Monday, December 21, 2009


I would love to find a history, or even a list, of novels, short stories etc with mentally ill protagonists. Such a history would trace the changing ways the mentally ill have been portrayed and the ways such portrayals reflect the ideas current at the time. One of my favorites was Frank Norris' McTeague, where, as I recall, the protagonist commits senseless violence and is described as an instance of hereditary degeneration. Now we have John Wray's Lowboy, where the protagonist is a sixteen year-old schizophrenic boy know as "Lowboy." Lowboy is a Holden Caulfield type character whose quest to lose his virginity is shown as refracted through his delusions. While the depiction of Lowboy seems true to what one might read in twenty-first century textbooks, it seemed that the author was taking advantage of contemporary fascination with psychotic people "off their meds" and roaming the streets, or in this case haunting the New York subway system. I couldn't help feeling that it was the latest edition to a genre that I might call "madsploitation."

1 comment:

  1. Two 19th-century works are Lenz (by Buchner) and The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. The Wikipedia article on the latter narrative is good.