The main character in Mount Misery, Dr. Roy Basch, encounters many different characters during his journey as an intern. Through the voices of these characters, he provides a look at the fallacy of the psychiatric field and the theories behind it. The following examines three of the characters that stood out the most in the book.
Cherokee Putnam was one character that stood out, mainly because his story is one that is familiar. The exact circumstances that brought him to need psychiatric help were not unusual. The most surprising factor about this character was that Dr. Basch made a general statement about how white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are difficult to read. It appeared that Cherokee was making good progress. This character brought out the problem with the patient being honest about their feelings and what is going on inside, as opposed to hiding symptoms from the psychologist. This character reminds us about the mass that everyone hides behind. He is difficult to read and know what he is really feeling when one gets below the surface.
Mary Megan was another character that stood out because she was a victim of the psychological practice. Her condition was severe and she had been reduced to something that was hardly recognizable as human behavior. It was suggested that she was a sweet and relatively normal person before she was given a small dosage of an experimental drug to cure her depression. Unfortunately, the condition that she developed as a result did not have a cure, but the depression that she came in with did. This is a case where the medical community did more harm than good. This patient places the doctors in the conundrum because if they cured her, she may sue, but if they did not cure her from an incurable condition, her relatives would be certain to sue. She was used as an experiment and was not given full disclosure of what could happen if she took the drug. Her position as a patient and as a victim of the system places her in a unique position. She is a good example of what happens in the concerns that arise when a patient receives harm from a treatment. This character is at the mercy of the system it is a reminder that doctors are not infallible and can make mistakes too.
Dr. Malik was the third character that caught my attention. He was a well-respected doctor, but he also did not always follow the rules. He was a realist and saw things the way they were, instead of the way the institution wanted him to see them. He has a dry sense of humor that seems to come from many years of experience in dealing with tragedies such as suicides, deaths, and others with serious mental illness. He seems to use this humor as a way of coping with the world. He is a good mentor, but sometimes you question his advice. For instance, he says that borderline personalities don’t really exist, even though standard practice in the Mount Misery rules say that they do. He is knowledgeable in his field and has a lot of experience that goes beyond what is learned in coursework and books. Malik is a man of opposites. In one scene we find him chomping on a carrot, claiming that it prevents cancer. Yet, he is an alcoholic, which is a conjured diction to his healthy food choices. Dr. Malik shows that doctors are humans too. They have their own problems and issues that they need to work out.
These three characters were the ones that were the most memorable because of the depth that they added to the human side of the characters. These characters made the reader realize that anyone could become just like them and that everyone also has problems. The characters in the novel were fiction, but they are created so realistically that they draw the reader into the world of the protagonist.
- Shem, Samuel. Mount Misery. New York, New York: Random House. 1996