Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mary the Victim

I had always known about Typhoid Mary- I don't know how, but I did. This novel put a face to the name and created a personality based on her reluctance to cooperate with authorities. I liked this book, it felt like a doorway to the early 20th century. You could smell the lower east side, feel the heat of the kitchens, know the frustration of women and the poor. Life was insignificant for the lower orders, their lives were considered cheap and didn't count. The horrifying thing, it seemed was that Mary felt the same way about the rich and famous. It was a time before laws to protect the poor-young women were imprisoned in burning buildings to sew (Triangle Shirtwaist factory), or immigrants could be locked in the holds of sinking ships while wealthier patrons escaped on lifeboats (Titanic)- Keane recreates the scene from the fire, and also includes the famous sinking to share that the poor were expendable. A young boy is swept by the currents of the East River, and while his brothers' call for help, workers nearby only offer to share their lunch. Life of the poor meant nothing, only when wealthy people where infected with the virus, did authorities take action. Mary Mallon refused to be locked away to keep the wealthy safe. She wanted to cook and refused to believe that she could be spreading disease. She defiantly refused to risk dangerous surgery to remove a infectious gall bladder. She changed her name and hid from the authorities who sought to protect her patrons from disease. While other carriers were found, it seemed strange that only Mary remained locked away in isolation to be studied like an lab rat. Here, we learn that a bread winner (a male) must be left to find ways to support his family, and a single woman who merely lived with a man- had no rights at all. Interwoven is a doomed relationship with a co dependent , drunk boyfriend, making Mary not only a victim of the system, but of her personal life as well. I think Mary was a victim of her times,expendable because she was a woman, Irish and poor. In the book, Keane paints her as well read, intelligent, and perhaps feisty. If that is true- I have trouble with her lack of acceptance to fix a problem, her thoughtless selfishness of the danger of herself as a carrier, but I do recognize that Mary Mallon was probably a product of her times and unable to find resources to help herself, and her nature wouldn't let her go down without a fight.

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