"Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become." - Harding
More than any of the four books, this one approaches the issue of power head-on. Is the definition of "sanity" a function of power, with the largest group of people deciding how people can and cannot live? Cuckoo's Nest argues that this is often the case, as does this famous short poem "Much Madness is Divinest Sense" by American writer Emily Dickinson, whom we'll study this year. See if you can make a connection between the book and the poem. (Note: I added the quotes around 'Madness' and 'Sense' to make her sarcasm in the first two lines clear. Also, "assent" and "demur" mean "agree" and "disagree.")
Much 'Madness' is divinest Sense to a discerning Eye
Much 'Sense,' the starkest Madness - ’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail - Assent - and you are sane
Demur - you’re straightway dangerous - And handled with a Chain -
Harriet Ann Jacobs wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (under the pseudonym Linda Brent) to raise awareness about the experience of black women under slavery. Calling attention especially to the sexual abuse they faced, she hoped to shock average Americans into acknowledging the immortality and cruelty of the system. Even though it often reads like a novel, with the Flint slaveowners coming across as almost cartoonishly evil, it depicts the awful reality of life under total domination.
It's easy to congratulate ourselves for moving beyond slavery, but in what new forms do the racism, sexism, overpowering and violence we see in this story persist today? What is the value of reading a book like Incidents in the modern era? And how does it intersect with and inform our reading of the other novels in our summer reading assignment?
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"We've had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact.
But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you! While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate.
You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill your workspace with dangerous and unproven machines.
And all you had to say was NO."
Mr. Justin Biggs