Author: lik216


So. That was a very fitting conclusion to a very enjoyable class. It seemed as if Contagion touched on various themes we had discussed regarding other texts. While watching what I thought was an excellent movie (thanks in large part to the acting. What a cast!) I couldn’t help but wonder whether Soderbergh’s depiction of pandemic was accurate or not. Indeed it is a fair assumption to make that certain aspects of pandemic and the nature of viruses were exaggerated in order to create drama. This article looks into the degree of realism in Contagion. The procedures taken by officials and the questions left unanswered make the film, according to the article, slightly inaccurate. 

This article by NPR discusses the real-world case of Ebola in terms of the film. They make a good point by saying the grim reality of Ebola is nothing compared to the highly dramatised image we get of MEV-1, the seemingly indestructible virus which spreads like “wildfire”. Thus people might be inclined to regard Ebola as a disease similar to the one in Contagion. This is a dangerous comparison to make in a world where the threat of pandemic is ever-present.

Finally, a bit of trivia: Consultant Dr. Ian Lipkin – professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health – said the virus in the film is one he created based on some traits of the Nipah virus from Malaysia in the late 1990s which spread from pigs to farmers. (IMDB)

Hope everyone has a good winter break!


Fact or Fiction?

Philip Roth, the author of Nemesis, is a native of Weequahic, Newark. Presumably, Roth based the description of the playground on his own experiences as a child in Weequahic. The fact that the author is extremely familiar with the setting of the novel invites us to question the truth behind the events of the novel. According to this article there was no Polio outbreak in Newark during 1944. There were however, outbreaks of Polio prior to and after the year of 1944. In 1916 “fewer than 2000 children contracted the disease”. Futhermore, Polio struck Newark again in 1952 when approximately 3000 people died as a result of the disease. It seems as if Roth was interested in writing about a fictional outbreak during the second world war. The contrast between a war in Europe and a war on the home-front (against Polio) is key to the novel and ties into Bucky’s thoughts regarding fate and God.

Furthermore, the article mentioned also looks into the possibility that Bucky Cantor is in fact based on an actual Bucky Harris (a gym teacher in Philip Roth’s childhood school). Apparently Philip Roth has a tendency to base characters in his novels on actual people in his life. In an interview, however, Philip Roth dispels this possibility, stating it was a mere coincidence. Bucky was, according to Roth, the product of his imagination and represented the stereotypical American hero. One a completely unrelated note, could it be possible that Bucky is based off Bucky, the sidekick to Captain America? Although this is a stretch of the imagination it is interesting to consider the implications.

It was discussed at some point if Roosevelt, arguably Polio’s most famous survivor, actually had the disease. While Roosevelt did contract a paralytic disease it is debated whether or not it was actually Poliomyelitis or another very similar disease, Guillain–Barré syndrome. It is interesting to consider the fact that the man who essentially led the American war effort during the Second World War suffered from a paralytic disease. Yet again we see connections being drawn between the struggle against the Germans and the struggle against the disease. Are they two different struggles?




Ghosts and hallucinations are a recurring feature of the play. We see that Harper becomes slightly deranged (most probably as a result of her excessive pill-taking), developing an imaginary friend named “Mr. Lies” and becoming convinced that there are men with knives lurking in the shadows. Her hallucinations progress to the point where she is convinced she has travelled to Antarctica via her fridge.
Prior Walter is also subject to various apparitions (most likely due to his sickly state and the consequent medication he is placed on). Prior is visited by two Prior Walters of the past. Furthermore, he begins hearing a certain the voice of an angel and witnesses the gradual breakdown of reality around him. One should note that the “hallucinations” he has are often linked to heaven and the impending descent of the angel.
Roy is the third character that goes through a hallucination of sorts. Similar to Prior Walter, Roy sees a ghost. In his case he encounters the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg; an American citizen who, along with her husband Julius, was sentenced to death in 1953 for committing espionage by attempting to leak information regarding the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. It is made apparent that Roy had a decisive role in convicting Ethel and sentencing her to death.

In examining the role of apparition in Angels of America it is important to note the one commonality between those that are subject to the appearances of ghosts or members of the “International Order of Travel Agents”. The one factor that ties these characters together is sickness and, perhaps more importantly, the consequent medication they are prescribed. Realising that each of these characters are fairly sick, one is inclined to attribute their tendency to encounter “ghosts” to their general delirium (as a result of their illness or medication).
However, could we be too hasty and unimaginative in tying the hallucinations to sickness? The apparitions obviously hold significance. Could the world of Mr. Lies, the Angel, the prior Prior Walters, and Ethel Rosenberg symbolise a single, alternate universe? Are these ghosts “real” in the sense that they aren’t merely the product of sickness and heavy medication? The scene with Ethel Rosenberg and Roy is oddly similar to scenes in A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge is forced to confront his past. In depicting the appearance of these ghosts, Kushner is effectively blurring the line between the real and the not.


Ghosts and Inheritance

 “The Sins of the Father”

In class we touched upon the way in which inheritance plays a significant role in the play. Oswald inherits both syphilis from his father (although technically not possible) and his sexual deviousness. Pastor Manders notes that Oswald resembles his father as he descends the stairs, smoking his father’s pipe. In effect, Oswald has inherited the “sins of his father”.

In referring to his physician’s words regarding his affliction Oswald also mentions:

OSWALD. He said, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.” (2.270) 

The idea that we inherit the sins of the fathers is very popular and appears in several other pieces of literature such as the Merchant of Venice:

Yes, truly, for look you, the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.

It’s interesting to note what other texts (film, literature, art) contain this idea of inheritance.


The Nature of Ghosts

What are the “ghosts” Mrs. Alving keeps referring to? Are they:

1) Traditions and values that are passed from one generation to the next. These conventions are represented as ghosts, haunting those trying to be part of a more progressive world.

2) The memories kept secret (i.e. the true nature of Mr. Alving).

There are other possible interpretation of ghosts in the play. Can the ghosts be somehow related to the role disease (Syphilis) plays?

This article titled Norse Trolls and Ghosts in Ibsen examine the role trolls and ghosts play not only in Ghosts but in other works as well.


On a side note, here is a scene from Almeida’s Theatre production of Ghosts. I thought it might be interesting to see how the words on the page translate to theatre. 







Trust me, I am a stranger

The previous conveners brought up the notion of altruism. In contrast, at the beginning of the second volume we are faced with questions of trust. The question of Steven’s faith in Mervyn and the validity of his story become more prevalent at the beginning of the second volume.

Dr. Stevens regularly emphasizes his unwavering faith in Mervyn’s character and the authenticity of his tale:

“His courage was the growth of benevolence and reason, and not the child of insensibility and the nursling of habit.” (p.167)

We see here that Stevens is very much attached to Mervyn as a heroic figure. Stevens also disregards the notion that people are defined by their social status, upbringing, gender, or race, making a point of saying that the Mervyn’s honesty was apparent through his demeanor (tone, gestures, “looks”):

“Mervyn is the index of an honest mind.” (p.175)

Steven’s fondness towards Mervyn develops to the point where he considers mentoring Arthur Mervyn in the skills of a physician (an idea that comes to fruition by the end of the novel, which is equally interesting considering his ambitions to run a hospital toward the end of the Vol.1):

“By residing with me… he would, in a few years, be fitted for the practice of physic.” (p.167)

This faith in Mervyn’s character translates into a general faith in his story, which, at times, can seem to be contrived. Volume 2 introduces the first, proper discussion and evaluation of the authenticity of Mervyn’s tale. Steven’s contemplations are summarized in the following lines:

“Surely the youth was honest. His tale could not be the fruit of invention; and yet, what are the bounds of fraud” (p.175)

We see throughout the first chapters of Volume 2 a confused Stevens consulting several people regarding Mervyn’s character in an attempt to ascertain the truth. His conversations with the Althorpes and Wortley reveal that there is more to Mervyn’s story than he originally thought. It should be noted, however, that even with this newfound knowledge regarding Mervyn’s story, Stevens remains relatively faithful to Mervyn:

“Suspicions have fixed themselves upon him, which allow him not the privilege of silence and obscurity.” (p.193)

Stevens still sides with Mervyn even when others begin to question his character and his story.

Why is Steven’s so faithful towards Arthur Mervyn and the authenticity of his story? Furthermore, why should we (the readers) believe any of what Mervyn recounts seeing as that, according to Stevens, honesty can only be determined by inspection of a person’s demeanor and body language? The questions brought up regarding Mervyn’s tale aren’t so directed at Stevens as they are directed at the reader. When Mervyn’s narrative resumes once more in chapter V, is the reader to assume what he says is true? Why does the author choose a relatively similar narrative structure the second time around (with Mervyn relaying what has happened to him)?


The previous group of conveners  brought up the role of women in Volume 1. It was suggested that women are portrayed as being key figures of power and, in some instances, determine the plot.

In Volume 2 does this trend continue? If so, how? Are they still portrayed as decision-makers?

We are introduced to several new characters (e.g. Mrs. Villars and Mrs. Althorpe) but also the course of the plot is, to a great degree, shaped by the desires and needs of these female characters. We witness several key events involving women such as Susan’s death, Mervyn’s compulsion to help Eliza, and the love that appears between Mervyn and Achsa. One could make the claim that in Volume 2, the desires of women drive the plot, since Mervyn’s actions are governed by the situations of various women (Eliza, Clemenza Lodi, and Achsa).


Do women act more as catalysts for the plot development in Vol.2? Why does Brockden Brown depict women in this way? Is this a counterbalance to the way women were depicted in the first volume? Or is it an expression of his own values regarding the role of women in society, perhaps influenced by his Quaker background? The previous post brought up similar questions and they are even more relevant to the second installment of Mervyn’s adventures.

PS.: Watch out for this guy!

Liam, Rafael, Vlad