What is Madness?
Madness and insanity are delicate topics that nobody really wants to talk about. One doesn’t want to offend somebody by saying something wrong or unjust. So most of the time it is a breakthrough for someone to talk about the subject. There is a lingering quote that really stands out in my mind from the movie Con Air.
What if I told you insane was working 50 hours a week in some office for 50 years, at the end of which, they tell you to piss off ending up at some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time. Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?
That quote stands out in my mind because it is somewhat true. Whoever said the original idea of insanity was correct. What if that statement is true? Nobody is really correct on one’s prediction of insanity and madness. That is why when Pat Barker wrote the novel, Regeneration, it was such a great breakthrough. She leaves the decision up to the reader to decide what and who is mad in the novel. In the novel, Regeneration, Pat Barker leaves the lingering decision of who is really mad in society up to the reader because bias views have long been inflicted into people’s heads by society’s morals. In the novel the so-called “insane” patients are sent to an institute called Craiglockhart. It is one of the top schools in the country, at that time, for curing insanity.
Officer Prior is inevitably an outcast in society because he is dubbed insane. Prior suffered from mutism and reoccurring nightmares. At a time when he was at the institute he leaves to go to a bar and pick up women. One needs to understand that when the patients leave the institute they are advised to wear a red ribbon around their arm so that society knows that they are “mad” patients at the institute. Wearing that ribbon on their sleeve dooms them from having any chance of being accepted in society because they are automatically ostracized and pronounced insane. When Prior went to the bar, he didn’t wear the ribbon because of fear of rejection. He knew that society wouldn’t accept him. They would think he is a disease or just some mad patient that will infect them. He didn’t want to deal with that rejection just because he is misunderstood.
Private Burns is another man at the institute whose life is rotting away because society believes that is the only just place for him. Burns experienced a very traumatic event when he was on the front line in the war. During his stay at Craiglockhart he had a hard time eating because of his experience. During his meals he would try to eat but just throws it all up. During the war a bomb exploded near him. The blast sent him flying in the air. When he landed, he came down face first in a dead man’s carcass, with his mouth full of rotting entrails. One has to think to oneself, “How can putting him there at the institute with all other war stricken men help him.” The point is, it can’t help him. He spends his whole day reliving the war. He has to see people in uniform walking around. He constantly has a psychologist reminding him of the terrifying experience that he would rather forget. He would be a lot better off at home with his loving family there to support him.
Sigfried Sassoon is sent to the institute because he was named insane by the bias medical board of the war. Sassoon wrote a declaration that plainly stated that the war was going on for unjust reasons. Rivers, Sassoon’s psychologist, says this next statement to Sassoon when he first arrives at the institute. “Taking unnecessary risks is the first sign of a war neurosis.”(Pg. 11) Right off the bat even his psychologist is prejudging him and giving him the title of “mad”. Sassoon’s friend, Graves, said this next statement. He is talking about what the board would do to him if he submitted his declaration. “They’ll shut you up in a lunatic asylum for the rest of the war.”(Pg. 7) The idea of being in an insane asylum didn’t bother Sassoon. He was intent on sticking with his declaration until the end. He also made sure that people knew he wasn’t a pacifist because he thought that the war begun for a just reason, but now it is just dragging on and taking thousands of innocent men down with it. That was the reason why the Medical Board found him insane. They believed that anyone who objected to the war was insane because they obviously had something messed up in their head that needed to be treated.
War and madness seem to go hand in hand in some instances. In this instance it is abundantly clear that society has afflicted their views into this world in a bad way. Sure, society teaches us good things, but as one can clearly see that they also don’t always seem to be looking out for others. I hope this essay has made you look at madness in a different light. If there is just one thing that I would like you to remember from this essay, that is, “It’s not about who is insane, but about what is insane.”