The Hotel as Mental Institution

Barry J. Fishman '89

Upon first reading, "Hotel" seems to be a story that stands apart from the rest of Swift's work in both theme and image. Closer reading, however, shows several aspects of the tale that can be linked to Swift's novels. In any event, "Hotel" is a finely wrought tale of mental illness and social values.

After the death of his mother, the narrator goes insane and is taken to a mental institution for "treatment." Swift's readers are not unaccustomed to these places as they appear in Shuttlecock, Out of This World, The Sweet-Shop Owner, and Waterland. Insanity plays a major role in the lives of Swift's characters. The doctors at the narrator's particular institution get him to admit that he once wanted to kill his mother, and as if they have accomplished a great deal they begin to prepare him to reenter life in the outside world. Upon leaving the narrator tells his primary doctor that he realizes that "you have to be one of those who cares for others rather than one of those whom others care for." (p.103) Having declared this he decides that he would one day like to be an innkeeper of a place where people could go to forget about the troubles of their working life, and he sets up a pleasant country "Hotel."

Life for the narrator and his guests is very pleasant at the hotel. It becomes, like a mental institution, a place where people overcome the madness and sadness of everyday life. His world is very delicate, and its balance is upset when a father and daughter come to stay at his hotel. It is never actually stated but clearly hinted that the father and daughter are having an incestuous affair. This offends all of the hotel's guests, but none of them will do anything about it on their own. As the guests check out of the hotel in disgust the narrator realizes that "these people whom I went to such lengths to care for, they weren't in need of care at all... they were only people enjoying country air, good food and being away from it all." (p.111) The narrator knows that his protective role has been a farce, and the presence of the incestuous couple brings his own violent relationship with his mother to the foreground of his consciousness. With the protective cloak of his illusion removed (and unwanted knowledge given) the innkeeper sinks back into his insanity.

Postcolonial Web United Kingdom OV Swift OV Learning to Swim