Can't I Just Be Sick?

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"Naturally, what gets encoded in a literary disease is largely up to the writer and the reader."  (Foster 221)

This quote intrigued me. As I read the last couple chapters of Foster, I wondered why all these illnesses were made such a big deal.  Why can't a character in a story just get sick or a disease?  Why does every time a character get a sickness, is it made into a big deal and have to mean something?  When I read, I don't look for the meaning of why they got the sickness.  I look at it as a mountain in their life that they have to get over and learn how to cope with it.  It doesn't mean that they are happy or sad or depressed just because they got AIDS from their dad or whatever.  I am sure there are readers out there that also read and look at the symbolism of the sickness right away.  It's fully based upon the reader on how the sickness is taken.

I also thought of the idea of in a television show, when an actor or actress doesn't want to continue their role on that show, they often get sick and die.  That way they aren't on it and their character just doesn't disappear.  Another thing is what if the author thought that character was getting too boring or just needed to move on in their life.  They can just have they get sick and eventually die.  It is a really good way of ending a character because there are so many sicknesses out there.  The author can pick one that best suits the time, atmosphere, and situation without it seeming too out there.


I chose this blog as a depth blog because I went more into the idea of sickness.  I went outside the idea of sickness just in the book and went into tv.  I had a good understanding of what I was writing about and talking about. 

3 Comments

You raise a great point, Jamie.

You mentioned "a mountain in their life that they have to get over" -- and that's a particular metaphor. You might have said "a chasm to bridge" or "a desert to cross" or "a black box to decode" or any of countless other metaphors. The particular metaphor you chose suggests how you think of illness.

A creative writer is God in his or her own universe. The author can to choose to have a character drown, or get hit by lightening, or fall asleep while driving, or get mauled by a herd of caribou, or catch an infection while nursing a sick relative, or whatever. Since the author can choose what kind of illness to inflict, in a literature class, we can look to that choice, just as we look to word choice, for literary meaning.

Does this mean that every single instance of illness in every single work of literature is worth writing an academic article? No, but in the past, before people understood that illness is caused by germs and/or chemical imbalances, people explained it as punishment administered by the gods, or signs of moral imperfection ("cleanliness is next to Godliness"), and before medicine, the stories we told each other were pretty much the only tool we had to help us deal with illnesses. (Consider how Huck and Jim put so much energy into their superstitions, mixed in with an awareness of the natural world and living off the land).

And yes, it is up to the reader to look for meaning in illness. Foster gives us dozens of ways of finding meaning in literature, and they won't all apply to every work, but if you consider some of his methods the next time you read a work, then you're putting his book to good use.

Thanks for raising a good point, Jamie.

I think it has to become a big deal when a character gets sick or obtains a disease. If an author wrote something simple like "Jeremy has been diagnosed with liver cancer. He has six weeks to live." I would just move on and continue reading without ever wondering nor caring about Jeremy unless there was a side story about his life. "Jeremy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, and drank a fifth of whiskey before going on a three mile run."

Yea, that's really good points. I also just thought about television. A lot of times when a character of a tv show is planning on moving on with their career and taking another direction, the writers make that character get sick and eventually die. Just thought of that and thought it was an interesting point. Maybe the author thinks that the character is getting too boring or needs to move on so they get sick and eventually die off.

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This page contains a single entry by JamieGrace published on October 25, 2009 5:47 PM.

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