Throughout Philip Roth’s Nemesis, we can see the main protagonist, Bucky, constantly putting more and more responsibilities on himself even if he shouldn’t be the one to bear the burden. After knowing that he “might be” the cause of the contagion (not even definite about the exact source of contagion), he holds himself accountable for the whole polio epidemic among the children of the Weequahic section and the children of the Camp Indian Hill and deprives himself of all the joyful events in his life.
“The only way to save a remnant of his honor was in denying himself everything he had ever wanted for himself.” (262)
Though we may never know the true source of contagion among the children of the Weequahic section and the children of the Camp Indian Hill, let’s suppose, just suppose, that Bucky is the source that spreads polio. In this case, should he be blamed for the contagion even if he is a good-willed man, a decent, responsible man only hopes and attempts to help all the children to be healthy?
This reminds me of the two competing systems of ethics, namely, deontology and utilitarianism. Deontology is concerned with whether an act is intrinsically right or wrong, while utilitarianism believes that only the consequences of an act are important. Deontology deals with intentions and motives while utilitarianism focuses only on results.
What do you think in this case? Should he be blamed?
“should he be blamed for the contagion even if he is a good-willed man, a decent, responsible man only hopes and attempts to help all the children to be healthy?”
Bucky shouldn’t be blamed for the disease. In pages 14-16, he worked to protect the children from the spread of polio by asking the Italian boys to leave the playground.
“Look, polio is not a joke. And there’s a law against being a public nuisance. I don’t want to have to call the police. How about leaving on your own, before I get the cops to escort you out of here?” (14).
I think that there is a great similarity between Nemesis and Ghosts when placing a burden on someone the majority believe to be responsible. In Nemesis, Bucky is considered to be the cause of spreading the Polio, although no one is really sure if he actually is. They cannot accurately prove that he is the cause nor can they prove that he isn’t. There is just a lack of knowledge that doesn’t allow anyone to claim that Bucky is the cause for the spread. In comparison, in Ghosts, Oswald is said to have inherited syphilis from his father. Thus, all those who know of Oswald’s disease place the burden on Mr Alving, even though syphilis is inherited from the mother not the father. In the case of Ghosts, this burden-placing is due to the lack of knowledge of science.