Saint Catherine of Siena: Catherine Means Pure

Harrison, Kathryn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Dec-21-1999


The first-person narrative of Catherine who is desperate for her seemingly indifferent mother’s love. Raised from infancy by grandparents following her parents’ divorce, Catherine seeks her indifferent but devout mother’s affection by emulating her saintly namesake. She mortifies her flesh in the pursuit of thinness based on an ideal of purity as self-denial and on her mother’s esthetic expectations.

The obsessive behavior extends from anorexia to willful insomnia and severe illness. At college she recovers by discovery of a happier, more direct faith. The essay begins and ends in the narrator’s later life, as she contemplates her own revulsion and pain in caring for her mother who lies dying of breast cancer.


Told as a religious journey, with both positive and negative overtones, the powerful history of the author, her mother and her illness, is interwoven with that of the Saint and her mother. This compelling essay written in the first person seems like a vivid autobiography; however, its novelist author is Kathryn-with a K; the protagonist Catherine with a C. True or not, it offers insight into the "reasoning" of a person suffering from an eating disorder and the role that religion can play in both cause and cure of illness.

Primary Source

A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writers on the Saints



Place Published

New York




Paul Elie

Page Count