The Diary Of A Good Neighbour And Disability Studies English Literature Essay
Disability studies is a relatively new interdisciplinary academic field focusing on the roles of people with disabilities in humanities, sciences and social sciences (this includes: psychology, education, sociology and nursing). Although it had preexisted, disability studies began to expand toward the end of the twentieth century, when at the University of Illinois at Chicago where the first Ph.D. program in disability studies in the United States was established.
One disability in particular is cancer, and pacients that have cancer can feel ashamed of their body, condition and often try to conceal the fact that they are unable to be normal members of the society. In the 1970s an idea, that now seems a nonsense, was promoted. It was about the relatively talk therapy that was becoming a popular treatment for cancer. The talk therapy was based on the idea that cancer was caused by a bad attitude, so the individual that had cancer were often depressed and afraid to express their emotions. Some physician taught that by changing the perception of the patients, they could cure cancer. Today, the whole society should have “talk therapy” with disable people and try to understand the condition of these persons and try not to marginalize them because someday we can be one of the unable persons walking down the street and caring our sufferance in every cell of the body.
Reifungsroman refers to novels where the female characters were creating "new identities or reintegrating fragmented old ones acquiring the self-confidence, self-respect, and courage to live the remainder of their lives fully and joyously" (Waxman). Doris Lessing portrays ageing women who try to acknowledge their age status, try to link with their past and try to connect with the younger generation, in order to get some honesty, kindness and compassion. "The Diary of a Good Neighbour" was originally published under the pseudonym of Jane Somers, reinventing a new personality of Doris Lessing, one for which nor photographs nor personality things were to be needed in order to encourage the young writers.
In her novel she depicts old women like Maudie Fowler, Annie Reeves, Eliza Bates, who are trying to connect with the other generations. In short, “we learn about the past histories of these women and about their present lives, their families, husbands, children, and work. Their stories are interwoven, so they comment on one another and comment on such subjects as youth and age, living with others and living alone, responsibility, commitment, work; as they raise such questions as the value of families, motherhood, marriage, male-female relationships, and female friendships; and the value of life” (Greene 146).
2. Old people
To pursue this line of thought, and to introduce this second one, the ninety-two-year-old Maudie Fowler is depicted from Lessing's mother, who went for "Maud", her real name being "Emily Maud" but also had the perfect age to be Lessing' mother. Unfortunately old people are invisible the young generation and to the middle generation. In 1984, there were around 660,000 people in the UK aged 85 and over, and this is because the fastest population increase has been in the number of this type of individuals, the "oldest old". So when Doris Lessing was writing the novel the most common process inthe UK was ageing, a process that also is accelerating today.
Choosing a female "oldest old" is not so randomly because women tend to live longer than men and they tend also to live in misery, being ill and having no support at all from the family. "This is particularly true of working class women, as Doris Lessing reminds us in her novel: Maudie repeatedly gives us employment, she enjoys in order to take care of others, her sister's children, her husband, and her son, without pay, and ends her life in appalling poverty". (Perrakis, 116). And not surprisingly in her struggle to save some money for a decent burial, Ms. Fowler gather "fifteen pounds" that " 'would hardly pay for the fire of a spade' in the contemporary economy" (Port 123). So this is the common ending for many old women without no support from their families.
3. Jane’s body and Maudie’s body
"Maudie' putrefying body" (Perrakis 10) is the type of body that our generation rejects and finds disgusting. The middle-aged magazine editor Jane Somers, who is created from the combination of four real people- three close friends of Doris Lessings and her mother, finds herself in the end, befriending a stranger, the difficult and "awful" (Lessing 47) smelling Maudie. Not only the fact that Maudie is old, but the fact that she is suffering from the disability, known as cancer, makes these main two-characters have a "surrogate relationship" (Greene 148), because the protagonist had "failed a mother-daughter relationship" intriguingtly "her mother's nursing of her mother, her death by cancer" (Greene 143).
Jane' expensive style, silk clothes and her "mastery over the body" (Perrakis 10), her rituals in her luxurious bathroom, "the place where I live" (Lessing 21) are in total contrast with Maudie's "dresses and knickers and petticoats and camisoles and slippers and boas and corsets of fifhtly, sixty, seventy years" (Lessing 26) old and also in contrast with her body.
The old woman, who has skinny legs and yellow skin, is not able to have mobility and her cancer has dry out her life, while Janna is an active person, travelling and working. But by the end of the novel, Janna is the transition between the young generation and the old generation because she experienced herself health problems, prefers a part-time job and because of the lifecycle her "relative health and mobility" "will be eliminate" in time (Port 121). For example, Janna can see the "old witch" (Lessing 10)'s body as the reflection in the mirror of what her body will be like- "a tiny bend-over woman, with a nose nearly meeting her chin, in heavy black dusty clothes, and something not far-off a bonnet" (Lessing 10), and Maudie can remember her youth by looking at Janna's firm and attractive body.
4. Maudi’s house and her memories
4.1 Maudi’s house
In the "The Diary of a Good Neighbour" the writer "portrays environmental centralization as the progression from motion to static and enclosure, with domestic space collapsing inward on its inhabitant" (Krasner 215). Maudie' house is filled with "piles of rags, old newspapers, unwearable old clothes" (Port 120), things that have a history and most of old people keep, thinking that one day those things will be useful or they see their houses like journals, their extensions of the body. But they don't take in consideration that while the time is elapsing there will not have the health condition to throw and clean their environment. As Maudie losses the fight with the rubbish in her apartment that is taking over her life, Janna feels very uncomfortable when she is offered "saved garments...that were reeking and soiled with excrement" (Port 121).
Cynthia Port sees Maudie as a saber or hoarder, accumulating layers of filth on her person and belongings, and collecting the ruined remnants of her former garments as though they offer her the kind of 'bulwark against chaos" that Janna finds in new clothes (121). Her "malodorous East End basement" (Perrakis 7) is completely different from the elegant West End flat that Janna owns. The two cardinal points have a special meaning: east is the point in the heavens where the sun is seen to rise at the equinox, or the corresponding point on the earth the point directly opposite to the west and west is the point in the heavens where the sun is seen to set at the equinox. The point is that Maudie's death and her soul going to heaven can symbolise this east line, while Janna' life can stand for the west point, meaning that by the time Maudie's dies, her life "sets" on a horizontal line, becoming a changed person.
The rapid change that is produced in Janna is also reflected on Maudie's apartment and on her body. The extravagant Jane Somers cleans the apartment when she has time and is always in a rush to repair the lost moments with her husband and mother, by helping the old lady, who is so slow because of her age. This passage "I go into Debenham's and...I look for Maudie's kind of vests, real wood, modest high petticoats, and long close fitting knickers. I buy ten knickers, and three vests, three petticoats- because she wets her knickers now, and sometimes worse. Rush, rush, rush" (Lessing 124) stands for the image that the old woman has that of a person who will always contaminate her clothes and also the apartment. But in the end Janna is the only person who understand her and also cleans her and her place.
4.2 Maudie’ memories
Furthermore, "Maudie Fowler' life has indeed been a series of shipwrecks, as Jane will learn over the course of their conversations and years together" (Perrakis 8). Developing a relationship of friendship and of disclosure, Maudie wants some "talk therapy" in order to share her life experience, such as her "housemaid' position in a Brighton lodging house so as to give herself a holiday by the sea; securing the position in the milliner's shop, then to be invited to go over to Paris by her employer" (Perrakis 8) but also hard experience like losing her mother, being abandoned by her husband, the man, who is the end also kidnapes her son. Her past life needs a witness, a person who can just process and not judge, who can understand her and give her the hope that life is still burning in her body.
Jane Somers is the intimate listener and explodes these memories in order to print, "publishing two historical fictions about nineteenth-century milliners and lady philanthropists as well as a sociological treatise and a novel about contemporary hospital war nurse; all seeded by her experiences in Maudie Fowler's world" (Perrakis 13). She is writing these papers to deliver a message between generations that old people are having an important role in the three of life.
5. Age virtues
Sara Ruddick in Margaret Urban Walker's Mother Time, published in 1999, declared that elderly people are entitled to have virtues. Virtue is not run down by illness or death, it is about the quality relationship that old people can have with other people. Typically, we tend to associate old age with illness and death, this two factors can be constrain even the life of young people of middle-aged people. In short, according to this feminist philosopher the virtue in old age has two branches: one that is about capacity to forgive and let go and the second about "wise independence".
First of all, this capacity mentioned before of letting go and forgiving is in a special connection with "life review". "Yet, 'life reviewing" and regret are associated with aging for good reason- opportunities for recouping losses and inventing new options objectively dwindle" (Ruddick 56). Sara Ruddick explains that people who had a long past and have a short future, tend to access the reflective introspection that means "life review". This matter in "The Diary of a Good Neighbour" it is applied to Maudie, as the process in which she searches for her life continuity between generations and the desire to confess her memories, mentioned before. Being strong to admit her life and her bitterness, with the help of Janna, she will be blessed and will transform Janna from a stranger into a very close person, who helps her forgive her past and the individuals that were in it and also helps her let go and life peacefully her last years. Second, the "wise independence" is in correlation with the step that Maudie takes, when she is not physically capable to clean herself or the apartment. This character refused any help at the beginning because "out of the desire to control her own life as much as possible" (Ruddick 57), and does not want any help from strangers. Not knowing her body limits, Maudie is trying to be the independent young girl that is depicted in her memories, but fails. Janna is the one that created the "wise independe" be creating a bond between two different people. She is the caring person that prevents Maudie to fall again in misery and sadness. She is also the one who is her friend, mother, sister and angel. To conclude, this balance is a "workable balance between letting go and holding on, assertion and acceptance, intervention and letting be" (Ruddick 58).
6. “You’ve help me, now I’ll help you”
"When Mother died I was pleased, of course. ... She was in pain. She did not pretend she wasn't. She held Georgie's hand" (Lessing 7). Given that, losing her mother, but also Freddie, her husband- "No, I wasn't awful, as I was with Freddie" (Lessing 6), Janna is feeling guilty and something even wants to be like her sister, Georgie, the right person that was next to their mother in her last moments. But Janna knows that she is the one that her job needs. She is the person that transformed "Lilith magazine", but also will make up for her atonement and will change Maudie's last years of life.
Jane Somers learns to see the old people that once were invisible, learns how to master the body of an old woman, learns who she can be a great listener and learns how to have a cross-generational relationship. She accepts this relation because she wants to make up for the lost time with her mother and also because ageing is the second childhood, and Janna has the maternal role to take care of Maudie. So in this novel, this relation is very strong because the relationship is mother to the mother, and the purpose is to liberate herself from the nightmare that blames her for the ignorance towards her mother, but also helps Maudie release her soul from the misery life she had.
"Moreover, the relationship between Maudie and Jane resonates with a meaning that is more than personal: their exchange, with its return of kindness for kindness-'You've helped me and now I'll help you"- reverse the nightmare repetition, with its return of pain for pain, and established a right relationship between the generations" (Greene 150). The novel closes with a Jane that is enraged with the situation, with Maudie's death and funeral. The word "angry" appears in the last six sentences, five times: "angry...angry I could die...being angry...I am angry...being angry". In the end the transformation is completed, Janna becoming one of those old to be people because now “Niece Jill” (Lessing 261) is taking care of her, like Jane Somers had to care for Maudie, bringing her "a nice cup of tea" (Lessing 262).
In conclusion, Maudie, once an invisible old witch like the rest of the erlderly people that made Janna asked herself "Why aren't they in a Home? Get them out of the way, out of sight, where young people can't see them, can't have them on their minds!" (Lessing 23) has put her mark on Janna's life. Creating a bond, and reinforcing it, Janna also helped Maudie overcome her physical or mental unfitness, by becoming her friend. The perception that old people like Maudie should be ashamed of their house, body and situation, is at first a thrilling test for Janna, one that she wins in time. Lastly, their friendship is the path where the characters forget about their disabilities, their imperfections and become two close souls that make a difference in the cold world. "The Diary of a Good Neighbour" is a realistic, intimate and optimistic novel that deals with disability studies.
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