“Why won’t you behave?” : the Infantilization of the Psychiatric Patient in Miriam Toews’ Books

"Why won’t you behave?" : the Infantilization of the Psychiatric Patient in Miriam Toews' Books

Ms Lucia Lopez-SerranoZoom

In this paper, I aim to analyze Miriam Toews’ depiction of the treatment received by psychiatric patients in her semi-autobiographical works Swing Low (2000) and All My Puny Sorrows (2014), based respectively on her father and sister’s experiences under psychiatric care in Canada. Tackling mental health and addressing controversial topics such as the stigma of suicide, the dehumanization of psychiatric wards or the drawing of a fruitful comparison between the treatment of physical and mental illness, Miriam Toews attempts to subvert the depiction of psychiatric discourse, which in her view equates the characters’ depression and suicidal ideation not only with lack of virtue and selfishness, but also with lack of intelligence and reason, and the consequent denial of any sort of agency. I posit then that the infantilizing treatment received by the patients interned in the psychiatric ward, as depicted by the author, emerges as a consequence of the current discourse of resilience, that Sarah Bracke notes, now “spans the macro level of ecological and economic systems to the micro-level of selves,” (52) having permeated popular culture to such depth that cultivating individual resilience has become a “personal virtue,” (53) by which recovering from situations of precarity and trauma has become part of the “moral code” (62) of the individual.

University of Salamanca, Spain
Fri 14:30 - 16:00
Mental Health
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