I probably got about forty pages into The Crazy Man before I realized that I had previously read this novel. However upon the entrance of Angus, it all came rushing back to me. The first time I read this novel (which must have been a looooooooong time ago – so long ago that it makes me feel very old) I did not pick up on many things, as is the case with most texts we read as young adults and children. Rereading this text I was excited because I realized a lot of it linked with the 4000-level English course I am taking this semester called Mental Illness and Literature.
Even though it is much less prevalent than during the 1960’s, there is still stigma attached to mental illness and disorders in modern day society. In The Crazy Man Emaline is forced leg first into the world of discrimination and segregation of 1965. She lives in a time when “people. . . say Dr.King’s a communist, gets paid by the Russians to stir up trouble” (Porter 98), whereas today he is called a hero. Similarily, mental illness was not looked on as positive or accepted much like the equalization of race and the breaking down of ethnic boundaries.
From what I could infer from the text, I believe it most likely that Angus has some form of schizoaffective disorder, which is when a combination of schizophrenic symptoms manifest such as hallucinations and mood disorders. This is exemplified when Angus says that his mother “heard voices coming out of the radio, saying she got to poison Angus. . . Later on, Angus got the same sickness as [his mother]. Heard voices saying ‘Do this, do that.'” (Porter 113). Also the fact that he can see colours around people suggests hallucinations. While there is a rare disorder called synesthesia, which is when the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway, causing two senses to work at once – for example, tasting sounds, hearing colours, or seeing colours associated with moods – I believe it is most likely that the auras Angus perceives around people are a part of his schizophrenic tendencies. However it is important to remember that had Angus not been fed poison in his milk as a child he might have been able to live a relatively normal life, thanks to the introduction of anti-psychotic drugs in the 1950’s. Also the use of electroconvulsive therapy, malarial therapy, insulin therapy and lobotomies were in common use until the 1980’s, so Angus’ brain probably did not benefit from the constant damage.
In Mental Illness and Literature I also learned about the deinstitutionalization of the 1960’s, which is when there was a large push to rehabilate patients with mental disorders and reintegrate them back into society. The introduction of psychopharmacology and anti-psychotic drugs gave medical professionals hope that patients would be less dependent on them to provide constant care, and therefore government funding could be relocated to different sectors. However community support was generally low – as seen in The Crazy Man – and the negative stigma associated with the mentally ill ensured that they landed right back in the institutions. Deinstitutionalization is most likely why Angus is allowed to leave the hospital and can work on Emaline’s farm. Because he had useful skills, Angus was pushed back into the community which for the most part did not want him. If it had not been for Emaline and her mother who advocated for his rights and helped to dismiss the negative stereotype that followed around the mentally ill in the 1960’s in their small town, Angus might have had a lot worse befall him than just being dropped off on the side of the road before a blizzard.
I hope you guys enjoy my post! Let me know if you have any questions or comments 🙂