What's Normal? Narratives of Mental and Emotional Disorders

By Carol Donley; Sheryl Buckley | Go to book overview

Preface

"WHAT'S NORMAL?" is the title of a course in literature and medicine that we have team-taught annually in the weekend college at Hiram College for more than ten years. Growing out of our experiences with that course and with the stimulating contributions of our students have come two anthologies: The Tyranny of the Normal (Kent State University Press, 1996), in which we focused on physical abnormalities, and this volume, What's Normal? with its focus on mental and behavioral deviations from the norm.

People with marked physical abnormalities provoke at least three reactions from society: one is an assumption that these "Others" should get fixed so they look more like us (the obese should lose weight; the disfigured should have plastic surgery); another is a long tradition of using them for entertainments, exhibiting them in freak shows or, as in the case of the Elephant Man, in hospitals; a third is the common tendency to shut them out because they make us normal people feel so uncomfortable. Until very recently, physically challenged people had little access to public buildings, effectively keeping them out of sight. Some cities even had "ugly laws" to keep the disfigured off the streets so they could not disturb the rest of us.

Leslie Fiedler, whose powerful essay gave the title to The Tyranny of the Normal, shows how cultural norms pressure people to conform, to fit in with acceptable ranges for appearance. In America, the idealized norms of thinness and youth, for example, drive many people to try diets, exercise programs, cosmetics, plastic surgery, hormone treatments—all in an effort to bring one's appearance in line with the images on magazine covers and TV advertisements. The many who cannot make their physical appearance conform to cultural norms are often degraded and alienated, enduring what Jonathan Carey calls the Quasimodo Complex. These "abnormals"—whether they be obese or disfigured from disease or injury—understand the severity of their alienation, not by looking in the mirror, but by reading the reactions of fear and disgust in people who meet them. Like Quasimodo, they learn how deeply alienated they are by watching how their appearance repulses even kind and thoughtful people.

-ix-

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What's Normal? Narratives of Mental and Emotional Disorders
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Literature and Medicine ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Editors'' Commentary on Narrative xiii
  • Part One - Clinical & Bioethical Perspectives 1
  • The Meaning of Normal 7
  • From Madness, Heresy, and the Rumor of Angels- The Revolt against the Mental Health System 17
  • From the Flamingo''s Smile- Reflections in Natural History 30
  • From Rewriting the Soul 39
  • From "On Being Sane in Insane Places" 54
  • From Love''s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy 61
  • Three Stories from Cases in Bioethics 68
  • Part Two - Narrative Perspectives 85
  • Section One - Children & Adolescents with Mental Disorders 93
  • Silent Snow, Secret Snow 95
  • The End of the Party 110
  • From Girl, Interrupted 117
  • From Equus 125
  • Section Two - Mental Disability (Retardation) 135
  • Two Stick Drawings 137
  • From Joe Egg 139
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own 146
  • From of Mice and Men 156
  • Average Waves in Unprotected Waters 165
  • Lily Daw and the Three Ladies 173
  • Section Three - Women''s Experiences with Mental Disorders 183
  • Three Poems 185
  • From like Water for Chocolate 187
  • From Faces in the Water 189
  • The Yellow Wallpaper 201
  • The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window 215
  • The Avalanche 218
  • "No Name Woman," from the Woman Warrior 219
  • Three Poems 229
  • Section Four - Mens Experiences with War Trauma, Including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 233
  • "1919" from Sula 235
  • Night March 241
  • Mental Cases 249
  • From Ceremony 250
  • From Mrs. Dalloway 257
  • Section Five - Men … Mental Disorders 269
  • Panic 271
  • King of the Bingo Game 273
  • "Cash" from as I Lay Dying 281
  • Gogol''s Wife 285
  • The Tell-Taie Heart 295
  • From the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge 299
  • Section Six - Alzheimer''s & Dementia 301
  • To You My Mother Lost in Time 303
  • From My Journey into Alzheimer''s Disease 305
  • From in a Tangled Wood- An Alzheimer''s Journey 325
  • Two Poems 340
  • A Wonderland Party 343
  • Notes on Contributors 345
  • Permissions Acknowledgments 350
  • Index 354
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