart of wisdom." The poet reflects on his mother's escaping the Holocaust ("my blond head sucking her breast"), her subsequent depressions, and eventually the day when the adult son was faced with the decision whether to dialyze his dying mother.

This poem sets the stage for the whole collection: an inquiry into the meaning of family and love and memory. Hirschhorn doesn't take himself too seriously, as in his description of adolescent lust ("Donna, Oh Donna"), the compelling "Self Portrait, "Growing up in New York / with skull caps and spittle, I felt demeaned to be Jewish / and fled to the Ivy league," and the wonderful "New Old Uncle Blues."

There are three major clusters of poems: one that deals with the poet's family and childhood; a second cycle of love, distance, divorce, and renewed love; and, finally, an engaging set of poems that focus on his experience in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In "On a Guesthouse Veranda in Surakarta, Central Java," Hirschhorn writes, "What matters here? Nothing. / Never has life been / so sweet." And "A Non Believer Wakens to the First Call to Prayer" ends with these beautiful lines, "The men who pray raise up their palms. / Soon the sun will warm the stones."

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Note: I try not to reveal too much here. Nevertheless, I urge you to read the book first. I would not want the magic of reading this book to be diminished by too much foreknowledge--no matter when the book is initially opened.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth book in a planned series of seven (see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry is now fifteen years old. The opening chapter, "Dudley Demented," features a return of the Dementors (see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), who had been sent to Harry's neighborhood in Little Whinging to deliver their soul-sucking kiss. In order to repel the Dementors and save himself and his bullying cousin Dudley Dursley from the kiss's death-in-life, Harry uses magic. This transgression from rules on underage wizardry leads to Harry's near expulsion from his school, Hogwarts, and a trial by the full court, the Wizengamot, led by Cornelius Fudge, in the Department of Mysteries of the Ministry of Magic.

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, concerned with Harry's safety as well as with leading the resistance efforts (The Order of the Phoenix) against the resurgent evil Lord Voldemort, not only prevents Harry's expulsion, but also organizes the guard for Harry's transfer from the Dursley home to the ancient house of Harry's godfather, the wonderfully moody and complex Sirius Black. Sirius, like Harry's parents, would risk anything for his godson, but the relationship is charged by Sirius' goading of Harry to be more cavalier like James Potter--Harry's father and Sirius' best friend--and by Sirius' antipathy towards being imprisoned in his ancestral home, filled with reminders of his pureblood wizard family.

These include a portrait of his raging, hate-filled, deceased mother and a malevolent house elf, Kreacher. Communication between Harry and Sirius is a key theme in the book, as Harry looks to Sirius for guidance on the tribulations of adolescence and to satiate Harry's continued craving for information about his father. Harry's emotional tether is short in this novel, and runs the gamut from frustration and envy that his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, were made prefects of Gryffindor House, to despising two teachers (potions teacher Snape, of course, and the new venomous, officious Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge) and finally to absolute fear and hatred of Voldemort, his mortal, yet intimate, enemy.

Harry's scar pains him almost continuously now that Voldemort has returned in the flesh, and also now that Harry has dreams and visions of Voldemort's actions. With this ability, Harry envisions himself as a snake and witnesses the wounding of Ron's father, Arthur Weasley. This episode leads to two visits to the wizard hospital: St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The reader is deliciously informed that the personnel in green robes are not doctors ("those Muggle nutters that cut people up" p. 484), but rather Healers: wizards and witches who passed a large battery of tests in a range of subjects to qualify for such training.

The hospital is a mix of the mundane (the irritable receptionist) and the arcane (patients suffering from bizarre spell damage). Mr. Weasley's recovery from the nearly lethal snake bite suffers a minor setback when Trainee Healer Pye (not the Healer-in-Charge, Hippocrates Smethwyck) tries some "complementary medicine . . .

[an] old Muggle remed[y] . . .

called stitches . . . " (pp. 306-7). The loving Mrs. Weasley, whose temper is notorious and hence humorous, shouts at her husband that even he "wouldn't be that stupid" as to allow his skin to be sewn together. (p. 307)

While in the hospital, Harry and his friends encounter schoolmate Neville Longbottom visiting his parents, who suffer dementia caused by dark magic performed by one of Voldemort's Death Eater followers. Mental illnesses prove far more difficult to remedy than bodily injuries and maladies. Indeed, late in the book, Madam Pomfrey, the Healer at Hogwarts, wisely advises that "thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else." (p. 847) As Dumbledore, the embodiment of sagacity, states, memories of old hurts, slights and abuses, make "some wounds run too deep for . . .

healing." (p. 833)

Other medically related items include the Skivving Snackboxes--an assortment of magical treats and their antidotes concocted to fake various illnesses in order to skip classes, and Umbridge's detention punishment which results in the painful etching of the required written phrases on the back of the hand of the miscreant student.

Professor Snape is charged with teaching Harry the subtleties of mind-reading (Legilimency) and its prevention (Occlumency), in an effort to prevent Voldemort's use of Harry's mind. "The mind is a complex and many-layered thing," says Snape, and hence the mind cannot be read like a book. (p. 530) Harry's failure at these lessons leads to the denouement of the book and ultimately to the loss of someone very dear to him. After the inevitable confrontation between Voldemort and Harry, Dumbledore gently coaches Harry through his guilt and anger to teach him about destiny, love and death.

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James Miranda Barry

Duncker, Patricia

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A child of a beautiful, talented woman and ambiguous paternity craves learning. Adopted by a Spanish officer and an "uncle" who is a painter, s/he is sent off to Edinburgh as a pedagogic experiment to become James Barry, a male medical student. Barry adores the vivacious Alice, an illiterate but intelligent servant, whom he teaches to read.

Later as a doctor and medical officer, he travels the world to the Crimea, to the Caribbean, to South Africa and America, a scion of society and a good scientist. By happy fortune, he lives in retirement with Alice, who has become a famous actress. The book ends with the scandalous revelation of Barry's femininity when his body is laid to rest.

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The Heart of a Dog

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Oct-28-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A bedraggled street dog is about to perish in the cold winter night, after having been scalded by boiling water earlier in the day. Suddenly, an elegant man feeds him and takes him home. The dog's savior is a famous and wealthy medical professor who rejuvenates people by hormonal manipulations.

As soon as the dog becomes accustomed to his new life of plenty, he finds himself the subject of a strange experiment--the professor and his assistant implant the testicles and pituitary gland of a dead criminal into the dog's body. After a rocky post-operative course, the dog gradually begins to change into an animal in human form and names himself Poligraph Poligraphovich Sharik. The half-beast-half-man, who gets along very well in the prevailing proletarian society, turns his creator's life into a nightmare--until the professor manages to reverse the procedure.

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Summary:

The sculptor Ken Harrison (Richard Dreyfuss) is badly injured in a car accident and finds himself in the middle of life permanently paralyzed below the neck and dependent on others for his care and survival. Ken is a strong-minded, passionate man totally dedicated to his art, and he decides he does not want to go on with the compromised, highly dependent life that his doctors, his girlfriend Pat (Janet Eilber), and others urge on him. He breaks up with Pat and fights to be released from the hospital, to gain control of his life in order to stop the care that keeps him alive and unhappy.

His antagonist is the hospital's medical director Dr. Emerson (John Cassavetes), who believes in preserving life no matter what, and so tries to get Ken committed as clinically depressed. Ken's attending physician, Dr. Scott (Christine Lahti), begins with the establishment but gradually moves toward Ken's position.

The film ends with the judge at a legal hearing deciding that Ken is not clinically depressed and that he thus has the right to refuse treatment and be discharged. In the last scene, Ken lies in a hospital bed framed by his own sculptural realization of the forearm and hand of God from Michelangelo's Creation of Man.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Following the death of an aphasic hermit woman in the woods of North Carolina, it is discovered that she is survived by a daughter (Jodie Foster), a young woman who lives by herself as a kind of wild child, speaking a private language, and intensely fearful of human contact. The authorities decide that she must be normalized for her own good, but Dr. Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) disagrees, arguing that, although different, she is fine and has not asked for help. He insists on getting her informed consent before treatment. A judge agrees to give Lovell three months to observe the woman, whose name turns out to be Nell, and find evidence that she should not be treated against her will.

Lovell recruits a partner, psychologist Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), and together they set up an observation base on a houseboat with a view of Nell's cabin. From there Lovell makes a series of attempts to win Nell's confidence and understand her language. (Olsen for much of the film mainly represents a set of professional values more conservative that Lovell's unconventional therapeutic moves--which, for example, make her suspect that he is sexually attracted to Nell. Her own sexual presence, while downplayed, serves to defuse this potential.)

Lovell wins Nell's confidence (she calls him her "guardian angel") and the secrets of her speech and wounded psyche (a twin sister died young, and Nell has apparently at least witnessed sexual abuse). Following a court hearing in which Nell speaks in her own defense, the world gets word of her case and journalists descend on her remote cabin on foot and by helicopter.

Fearing that civilization will destroy Nell, Lovell arranges to have her hospitalized as the least available evil. However, when he finds her drugged, he sees that hospitalization is no solution, and he carries Nell out of the hospital and back to her cabin. He tries to make her understand that he is not her guardian angel.

The film switches to a warmly-lit lakeside scene five years later, when all problems seem to have been solved. Lovell and Olsen, who are married with a little girl, and several other sympathetic characters are picnicking with Nell near her cabin, and Nell is shown entranced and somehow emotionally fulfilled in being with the child, who is the age at which her twin sister died.

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Lucky

Sebold, Alice

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

When Alice Sebold, author of the best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones (see this database), was completing her freshmen year at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped. Years after the fact, Sebold wrote this memoir about the rape and its aftermath. The book's title, "Lucky," is explained in the prologue: the police told Sebold that she was lucky to have escaped the fate of another girl who had been murdered and dismembered in the same spot. In point of fact, Sebold, a virgin before the rape, was in a sense murdered, since life as she had known it would never be the same: "My life was over; my life had just begun" (33).

In crisp, lively prose the author takes us relentlessly through the details of her rape and the police inquiry that followed. We learn also that the narrator had suffered from a poor body self-image, loved to spend her time reading, had day-dreams of becoming a poet. We learn about her family--a mother prone to severe panic attacks and a professorial father who hid behind his books, an older sister who helped Alice take care of their mother. The family was considered by neighbors to be "weird."

After the rape, Sebold felt even more isolated and "Other." She could not bring herself to tell her family, who tip-toed around her, all of the horrendous details of the assault. She realized that all who knew her were aware she had been raped and were uneasy in her presence. Her father could not understand how she could have been raped if the assailant's knife had dropped out of reach.

In spite of everything, Alice returns to Syracuse, taking poetry workshops with Tess Gallagher and a writing workshop with Tobias Wolff. Incredibly, she spots her assailant one day on the street near the college. The author notifies the police, the assailant is later arrested, and Alice agrees to press charges and to be a witness at the trial. Neither her father nor her mother have the stomach to come to the trial, but Tess Gallagher accompanies her. The account of the trial is detailed, agonizing, and fascinating.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film covers a brief period in the life of a working-class English family: Mum (Tilda Swinton), Dad (Ray Winstone), their 18-year-old daughter, Jessie (Lara Belmont), and 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). They have recently moved from London to an isolated cottage on the Dorset coast. Mum gives birth to a baby girl, Alice. Tom discovers that Dad is sexually abusing Jessie. When the baby is hospitalized with an unexplained injury, apparently genital, Tom tells Mum about the incest, and when Dad confronts him and denies it, Tom stabs him.

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Three Years

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jun-02-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Alexei Laptev, the middle-aged son of a wealthy Moscow industrialist, is on a prolonged visit to a provincial town where he is helping to care for his sister Nina, who is recovering from a cancer operation. Nina’s husband has abandoned her and their two young daughters for another woman. Unexpectedly, Laptev falls in love with Yulia Sergeyevna, the doctor’s 22-year-old daughter. Laptev is an unattractive, but good-hearted man; Yulia, though beautiful, is bland and immature. She eventually accepts his offer of marriage, though she is somewhat repulsed by him as a person. Yulia is neither attracted by his money, nor by his social position; she just feels badly about disappointing him and, moreover, looks forward to living in Moscow, where life is more exciting.

Once married, both Yulia and Alexei suffer. She hates his family and friends, and feels no affection for him. Meanwhile, Alexei remains head over heels in love with her. Nina dies of her cancer, and the little girls come to live with them for a while. Eventually, Yulia finds her own group of friends, who consider her foolish for not taking on a lover. Yulia and Alexei have a baby, who becomes the center of Yulia’s life, until the child dies of diphtheria.

Time passes. The family business turns sour. Alexei’s bother Fyodor goes mad and has to be put into an asylum. And in the last scene, Yulia greets her depressed husband with tenderness: "You are precious to me. Here you’ve come. I see you, and I’m so happy I can’t tell you. Well, let’s talk." (p. 328)

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An Anonymous Story

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jun-01-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Orlov is a young playboy in St. Petersburg whose father is an important political figure. The narrator (the "anonymous man"), who is actually a political activist (perhaps even an anarchist), assumes a new fake identity and takes a job as Orlov's footman, in order to get inside information to use against his father. While working undercover in this way, the narrator ("Stefan") observes a domestic tragedy. Orlov charms and then seduces a beautiful young married woman, Zinaida Fyodorovna Krasnovsky, who subsequently leaves her husband, shows up on Orlov's doorstep, and moves in with him.

Zinaida bursts with romantic visions and loves Orlov passionately. However, Orlov thinks the whole thing is a bore. He can't bring himself to throw her out, yet he detests her assault on his freedom. Eventually, he begins spending weeks at a time away from the flat, supposedly on an inspection tour in the provinces, but he is simply avoiding Zinaida by staying at a friend's house in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, "Stefan" experiences a growing compassion for the poor woman, who has given up her husband and family for love.

As a result of this situation, "Stefan's" political ideals sink into the background; for example, he gives up an opportunity to murder Orlov's father and, thereby, achieve his radical objectives. Eventually, he confesses the truth to Zinaida--that Orlov has deceived her and doesn't want her. "Stefan" also reveals his true identity (Vladimir Ivanitich) and entices her to flee with him to Europe.

They spend the next several months traveling together. At one point Vladimir has an acute exacerbation of "pleurisy" (actually tuberculosis) and, while nursing him back to health, Zinaida realizes that Vladimir is in love with her. This is a crushing blow to their relationship, because she was under the impression that he had been helping her for purely altruistic, idealistic reasons.

Meanwhile, Zinaida, who is ill herself and pregnant with Orlov's child, dies in childbirth. The baby (Sonya) survives, and Vladimir spends two happy years caring for her, until he, too, is about to die of tuberculosis. At the end of the story, Vladimir meets with Orlov, and they make arrangements for old Krasnovsky--Remember him? He was Zinaida's husband--to take the child and raise her as his own.

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