Medical Intrigue

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"Until the twentieth century, disease was mysterious. Folks began to comprehend the germ theory of disease in the nineteenth century, of course, after Louis Pasteur, but until they could do something about it, until the age of inoculation, illness remained frightening and mysterious...We've never really accepted microbes into our lives. Even knowing how a disease is transmitted, we remain largely superstitious. And since illness is so much a part of life, so too is it a part of literature."

-How to Read Literature Like a Professor p. 215


Chapter 24 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor was really interesting to me. This could be for many reasons but the above quote stuck out to me because Louis Pasteur was something that was just covered in my microbiology class. Who would have thought that microbiology could help me to understand literature! But then as I continued to read the chapter, I found Fosters summary of diseases in works of literature to be thought provoking as well. Often in literature, it seems that the more 'gross' illnesses are the ones that are popular to talk about, because they are filled with drama and intrigue that draws a reader in. Foster talks a lot about what a disease can symbolize, and what makes a good disease for literature based on its description. As a student who is pursuing a career as a physician assistant, I view medicine in literature in terms of what sort of sickness will pull on a readers heart strings. I know that I often find myself feeling bad for sick individuals in books, and thinking of ways or treatments in which they could be cured. I know that we often talk in class how the characters in books are only fiction, but I think that if an author has been able to use disease to draw a reader in that much, they have been successful. Disease adds an incredible amount of realness to a piece of literature, and I think that realness allows sickness to work is magic. It makes the readers interested, and wanting to read more.


Thoughts From Other Students


Christopher Dufalla said:

Doesn't that seem slightly wrong? We readers become more interested when the characters undergo greater suffering. It's sad, yet true. The greater and more complex an illness is, the more interesting it is for the reader and thus the more involved they become within the literature.

Disease and suffering do indeed make readers feel more for the characters within the literature. Human suffering is no laughing matter, just a matter to interest us more. And I suppose that the severity of the disease also calibrates the tugs on the heart strings. The more perilous and devastating a disease, the more readers feel and hope for the character.

It seems only natural, but when we as readers think about works of literature, we are indeed more drawn to the extremes. Foster is conveying that human inquisitiveness wins out over all else...after all, why else do we turn the page?

Rosalind Blair said:

It is very true. I suppose this also has something to do with the fact that throughout life, everyone experiences some sort of illness, whether it is them, or someone around them. Illness is something that people can relate to and allows them to form a connection with characters.

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