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How Mental Illness Affected Characters English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1426 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Mental illness is something that has affected characters in several different forms of literature including films, novel and short stories. It grasps us, as we take interest in the thought processes and actions of people with mental illness. There are many different types of mental illness and each person is affected and deals with the disorder in different ways. Sometimes we learn that although mental illness is something that a person cannot help but live with but in some situations it is ones surroundings that could have an impact on the person. We help to learn that we can never fully understand the issues around mental illness because of how it affects each person differently. Questions that help us further, expand our understanding of mental illness in different texts is how the character copes with mental illness, how we as a audience are manipulated with our view on the character with mental illness, and how both the character is affected and how the character affects the society within the studied literature. Some literature used to show us the affects of mental illness on characters include: Of mice and men by John Steinbeck, The Soloist by Joe Wright and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

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When comparing all three pieces of literature we notice that there is always at least one sole character that is affected by the characters mental illness. When we look further into the studied texts we realise that the people affected are close to the main character. When we refer to ‘Of mice and men’ we see that Lenny affects George in the fact that George has to devote his time to keeping Lenny out of trouble and make sure that Lenny’s physical strength mixed with a child like mentality does not lead out of control. We see how much George cares for Lenny when the boss says to him: “Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy”. We later see that George portrays the father like figure by showing how Lenny needs guidance as he is mentally unstable and is guided by George. We also notice that Lenny’s child like mentality affects Georges temper and patience. In the film The Soloist we learn that Lopez, a journalist, and Ayers, a musician come from two completely different backgrounds. Lopez sees Ayers for who he really is. Lopez is affected by Ayers in the fact that he is able to show sympathy and relate to Ayers, we are shown this when Lopez says “I don’t want to give Nathaniel the idea that he’s cured or that I have any idea what’s in store for us tomorrow”. When analysing ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ we learn that the character affected most by Jenny’s mental illness is her husband. We see that the relationship between the characters are different too those in the other texts. Jenny’s husband devotes most of his time to her and has no time for himself. Jenny’s husband is constantly busy looking after her, We are shown how the mental illness of one person can lead to another person’s life being changed with all their time being spent on caring for someone they love.

Society mainly rules to have a negative effect on the characters mental illness. Although there are several aspects that have an influence the main issue is that of the setting. People in an everyday society do not have sympathy for a person with a mental illness and most often do not even know the person is affected by a mental disorder. When we refer to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ we learn that Jenny is looked after and not let out by the husband. The husband felt he was doing the right thing by keeping her locked in the house, mean while unaware it was driving Jenny mad. The setting of society also had an impact on how the person with mental illness was affected. When we read ‘Of mice and men’ by Steinbeck we learn that the novel was set in the 1930’s around the times of the great depression. Seventy years ago people were all treated the same even if they had a disorder and were only cared for slowly as time changed. This can be related to several theories which include the lack of knowledge as well as society being politically incorrect. Lenny’s mental illness was negatively impacted as society in the text expected him to live and carry out tasks which he was mentally not able to cope with. Joe Wright show us in ‘The Soloist’ how events in modern day society can have negative impacts on ones mental illness. We see how Ayers becomes more mentally unstable from violence in society when he is exposed to race riots and sees a burning car rolling down the street.

The author’s and directors different presentation of the characters helps to manipulate readers view on mental illness. For example in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, the character of Jenny is told in a first person narrative which makes her an unreliable narrator. By narrating in a first person viewpoint, the reader is manipulated into believing that Jenny is in fact mentally stable. The use of an unreliable narrator in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is contrasted in ‘Of Mice and Men’ which is told in a third person narrative. Steinbeck by presenting the novel in third person narrative helps a reader to sympathise with Lenny. Although Steinbeck doesn’t say that Lenny does have a mental illness, the presentation of Lenny and his childlike mentality makes it relatively obvious to a reader that he does in fact have a mental problem. This is shown by his childlike mentality and his physical strength which he in some situations cannot control. The Soloist has a similar contrast to that ‘Of mice and men’ as both characters affected have one close friend with them. In The Soloist we are manipulated by Wright by sympathising Ayers. We are manipulated by the use of voice over’s which help to show the constant disturbances in Nathaniel’s mind. Costume was often used to show the mood of Ayers the ill character. In some scenes Ayer’s clothing was wildly coloured, while in other scenes he wore torn and ragged clothing which help to reflect and manipulate Ayers mood.

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(Does the character cope with the mental illness?)

When contrasting different pieces of literature we learn that all characters view their mental illness and cope in different ways. In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ Gilman shows us how Jenny copes with her mental illness. Jenny is first informed that she has a mental condition but does not agree. Jenny knows that something is wrong with her but does not believe it is a mental condition. Jenny later loses her mind and starts vandalising the house and rips the wallpaper from the walls this clearly proving her thoughts wrong. Our understanding is expanded as we understand that people with a mental illness are unaware of what is happening and would often only realize once the illness has caused something to them both mentally and physically. We learn that Jenny knows that she has a condition when she says: “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition”. We learn that Jenny knows that the mental illness of neurasthenia condition is affecting her. The Soloist showed a different way to how Ayers is faced with his mental illness. Wright uses the character of Steve Lopez who served Ayers papers describing his mental illness of schizophrenia. We learn how all mental illness can lead to different reactions within people. When Ayers reacts he lashed out and was extremely violent with Steve Lopez. He pinned Lopez to the wall and the floor threatening him. Steinbeck showed us a complete different perception about how Lenny coped with his lack of mentality. Steinbeck does not directly tell us what is wrong with Lenny, although it is obvious he has a childlike mentality. We realise how much Lenny struggles to live with his mental illness as it tends to get him in trouble often. The main reason why Lenny has struggles to cope with his mental capacity is because he is treated and viewed like all other males on the farm. Because of the time the novel is set in we learn that the ranch workers had no sympathy for Lenny although it could have been the result of lack in knowledge. We realize that Lenny not being able to live with the mental illness caused his own death when he killed Curley’s wife by accident.


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