Social Discrimination and Loss of Humanity
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (Awofeso). Many times, patients suffer a loss of self-worth even more devastating than their actual disease. Illness attempts to bring down the protagonists of the texts ‘Night Mother (1983), The Doctor (1991), and Philadelphia (1993). Each suffering their own physical battles, they all share a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that challenges their will to live.
Jessie and her mother portray a bizarre situation of illness and alienation in ‘Night Mother. Jessie lives with her mother as middle-aged divorcee, and is bound to the house due to epilepsy. Even still, Jessie has assumed the role as care-taker for her mother. The audience understands her plan of suicide from early on, however the two characters behave ordinarily throughout this extraordinary situation (Norman).
Jessie’s loneliness is hinted at throughout the play, most notably her brother giving her the same wrong-sized gift every year. As Jessie dives more and more into her own head she realizes the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Meanwhile, her mother ignores all showcases of those feelings and chooses to hope that social convention in relationships will prevail. Her mother’s manipulative ways are exposed when, on the last night of Jessie’s life, she tells Jessie that she has had small seizures since birth as her father did. Everyone around her confirms Jessie’s helplessness until she finally decides to assert control over her life and shoot herself. She doesn’t see any reason to improve her life, so she ends it on her terms (Norman).
Like Jessie, Dr. Jack McKee experiences the social and mental anguish of illness in The Doctor. The juxtaposition of a Doctor walking in a patient’s shoes drives home the reality of medical arrogance and its ramifications. As an arrogant heart surgeon, Dr. McKee is short and...