Purity: Mental Illness

Well that was a wild ride from start to finish. As logical as it seems now looking back, I was so shocked when Andreas jumped off the cliff to his death. The whole section of him talking with “The Killer” and struggling for control was really interesting. It warped the narrative perspective of this novel even farther since in The Killer section, we do return to a close third perspective. However, The Killer only exists inside Andreas’ head, and we as readers get to see this conflict going on. Instead of just being close to a certain character, the narrative perspective bends and we get to see more interiority than we usually get with this 3rd person perspective.

Mental illness has been one of the issues that has popped up recently nowat the end of the novel. We talked about Anabel’s eating disorder on Tuesday and how Tom basically ignores it, brushing it off as just Anabel being Anabel. Now we see Andreas fall to mental illness as well, however the fact that these two characters or others around them never acknowledge or mention anything about mental illness is interesting. In my opinion, Franzen chose to do this because he strives to be realistic. It becomes a critique on 21st century culture to have no one mention mental illness until it is too late. However, I wonder how accurate this choice is? In America as a whole, how do we deal or talk about mental illness? Or as we see in Purity, how do we personally deal with someone with mental illness? How has the 21st century changed our actions towards mental illness for the worse and for the better? I don’t have answers to these questions, I wish I did, but Franzen tries to answer them in his own way, it seems, at the end of Purity.

One thought on “Purity: Mental Illness

  1. I personally disagree with how Franzen handled mental illness in the book. It reminds me all too much of how mental illness is used in the news coverage when crimes such as mass shootings occur and there is a tendency to default to the narrative of the troubled man who should have gotten help. As a whole, the kind of narrative where mental illness isn’t addressed within the narrative is frustrating in that it makes the mental illness part of an one-sided narrative where it seems like people with mental illnesses cannot function in society, or a strong tendency to cause disorder.

    I believe the 21st century has made our awareness of mental illness more prevalent in that it is treated with more concern than it has in the past where it was chalked down to terms like “insanity” or “crazy.” Considering that women are more likely to have some kind of mental illness than men are, it is interesting to see how that is hidden by how the portrayal of men with mental illness committing crimes makes me quite uneasy and that the character who does commit a crime and also struggles with a mental illness is Andreas seems like a reflection of what the news focuses on unjustly in our modern society.

    Something that I pondered thinking about this is as an author, how much responsibility should be placed on highly prominent books such as Franzen, who is considered a great American novelist, to not recreate troubling perspectives and narratives around topics like mental health that are repeated by media overall. Especially when they may not seem problematic in itself, but when presented with an overwhelming number of this narrative, other narratives are lost in the landscape.


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