Escape from the Truth

In Never Let Me Go, the characters undergo a constant struggle in the process of identifying who they really are. From the behavior and thoughts of the characters, the readers can sense a note of ambivalence: they would like to stay ignorant of their fates, but external forces are always trying to push them to find out more – Madame’s fear, Ruth’s possible, rumor about deferral – these events gradually reveal what is ahead of them and lead them closer and closer to the truth.

According to Kathy’s story, the characters enjoy being ignorant of their future. Kathy shows deep nostalgia to the short interval of leaving Hailsham and becoming donors and carers: “[I]t was possible to forget for whole stretches of time who we really were…we somehow managed to live in this cosy state of suspension in which we could ponder our lives without the usual boundaries” (142). Being ignorant of their future is “a cosy state”: procrastinating on knowing her fate relieves her anxiety and her doubts. It is a great time that everyone can freely picture the countless possibilities in their future. One can be a firefighter or an office receptionist, and all of the imagination will be long gone once the characters become carers and donors.

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Therefore, it is surprisingly common for the characters to stay silent and pretend they are ignorant when they are close to find out what their future is. When they first notice that veterans are leaving to take “courses” that they clearly know “have to do with becoming carers”, the “big hush” and the “understanding” that not to refer to the trips show the reluctance of the characters to confront the purpose of their creation (132). According to Kathy, it is “a territory [they] didn’t want to enter” (139). Also, before the five start on the journey to find Ruth’s possible, Ruth flinches when she is so close to find out her model. She acts as if the car crisis is seriously jeopardizing the trip – “it looked like the trip might have to be called off” – but actually this is Ruth trying to evade it (146). People all have the experience of putting off chores with ridiculous excuses such as not having the favorite cleaning cloth, and similarly, Ruth is using the car crisis to put off what she finds unpleasant and in this case, somewhat intimidating: finding out her model, which indicates her pre-determined identity and future.

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Some may argue that the pretended ignorance is nothing more than burying their heads in the sand, but psychologically speaking, it is the characters’ coping mechanism. Staying ignorance, even pretending to be ignorant means an extra day of carefree, happy time for them. They have an obscure concept of what is ahead of them, and they subconsciously find it unpleasant. Therefore, they don’t ask questions and they do what they can to hide from the truth: if the ugly fact has to be confronted one day, why not just wait until the day come? The characters behaviors and thoughts speak to the reader that, for them, ignorance is bliss.

Returning to a Child

I fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet, in my nightgown, go to the window, like a child, I want to see. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow. The sky is clear but hard to make out, because of the searchlight; but yes, in the obscured sky a moon does float, a newly, a wishing moon, a silver of ancient rock, a goddess, a wink. The moon is a stone and the sky is full of deadly hardware, but oh God, how beautiful anyway. (Atwood 97)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are no more than reproductive machines and only viewed as substitutable properties of the Commander. However, through this passage, the readers can know more about the inner self of Offred and her deep cravings. Through portraying Offred’s actions and the view she sees from her perspective, this passage sheds more light on Offred’s psychological status and the derived desires which are unfortunately suppressed by the society, and it leads to a better understanding of the narration style of the novel and the humanization of the handmaids.

Firstly, the depiction of Offred’s actions suggests her return to a more original, child-like mental stage. In the first sentence, Offred employs short, repetitive structure and simple verbal use which resembles the talking of a young kid. She expresses her thoughts plainly and directly: “I want to see.” Offred thinks like a child and therefore she talks like a child, without cautiousness she presents when talking with Serena or the Marthas. Moreover, the actions “fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet” imply more about Offred’s retrogression. The sheet symbolizes the chain the society of Gilead imposed on her: she is caged and fed in this room, and she even has a bathing schedule like an animal does. Everything in this room is a restraint, and as she goes “bare feet” and looks out of the window, she is casting the superficial limitations way, facing who she really is and what she really wants.

And how Offred sees the view “as a child” reveals more on the two questions above, and the readers can reach the deepest part of her heart through these lines. The image of the moon has been presented to the readers before, as in chapter 13 when Offred describes how she is totally determined by her uterus: “every month there is a moon, gigantic, round, heavy, an omen.” The round moon signifies the failure of conception and the despair following it, and the new moon here must stand for the opposite – it is “a wishing moon,” a moon that brings her hope, which “does float” in spite of the obscured sky; it is the moon that brings the beauty of the world and shows her the bright side even though it is actually lifeless and cold, which she refers to as a “deadly hardware.” More importantly, the metaphor of “a wink” corresponds to the wink that Nicks gave her on the driveway of the Commander’s house. The shape of the moon reminds her of the attention she gets as a real, living being, and it is an indication of the fact that she craves love from others as much as she craves hope and beauty. This explains why Offred always has flashbacks from the past: her mother, her daughter, Luke, and Moira satisfy her needs for love and care, which are nonexistent in her new life. She wants to be a child, and she wants to be loved, nurtured and protected. She wants to escape from all the coldness, the worrying in life and she needs hope as every human being does. Offred has to partially live in the past to meet those human needs, and this is the main reason why these characters are making such frequent appearances even though they are not a part of her new life of being a machine and a property of the Commander.

Texas Women’s History: What Does Diversity Mean to the Medical Field?

Our project is based on materials from Texas Women’s History archive, which includes interviews of women medical practitioners in Texas Medical Center. The two female doctors we have chosen to research more deeply upon are Dr. Lu Ann Aday, an epidemiologist and an expert in health policy born and raised in Texas, and Dr. Ritsu Komaki, a Japanese woman who now works as a radiation oncologist in MD Anderson. We are studying what benefit diversity in ethnicity and background can bring to the medical field, and how access to healthcare in terms of education and treatments varies across national borders.

 

 

Our targeted audiences are admission officers of medical schools, college administrators, and minority undergraduates who want to pursue a medical career. Our research in the benefit minority groups brings to healthcare appeals to our audience in different ways: medical schools need to know the positive impact of having doctors with different backgrounds; college administrators can have more insights in providing more opportunities for underrepresented student groups; the minority pre-med students can have a better understanding of the distinct value in their international perspectives and unique personal experiences and the fact that they can be as competitive and successful as any others in medicine. Moreover, our analysis on Dr. Lu Ann Aday’s research in healthcare access and Dr. Ritsu Komaki’s international background in medicine carries weight because these are the problems that the future doctors need to address, and they are the answer to why we need a diversity of medical personnel. Both medical schools and pre-med students care about the career outlook and how doctors from different backgrounds can contribute.

In order to effectively reach our audience and achieve our goals of informing them the impact of diversity in healthcare, we will build a website which is most accessible to our audience and centralizes all resources and our findings. We will put up a video on the homepage, which features our takeaways from this research project – Ariana and I are planning on entering the healthcare field, and we both fit the bill of minorities in this industry: she is Hispanic and I’m an international student. We will basically summarize the whole project and talk about how it inspires us, and the visitors can reach the core of this research through the video very quickly. We will also create three different types of flyers that focus on the questions that different audience groups care most about, and lead them to the right location of the website where they can find the answer.

women-in-science-3-e1430588224659To make this project more comprehensive and effective, we will firstly conduct research on how are different genders and ethnic groups represented in the US medical field currently, gathering data such as medical school admission statistics. This will help us better understand the current situation and reach more accurate conclusions. Additionally, we will reach out to Rice administrators and ask about how they see the importance of diversity in STEM subjects or healthcare, and we will conduct a survey on how confident Rice pre-meds feel as a medical school applicant in terms of their gender, ethnicity, and background. Ultimately, our project is aimed to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in medical practitioners and its positive effect on healthcare and to better inform and inspire our audience.

Total War Might Not Save the World

If I were a head of state, I would definitely have voted against the US President’s proposal in the Honolulu Conference. With every single concern from the aspects of ethics and tactics, waging a total war against the undead is clearly not a cost-efficient decision, which can give rise to serious social ramifications in the post-war era.

First and foremost, the president’s argument and the proposal he brought up contradicts each other from an ethical standpoint, judging from his interpretation of “human spirit”. He believes that without the support of “the human spirit”, we can never build a real future. We need to prove that we are capable of being offensive as the dominant life-form on earth, and rid ourselves of anxiety and self-doubt thus: “we had to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and leave that proof as the war’s greatest monument.” (267) The reclamation of the planet represents reclamation of our dignity as humans – the confidence and power lost in the year-long defensive strategies. I agree on the importance of “human spirit”, as the greatest difference between humans and the zombies is the ability to feel, reason and think, and these are the qualities that set us apart from any other species and make us superior. However, it should encompass much more than our pride as an intelligent and rational being: how about empathy and compassion to other members of the same species? “I’ll only be sending others out to die, and here’s what I’d be sending them up against…Two hundred million zombies…a very gloomy prospect for victory.” (271) At the very moment of time, nobody knows how long the war will last, or whether the human beings can survive or not. But we know that we are outnumbered by far, and we can’t take responsibility for the future of the country when we can’t even take responsibility for the safety of the ones who serve their country with their lives. When the cold, hard facts of the zombies are presented – “…all the experience, all the data we’d compiled on their origin, their physiology, their strengths, their weaknesses, their motives, and their mentality” (271) – I can’t help thinking, is sending young soldiers to a fully committed, all in total war that we have little hope to win a part of “human spirit”? Are they sent out only to prove that the abstract notion of “human spirit” still exists, as it will be “the greatest monument”? Are we trying to save the humanity by diminishing humanity? With all the information given at that point, I cannot reason my way to justify this act, which is basically slaying humans for the sake of humanity.

When we think about this plan from a tactical standpoint, it still cannot offer a promising outlook for us or the next generations. Different from that in a conventional war, our enemy grows as we lose our fighters. “Infect a human, he becomes a zombie. Kill a zombie, he becomes a corpse. We could only get weaker, while they might actually get stronger.” (272) One may argue with this statement with the presence of science and technology, but the saddening fact is, “we weren’t mechanized anymore” (273). We can see the aftermath in China. The huge population was once the origin of the military’s confidence, but it was actually the Achilles’ heel and “the most populous nation on earth … [is] fatally outnumbered”, as “every dead soldier was now a live zombie”(235). When we are sending soldiers to the battlefield with an unreliable supply of ammunition and all the speculations and uncertainty, we are actually sending ourselves to the end. The situation will only worsen unless there are a deliberated plan and a steady supply of goods and materials. But I can’t see either of them at the Honolulu Conference.

We cannot simply rely on unrealistic optimism or a vehement speech when making this life or death decision for the entire human race. Being defensive doesn’t necessarily mean being a coward, and being offensive doesn’t necessarily represent valor. We need to calculate meticulously and use our best judgement, and there must be a better way other than a total war to end this nightmare.

Humanity in the War

This is the paragraph where Ajay Shah recounted his alarmingly dangerous experience to finally board a ship for a survival chance, no matter how slim, at the vast sea. It has a conversational tone with strong emotions and sheer contrast in tension between the beginning and the end of this paragraph.

Just as I slipped below the surface, I felt a powerful arm wrap around my chest. This is it, I thought; any second, I thought I would feel teeth dig into my flesh. Instead of pulling me down, the arm hauled me back up to the surface. I ended up aboard the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, an ex-Canadian Coast Guard cutter. I tried to talk, to apologize for not having any money, to explain that I could work for my passage, do anything they needed. The crewman just smiled, “Hold on,” he said to me, “we’re about to get under way.” I could feel the deck vibrate then lurch as we moved. (73, World War Z)

I love the use of “slipped” in the beginning sentence. It not only refers to the fact that Ajay lost his balance and footing, but also that he was sinking without attracting anyone else’s attention – like sands slip away. No one noticed him, and therefore no one was coming to him except for those blood-craving ghouls under the water. The repetition of “I thought” is an indication of how overwhelmed and horrified Ajay was, by the expectations of what would come next. The image of “teeth digging into my flesh” fully occupied his mind, but it ends right there. There are not further descriptions of the pain and struggling inflicted when attacked by a zombie. Maybe Ajay was too afraid to imagine or elaborate on that possibility, or maybe he was just too tired – he had an extremely long day on the fine line between life and death, and he didn’t even try to fight back when the arm wrapped around him. More importantly, the repetition of “I think” places the emphasis on dramatizing the situational irony here – readers all know that he survived, and what happened next is definitely different from what was expected.

 

The arm actually “hauled him up” instead of “pulling him down”. The antithesis here creates a light and quick rhythm, corresponding to the joy of being saved and given a chance of survival after all the suffering, both mental and physical. But Ajay realized he didn’t have anything to pay back, so he tried “to talk”, “to apologize”, and “to explain”. The paralleled structure builds up the tension again, and the phrases grow longer and longer in this sentence, as they show how urgent Ajay was begging the rescuer: he was trying to be more persuasive, show what he can offer, and the use of “any”, “anything” in this line demonstrates the desperation.

And here comes the word that only showed up once in this book so far: smile. It’s absolutely stunning. World War Z is brutal and this entire book is about death, pain, struggle, and helplessness, and a smile is so rare and precious among this negativity. The crewman didn’t ask for anything, but offered a soothing smile to Ajay – it is in sheer contrast with the intensity in the previous lines, and it is the shine of humanity. There is hope because there are selfless people who offer help and unite the rest of us, even though we don’t know his name. Finally, the cutter lurched as it started to move, and it is a figuration of the unknown that Ajay was about to face: unsteady, uncertain and uncontrolled, but he had someone on his side.

A Talk with the History of Medicine

I had never been to an archive before last Thursday, and I was preoccupied by the impression that archives were too serious to be accessible – it should be like a combination of a library and a museum, with all the precious old books, glass covers, and signs say “no photographs, no touching”. And to be honest, I’m not a big fan of museums, as they are seldom engaging. The exhibits are so carefully protected, and only the introductions nearby are interacting with me.

But Sandra from the McGovern Historical Center gave me a whole different view. Archives are for unpublished and original work, and more importantly, the works are in many different formats: video tapes, graphs, books and diaries are all included in the McGovern Center. To my biggest surprise, we can touch the exhibits, flip through the pages of books and bulletins, and actually feel the history of medicine at our fingertips. Sandra showed us a surgical kit used in the mid-1800s, before the germ theory of disease even existed. The instruments had very little similarity to the ones we see today, as they looked more of like screws and saws to me which don’t have much exquisite precision. Sandra brought up an interesting point that the handles were all wooden, which means that blood could sip into the cleavages and bred bacteria and germs.

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Surgical Kit, circa 1850-1880

Right next to the kit is a human anatomy book in Germen. Even though I barely know German, neither anatomy, I could know from common sense that the Germen doctors had already obtained a good knowledge of human bodies in the 17th century. Frankly speaking, I think that this diagram is very successful in showing the sizes and shapes of different organs and the entire skeleton with such limited technology. More specifically, the pancreas depicted in this book is consistent with the findings of modern medicine, and the cross section diagram on the right even demonstrates the interior vessels of pancreas.

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By Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680)

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By Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680)

532532097694092055I was astonished by this book, as it turned out that the start of medicine can be traced back at least to the beginning of the 1600s, which is much earlier than I first expected. However, the surgical kit that I viewed as primitive existed 200 years after this anatomy work, so what did the Germen doctors use to perform surgery on patients? It made me ponder on the question that, how many failed cases had there been before the scientists found out the mysteries of human bodies and presented their work in this book? How many patients had died in sheer desperation before modern medicine matured and made us strong enough to fight off smallpox and anthrax?

That was the point that I realized that there were so many cruel and bloody failures behind the progresses of science. Then I saw a manual of surgical instruments in 1900s, with the glow of the stainless steel shining through the fraying pages. I felt so glad but at the same time so sorry, but I couldn’t explicate. I finally walked out of the McGovern Center, with my mind filled up with the deep conversation I just had with the history itself, as well as the passion to explore more of human bodies, diseases and health.

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Cary’s Illustrated and Priced Catalogue: Surgical Instruments, Physicians, Hospital Supplies, and Furnishings, Drugist Sundries, etc. 1894

What is Public Health?

I see public health not as merely as a subject that studies how promote the well-being of populations, but one that has so large a scope that can make use of every piece of human knowledge to solve complex health-related problems.

As a Chinese, I’m glad to see that my motherland is now an expanding world power, but the public healthcare of its citizens is still concerning. Born with a sweet tooth, I’m a frequent visitor to the dentist’s and always suffer from the fear of the dental drill. But the hardest part was that I had to arrive at the registry as early as 6:30 in the morning and waited three hours to receive treatment. Patients crowded the waiting hall and seats are hardly available.

I’ve witnessed how trust and respects towards doctors are plagued by high costs and long waits in China. News about violent attacks against medical professionals flooded every possible web page. It’s because the public couldn’t find a way to voice their opinions to government but they had to vent their anger. The vicious cycle started as less and less undergraduate students choose to pursue a medicine major and the shortage of medical practitioners continued to drive medical expenditures up.

However, the expenses are relatively cheap compared to those of the US citizens, and it’s definitely easier to see a doctor in China since there’s no appointment needed. Why are people still unsatisfied? Is there anything wrong with the social medical insurance policy? What can the government do to increase the number of medical doctors? When I’m pondering on these questions, I realized that public health is not only about distributing condoms and giving vaccinations, but a much more complicated field in which different subjects such as economics, demography, culture studies and public policy come cross and intertwine, trying to make healthcare and well-being possible, accessible and affordable for every citizen. Yes, curative medicine is the key that can facilitate us to achieve “health”, but not “public health”. Unlike science, there are not certain, quantitative answers or even existing theories that can help me answer those three questions I raised. The field of public health is so pivotal to us since its significance is already embodied in our everyday life. For example, in the context of my previous experience, we need doctors to be reachable and we need public health leaders to address the inefficiency between the demand and supply. Even if one argues that we don’t meet with doctors on a day-to-day basis, but other than biosciences, sewage treatment, custom inspection, and nutrition all are indispensable contributors to our well-being and they are different dimensions of the field of public health. We are sometimes oblivious of them, but we cannot deny the value of their existence.