Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Experiencing Transplantation through Narrative: Richard Selzer and "Whither Thou Goest"

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Experiencing Transplantation through Narrative: Richard Selzer and "Whither Thou Goest"

Article excerpt

The Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible has carved out a prominent niche throughout the history of the Western Humanities. Ruth has been a muse both for the visual arts and poetry. A series of illustrations portraying her were created by Laurens, Rembrandt, Delacroix, and Poussin.1 In Western poetry, after the earliest explorations in the Hebrew Midrash,u distinguished poets have depicted Ruth as a heroic protagonist in an ancient biblical story. Dante alludes to her in Paradiso,11 having Ruth seated on the petal of a white rose with the two mothers of Israel: Sarah and Rebecca.1 John Milton in his "Sonnet 9" describes Ruth as the "Lady that in the prime of earliest youth" who reflected virtue.1 William Blake" and Lord Byroniv also used Ruth for poetic inspiration.1 Byron likens himself to Ruth and Boaz in his personal search for truth.1 In Whittier's "Among the Hills," the poet writes, "Sleeps dreaming of the mountains, fair as Ruth / in the old Hebrew pastoral, at the feet / of Boaz."1 Keats in Ode to a Nightingale penned "the self-same song that found a path / Through the sad heart of Ruth when, sick for home / She stood in tears amid the alien corn.'41 More recently, the person of Ruth has been diversified through a reinterpretation of her role within the genre of Feminist Literature.2 In 1990, a short story focusing on her quote to her mother-in-law Naomi-"Whither thou goest"-proceeds with a metaphorical retelling of Ruth's story in a unique context-solid organ transplantation.3 The main characters in the story-such as Hannah (plays Ruth-the-widow), who graciously donated her husband's Samuel's organs-are true to the originals in that "they represent typical human beings in whose joys and sorrows the audience is invited to participate."4 The author, Richard Selzer, was a physician-surgeon-writer (19282016). Timeless themes from the original story-with people restored to wholeness and contentment after tragedy-are replete with the contemporary struggles of organ recipients and donors.

A Study of the Hebrew Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth may be characterized as a short story, narrating affairs in the lives of ordinary people.4 The biblical book focuses on the experiences of righteous individuals who undergo dramatic changes in fortune through tragic events- including the death of loved ones-and later, as they are restored, progress from their tragedy back to wholeness. Despite the apparent simplicity of the original tale, the Book of Ruth provides literary artistry with word plays and flashbacks.4 Ruth's saga unfolds amidst the backdrop of Israelite religious and cultural customs, capturing ancient practices of inheritance, redemption, and remarriage of childless widows. Metaphors from Ruth lend themselves to the contemporary vernacular of transplantation, including the harvesting and gleaning of organs (barley), and as will be appreciated from Hannah's personal perspective in Selzer's story, Samuel's and her own restoration to wholeness three years after the donation of Samuel's organs. As Selzer drew his inspiration from the Book of Ruth itself, an exploration of the Biblical short story is an important preliminary study.5 Themes and roles in Ruth utilized in Dr. Selzer's "Whither thou goest" will be juxtaposed with the original story. These will include the role of the kinsman-redeemer (goel), characters demonstrating compassion, loving-kindness, and loyalty (hesed), harvest themes such as gleaning, strong sexual connotations in the threshing floor scene, and restoration to wholeness for the living and the dead through a fortunate ending.

The Book of Ruth is structured to climax with a nighttime meeting between the widow Ruth and her future husband Boaz.1 There are four chapters in the book. The first sets a tragic background to the story. The second initiates an evolving respect and romance between Ruth and Boaz. Boaz's esteem for Ruth leads to her role as a favored gleaner of barley on Boaz's land. Then follows Ruth and Boaz's sexuallycharged encounter on the threshing floor. …

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