Free Essay On The Effectiveness Of Literary Technique’s
Every person can think of a book that has moved them in some special way. It is the job of an author to evoke reaction in their audience. In order to achieve these reactions, writers use various literary techniques. Each technique accomplishes a specific purpose in reaching the audience. For instance, a writer might use a timeline in order to help the reader make sense of a series of events. In Sheri Fink’s book Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital Fink uses various literary techniques in order to lead her audience through the story of Memorial Medical Center during and after Hurricane Katrina. Analyzing Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital will allow people to better understand how authors use literary devices. Specifically, Sheri Fink uses literary devices to evoke an emotional response from the reader, encourage the reader to consider the hard issues addressed in the book, and to avoid leading the audience to her personal opinion.
The first literary decision obvious in Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital is that it is split into two parts. The first part includes the time leading up to Hurricane Katrina, Katrina hitting New Orleans, and the days after Katrina while people were awaiting help. The second part covers the discovery of the bodies in Memorial Medical center and the ensuing investigation and legal battle. By separating the big picture story into two parts, Fink purposely allows the reader to analyze all of the viewpoints for themselves. This is a literary concession to the reader, since most written work tries to guide the reader to a foregone conclusion. Fink is careful not to lead the reader to a belief one way or another, but simply and factual presents the evidence for the reader. Thanks to this careful use of literary technique, the reader does draw their own conclusions about the actions of the hospital staff. In fact, different readers may come to very different conclusions.
Fink is also careful not to reduce the book to just another hurricane story or homicide story. The president of Pixar Animation Studios wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review about maintaining creativity at Pixar. In it he said, “People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, or dinosaurs, or love, they’ll say.” (Catmull 66). Fink integrates all the different pieces together to make a big picture of the hurricane and its damage, the stress of the patients, the hard decisions made by the hospital staff, and the subsequent legal battle as a result of the staff decisions. In doing do, Fink enlists the compassion of the reader. After all, most of us have no idea how we would react in a similar situation, nor would we want to be in one. This makes it easy as a reader to show a lot of understanding for Dr. Pou and the other medical staff under investigation, instead jumping to a quick decision about the staff’s actions.
In order to make the audience feel a part of the chaos during hurricane Katrina, Fink follows a definitive timeline. She begins telling the story of Katrina before the storm made landfall, on Saturday, August 27, 2005 (Fink 31). By laying out a logical timeline of events, Fink leads her audience through the storm letting them see through the eyes of those who were there. While this technique is very effective, it is also sometimes mixed up by the author. For instance, Fink describes the following, “After the maintenance crew came running to announce the breaking windows, Mulderick got on the phone with Cheri Landry Mulderick told Landry to get everyone out of there [a building across the street] before the bridge linking the two buildings collapsed or its windows shattered. (Fink 50). Just a few paragraphs before Fink describes windows shattering, “Instead, for the first time anyone could remember, maintenance crews had boarded up the windows with plywood from the inside. The exposed sides of the windows shattered under a hail of rocks launched from nearby rooftops.” (Fink 49). Slight discrepancies like this may be due to the collaboration of so many eye witness testimonies, but it does lead to some confusion on the audience’s part. As a reader, one is left imagining people running across a bridge with glass and rocks flying, even though that is not the intent of the passages.
Although Fink is herself a doctor, she purposely avoids overly technical language. The way that Fink explains medical procedures and issues to people who might not have a medical background also helps to move the book along. She explains in such a way where the reader can understand any illness or procedure she speaks of. For instance, Fink writes of one patient like this:
She was admitted to Memorial to investigate the cause of her severe weakness. She had a bowel blockage. A surgeon opened her abdomen and found cancer in her liver. The tumor couldn’t be removedShe developed an infection, possibly as a result of the surgery, and her kidneys began to fail, possibly as a complication of the antibiotics used to treat the infection. To stay alive if her kidneys stopped working she’d need dialysis to clean her blood. (36).
In an unobtrusive way, Fink explains the cause of infection, reasons for kidney failure, and what dialysis does to keep people alive. As a reader, this lack of overly technical terms helps one to further understand what is actually happening. Also, because she does not use vocabulary that is above many people’s heads the story she is telling shines, instead of confusion over her overusing unfamiliar words. Had she chose to write it in more medical terms, much of the story and drama of the situation would have been overshadowed by the readers inability to understand the medical cases she speaks of in the book. Her explanations also serve to allow the reader further understanding of why certain patients may have been chosen to be euthanized.
Fink’s writing style is based in her ability to understand and truly see people. Without her poignant and real descriptions of the doctors, nurses and patients, the reader would not feel connected to the book. For example, Fink describes Dr. Pou’s preparations for the hurricane. “Water, tuna, and crackers were all Pou had [brought]She didn’t cook. Although she was beautiful, funny, and sociable by nature, at age forty-nine her life revolved around her surgical career. She hadn’t always known she would be a doctor, buther elementary-school classmates had predicted that the caring girl with the good grades would follow in her father’s footsteps.” (Fink 37). The reader automatically feels a connection with Dr. Pou. Fink sprinkles descriptions such as these throughout the book; as a result the reader develops caring for the people involved. Much of Fink’s writing style revolves around her insight into people as well. She gives the reader a glimpse into the individuals involved and their emotional stance during the chaos of Katrina. One instance of her using this style is at a point where she gives us insight into Nurse Wynn’s mental state. “The floor was full of glass, and Wynn had gone barefoot in her haste. Exhaustion played on her perceptions and emotions. Through the open windows, Wynn could hear amplified movement and conversations outside the building over the water, eerie in the darkWynn had the sense the fearful woman was right. They were never going to get out of Memorial.” By employing her signature style, Fink embodies and communicates to the reader the exhaustion felt by all of the staff and the sense of hopelessness so many felt. As a reader, one can imagine Wynn’s fears and understand her exhaustion.
Fink also uses passive voice in a masterful way. If she had chosen not to use passive voice, she would have led the readers to conclusions versus allowing the reader to form their own consensus of the situation. Instead she does not try to draw conclusions, unless they are through the lens of a person involved with the incident. An example of her use of passive voice is that, “It amazed Rider to see the hospital’s main generators sitting well above flood level. She assumed they were functional. Why hadn’t the staff figured out how to bypass the submerged parts of the electrical system and drive power to important patient-care areas and equipment?” (Fink 164). In this specific passage, Fink’s use of passive voice allows the reader to look at the question presented. The reader actually tries to think of reasons why the hospital staff may not have bypassed the electrical system. Fink uses passive voice similarly throughout the book in a purposeful effort not to lead readers to early assumptions.
Her style once again comes into use in the second part of the book. The first half of the book emphasizes the horror the staff endured while trying to keep as many patients alive as possible. The reader might at this point disagree with the decision to euthanize patients, but extend understanding because of the circumstances. Part two of the book allows the reader to get to know the patients and see the shock of so many dead bodies through fresh eyes. Fink describes the scene in the chapel, “A small piece of yellow lined paper reading DO NOT ENTER was duct-taped to the wooden door. Insidemore than a dozen bodies lying on low cots and on the ground, shrouded in white sheets. Here, a wisp of gray hair peeked out. There, a knee was flung akimbo. A pallid hand reached across a blue gown.” (Fink 150). One of those sets of fresh eyes is that of a chaplain seeing all the dead bodies within the hospitals chapel, and he described the scene before him with, “Dante’s The Divine Comedy. ‘It was like a picture of hell,’” (Fink 150). Readers are expecting a certain amount of death under the circumstances, but are not prepared for the breadth of it. Fink brings home the enormity of the amount of bodies found in Memorial, “When members of a disaster mortuary team finally arrived on Sunday, September 11they recovered forty-five bodies from the chapel, morgues, hallways, LifeCare floor, and the emergency room. It was the largest number of bodies found at any Katrina-struck hospital or nursing home.” (Fink 150). This is the first time the reader fully realizes the complete extent of the deaths. The reader’s reaction is shocked, which is what Fink surely intended.
Part two also shows Fink clearly appealing to the audience’s emotions. While the euthanasia of a few patients seems warranted up to this point, Fink chooses to put a human face on those patients in order to play on the emotions of the reader. For instance, Fink describes one of the victims, Emmett and his family:
Carrie had cared for Emmett ever since a freak spinal cord stroke had disabled [him] at the age of fifty. She was a small woman, but every day she had dutifully helped transfer Emmett to a wheelchair so that he could sit in their yard, read the Bible, play with their dog, and clown around with his seven year-old granddaughter, his “eyes,” riding on his kneesCarrie had visited him in the hospital every day, but she’d been told to stay at home when[he was]transferred to Memorial Medical Center. Emmett had called her to let her know that he had made it there with no problems, brought a photograph of his granddaughter with him, and was safe. That was the last she had heard from him. (Fink 150).
Descriptions like this remind the reader that these people had lives, families, and people that loved them. Fink describes several other patients who were purposefully overdosed, giving the reader a broader picture to draw conclusions from. This literary technique is good, because while remaining impartial Fink allows the reader to decide how they feel about the actions of Dr. Pou and the nurses for themselves. The reader at this point is torn between their empathy for the hospitals staff difficult situation, and the reality that they euthanized real people.
While most authors use a tone of persuasiveness to direct the reader to the author’s desired conclusion, Fink avoids using this technique. In a book such as this, most authors would want to either convince the reader of the hospital staffs guilt in the murders, or convince the reader situational ethics applied and the hospital staff did what they needed to do. Fink clearly demonstrates both sides, using quotes directly from the people involved to do so. In defense of the staff’s decisions, Fink uses quotes like this one, “I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony. If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose. And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul. This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days. We did not put people down. What we did was give comfort to the end.” (Fink 174). The reader evinces understanding of the anonymous doctor’s choice. On the other hand, fink also shares quotes from those who viewed the staff’s actions as unarguably murder. Fink quotes Angela McManus, who is the daughter of one of the victims. McManus says, “I don’t believe that a person with a sane mind could make this decisionEuthanasia is something you do to a horse, or to an animal. When you do it to people, it’s called murder.” (Fink 227). The reader sees the euthanasia through the eyes of someone directly affected and is pulled to thinking of it as murder. By using the opinions of the actual people involved, Fink clearly avoids a tone of persuasiveness.
Finks use of various literary techniques help the reader make sense of a tragic and convoluted situation. Although she muddles the timeline some, lending some confusion to the reader, most of her technique enhances the reading experience. Her personal style gives poignant insights into the people involved. By using a passive voice, she manages to help the reader looking at all sides of the issue, while not forcing an opinion onto them. She also clearly avoids a tone of persuasiveness. Because of the breadth of literary techniques Fink employs, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital, allows for one to better understand both the use and importance of literary technique. Fink’s literary devices are successful in that she avoids sharing and pushing her personal opinion while evoking the reader’s emotional response. Also, she skillfully leads the reader to think for themselves and consider some hard to think about issues the book addresses.
Her style allows the reader to have compassion for the hospital staff and their desperate actions in the first part. She then permits the second part of the book to leave the reader questioning whether hospital staff made the right decision or not. Thanks to the way Fink uses literary techniques, readers will come away with differing opinions on the actions taken by medical staff at the hospital. This is Fink’s objective in writing this book. She wanted the audience to honestly look at the issues brought forth during the Katrina tragedy, instead of wait on an author to tell them what to think. She clearly met her objective.
Catmull, Ed. "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity." Harvard Business Review 1 Sept. 2008: 65-72. Harvard Business Review. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Fink, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital. New York: Crown, 2013. Print.
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