“Casehistory: Alison (head injury)” Analysis Using SMILE: Poetry (English Literature)


CASE HISTORY: ALISON (HEAD INJURY) ANALYSIS Hello, I’ve been getting a lot of questions
about have I done this or have I done that, so two things I’d like to point out to you.
First of all if you use this search channel section here you’ll be able to find a list
of all the things that I’ve done very quickly and also if you click through the playlist
you’ll actually see all the areas and subjects that I’ve covered there. Now the third place
you’re going to actually look for information and probably the most concise is this blogger
account here, where it says ‘list of my tutorials’ and if you click on that you
get a whole page just devoted to every single thing I’ve done, broken into three sections:
literature, poetry and then language. On top of that if you’re actually looking for the
notes, which some people have requested or if you go to the Facebook page over there,
you’ll find I’m going to add them all onto the notes section there and while you’re
on the Facebook page if you ‘like’ and ‘share’ that would be very much appreciated. Yes, onto the video. Moving on then to Case History: Alison (head
injury), a really interesting poem, really sad poem. Looking at the structure first of
all then. We’ve got the title; it sets us up for the tone and the mood straight away.
We are told that this is a case history so this is some kind of medical term, or at least
we know this person is a patient, whether a full time patient or not we don’t know
but obviously they’re in need of care and obviously we are told why, because it’s
a head injury. Now the use of brackets here is really important because obviously that
shows us there’s some kind of notes being taken about this person and the fact that
it’s only her first name referenced here, is also interesting because it kind of gives
her a very small world. She can be referred to simply as ‘Alison’ because no-one else
around would have had that name, so maybe in the hospital she’s in there’s only
a couple of hundred people and she’s the only Alison but obviously in the wider world,
you couldn’t just refer to her as Alison because, you know, there’s hundreds of Alisons,
you’d be like ‘Alison who?’ Moreover also actually what it could also
be a reference to is that sometimes when psychologists are actually studying memory loss and certain
cases, they don’t actually give the person their full name to protect their privacy,
so this could also be a reference to that, so you’ve got two bits there – quite a
lot for a title, loads of things to pick up there. And obviously it sets up the tone and
the mood. This is going to be quite distant, quite – how can I put it – quite distant
and quite formal in everything that kind of goes past. There’s no kind of really, really
deep pathos that comes through here and even though we have a line like here towards the
end ‘poor clever girl’, it’s kind of more the point of the oxymoron is actually
– we’ll come to it when we look at language – the point of the oxymoron is actually
more powerful there than the actual sentiment of being ‘the poor girl!’ The fact that
it’s a change that we want to pick up on here, or that’s being forced upon us here,
rather than the sadness of the situation. OK, so back up to the structure then. We’ve
also got a start here with medical notes. We’ve got the part again, this part here,
in brackets, which is really important because again, it just shows us that this is someone’s
medical notes, which makes the rest of the poem all the more sad because then we’re
looking at the rest of the poem as some kind of confession in an interview or something
that you know, the person’s saying, so we can imagine that the interviewer, the doctor
has said ‘Alison, how do you feel about this?’ and she hands over the photograph
and then Alison looks at the photograph and then they’ve made the note, ‘she looks
at the photograph and then records everything that she says’ and obviously that’s quite
sad. We’ve got the third and first person perspectives.
Obviously she refers to herself as ‘I’ and she also refers to herself as ‘she’
and it’s really interesting that she’s got that perspective of the difference in
herself because she knows how different it is before the accident or the injury and after
the injury, so obviously she feels even to herself, like a very different person and
that gives us a really interesting dramatic monologue because she’s talking obviously
about herself but then it sounds like it’s two people, you know that are having a voice
in some way, but it’s not, it’s just older Alison reminiscing on younger Alison. So that
kind of confessional aspect of a Dramatic Monologue really comes to the fore there. With the stanzas we’ve got sets there of
three lines each and it’s really interesting that they’re kind of short, long, short
in what could be a reflection of the way her memory is actually kind of working. You know,
sometimes she has to stop and the enjambment helps that as well. Sometimes she has to stop
maybe to recollect something or to pause and actually try and think and remember something.
It’s not very free flowing, it’s very broken up and we get that feeling even moving
in from stanza to stanza as we do here, from ‘knee’ and then to ‘Like’. Obviously
again, that enjambment there could be actually creating a big pause for us, you know, just
while she kind of pulls in the memories because obviously she’s got this memory problem,
and you’ve got the really kind of clearer connotation if you want to take it; obviously
the two kind of memories that people have, the short term and the long term again could
be represented in the lines. So what is this poem about? Well obviously
it’s about memory and it’s about the power of memories and obviously this woman here
with the problem is looking back at herself when she was younger and obviously it kind
of fills her with a longing, it fills here with a sadness, etc. and it gives us the idea
then onto identity, about who we are if we don’t have memories. I mean if we don’t
remember anything we’ve done are we a person? Have we actually done anything? And the idea
of who she is is really important because she looks at her there and she kind of looks
at all the hope and happiness that she could have had and then she looks at herself here
and she says ‘I, who need reminding every morning’, so maybe she doesn’t know who
she is and she has to see this picture to actually get an idea of who she is and remember
it. And obviously the sense that we get of regret in terms of the life she could or should
– should is a bit harsh actually – could have had. Here she says, she looks at herself
and she says ‘Poor clever girl!’ I mean that’s really interesting because obviously
she knows she had so much potential etc., but then she didn’t know a) what was in
store for her and b) she didn’t know that she was going to end up here all because of
her damaged brain, and that’s really one of the few times she actually refers to something
there as ‘my’, everything else is you know, ‘the other girls’, etc., etc., etc.,
but here we’ve actually got the reference to ‘my damaged brain’. And that gives
it real importance because she does reference another part of her body here, but she talks
about it in terms of ‘the girl’s knee’ and then she actually refers to herself – we’ll
come to it again a little more succinctly in language – but when she references it
here she says ‘it lugs me up the stairs’ but the ownership she has there is of ‘my
damaged brain’. Again, shows how central this is to her identity, her life and obviously
who she is now. And we also get the sense obviously – I
think we’ve just kind of touched the point there – obviously what she could have been
and that’s summed up really sadly as she mentions ‘I know something she doesn’t:
I am her future’ and again, you just probably wouldn’t be expecting – obviously the girl
in the picture – wasn’t expecting to be a person that can barely remember herself
in future life. So there’s lots of things to actually pick up there in terms of meanings
and things. OK, so images that we have. One of probably
the simplest one, obviously the brain and the idea of the brain damage that the girl
has and obviously again, not only the actual damage itself, which is referred to here,
but also the effect that it has on her there. We also have the knee and the movement and
contrast and that’s a really nice image because we’re actually seeing the physical
ability as well as her mental ability or memory ability she had; the physical ability before
– she is using a simile here to actually just mention how powerful, the autocratic,
it’s kind of like ruling, you know, it does what it wants to do, it’s in control and
in command. It does what it wants to do like a famous artist’s pictures of dancers. So
it’s kind of got that poise, it’s almost something that you could have pictured and
captured and it was worth looking at and it’s had this great poise, it can really hold itself,
etc. So you’ve got the knee in one sense like that and then you’ve got the contrast
with the way ‘it now just lugs me up the stairs’. And obviously ‘lugs’ is a really
interesting word because it’s such a heavy and laden word, it just sounds very heavy
as well, so obviously she’s physically now in a completely different state, maybe all
to do with her brain damage and the way she can’t look after herself. And the thing I like most actually with the
images, you might have to come away with me on this one, I hope you get it or I hope I
explain it properly should I say. Here we’ve got the idea of a picture and obviously in
this picture that she actually looks at herself and when she sees this bright girl, obviously
in the picture she’s going to be still, it’s a freeze frame. It’s a freeze frame
of joy, it’s a freeze frame of the hope she’s going to have, it’s a freeze frame
of all she could be and it’s just kind of held there. And now we’ve got this also
freeze frame but this is a living freeze frame, which is a really interesting contrast, because
she’s grown into a freeze frame again but you’re not supposed to be a freeze frame
when you’re older and the reason she’s still a freeze frame is because she can’t
grow and develop because of her memory problems and because of her injury, so she needs reminding
every morning about who she is and what she’s done, where her life is taking her etc., and
that’s really sad. So she’s stuck now in life, whereas the other girl was only kind
of stuck or held in a picture. And ironically when she was stuck and held in a picture,
it was held at this most captivating, awesome moment. And I guess you could actually be
looking at – if you wanted to open off into meanings actually – the power of pictures
and what they do to us, it’s always interesting when people for example, break up or something
and they’ve got all the happy pictures, etc., and that hurts to take them down or
rip them up or whatever, but you don’t remember all the reasons in between there that you
actually broke up with someone, so that’s a really interesting kind of sub-angle, if
you wanted to take up on that as well. So we move on then to the language and we’ve
got ‘enmeshed’ which is a kind of really nice way of just saying kind of comfortably
trapped, because even like with wire meshing it’s not tough like barbed wire, or kind
of very gritty like prison cells but even though the mesh is kind of soft you are still
trapped in it and obviously she’s trapped in this fat now and the reference there is
obviously perhaps to the little girl and also a reference perhaps more obviously, to her
physical condition. It seems like obviously she’s put on weight now. And the picture
then taunts her as she looks at herself delicate when she was younger. The language again of the third person when
she says that ‘she knows’ and ‘I need reminding’, so the young girl was able to
deal with something very serious and kind of forward herself and move on and grow and
develop, whereas she can’t get by even just knowing about herself, you know, dealing with
the loss of herself, without being sad, etc., etc., and obviously it’s something that
she’ll never get over, whereas her younger self managed to get over that, so that’s
interesting as well. And then – I’ve picked this one out just
for the language, obviously you can pick out a hundred other things, but I really like
the idea here, this really short sentence ‘consistency matters’. First of all because
it was a short sentence so we know it’s very kind of punctuated and serious, and then
the kind of consistency, and with consistency we get the idea of something being regular,
something not changing, something being a routine, etc., etc., so again this kind of
gives me more ideas than anything about the patient nature of Alison. She’s got her
routines; she has to have her medicine at a certain time, she speaks to her therapist
at a certain time, she goes to certain places, etc., etc., etc., which is, when you think
about it like that – and the writer of this, she actually worked as a psychiatric nurse
for a long time, in fact that’s where she started to write all her poetry and that’s
why I think, just in those two words, she would have seen this life inside out every
day with patients like this and therefore, she’s just summed up life day-to-day in
a hospital like that very, very well in those two words. And here we move on to the effect on us. What
does it make us think about? Well it gives us a voice to people who are in care or people
who have suffered dementia, etc., and just kind of like the regrets they have, even though
they might not be able to communicate with us as often as they wish, maybe due to certain
amounts of memory loss, it’s really important or really interesting that we actually get
this voice, just kind of looking back, maybe even just a snapshot of the kind of regret
and the feeling that this person has. It also makes us think about unfulfilled lives
and how none of us really knows what’s going to happen to us, no-one ever died by being
hit by a bus, knowing that they were going to get hit by a bus that day and no-one ever
knew they were going to be injured or hurt or all the range of things that could actually
happen. So it gives us that idea about potential and possibilities and not fulfilling your
potential as well. You could actually I suppose on the opposite of that say, is this on some
levels inspiring? In terms of you want to be, or you wouldn’t want to be a person
that ever looked back on their life and actually had those regrets and you might just be saying
that a person won’t be sitting there reading something like this or thinking about something
like this and really realising how they would want to make the most of the time they had
and really fulfil their potential. And we’ve got the idea here I think as well,
that’s really important, the effect it has on us. It make us think about repetitive loss,
you know, every single day this person is reminded of the life that they had and now
that they don’t have, and that’s just a horrible feeling to be waking up to know
or not know every single day. Yes, I think that’s one of the most hard hitting things
about this. Hopefully that was useful. I think there’s
one more to do in this section of the anthology and then we can move on to one of the other
ones.

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