The Response to Imprisonment

“We are both locked-in cases, each in his own way: myself in my carcass, my father in his fourth-floor apartment” (Bauby 45).

The most striking and prevalent characteristic of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s circumstance is his not altogether unpredictable fixation on his feeling of imprisonment. The title of his memoir, the first thing we encounter in the memoir, includes a characterization of his prison: the diving bell. Almost every single page of the account is permeated by a sense of imprisonment. Obviously, his locked-in syndrome literally imprisons himself in a body unable to manage human bodily functions, but the affliction also imprisons Bauby rendering him unable to communicate to the extent he is accustomed, clearly a torment to one whose life-work is based primarily upon communication, even mass communication.

Imprisonment is a theme with which we are becoming increasingly familiar, memoir after memoir read. A sense of imprisonment can occur in a variety of circumstances, and several distinct versions of imprisonment have been presented in each of the four books that we have encountered thus far: Susanna Kaysen, imprisoned by a borderline personality diagnosis; Clifton Crais, imprisoned by a desperate need to rediscover his past, forgotten as a result of childhood amnesia; Paul Guest, imprisoned by his own unique experience with quadriplegia; Bauby, imprisoned by locked-in syndrome.

The quote presented above provides several entries into Bauby’s insight; we meet an important relationship in his life, and in interpreting his language here an important method of dealing with adversity. His father, who experiences his own version of imprisonment, provides for Bauby, some sense of solidarity. It always mitigates some of the pain when you can recognize that someone else knows, at least to some degree, your pain, your suffering.

Bauby’s use of the word “carcass” is distinctive (Bauby 45); the word is typically used to describe a dead body, but, of course, he is not dead. His use of this word expresses resignedness, but it, like countless other expressions in this book, is tinged by humor. Humor and comic relief here seem almost necessary responses to such a tragic circumstance, and it brings up the question: Does humor emerge from dormancy as a necessary response to the awful conditions that the individual has been shoved into? Guest’s, Kaysen’s, and Crais’s memoirs each also contain some sense of humor, and this parallel was fascinating, particularly considering each’s individually dire situation. It seems that each must overcome different barriers, and humor instinctively serves as a mighty vehicle for this purpose.

Bauby, Jean-Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1997. Print.

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