The Only Constant is Change

charlie seeks the lightI curled on my side, snuggling into the nest of down created by my feather bed cover. The pain was sharp now. I moved my book closer. “Braxton hicks are common at twenty-seven weeks of pregnancy. Try a warm bath or a glass of wine and relax.” A glass of wine? What happened to no alcohol? Nausea surged through my body. I looked at the clock; one o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t call the doctor in the middle of the night. I was sure I was over reacting so I relented and opted for the wine.

Moving through the dimly lit hallway I made my way to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and pulled out the glistening bottle. The elegant, golden liquid slid into my glass, emitting a familiar oaky aroma. “Only three ounces,” I read, measuring carefully. I felt like a teenager sneaking a drink. I closed my eyes and I swallowed. A gentle warmth oozed down my arms and into my belly.

Opening my eyes, I looked into the face of my cat, Pesky. “Don’t look at me like that – I’m following directions,” I whispered. Her purr signaled the approval I needed and I picked her up and held her close, smelling her cat smell. I made my way back to the bedroom, dropping Pesky in her “nest” and snuggled back into bed. Within an hour the pain subsided. My eyelids grew heavy and I drifted off into a relaxing haze. It was Braxton Hicks after all.

I woke up to red hot pain tearing through my body. They were back, the terrible spasms, more insistent now. Dear God, something is terribly wrong. I looked at the clock – it was 3 a.m. My husband was softly snoring in the bed next to me. I knew I shouldn’t wake him as he needed to get up for work in a couple of hours. What if it’s nothing, just the Braxton hicks?

Suddenly, another wave of pain overcame me, and I reached for the phone and dialed my obstetrician’s number. The doctor’s exchange answered. The tired, bored voice on the other end of the line held no empathy. “Is this an emergency?” I’m sure she’d had many false alarms dialed in the middle of the night. I was probably one more. But she took down my name and number and said the doctor would call shortly.

I sat listening to the beating of my heart, breathing deeply to overcome the pain. I was trying to remember the instructions in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. It had been my bible during my pregnancy. Closing my eyes I visualized serene seascapes, beautiful sunsets and babbling brooks.


I searched the room for the sudden noise and realized it had come from me. I felt myself detach, pulling back from the real possibility that my baby boy might be dying. Growing numb, I sat staring at the phone, the silence reverberating in my ears. Suddenly the telephone rang, the sound exploding in my head.

“Mrs. Strickland?” The doctor sounded groggy and I suddenly felt ridiculous as I said “I’m sorry. I’m in a lot of pain. I’ve done everything the pregnancy book suggested and I just can’t get it to go away.” There was a silence at the other end of the phone. I could almost hear the doctor weighing the odds – give it another hour or get me right in.

“How long has the pain been going on?” he asked.

“For a couple of days, but it’s getting much worse. I called your office yesterday. The nurse told me it was Braxton Hicks, and to put my feet up.” There was another tense silence. Finally the doctor said, “Meet me at County Hospital.”

“County? Don’t you mean Community?” I was sure he had his hospitals mixed up. Charlie was going to be born at Community Memorial, not the County Hospital down the road. “No, County” he said. “They have a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit there.”

Ice filled my veins as I hung up the phone. No – he wasn’t going to be born yet. He wasn’t due to come for three more months. Not my son – not my baby. I knew Charlie like he’d been around my whole life. “It’s okay, buddy,” I whispered to the life inside of me. “We’re going for a ride, but it’ll be okay.”

I couldn’t let my little boy feel how scared I was. I caught my breath to quench my fear and set my mind to work. Get busy. Get active. I’m okay, I told myself. As I made my way back into the bedroom to wake my husband, the doctor’s words rang in my head – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. NICU. What’s going on here? He’s not ready to be born today.

Sitting on the bed, I shook Fred’s shoulders. “Fred, you need to get up. I have to go to the hospital.” He jolted upright in bed. “Are you alright?”

My eyes filled with tears and Fred instantly knew there was trouble. He snapped on the light and jumped into action. Without another word we pulled on coats and moved out into the cold January night. The rain fell with a soft drumming as we belted ourselves in the car and pulled out of the driveway. I glanced at Fred and our eyes met. A silent prayer passed between us as we began the twenty minute drive to the hospital. It was the beginning of the longest three months of our lives.

I was admitted at 4 a.m. and Charlie was born that night by natural birth – as natural as can be expected in an emergency delivery room. He cried when he came out, which was a great sign and then he was immediately frisked onto a warming tray and intubated. I didn’t see his eyes for three days because he had to wear bilirubin goggles. When I finally saw them for the first time I remember thinking I knew it was you! Charlie spent three months in the NICU. It was a rollarcoaster of an existence; one day he was doing great, another he was dying. He went through all the crises a preemie goes through – waiting for the PDA ductuss to close, NEC (a terrible intestinal disease), six weeks on a respirator, and finally bilateral hernia surgery.

I lived in the hospital. I went in at 7 or 8 o’clock every morning and came home at 7 or 8 o’clock every night. I watched the entire OJ Simpson Trial during the days. When I wasn’t in the waiting area I was in with Charlie kangarooing – this type of skin to skin contact was supposed to encourage growth and healing so I would put his little body on my chest. I pumped breast milk every two hours and filled every freezer in the hospital with milk as well as our fridge at home. Fred and I had a contest to see which music Charlie would grow up loving; singing into his incubator. I would sing 40’s songs and Broadway tunes and Fred would play rock ‘n roll and blues. Charlie is now a bass player who loves rock, blues and does musical theater!

He remained on a monitor when I finally brought him home. I felt overjoyed and nervous and happy and scared. I had written 150 thank you notes to all of Charlie’s nurses and doctors who had cared for him over the three months. Fred and I brought them our final gift of avocados and lemons, took pictures with the nurses and drove our miracle baby home. I remember the dogs barking at the gate… they knew something was up. I carried him into the house and felt at home for the first time in three months. It was heaven.

The three months in NICU were the most difficult time I have ever experienced in my life, and I never want to go through something like that again. However, it was also the greatest gift I have ever received. The experience stripped me down and rebuilt me. During those three months I had to deal with the possibility, on a couple of occasions, that Charlie might die. I got to the point where I couldn’t focus on that possibility anymore, because I needed to be there to help Charlie – whether he was to going to live or die I needed to make sure he knew that he was loved. It is very humbling to be taken to that place. I am so grateful that he lived and I consider it to be a privilege to have Charlie in my life. Had he been born under more normal circumstances, I may never have learned about the depths of love that one can attain.

Charlie is now a strong, handsome and healthy almost-eighteen year old man. He came out with no long term problems…. except he has a wonderfully unique deep and raspy voice as a result of the respirator tube being in place so long. I don’t mind his unique vocal style – in fact I love it. It reminds me every day how lucky I am to have him in my life.

Charlie is my miracle, and he brings me inspiration on a daily basis. Here is the poem I wrote to him on the day he was born.
by Patricia Strickland
An unexpected winter’s morn,
Today my little boy was born.
A tiny boy, a tiny sprite…
He’ll have to fight with all his might!
His life is hanging by a thread…
His tiny body on the bed…
He came to earth to stake his claim,
To share my life, to share my name.

A rainy, chilly Friday morn,
This thirteenth day my son is born.
I catch my breath to quench my fear
My finger wipes away a tear
My eyes are fixed as I begin…
My hope is strong, my nerves are thin
A constant watch upon his breath,
To ward off fear – to ward off death.

He’s come this January morn,
My precious child, so early born.
As sunlight fills the world with gold,
I touch his little hand so cold.
My lips part silently in prayer,
His fingers move, his skin so fair.
And in his grasp, I know this much:
I feel our future in his touch.


I work at a Catholic High School teaching Drama and Music and chairing the Drama Department. As a teacher at a Catholic school I am required to teach using the ethical guidelines set by the Catholic Church. This is a conservative Catholic parish and they stand by the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, sex before marriage, stem cell research, Sunday Mass attendance, and reconciliation requirements to name a few. I was raised Catholic, understand the teachings, but am not a practicing Catholic. I have a deep spirituality, and although I hold a deep respect for the Church, I find myself at odds with many of their views. During my teaching day, it is not uncommon for the students to share information with me, raise questions, or ask for advice on a particular issue. The problems are varied and complex, and often challenge the teachings of the Church. Do I give an honest response or filter my answer through the lens of the Church? This paper will explore this question, the ethical theories that effect my decisions, how emotions impact the development of an ethical view, and finally how these theories relate to relationship and credibility as described by Kouzes and Posner.
One specific example of this dilemma deals with homosexuality. A freshman (I’ll call her Cathy) was upset about her mother’s lesbian relationship and the fact that she was living in a household with “two mothers”. Cathy had been confused, but not particularly upset about the relationship until she transferred to the Catholic School. She liked her mother’s partner, but was ashamed and embarrassed about her living situation due to the Catholic teachings and the pressure she felt to hide her mother’s lifestyle. Cathy asked me if I thought homosexuality was a sin. In “real life” my response would be a simple “of course not”. Under the requirements of the Catholic Church I am required to say “yes” and share the scripture Leviticus 20:13. What do I do?

I take these types of situations on a case by case basis. In this case my dilemma is clear: do I follow Catholic dogma to the letter or watch out for the well being of Cathy? In this case I chose to watch out for Cathy’s well being. I had known her family for many years, having had two siblings in previous years. I knew the mother and her partner to be women of outstanding character and the father and his live-in girlfriend to be wonderful as well. I saw no help in encouraging Cathy to experience fear and shame, so reinforcing the strict view of the church was, in my view, wrong. I chose to allow Cathy to express, encouraging her to use compassion and understanding to forgive people who were judging her and embrace the family God had given her.

Is it ethical to agree to work at a Catholic school, agree to a contract stating that employment would include teaching according to Catholic dogma, and then break the agreement? My typical reasoning is best explained using the normative theories of consequentiality which “determine what is right by weighing the ratio of good to bad that an action will produce” (Shaw, pg. 52). Utilitarian theory states that “we should always act to produce the greatest possible balance of good over bad by everyone effected by our actions” (pg. 56), using the moralist definition of “good” as “human happiness or welfare”. Since setting aside the dogmatic ruling of the Catholic Church to allow for a loving relationship between mother and daughter brings more “human happiness” to this situation, this would be the ethical choice. An argument may be made that it is immoral to be homosexual and by using utilitarian ethics I am allowing an immoral act to further human happiness, and I agree to disagree with that.
A clearer explanation for the method I use to make ethical decisions is described by W.D. Ross using the concept of prima facie obligation. A prima facie obligation is “an obligation that can be overridden by a more important obligation” (Shaw, pg. 66). Using this argument my obligation to the school was overridden by the more important obligation to help the student.
Emotional Fuel for Ethical Decision Making: Lewis vs. Freud
Emotions play an important part in how I process ethical decisions. As an artist, I value human emotions. The dialogue between C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud in Nicoli’s The Question of God illustrates how emotions can cause people to develop two vastly different ways of looking at the world. Both Freud and Lewis experienced loss at a young age.
Freud delved into his past to explain deep depression following his father’s death. He developed psychiatric theories such as “The Oedipus Complex” to explain his intense feelings, and wrote that “the complicated emotional relation of children to their parents… was the nucleus of every case of neurosis” (Nicholi, pg. 25). Freud also asserted that “…one’s ambivalence toward parental authority – especially the positive feelings of that ambivalence – forms the basis of one’s deep-seated wish for God” (Nicholi, pg. 25).
C.S. Lewis’ initial response to his mother’s death led him on a journey through atheism saying, “All religions, that is all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are man’s own invention” (pg. 33). A decade later Lewis changed his mind, embracing Christianity. What made the difference? Freud responded to pain by developing a belief that God was a wish to be out of pain. Lewis responded to pain by developing a belief finding that faith was a “thing of unspeakable comfort”. These are two vastly different views which sprang from the same emotion: grief.
Freud wrote that “ethics are a kind of highway code for traffic among mankind” (Nicholi, pg. 61), suggesting that they “change with time and culture”. Perhaps this is true. Preferring transforming leadership (working to elevate those around me) over transactional leadership (working to control those around me), (Ciulla, 1995), the ethical framework I operate in is intended to encourage relationship and credibility between people.

Kouzes and Posner (2003) describe credibility as the ability to “earn trust and confidence” (pg. xiii). Credibility is best defined in behavioral terms as the ability to “do what you say you will do” (pg. 47). When a person “walks their talk” they are much more likely to be trusted. Credibility is founded on the qualities of honesty, inspiration, and competency (pg. 21) and in earned in the same fashion that one would bank money, through equity and trust.
Leadership credibility is a dialogue, not a monologue, and has three phases that must be addressed: clarity, which requires a clarification of the leader’s and constituents’ needs; unity which requires people be united in a common cause; and intensity, which increases as principles are deeply felt and acted on consistently. When the credibility is strong, relationships flourish, both personally and professionally. Understanding how ethical decisions are made, especially your own, is vital to breaking down problems into understandable frameworks in order to effectively respond and choose the best possible solutions.

Ethical dilemmas are complex and often challenge us to our core. With the many and varied ethical frames from which to view a problem, complex issues require the best in us to come forward in order to solve problems. Self knowledge and clarity of purpose are fundamental to developing an ethical framework from which view, dissect, and solve the ethical challenges of our time. Encountering other belief systems with respect and care will encourage a more successful conversation and foster credibility and strong relationships. In the midst of varying ethical maps, we can open pathways of understanding. In my view this is what is best for the majority.


Ciulla, Joanne (1995). Leadership Ethics, Mapping the Territory. Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol 5 Iss 1. Retrieved from blackboard May 29, 2008.

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, Why people demand it. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Nicholi, Dr. Armand M. (2002). The Question of God. Free Press: New York, NY.

Shaw, William & Berry, Vincent (2007). Moral Issues in Business, 10th edition, Thompson Wadsworth. Retrieved from blackboard May 29, 2008.

I am an actress. I have a degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I’ve been trained in Shakespeare. Yet, I have a shameful confession to make: I am intimidated by “The Bard”. He makes me feel stupid. I avoid working with him unless absolutely necessary and, because I’m a drama teacher, I can’t admit it to anyone. You can imagine my surprise and relief to hear many talented and renowned actors admitting, in front of a camera no less, that they didn’t get him either. A window opened in my mind, my attention ignited, and I joined Pacino on his quest as he went Looking for Richard.
That is precisely the goal of this film: To break down the barriers of intimidation and allow the audience to experience the timeless pertinence of the story and characters of King Richard III in an imaginative way. From the opening credits, which fade from “King Richard” into “Looking for Richard”, we are encouraged to “see and see again”. The possibilities of interpretation are explored until a specific choice is made and the final interpretation of the scene is performed using full production values. As the camera captures the energized conversations of the actors we are immediately part of the process, no longer detached or disinterested. We are willing and enthusiastic participants, wanting to know more.
Richard opens to various medieval images moving across the screen. Layered over the images are the sounds of a church bell tolling and a haunting interpretation of “Our Revels Now are Ended” from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a story about a father and daughter stranded on a magical island. Juxtaposed against the historical images and words is the contemporary setting of a New York City neighborhood. It is no co-incidence that King Richard from the House of York. The camera pans down the high rise city building to a basketball court and a young man shooting hoops, oblivious to Al Pacino who watches, looking for a way into the game. In traditional Shakespearean style, Pacino breaks the fourth wall in a wordless aside, looking straight into the camera as if to ask, “How do I connect to this young man?” The answer comes in a fast cut to the actor’s animated discussion as they plan their course of action.
Wisely the group chooses to begin their quest on the streets talking with the common man. “I’ve been reading Richard III and I can’t get on with it” one person shares. Pacino asks another “Is there anything you can think of that makes you feel that it’s not close to you or connected to you?” The reply is honest and familiar: “Yeah, it’s boring.” More surprising was the unexpected wisdom and insight that came from ordinary people. One obviously homeless man said, “We should speak like Shakespeare… because then the kids would have feelings… If we had feeling in our words we’d say less and mean more”. When Pacino probed further with, “And you think Shakespeare helps us?” he responded, “He did more then help us; he instructed us….” We are stunned. We all long for more connection and “feeling”. Is it really possible that Shakespeare had some insight? Hearing such insight from a person of the streets makes it seem more possible that we, too, could understand Shakespeare.
Next the film moves on renowned Shakespearean actors and scholars. Kenneth Branagh admits, “At first we read it … aloud and of course there… was no connection.” Who couldn’t relate to that? To explain how an actor finds the meaning in the scene another actor offers, “What is left out is all the words that help … make the transitions. So we must buy it in the actions of the character.” Find the subtext by living the moments between the words, just like in real life; we make more connections. Vanessa Redgrave observes of the medieval time period, “Word has been totally devoid of truth, and that is a problem for the actor.” That is a problem for the common man as well. “If you get obsessed with the text … that is a great barrier to American actors… that isn’t what matters.” Good to know because the text is still daunting.
What does matter? Richard believes it is power and control and he doesn’t have it. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York …” (Act I: 1). On first reading Pacino delivers it as we might read it, flatly and without understanding. A series of conversations take place exploring the feelings behind the text. “The key word is discontent… Richard tells us how he feels about the history”. The civil war is over, so what do they do now? They explore Richard’s physical appearance and the significance that has one his life: “Shakespeare has exaggerated his deformity to embody the corruption of his mind.” They talk about his relationship to the king: “The first act is about a King and everyone is maneuvering around the King.” Finally, they speak of the most personal aspects of Richard’s reality: “Love making and being with women is where you put your male energies… but Richard has a little problem here.” Interspersed with the discussions are scenes of the group going to a medieval looking building and beginning to don the costume of the period. As the understanding of the text becomes clear, Pacino’s Richard takes form and the finished monologue is filmed, this time with full understanding of the intentions behind the words and in full costume. Surprisingly we understand the finished scene completely. Empowered we move on.
This is the process throughout the film and because it is so time consuming, much of the text is left out. Since this is Pacino’s quest to find the character of Richard, the scenes are chosen accordingly. Surprisingly this omits many of the scenes which include the women. The wonderful swordplay of words Shakespeare is so famous for is very present in the text of Richard III. The woman are strong, intelligent and witty in the funeral bier scene with Richard and Anne in I:ii, the confrontation scene with Queen Elizabeth and Richard in IV:iv, and in the showdown scene with Anne, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret and the Duchess, also in IV:iv. But most of this is never dealt with by Pacino. Is he intimidated by female power?
In an exchange with the actress Penelope Allen (Queen Elizabeth) Pacino listens as she argues for her understanding of the strength of Queen Elizabeth. Allen insists that Elizabeth only appears to be hysterical, when in fact she is the only one who has an understanding of exactly how dangerous Richard truly is. She insists that the other characters actions should not be diminished or the characters made to seem weak as that would diminish her character’s strength. The scene is shown and the strength of the character adds a dangerous dimension to the plot development. Her passion paid off and I applaud her for standing up for us. Pacino seems less interested in dealing with feminine strength. The only woman’s scene he chooses to fully explore is the Anne/Richard scene from II:1.
Taking out most of the clever and biting exchanges in the script, he casts a beautiful and childlike Winona Ryder who embodies youthful naivety. This changes the whole dynamic of the scene, as now you have a powerless waif of a woman in an already compromising circumstance, making it extremely unlikely that she could ever stand up to the dominating presence of Al Pacino. Even in the filming of the discussion, Winona sits passively by as the discussion about her character swirls around her. This made some of the stronger exchanges between the Anne and Richard impossible, so the cuts to the script and the development of the characters reflect that. This is especially apparent at the end of the scene where Anne’s impudent lines “’tis more then you deserve; But since you teach me how to flatter you, imagine I have said “farewell” already” (I:ii:27-29) are reduced to a submissive, flirting plea of, “Teach me how to flatter you”. Where Shakespeare views women as strong forces to be reckoned with, Pacino sees them as powerless toys to be used and tossed aside. This leads to one of the most enjoyable interpretations of “I will have her (a horrific laugh) but I will not keep her long” (I:ii:234) causing our skin to crawl and stomachs to turn. Great for the character of Richard; not so great for the character of Anne.
One of the most daunting challenges to the American actor is the idea that Shakespeare’s words are sacred and need to be learned word perfect with absolutely no changes. Pacino takes this limitation off of the actors and allow ad libs and subtle line changes if they support the character development. This is shown in the scene with Hastings in III:iv:80 where he has been sentenced to death and he pleads to his friend Stanley not to abandon him saying, “Stanley, Stanley!” Those words are not in the text. It is also shown in the scene with Buckingham in IV:ii:119 when Buckingham changes the line from “Why then, resolve me whether you will or no” to an insistent and resentful “May it please your grace to resolve me in my suit”. Was this was the result of a line not quite gelled and the actor reaching for words to fill the intention? Or what it Pacino’s intentional choice? It doesn’t matter to us as the moment is effective and strong.
At some point it becomes clear that Pacino knows the character of the Richard; he is walking in his shoes and the two personalities meld. Any further dallying in the exploration process is bordering on self indulgency and Pacino seems to sense that. “Learn the rules like a master so you can break them like an artist” (anonymous). His research is done and it’s time to break some rules. This is symbolized by the cocktail party that the group attends. At the beginning of the process the “passionate” exchanges may have seemed energizing, but at this point they are only pretentious and silly; words without action. Pacino reacts instinctively saying, “Get me out of here” and so we leave. This begins the transition in the film as the group figures out a way to put Richard to bed figuratively and literally; to kill Richard (from the script) and finish the film (in real life).
Eager to finish the project, the filmmakers begin condensing the plot. The dream sequence in V:iii which on the page seems tedious and overblown, is a visual masterpiece of horrific images in an effective audio/visual nightmare. Only snippets of the lines remain with flashes of Richard’s victims being killed overlapping. We are at once inside the paranoid and desperate mind of Richard III. We are ready for him to die.
“I have a feeling your Richard will have earned his death and you really ought to begin to think about some way to do it”, Frederick prods him. But Pacino will not relinquish the quest. He is mad with the character now, insisting on a trip to England to stand on a stage where the actual scenes had once been played, fully into his method acting shenanigans. His troupe is tired of the antics, just as Richard’s men are tiring of his bloody rule.
The end comes at last. Fully immersed in the character and symbolically acting out Richard’s pathetic inability to relinquish power, Pacino is filmed “dying” on the steps of a church in Frederick’s arms, unable to let go of the character. “Richard is dead,” Pacino announces. Richmond thrusts the final sword into the still defiant Richard. Like a stuck boar, he takes his last breath and it’s over. Richard is finally dead. We can’t believe it. The group can’t believe Pacino’s finally going to close the film. Cut to his producers: “Is that it?” “I hope so.” “You know if I told him about the other ten roles of film he’d want to use it.” In true actor’s fashion the exploration will never be complete.
“I love the silence… what is that line?” Pacino asks a patient Gielgud. “The rest is silence,” he replies. Pacino is still searching. “Who said that? … whoever it was I know Shakespeare said it.” Gielgud smiles; he knows it was Hamlet and he knows it doesn’t matter. The quest is what matters. Cut to Shakespeare, head in hand, shaking it in disbelief. I am reminded of a famous Laurence Olivier quote that he offered to Dustin Hoffman, who had announced that he’d gone 3 days without sleep in order to ‘become’ his character” on the set of ‘Marathon Man’: “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting? It so much easier.” We each have a process and we must be true to it. See and see again?
Richard has come full circle. We end where we began, in the mystical space between the past and the present, where all things meld and our stories are timeless. But we are richer in knowledge and better for the lessons learned through Richard III. “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air…We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” We don’t understand every word… but we understand. And that’s what matters.


Laurence Olivier, Sir quotes,,,_sir/2.html

Looking for Richard (Al Pacino, director: Twentieth Century Fox, 1996).

William Shakespeare. Richard III. New York: New Folger Shakespeare Series, 1996. ISBN: 0671722840

William Shakespeare. The Tempest. Riverside Shakespeare 2nd edition, (1997)
ISBN: 0395754909

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (US In the early history of our nation Negroes (people of African American descent) were considered property and were not considered to be “men”. This began an argument that was to culminate in one of the worst wars our nation has ever seen. During the heated debates of the first Continental Congress, while “Americans debated and fought for liberty and freedom, some saw the inherent contradiction of slavery” (Tindell/Olmstead, digital history center). Those “some” were the representatives from the Northern states. For the sake of the Union, the Northerners chose to set aside the issue for later times. The issue of slavery heated up again in the mid-1800’s, when western expansionism, the rise of abolitionist and anti- slavery movements, and the disclosure of the inhuman treatment of the slaves caused the Northerners to shift their position and take a stand on the issue of slavery. This eventually split the country and led us into the Civil War.
Western expansion threatened to upset the balance of votes as they pertained to the slavery issue. A truce of sorts had been reached, with the Missouri compromise, which left a balance on the slavery issue of 12 states for slavery, 12 against. But with the move westward there were new territories to consider. California, the Southwest territories, and New Mexico, with predominantly anti-slavery views, threatened the South and caused the North to take notice, thus renewing the slavery battle. Calhoun, the spokesman for the south, left his sickbed to attend the Senate in order to present his views which stated that “the south needed simply an acceptance of its rights; equality in the territories, the return of fugitive slaves, and some guarantee of “an equilibrium between the sections” (489). The North stood firmly, but not exactly united, some holding that slavery was wrong and that no new slavery should commence and some radical northerners demanding the total emancipation of all slaves. Daniel Webster spoke making the case for a peaceful resolution stating “The extent of slavery was already determined … by the Missouri Compromise” and chastising both sides for their extreme views, declaring the people should “enjoy the fresh air of liberty and union” rather then warring on this issue. The Compromise of 1850 paused the fight for a bit, making provisions to appease both sides in the interest of peace, with President Clay warning that “continued bickering would “lead to a furious, bloody, implacable, exterminating” civil war” (488). The provisions set in the Compromise of 1850 determined: 1) California’s admission to the Union as a free state; 2) “The Texas and new Mexico Act which made new Mexico a territory and set the Texas boundary at its present location; 3) The Utah Act which set up another territory; 4) A new Fugitive Slave Act which put the matter of retrieving runaways wholly under federal jurisdiction and stacked cards in favor of slave-catchers; and lastly, 5) As a gesture to antislavery forces, the slave trade, but not slavery itself, was abolished in the District of Columbia” (491). But the Kansas –Nebraska Act unleashed the inconsistent laws and ideas that were commonplace on the issue of slavery and two illegal governments were created, vying for control. What ensued was in effect “a dress rehearsal for civil war” (498) and an indication of things to come. The North could no longer avoid the slavery issue.
Newspapers and publications were also effective in spreading the abolitionist’s views about slavery during this time period. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison of Boston began an anti-slavery newspaper named The Liberator vowing, “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, to speak, or write, with moderation” (Tindell, 472). He followed this with the formation of the New England Anti-slavery Society in 1832, which eventually expanded into the American Anti-slavery Society, seeking to convince people “that Slaveholding is a heinous crime in the sight of God, and that the duty, safety, and best interests of all concerned, require its immediate abandonment, without expatriation” (473). The society argued that blacks should “share equality with the whites, of civil and religious privileges”. Through pamphlets, speeches and newspaper writings information spread rapidly, educating the public about the inhumane abuses of slavery.
The spread of information inspired furious debates, instigating women to demand a voice, inspiring the rise of black abolitionists, and eventually splitting the country. It also inspired writings that had a powerful effect on the readers. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fictional drama Uncle Tom’s Cabin painted a vivid and horrible portrait of slavery, “depicting the callous brutality at the hands of indulgent master, to the indignity of extravagant ineptitude and bankruptcy” (492). Newspapers were extremely influential during this period of time, as the news developed and spread across the states. The widely publicized Dred Scott case set the stage for the polarization between the North and the South. The case occurred when the abolitionists had Dred Scott (a Negro man) sue for his freedom on the grounds that his residence in Minnesota (a free state) had made him a free man. He was ruled against by the Supreme Court, who stated that slaves were property, and the court would not deprive slave owners of their property without due process of law according to the Fifth Amendment. The news hit the papers, making southern states ecstatic and northern states quite unhappy. The papers continued to report the bad news as Buchanan’s presidency endured crisis after crisis, including the troubles in Kansas, and a business panic. Finally a new Illinois Republican named Abraham Lincoln stepped forward to put his hat in the ring to challenge the sitting Senator Douglas for the senate seat for Illinois. Although he lost this race, he would return later to run for president. The papers dubbed him “honest Abe” the uncommon common man, and he easily won the election with popular vote of 39 percent and 180 electoral votes. Deeply upset, the south endorsed an Ordinance of Secession, ratified a new Constitution and declared themselves out of the Union. After many efforts at compromise, an amendment narrowly passed the Senate guaranteeing slavery where it existed, but maintaining the stand against slavery in the territories. The vote came in on Lincoln’s Inauguration Day. It would be known as the Thirteenth Amendment and was “the first use of the work “slavery” in the constitution” … When it was ratified in 1865, it did not guarantee slavery, it abolished slavery” (515).
The mid-1800’s was a time of great volatility, with western expansionism, the rise of various abolitionist movements, and the disclosure of inhuman treatment giving rise to a fundamental change in our country. The people of the North moved from their initial peace-keeping stance of “anti-slavery in their own state” to a more righteous and aggressive stance of fighting for the rights of all men under the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Frederick Law Olmstead said, “Advocates on both sides of this great struggle presented their basic premises in the 1830s and then rehashed them again and again throughout the 1840s and 1850s until they threw away the words to pick up arms. Slavery may not have been the only cause of the Civil War, but as a physical presence and ideological issue it helped dig the grave of, if not bury, the early union”. It is only with the grace of God that our great nation survived.

Works Cited
Tindall, George Brown, David E. Shi, Chapters 14-16, America A Narrative History, 6th Edition, Volume 1, New York. London: W.W. Norton & Company (With digital history center, Review of a First Rate Cotton Plantation (1845), Frederick Law Olmstead Document Overview; Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society, William Lloyd Garrison (1833))

US, THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Copyright ©1995-2006 by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Publishing electronically as On the Internet since July 4, 1995,

Social, religious and political reform developed quickly in the first half of the 19th century due to the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the newly founded nation, creating densely populated cities. This enabled people of different backgrounds to meet, discuss issues, and using their power to demand change. The elements influencing social reform include educational institutions such as universities and schools of higher learning, newspapers and other printed material, and the newly elevated education levels of the population. Gaining more knowledge of the democratic principles upon which the United States was founded, caused people to demand more rights and freedoms. Some of the social problems which inspiring reformers include workers rights, educational issues, religious expression, philosophical expansion, temperance, prison issues, mental illness issues, women’s rights, moral and ethical evils, pacifism, and the abolition of slavery. I will discuss religious, social, and educational reforms and illustrate how Henry David Thoreau’s work was and is inspirational to many people, encouraging them to find a deeper meaning to life.
First, religious expansion and reform during the 19th century had a broad spectrum of development. The two contrasting perspectives of “Puritan piety and Enlightenment rationalism” (Tindall, 381) garnered most of the attention during this time period. The deists were represented mainly by the Unitarians and Universalists, “the Universalists holding that God was too good to damn man; the Unitarians insisting that man was too good to be damned” (382). Methodists and Baptists grew out of the Second Great Awakening, and were “grounded in the authority of the Bible and the recognition of a person’s innate depravity… and the concept of universal redemption”. Frontier revivals were plentiful, spreading through the West and settled regions in the East. The Mormon religion, founded by Joseph Smith and later run by Brigham Young, Jr., was developed and eventually moved to Salt Lake City to found its church. All of these religious reforms greatly influenced the ethical and moral climate of the era, which directly affected the social reforms.
“A literate and well-formed citizenry, equipped with knowledge not only for gaining a avocation but also for promoting self-government and self-culture, was one of the animating ideals of the early Republic” (397). This was the basis for the educational reform which occurred in the 1800’s. People demanded public schools, with Horace Mann of Massachusetts leading the drive for statewide school systems. New universities, colleges, societies, institutes, associations and public lectures grew out of the demand form additional knowledge and training. Public Libraries were developed which eventually were supported through the tax system. The existence of state and religious schools caused discussion about funding and curriculum which still goes on today. Education was primarily for men beyond the elementary school age as most people believed that higher education didn’t suit a “woman’s destiny in life” (400). Woman who did move forward in an effort to gain education argued that better educated women make better wives and mothers, and not that woman had an equal right to education as men. Those seminaries that did undertake female’s education emphasized music and art rather then academics. Oberlin College in Ohio was the fist to admit women, but woman were expected to clean the men’s rooms and never speak up in class. This opened the door for a demand for woman’s rights. By 1848 Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton called for a meeting to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women” (404) at Seneca Falls Convention where she submitted the Declaration of Sentiments. In her “Declaration” she paraphrased the Declaration of Independence, stating that “all men and women are created equal” and the resolutions that said that all laws placing women “in a position inferior to that of men, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.” Only a third of the delegate of the convention signed the document, but is was an important first step towards women’s rights.
Other social reform movements included prison and mental heath institutional reforms. Because of the “Jacksonian era’s belief that people are innately good and capable of improvement” major changes occurred in the treatment of prisoners, and mentally handicapped individuals as well as abandoned children. Although constrained by economic needs, a new philosophy emerged where “the idea of the penitentiary … would be a place where the guilty experience penitence and underwent rehabilitation, not just punishment.” Instead of mentally ill people being jailed or confined to home, a new philosophy emerged suggesting that they should be cared for in a hospital for the mentally ill. Dorothea Lynde Dix was a strong leader in reform for the mentally ill when she acted as a whistle-blower, carrying a campaign throughout the country divulging the neglect and abuse that was occurring in institutions, and demanding reform.
Lastly, Utopian societies sprang up, developing communities where religious or philosophical beliefs could be practiced to affect a living community that would embody their teachings. One of the most famous was the Brook Farm, supported by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist, (and many other well-known literary figures of New England) where the philosophy of “high thinking and plain living” could be practiced. Most of the Utopian communities were “short lived and had little affect the larger society” (408), however this Transcendentalist philosophy was studied and practiced by many people and still is today.
One of the biggest influences on the Transcendentalist Movement was the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Educated at Harvard, Thoreau loved nature, writing and the simple life. He was disgusted by people’s scramble for wealth and said of it “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (391). To practice the doctrine of “plain living and high thinking” he moved onto a small cabin on Emerson’s land by Walden Pond saying, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau was not a hermit, as he walked often into town to visit with friends and had guests to his home in the woods. When the Mexican War erupted and he deemed it to be a “corrupt attempt to advance the cause of slavery” he stopped paying state tax and was jailed for a night. This inspired the famous essay “Civil Disobedience” which later influenced the passive resistance movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Marin Luther King, Jr.” (391). Although Thoreau passionately held to his beliefs, he was insistent that he would never belong to a political organization or organized reform movement. Thoreau challenged mainstream thought in the 1800’s and continues to do so today, as his writings are readily available and widely studied.
The 1800’s was a period of time where democracy was finding its footing and people were recognizing their power within the structure. The social, educational, religious and philosophical reforms that took place are a testament to the strength of our nation and the possibilities that abound when we exercise our right to determine our lives under the principles set forth in our Constitution. I only hope we will remember this right, and continue to practice the principles of “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Works Cited
Tindall, George Brown, David E. Shi, Chapters 11-13, America A Narrative History, 6th Edition, Volume 1, New York. London: W.W. Norton & Company

brech old vs newIn his work, “The Theater of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope”, James Fisher says, “Kushner’s politics are based in a socialism, inspired in part, by Brecht’s dramatic aesthetic, which created for Kushner a template for political drama. Angels is certainly inspired by aspects of Brechtian theater” (8). Art Borreca writes, “– a Brechtian spirit resides at the center of the work.” M. Elizabeth Osborn calls Kushner, “A passionate political thinker and devoted student of Bertolt Brecht…” (Kerkhoff 6). Tony Kushner himself said, “I was also very much drawn in Brecht to the epic form, to the chronicle play. It was almost immediately, as soon as I read Mother Courage, that it became my favorite Brecht” (Kushner 107). Fisher went on to say, “Kushner was intimidated by Brecht’s dramatic achievement, that if he could not write a play equal to Mother Courage and Her Children, he did not want to write at all” (7-8). Lucky for us, Kushner achieved his goal, winning two Tony Awards for Best Play (Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), and the distinguished Pulitzer Prize for drama as well. In this essay I will prove that Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is profoundly influenced in all aspects, including setting, theme structure, character, dialogue, and plot, by Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.
First, the Staging: Brecht requires that the “…theatricality of the production’s props, lights, sets, and equipment (be) visible, thereby reminding the members of the audience that they were seeing a play” (Jacobus 1057). Kushner suggests that “The play benefits from a pared-down style of presentation, with minimal scenery and scene shifts done rapidly (no blackouts!) employing the cast as well as stage-hands – which makes for an actor-driven event, as this must be. The moments of magic – the appearance and disappearance of Mr. Lies and the ghosts, the book hallucination, and the ending – are to be fully realized, as bits of wonderful theatrical illusion – which means it’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do, but the magic should at the same time be thoroughly amazing” (1661). Both writers work to alienate the audience from the drama to assure that they would be “emotionally detached and intellectually alert”. “Representing reality, (Brecht) believed, lulled audiences into a state of passive empathy, diminishing their objective intellectual engagement with the events of the play.” (Lester) Brecht intended “not to render thought unnecessary but to provoke it: not as a substitute for artistic creation but as its stimulus.” Kushner reflects this in his writing as he moves easily from beautifully phrased epigrams like “I’ve thought about it for a very long time, and I still don’t understand what love is. Justice is simple. Democracy is simple. Those things are unambivalent. But love is very hard. And it goes bad for you if you violate the hard law of love,” (Jacobus, 1686) to brutal rants like “Dumb Utah Mormon hick shit!… When Washington called me I was younger than you, you think I said “Aw fuck no I can’t go I got two fingers up my asshole and a little moral nosebleed to boot!”… Fuck you Mary Jane, get outta here” (1688). The effect is very off-putting and shocking; it stops you in your cerebral tracks. Which is precisely what the intention is.

Next, the themes at work in both plays are similar in that both challenge the status quo of the times. Mother Courage was “too politically inflammatory to be produced in Stockholm at a time when Hitler made no secret of his designs on Scandinavia” (Lester). Mother Courage criticizes the political thinking that is the foundation of the Nazi regime during the period of time when Hitler is coming to power. Kushner describes Angels as “A Gay Fantasia on national Themes” (Angels, 17). “Set in the 1980’s, a decade of greed and conservatism, Angels in America can not avoid exploring the impact of the Republican politics on the country.” Roy Cohn represents “the worst the right wing has to offer; political monopoly, economic disparity, discrimination and censorship”. Martin, the henchman of Roy, brags that “soon Republicans will control the courts, lock up the White House, regain the Senate, and run the country the way it ought to be run”. Kushner writes about the political thinking that is the foundation of the Republican Party at a time when the Republicans were in power. Both plays speak openly about politically divisive topics and intentionally inspire angry responses from the audiences to provoke a dialogue. Another theme that is present is that of change and transformation. In Mother Courage and in the character of Roy in Angels, this theme presents itself in the complete lack of change or transformation that takes place in the characters. In Angels (part II) the theme is present in the character arc that occurs in Louis, Harper, Joe, Hannah and Prior. Each has a transformation resulting in a character reversal and leaving us with a sense that there is a possibility for change.

The characters, although not apparent at first glance, are built on a similar structure. Mother Courage is a type of anti-heroine. She is a loud, opportunistic, parasite of the war. She flatters, bribes and threatens to get what she wants. She delivers shrewd commentary of the realities of the war while fighting for her life and, unsuccessfully, for the lives of her children. Roy Cohn is a loud, vulgar, mean and treacherous man who flatters, bribes and threatens to get what he wants. He is fighting for his professional status and his physical life, both of which he loses. Roy also delivers brutally shrewd and one sided commentary on the realities of politics. Next the characters of Prior and Kattrin are similar. Both start as victims and end as fighters. Both have physical disfigurements and/or illnesses that make them repulsive. Prior confronts the angels and refuses to “stop the forward progress of the world and find God again.” (Angels, 15) He makes a poignant speech to the Angels summing up the spirit of his own struggles and all of humankind when he says simply, “We live past hope.” Kattrin goes against her mothers wishes and stands up to the soldiers by drumming a warning, saving the babies and mothers of the town. Both endure great trauma throughout the plays, and both grow stronger as a result.

The similarities in writing style are especially noticeable as they relate to the character development shown in the dialogue of the two pieces. Brecht has long monologues or songs which act as small lessons, usually taking the form of song. Kushner has long monologues which act as lessons or commentary that are told either through the fantasy characters such as the angels, Prior I and Prior II, Mr. Lies or through the dialogue that Roy has with various characters. Each of these conventions works to alienate the audience in the conventional Brechtian sense by breaking into our conventional thought patterns and suspending them in order to influence a different level of consciousness; one that has less judgment, perhaps.

Finally, the plot and style of Kushner’s Angels in America is influenced strongly by Brecht. Both plays are classic epic theater in that they strive to “break the fascinating, trance-like effect of the dramatic spectacle, transform the spectator into its critical observer, and rouse him to thought and action” (Wayne, 4). Both use fantasy elements to achieve the “distanciation” effect. Both change settings often and use the interruption of action and dialogue as well as simultaneous scenes to achieve tension and distance. Both plots take place in a war setting; Mother Courage during the 30 year war of Poland in the 1600’s and Angels in America during the “war on gays”, waged by the aids epidemic and the political right in the1990’s. Both plots take place over many years, enduring enormous trauma, and using many characters to tell the story. However, there is a note of hope at the end of Angels that is noticeably absent in Brecht’s Mother Courage. When asked about this Kushner said, “You have to have hope. It’s irresponsible to give false hope.” He went on to explain that he had written the final passage for a woman who was originally cast as the angel and who died of breast cancer before the play opened. Kushner says, “In one of my last conversations with her, she told me that she thought a lot about that image and hoped I would include it in the play. I think I wouldn’t have included it otherwise, but I’m glad I did now.” (Jacobsen, 1694) This explains the departure from the classic Brechtian style. I wonder if Brecht would approve?
As you can see, Kushner’s brutally honest and openly antagonistic, Angels in America was strongly influenced by the writings of Brecht. Should Brecht and Kushner have discussed so publicly such controversial and polarizing issues? Kushner says, “Of course it’s going to be discussed publicly. But you have to be smart. When you make a public utterance you are responsible for being responsible. We’re still an embattled community, and if you’re stupid about it you’ll give aid to the enemy.” (1696) Sounds like something Brecht could have said. At any rate, it is clear that Tony Kushner is still profoundly influenced by his predecessor and mentor Bertolt Brecht.
Works Cited
“Angels in America,” Drama for Students, Eds. David Galens and Lynn Spampinato. Col.1. Detroit: Gale, 1998

Fisher, James: The Theater of Tony Kushner: Living Past Hope, (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), p. 7-8

Jacobus, Lee A., Kurshner, Tony, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, The Bedford Intro to Drama 4th Edition, Boston, Ma: Bedford/ST. Martin’s

Jacobus, Lee A., Brecht, Bertolt, Mother Courage, The Bedford Intro to Drama 4th Edition, Boston, Ma: Bedford/ST. Martin’s

Kerkhoff, Ingrid, Contemporary American Drama, Angels in America: A gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner, Osborn, M. Elizabeth, from: .A. Berney, ed., Contemporary American Dramatiswts, London, St. james Press, 1994, s.v., November 24, 2005

Kurshner, Tony, Angels in America: Perestroika, revised version, New York, NY, Theater Communications Group, Inc.

Tony Kushner, Dr. Olga Taxidou’s Lecture – Angels in America, I and II, Kushner, Tony, Tony Kushner in Conversation, p.107, November 26, 2005
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Lester, Gideon, A Model of Courage – Gideon Lester explores the evolution of Mother Courage and her Children, American Repertory Theatre, February 6, 2001, November 24, 2005

Wayne, Derek. SparkNotes on Mother Courage. 24 Nov. 2005

Cyclical, Repetitive Nature of Beginnings and Endings

Endgame’s opening lines repeat the word “finished,” and the rest of the play hammers away at the idea that beginnings and endings are intertwined, that existence is cyclical. Whether it is the story about the tailor, which juxtaposes its conceit of creation with never-ending delays, Hamm and Clov’s killing the flea from which humanity may be reborn, or the numerous references to Christ, whose death gave birth to a new religion, death-related endings in the play are one and the same with beginnings. While Hamm and Clov are in the “endgame” of their ancient lives, with death lurking around the corner, they are also stuck in a perpetual loop that never allows final closure—Hamm claims he wants to be “finished,” but admits that he “hesitate[s]” to do so. Just as death cannot arrive to seal off life, neither can Hamm or Clov escape to close the book on one existence and open another—note Clov’s frequent failed attempts to leave the room (and his final return after vowing to leave) and Hamm’s insistence on returning to the center of the room. Nell’s death may be an aberration in a play where death seems impossible, but since she is the one character who recognizes the absurdity of the situation, perhaps she is rewarded by dying.

Several of Beckett’s dramatic designs elucidate this notion of a circular existence. As mentioned above, Hamm has a compulsive need to return to the exact center of the room after Clov takes him on chair-rides. His oblique comments about the environment—beyond the hollow wall in their hole is the “other hell”—suggest an allusion to Dante’s Inferno, another work that used images of circularity. And just as Dante’s infernal images emphasize the eternal misery of its inhabitants, Beckett’s characters are stuck in eternally static routines. They go through the “farce” of routine actions, as they call it, because there is nothing else to do while they wait for death. Even the environment around them is static; everything outside is “zero,” as Clov reports, and the light, too, is forever gray, stranded between light and dark.
Beckett also makes use of repetitions to underscore the cyclical stasis in Endgame. The play systematically repeats minute movements, from how many knocks Hamm makes on a wall and how many Nagg makes on Nell’s ashbin to how many steps Clov takes. The repetitions prohibit the discernment of meaning, since there is never a final product to scrutinize. At the start of the play, Clov questions when individual grains become a “heap.” In his view, the heap is “impossible”; any single grain is not a heap, and a “heap” is just an accumulation of single grains. When Hamm later considers how individual moments make up a life, the analogy should hold—it is an “impossible” life, consisting not of a life but of discrete moments, until death terminates it. At one point, Hamm excitedly believes he is “beginning” to make some meaning out of the environment, but he will keep beginning to make sense of it and never finalize the meaning.

Emptiness and Loneliness

The constant tension in Endgame is whether Clov will leave Hamm or not. He threatens to and does sometimes, but he is never able to make a clean break. Likewise, Hamm continually tells Clov to leave him alone but pulls him back before an exit is possible. Both wonder out loud why they stay with each other, but both men give reasons in long monologues for why they put up with each other: their empty lives are filled only with unyielding pain, and none of life’s typical consolations help them—there is no cure for being on earth, as Hamm often says. One of the unspoken themes in the play is that having someone else around, even an irritant, helps assuage that pain. But Hamm and Clov’s unwillingness to face this pain alone somehow makes the pain greater, and their complementary, dominant-submissive pairing (a staple of Beckett’s plays) highlights their numbing dependency. Beckett has compared Hamm and Clov’s tense co-dependency to his own relationship with his wife in the 1950s; both wanted to leave the other, but were afraid to. Nagg and Nell have a happier marriage in part because Nell, at least, is willing to accept that they cannot rely on each other (she calls their futile kissing routine a “farce”) and must exist in their separate ashbins.

Theatre of the Absurd

Beckett was one of the lynchpins behind the French theatrical movement called the Theatre of the Absurd. The Absurdists took a page from Existentialist philosophy, believing that life was absurd, beyond human rationality, meaningless, a sentiment to which Endgame subscribes, with its conception of circularity and non-meaning. Beckett’s own brand of Absurdism melds tragedy and comedy in new ways; Winnie gives a good definition of his tragicomedy when she says, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” (Beckett believes this was the most important line of the play). Self-conscious form in the theater was another feature of Absurdism, and there’s no shortage in Endgame, from Clov’s turning the telescope on the audience to Hamm’s showy references to his own acting. But Beckett’s self-consciousness is not merely for laughs. Just as the characters cannot escape the room or themselves, trapped in self-conscious cages, neither can the audience escape their lives for a night of theatrical diversion.


The “endgame” of chess is the series of moves at the end of the game, one whose outcome is usually decided before the formality of the endgame occurs. Beckett was a chess player and, in Endgame, parallels the chess conceit to the endgame of life, in which death is the inevitable outcome. The characters—or players—enact repetitive rituals that are part of their endgame. Like a losing player who strains through the final moves even though his demise is imminent, the characters make routines out of their lives and do whatever it takes to get through one more day, even though the game has lost whatever appeal it may have once had. Beckett constructs the chess motif with movements on stage. Hamm, who sometimes utters the cryptic line, “Me to play,” is the King, the most powerful and yet the most vulnerable piece on the board. His movement is restricted, and he relies on Clov for protection in the center. Clov might be considered the Queen, as he can move better than anyone else, but his erratic, staggering gait is better suited to the L-shaped movement of the Knight. At one point Hamm alludes to Shakespeare’s equine-bartering Richard III when he declares “My kingdom for a night-man!” Since the night-man replaces Shakespeare’s horse the allusive pun recalls a chess piece’s capture. Night-man (knight) takes knight. Nagg and Nell are relatively valueless Pawns, appearing only when the King allows it. Nell’s death hardly disturbs him. The chess motif amplifies Beckett’s vision of a repetitive, cyclical universe: the play ends with a stalemate, a game no one has won that will be played again tomorrow.

Light and Darkness

As is often the case in literature, light connotes life and death connotes darkness. Clov says he watches his light dying in his kitchen; the unseen character Mother Pegg died of light-deprivation. Beckett’s revises this somewhat clichéd trope by making his Seasonal Affective Disordered (SAD) world gray. In this medium shade, the characters hold out minimal hope for life while despairing under death’s shade. Hamm’s blindness is another gray lampshade. He says he can feel the light on his face, and he cleans his glasses as if they were useful to him. His blindness also lends an extra level of selfishness to his refusal to give Mother Pegg his light.


The two young boys mentioned in the play—the boy in Hamm’s story about the beggar and the boy at the end of the play—function as symbols of regeneration. Hamm’s story takes place on Christmas Eve, giving the sense that the boy, who may or may not be Clov (Beckett was ambiguous about this in conversation), is a Christ-figure. In fact, Clov’s opening words echo Jesus’s last words. At any rate, Hamm’s story contrasts the withering state of the boy’s beggarly father and the boy’s youthful blooming. The boy at the end of the play is a more explicit symbol of regeneration—Clov calls him a “potential procreator.” Hamm, of course, was also once a boy, the son of Nagg, but the Biblical Ham was the son of Noah. While Noah and his ark is a story of regeneration, Hamm’s is one of sterility, and youth is further evidence that existence is cyclical and that Hamm will live forever in static misery.

oedipus[1]A Discourse on the Theme of Blindness in Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is a play “… about the limits of human knowledge” (Jacobus, 42) told through the journey of Oedipus Rex. Sophocles develops the play using irony, specifically where it relates to metaphoric, intellectual and physical images of blindness. Oedipus was “… a model for human greatness but also (as) a model for the human capacity to fall from a great height.” (Jacobus, 42) As in all Greek tragedies, Oedipus’ downfall was caused by his tragic flaw. Oedipus tragic flaw was hubris, or excessive pride, which caused him to act impulsively on his misunderstanding of the prophecies. In this discourse you will see that Sophocles chose the theme of blindness and the device of irony to illustrate and explore this tragic flaw as it led toward Oedipus downfall.
The first irony of the play lies in known facts. At the play’s opening Oedipus is blind to the fact that Polybus and Merope are not his real parents, “Polybus of Corinth is my father. My mother is a Dorian: Merope.” (Sophocles, p.54, 248-9) His true parents are King Laios and his wife Iokaste. Having heard the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother he sets off on a journey to Thebes, in an attempt to avoid his moira, his fate. “Since I must flee from Thebes, yet never again / See my own countrymen, my own country, / For fear of joining my mother in marriage / And killing Polybus, my father.” (Sophocles, 54, 300-3) Ironically this is his true birthplace, so unknowingly Oedipus is moving head on into his fate.
In the second of many ironies he comes across his true father on his way to Thebes. King Laios is traveling, runs Oedipus off the road and in a rage, Oedipus kills him, fulfilling the first of the Oracles prophecies. “The old man saw me / … / He was paid back, and more! / Swinging my club in this right hand I knocked him / Out of his car, and he rolled on the ground. / I killed him.” (Sophocles, pg. 54, 285-291)) However, Oedipus is blind to this knowledge and therefore unaware of the full significance of his guilt as he moves on to Thebes.
When Oedipus reaches Thebes he challenges the Sphinx, wins and is rewarded by marrying Iokaste. Little does he know he has just fulfilled another part of the prophecy by marrying his mother. However, blind to this irony, he proceeds to enjoy many happy years, siring two sons and two daughters. Ironically, Iokaste has had a prophesy from the Oracle which said, “My child was doomed to kill him; and my child – / Poor baby! – it was my child that died first.” (Pg. 55, 328-9) Thinking the Oracle referred to the son who was killed earlier; Iokaste was quite naturally blind to the fact that Oeidpus was her child and that he did indeed kill her husband.
In an ironic twist, Sophocles introduces the character of Teiresias who is physically blind. “This is Teiresias, this is the holy prophet / In whom, alone of all men, truth was born.” (Pg. 46, 83-4) Although Teiresias is physically blind, Sophocles has set him up to be a great spiritual leader who “sees” better then any other. Although physically blind, he has a keen spiritual eye and therefore has the ability to go within and hear the truth clearly and with remarkable accuracy. Teiresias at first refuses to tell Oedipus the truth, stating “Let me go home. Bear your own fate, and I’ll / Bear mine. It is better so: trust what I say.” (Pg. 47, 105-6) But Oedipus hubris will not allow him to heed the warning so he presses on, insulting and accusing Teiresias, until finally Teiresias relents and says, “I say that you are the murderer whom you seek.” (Pg. 47, 142-3) Oedipus remains blind to the truth, and in a wonderful moment of irony he mocks Teiresias blindness. Teiresias answers saying, “Listen to me. You mock my blindness, do you? / But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind:” (pg. 48, 195-6) Teiresias finishes by foretelling the future saying, “But the double lash of your parents’ curse will whip you / Out of this land some day, with only night / Upon your precious eyes.” (Pg. 48, 203-5) Still Oedipus refuses to see and the wise blind man spells it out for him with “A blind man, / Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now; / And he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff.” The truth has been uttered from one physically blind man to another metaphorically blind man.
Enter Kreon. Since Oedipus will not heed the words of Teiresias, he intellectually reasons that Kreon must be plotting with Teiresias to take over the throne. “It is your death I want, / So that all the world may see what treason means.” (Pg. 52, 106-7) Here he uses the word “see” showing how blind he has become in his paranoiac frenzy. He has intellectualized himself into another blind corner, because of his ego. Even the chorus begs him to see reason: “Open your mind…” (pg. 52, 131) “Respect Kreon’s word.” (132) “A friend so sworn should not be baited so, / In blind malice, and without final proof.” It is no accident Sophocles uses the phrase “blind malice” as this describes Oedipus’ actions perfectly at this moment. Kreon makes one final plea before he leaves saying: “You do not know me; but the city knows me, / And in its eyes I am just, if not in yours.” Ironically even the city can see what Oedipus is too blind to see.
But not for long. In a final defiant act, Oedipus brings the shepherd in and demands he tell his story. At last he learns the truth: “They said it was Laios’ child; / But it is your wife who can tell you about that.” (Pg. 60, 56-7) In this one moment his vision is cleared and he sees the facts as they are. Against all efforts to the contrary, Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling the prophecies. The chorus observes wisely, “But all eyes fail before time’s eye. / All actions come to justice there.” (Pg. 60, 40-1)
Now, eyes open, Oedipus sees all too clearly. He can “see” as he finds he dead wife, hung from her own hand after hearing the news she didn’t want to hear. Unable to bear the sight “… the king ripped from her gown the golden brooches / That were her ornament, and raised them, and plunged them down / Straight into his own eyeballs, crying, “No more, No more shall you look on the misery about me …. Too long been blind to those for whom I was searching! From this hour, go in darkness!” (Pg. 61, 44-50) His final words speak to the irony and the metaphoric use of sight; “… the blinding hand was my own! / How could I bear to see / When all my sight was horror everywhere?” His pride was destroyed, ironically so was his sight!
So we have come full circle on the journey. Oedipus begins the journey intellectually and metaphorically blind, but physically clear of sight. Yet in the end he is physically blind, yet intellectually and metaphysically he has never seen things so keenly. Oedipus tragic flaw of willful pride began strong and indefatigable and in the end has been completely beaten, leaving behind the humility that only experience can nurture. Sophocles leaves us with a clear idea that blindness is in the eye of the beholder.

Works Cited
Jacobus, Lee A., Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, The Bedford Intro to Drama 4th Edition, Boston, Ma: Bedford/ST. Martin’s

Dual Diagnosis Essay – We Need to Know More

According to Samuel T. Gladding (2004), a diagnosis is important for three reasons. First, a diagnosis will be necessary for reimbursement by insurance companies. Second, a diagnosis is vital if a proper treatment plan is going to be developed. Lastly, a common language is important to establish when more then one doctor or therapist is involved in the treatment of a client. In some cases, a dual diagnosis will be made, which describes a condition where both a substance abuse and a mental health diagnosis are made. Mental health diagnosis can include depressive disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias as well as other psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and personality disorders. This paper will focus on dual diagnosis, the treatment plans available, and the obstacles that need to be addressed to ensure better health for the patients.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? A similar question can be asked of dual diagnosis: Which comes first – substance abuse or the emotional dis-ease? At times psychiatric problems seem to develop first. “In an attempt to feel calmer, more peppy, or more cheerful, a person with emotional symptoms may drink or use drugs; doctors call this ‘self-medication.’ Frequent self-medication may eventually lead to physical or psychological dependency on alcohol or drugs. If it does, the person then suffers from not just one problem, but two. In adolescents, however, drug or alcohol abuse may merge and continue into adulthood, which may contribute to the development of emotional difficulties or psychiatric disorders(citation needed).” Other times it seems that alcohol or drug addition is the primary condition, “developing symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, perhaps episodes of depression, fits of rage, hallucinations, or suicide attempts” (NMHA).
Ever more frequently, “dual diagnosis” is a common diagnosis. The National Mental Health Association says that according to a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association: “Thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and fifty-three percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs.” According to Walsh and Franklin, “people seeking treatment who are diagnosed with a drugs misuse disorder and a concurrent psychiatric disorder rose by over 40% between 1993 and 1998 and continue to rise (Frischer et al cited in Drugscope, 2002). Frischer et al also state that over 50% of clients presenting to primary care in England and Wales with addiction problems have a dual diagnosis.” A dual diagnosis can be described in four categories:
A primary diagnosis of a major mental illness with a subsequent (secondary diagnosis) of substance misuse, which adversely affects mental health
A primary diagnosis of drug dependence with psychiatric complications leading to mental illness
A concurrent diagnosis of substance misuse and a psychiatric disorder
An underlying traumatic experience resulting in both substance misuse and mood disorders eg post-traumatic stress disorder.
Walsh and Franklin go on to cite the Weaver etal, 2003 report that states: “The recent multi-centre collaborative study of comorbidity (three or more diagnosis’) of substance misuse and mental illness (COSMIC) found that:
75% of users of drugs services and 85% of users of alcohol services experienced mental health problems
approximately 30% of the drug treatment population and over 50% of those in treatment for alcohol problems experienced the cooccurrence of a number of psychiatric disorders in addition to substance misuse
44% of CMHT patients reported drug use and/or harmful alcohol use in the preceding 12 months
in London over half the CMHT patients reported substance misuse problems in the previous year (Weaver etal, 2003).”
Clearly the rate of dual diagnosis cases is on the rise. According to Libby & Riggs, “The high prevalence of the dual diagnosis of mental and substance use disorders (SUD) has been increasingly documented for both adolescents and adults.” It is clear there is an ever increasing need for quality programs that address both SUD’s and mental health diagnosis in adults as well as in adolescents. What would a treatment program look like?
Typically, SUD treatment begins with a detoxification program and a period of sobriety is required before any psychiatric pharmacology treatment will be allowed to begin. However, new studies show this may not be the best way to proceed. “Emerging research indicates that integrated treatment of mental health and SUD may produce better outcomes than those reported in previous research that targeted mental health or SUD alone” (Libby & Rogers). Although both problems should be treated simultaneously, for any substance abuser the initial focus is on detoxification, preferably under medical supervision so make it safer and less traumatic.
Once detoxification is completed, dual treatment can begin. Dual treatment includes rehabilitation for the alcohol or drug problem and treatment for the psychiatric problem. According Flynn’s review of Rosenthal & McCance-Katz’s book, Dual Diagnosis, some of the successful treatments for patients with a dual diagnosis include psychosocial interventions such as psychotherapy and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), including relapse prevention therapy, pharmacological treatment, and network therapy, or cognitive behavior therapy with peers and relatives concomitantly with the identified patient. It has been proven that “family education, counseling sessions, and support groups are important aspects of overall care. The greater the family’s understanding of the problems, the higher the chances the patient will have a lasting recovery (NMHA).
Although there are many promising new treatments emerging for dual diagnosis patients, there are many roadblocks to overcome. Libby & Rogers explain that “Three barriers to (adolescent) treatment systems recurrently emerge: 1) Supply of providers familiar with integrated treatment; 2) Recognitions by primary care gatekeepers of integrated car; and 3) Economic support for integrated care by those managing health care resources and monies.” My own experience concurs with this, and in addition the stigma attached to such programs can make a family hesitant to explore such options. To combat the obstacles, some managed care organizations have offered incentives to companies who will attempt to treat mental health, substance abuse and medical problems holistically. This is a promising development for the future of dual diagnosis treatment. Treatments can take place in outpatient settings as well as inpatient facilities. Care must be taken to ensure that the different health practitioners stay connected and informed.
Caroline Hawkings has developed a “Practical Toolkit” to bridge the gap between the different branches of health practitioners, offering core principles and guidelines to ensure effective treatment and support. This first important area covered is assessment. Client’s needs must always be emphasized when determining the course of treatment. The client’s current lifestyle, domestic arrangements and life history should be taken into account to establish the chronology of presenting problems and their relationships, and treatments required. It has been found that a “key worker” is invaluable to a well connected team of health care professionals. This person will co-ordinate the care of the patient, ensuring that roles, responsibilities and boundaries are clear by “sharing information, organizing services, advocacy, advising, supporting, handling conflict, writing reports and monitoring resources”(Hawkings).
According to Hawkings, the key worker should:
Help to set realistic and achievable goals
Help to make best use of available assistance
Develop an integrated package of care and support
Promote the client’s independence and empowerment.
A care plan should take into account any risk assessments and should specify:
The treatment goals and milestones to be achieved
Treatment interventions, stating which agency and professional is responsible
How information will be shared, which information will be given to which agencies and under what circumstances
An engagement plan – this is particularly for people who have found it difficult to engage with services
Consideration of any relevant issues relating to the client’s culture and ethnicity
A review date (National Treatment Agency, 2004).”
As you can see the key worker is in the unique position to keep the treatment co-coordinated and effective. This “toolkit” highlights problem areas and gives a practical guide to ensuring that the treatment progresses without vital information falling between the cracks. This could prove to be the link that makes the difficult treatment of dual diagnosis more effective.
Dual diagnosis is certainly on the rise, as is the need for coordinated, quality treatment programs. Knowledge is power, and as this condition becomes more well known awareness will increase, not only to the diagnosis, but to the treatments available. The future will certainly bring better and more successful treatment programs, bringing relief and the possibility for a healthier, more fulfilling life to many sufferers.

Works Cited

Flynn, William R., Dual Diagnosis/Psychosocial Treatments, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Book Review-Comparative. Washington: May 2005.Vol.162, Iss. 5;  pg. 1040, 1 pgs, 1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=11414 48865&clientId=46656#fulltext

Gladding, Samuel T., Counseling a Comprehensive Profession, 5th edition, 2004, Merrill Prentice Hall.
Hawkings, Caroline, Dual Diagnosis: Developing a Practical Toolkit, . Brighton: Jun 2005.Vol.10, Iss. 2;  pg. 15, 4 pgs, 1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=11414 48865&clientId=46656

Libby, Anne M.& Riggs. Paula D., Integrated Substance Use and Mental Health Treatment for Adolescents: Aligning Organizational and Financial Incentives, Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. New York: Nov 2005. Vol. 15, Iss. 5; p. 826, &Fmt=6&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=114144 8713&clientId=46656

(NMHA) National Mental Health Association, Mental Health Resource Center , Substance Abuse – Dual Diagnosis, Fact sheet index,
Walsh, Yvonne & Frankland, Alan, June 2005. The Mental Health Review. Brighton: Jun 2005.Vol.10, Iss. 2;  pg. 7, 8 pgs, 1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=11414 48865&clientId=46656#fulltext

Creativity and Depression: Is there a Link?


Healing the ties that bind us… through art.


This past week two friends ended their own lives. It’s on my mind. I am trying to make sense of a senseless act, while fully (perhaps jarringly so) understanding the feelings that can lead to this decision. I wonder if there is a link between creativity (those actually actively participating, not just passively imagining), and suicide. So here are my thoughts.

Aristotle said, “There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.” It has long been observed that creative artists and writers seem to have a high prevalence of depression and alcoholism. Depression has afflicted writers almost twice as often as those with other high creative achievements. (Post, p1) However, psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison writes, “To assume, then, that such diseases usually promote artistic talent wrongly reinforces simplistic notions of the ‘mad genius.’ But, it seems that these diseases can sometimes enhance or otherwise contribute to creativity in some people.” Writing is an important outlet for creative people who suffer from depression, alcoholism and other types of mental illness. Whichever comes first, the “dis-ease” or the creativity, there is a consistent link in the two in many creative writers. This is shown dramatically in the life and works of Dylan Thomas, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Tennessee Williams.

Are creative genius and mental disease related? Simonton, Ph.D. of the psychiatric Times says, “The idea that creativity and psychopathology are somehow linked goes way back to antiquity – to the time of Aristotle.” Goertzel of the Post appears to agree, saying, “Depression seems to be the most common symptom [among creative artists], along with the correlates of alcoholism and suicide.” Reports state that “rates of … psychopathological symptoms appear to be higher among eminent creators than in the general population. (Ellis, 1926; Raskin, 1936 from Simonton, Ph.D.) “Even though there is some evidence that the lifestyle of creative activity can have adverse consequences for mental health (Schaller, 1997 from Simonton, Ph.D.) it remains the case that there may be a common genetic component to both creativity and psychopathology. (Ludwig, 1995 from Simonton, Ph.D.)

Arnold M. Ludwig, a retired professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. is well respected in the field of study of depression among creative artists. He looked at more than 1,000 famous artists in eight creative-arts professions and 10 other professions. “He concluded that psychiatric disturbances were much more common among the artists. Dr. Ludwig found that roughly 20 percent of eminent poets had committed suicide, compared with a suicide rate of 4 percent for all the professions he examined. The suicide rate in the general United States population is around 1 percent, he said.” (Lee)

Although there is a disagreement about the conclusion, the data suggests a connection between creativity and madness. Research from Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched with Fire”, illustrates an interesting paradox: “Creative people need intense emotions to inspire their work and madness comes in part from emotional instability”, which are manifested by intense emotions. It is in this example that it becomes clear that a relationship exists between art and “madness”. The “madness” can be expressed through various symptoms including alcoholism, mental illness in particular depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide.

Alcoholism seemed to be a greater problem for 20th century American writers. Shelley Widhalm of The Washington Times writes about high incidents of alcoholism in writers including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, Thomas Woolfe, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Hunter S. Thompson and Edgar Allan Poe. Writers who committed suicide are Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemmingway, Jack London, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Virginia Woolf.

Higher rates of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, among creative writers have been noted. Writers with depressive disorders (I am listing only those included in our assigned reading) include Dylan Thomas (died of alcoholism), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (Hospitalized for post partum depression), Edgar Allan Poe (suicide attempts), Emily Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, (hospitalized for depression, alcoholism and drug addiction), William Faulkner, (hospitalized for depression and alcohol abuse), Theodore Roethke, (hospitalized), William Blake, Lord Byron (AKA George Gordon), Percy Bysshe Shelley (suicide attempt), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, TS Eliot (hospitalized), and Henrik Ibsen.

There seems to be a relationship between bipolar disorder and alcoholism among writers, perhaps as writers attempt to “self medicate” with alcohol. Writers may drink because when they are depressed they cannot get themselves to do their work and when the are manic they can’t harness their writing. Alcohol can be used to either stimulate the flow of ideas or to calm the writers enough to produce.

In addition to drinking and using drugs to excess, individuals with depressive and manic-depressive illness are also far more likely to commit suicide than individuals in any other psychiatric or medical risk group (Jamison pg. 41) A recent review of 35 studies found that on average one-fifth of manic-depressive patients die by suicide. The list includes many more prominent and famous writers and poets not mentioned above.

Focusing on four of my favorite writers from this course, I noticed the common thread in all is depression. Three of the writers used alcohol to attempt to control their malady and the same three used some form of drugs to attempt to find relief. All except Charlotte Perkins Gilman seemed to experience a life long recurrence of depression and each was in some fashion responsible for their own death.

Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, West Glamorgan, in Wales. He was a neurotic, sickly child and had little formal education. He acquired his love of words and rthyme from his father, a Literature teacher. He was quoting poetry by age five and published his own works by age twelve. He married Caitlin Macnamara and settled at Laugharne in Wales. The marriage was stormy. By the thirties Thomas had gained some notoriety from his poetry, radio shows, readings and unfortunately, his flamboyant bouts with alcohol. His depression had become quite intense and he teetered between insecurity of losing everything, and arrogant confidence. In 1947, Thomas suffered a mental breakdown, and moved to Oxford. Due to intense financial pressures he signed on to several tours, including the famous American tour. “The tours were financially profitable and he met such celebrities as Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. At Chaplin’s, he was seen urinating on a plant.” (Thomas) Thomas’ father died in 1952. Thomas was at his bedside and wrote his most famous work “Do Not Go Gentle” to his father, urging him to fight death. Losing his father proved too much for Dylan as he didn’t live another full year past his father’s burial. Tragically, Thomas died at age 39, after a particularly hard bout of drinking, at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Even though Thomas was clearly alcoholic in his drinking, an autopsy performed after his death revealed that he did not suffer from serious cirrhosis of the liver. Technically this was not a suicide, but it is clear that his death was a direct result from his alcoholic behavior.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the only case that doesn’t seem to be a long-term depression. From all the data available, it appears that she was thrown into a prolonged post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter in 1885. She attempted to care for her child but sank deeper and deeper into a dark despair. By her own account, “For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia – and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went … to a noted specialist in nervous diseases… This wise man … put me to bed and applied the rest cure … saying… “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as I lived. I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.” Finally with the help of a dear friend and following her own instincts, she went against the doctor’s orders and went back to work, pursuing her writing with a vengeance. She found her own cure in her work and as a warning to other women, she wrote a fictionalized version of her depression in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. She lived many happy years, marrying twice. The more she stood up for her own needs, the healthier she felt. She wrote extensively, always defending women’s rights. In 1934 Charlotte’s dear husband died and she was living with breast cancer. In 1935 she made the choice to end her suffering by killing herself with chloroform saying, “I have preferred chloroform to cancer” (Kessler, 1995, p40 from Beekman)

Edgar Allan Poe was clinically depressed and perhaps worse, insane. “The depression and madness Poe experienced was thought to be the cause of his addiction to alcohol and drugs.” (Black.) Poe was also known to have a brain lesion and heart trouble, which could have contributed, to his mental state. Poe was not ill all his life, but seemed to develop problems in his mid-twenties. The depression is evident in the letter he wrote to Mr. White “Ill health alone prevented me from [writing]… I was so ill as to be hardly able to see the paper on which I wrote” (Woodberry 71- Black). He attempted to self medicate with alcohol and drugs, but his system couldn’t withstand the abuse. He grew worse, with depression , alcoholism drug addition and brain and heart dysfunction which lead to his apparent madness. In a letter to Mr. Kennedy he wrote saying, “I am suffering under a depression of spirits, such as I have never felt before.” (Woodberry 76- Black.) He became addicted to opium, laudanum and morphine, presumably to deal with the pain from his brain lesion. During these period Poe would fluctuate between periods of intense work and absolute collapse. Clearly his work was brilliant, but at what cost? Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery. He disappeared in between the dates of September 29, 1949 until he was found October 3, 1849. He was found half-conscious, terminally ill, drunk and feverish and died on Sunday, October 7, 1849. It is not officially know how he died, but speculation says that it was as a result of his depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and perhaps a brain disease, which resulted in a fever. His last words were, “Lord, help my poor soul” (Mankowitz 242 from Black 2.)

Finally, Tennessee Williams, born Thomas Williams, was one of the great American Playwrights. He put himself through school, finally graduating when he was 27 from the University of Iowa. Williams used his own experiences in his plays, often writing about alcoholism, homosexuality and drugs. He often fought deep depression, which led to his dependency on alcohol and amphetamines. He wrote candidly about how his illness manifested itself in his writing process in the foreword of Camino Real, 1953 saying, “It is amazing and frightening how completely one’s whole being becomes absorbed in the making of a play. It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses.” In the 1960’s Williams’ life long companion died and he checked himself into a rehab program to detoxify from alcohol, amphetamines, and barbiturates. But the cure was not to last and he finally died of asphyxiation after a particularly heavy night of drinking on February 25, 1983.

It is clear that depression had an extremely destructive influence on each of these artists. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the lucky one to find a way out and live a relatively sane life. The others, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allen Poe, and Tennessee Williams are more indicative of the course that untreated depression in artist will follow. It is also clear that throughout all the pain that was endured by these artists, a great deal of work was put out.

So, which came first, the depression or the creativity? The evidence suggests that in most cases the dis-ease was present early in life, which led each person on a quest for an outlet or voice. Even in Ms. Gilman’s post partum depression, her creativity seemed to be triggered by her several year bout with depression. In most cases this creative outlet most likely prolonged what otherwise may have been an even earlier demise. But evidence also exists to suggests that the creative outlet of writing in itself led to an even deeper spiral toward an eventual path of destruction. Whichever is the truth, it is undeniable that, at least in these four great writers’ lives, the link between mental illness and creativity is clear.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Bate, Jonathan, A writer? You must be out of your mind, The Times (London), March 26, 2005, Saturday, Features; Weekend Review 6, 1426 words, Jonathan Bate

Black, Jamee A, How Did Poe Survive for Forty Years?,

Gayford, Martin, May 27, 2005, INVESTIGATION – Mad genius; Martin Gayford examines the extraordinary lives and deaths of great artists and suggests that there is a link between manic depression and creativity, The Spectator, May 28, 2005, Pg. 36 37 38, 3021 words, Martin Gayford

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, , first published in the October, 1913 issue of The Forerunner,

Hatfield, Julie, Globe Correspondent, Boston Globe. Boston, Mass, Apr 13, 2004. Pg E7,

Jamison, Kay Redfield : Touched With Fire; Manic-Depressive Ilness and the Artistic Temperament, Free Press Paperback, copyright 1993
Lee, Felicia R., Going Early Into That Good Night – Study Shows That Poets Tend to Die Younger Than Other Writers, Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Arts & Ideas, of Saturday, April 24, 2004,

Simonton, Dean Keith, Ph.D., Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question, Psychiatric Times, June 1, 2005, SPECIAL REPORT CREATIVITY AND PSYCHIATRY; Pg. 21, 2915 words, Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D.

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Widhalm, Shelley, Madness to their method, The Washington Times, April 13, 2005 Wednesday, NATION; CULTURE, ET CETERA; Pg. A02, 825 words, By Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES