Mental Illness in Out of This World

Barry J. Fishman '89

Whereas in Swift's earlier novels there were mental institutions, the characters in Out of This World take advantage of a modern institution -- psychoanalysis -- and its priest, the psychoanalyst. Both Sophie and Joe have a figure of this sort, Dr. Klein for Sophie, and the bartender Mario for Joe. Both Dr. Klein and Mario provide the same function (Dr. Klein at a considerably higher price), that of a good listener. The advantage for the reader is obvious. Where the reader could only wonder at Prentis' father in Shuttlecock, Sophie and Joe speak out loud to their analysts, every word loud and clear for the reader's ear.

In physical appearance and techniques Dr. Klein resembles Freud. He is the classic psychoanalyst, Sophie is the classic patient. Revealing all of her deepest secrets, her deepest fears, she at the same time attempts to seduce her confessor Dr. Klein. Joe makes no such advances on Mario but in his solitary chapter the reader learns much about his feelings and his past.

Joe's chapter, brief though it may be, yields much insight into the themes of Out of This World. Remarking that there used to be a "polite phrase" to describe what one did with the mentally unfit, Joe describes his father: "The polite phrase used to be 'in an institution'. But he was always in an institution. The institution of virtuous drudgery. The institution of married life, the institution of [yearly holidays]. The institution of his own prehistoric upbringing. . ." (p.155) The point that Joe's speech makes is that the very label "mentally unfit" begs the question, "mentally unfit for what?" The answer is the suitably vague "everything is relative." That is to say, we judge sanity against what the majority thinks is sane, but in a crazy world who can say for sure what is "sane?" The truth seems to be that everything is an institution unto itself and a mental "institution" is even more so. As Prentis points out in Shuttlecock, mental institutions are entire worlds unto themselves, microcosms of the outside world that has banished its own inmates.

Postcolonial Web United Kingdom OV Swift OV Out of This World