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“The Man on Jesus Street— Dreaming”, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1245

Essay

Hallucination and Social Tension

In Leroy V. Quintana’s short story “The Man on Jesus Street – Dreaming”, the author potrays the post-war experiences of a young Latino-American, who has returned from a tour of duty in Viet Nam. In Quintana’s narrative what becomes most apparent is that the protagonist has been inexorably scarred by his war-time experiences: he suffers from what commonly can be called a posttraumatic stress disorder, whereby the individual experiences he has undergone have overwhelmed his subjectivity. Symptomatic of this above all is the clear fact that the protagonist suffers from hallucinatory delusions: the posttraumatic stress disorder has impacted his psychological state, making him something to the effect of an outcasts in contrast to what is considered the normal social normativities. However, with this very scenario, it can be said that Quintana is asking some fundamental questions about society: what does it truly mean to be normal, what are these hallucinations, and what makes them less real than reality? In what follows it will be argued that the protagonist’s madness is in fact a symptom of the madness of society as a whole, to the extent that what causes hallucinations in the narrative is a sensitivity towards life as opposed to some abnormality. In other words, Quintana provides us with a compelling account of how the greater social structure creates instances of madness, defining what is considered normal and abnormal: the protagonist is the victim of precisely this greater structure.

This becomes an important point, because the very reason for the psychological suffering detailed throughout the story is set against the backdrop of a return from a war and a conflict situation. Now, the subtext of the narrator’s very unstable psychological state is that it is ultimately not a result of his own psychic subjectivity, but instead it is directly caused by the madness and horror of war. In other words, the narrator would never have plunged into what “normal” social discourse would consider to be madness, hallucination and general psychological disturbance, if he had not followed the direct normativities of this society, which itself encourages war and needs young men and women to fight these wars. The social system in other words requires citizens to fight these wars; when they are traumatized by the horror of war, their descent into madness makes them useless to society.

What happens therefore to the narrator is a gradual descent into madness, a descent that he is himself aware of. He is having hallucinations, but cannot account for them. For example, in a flashback scene, Quintana writes, “he swore he had seen Bazooka only a few minutes before…the doctor had an explanation for that, because he goddamn for sure didn’t.” (334) On the one hand, we can read this as a straightforward account of psychological hallucination. However, on a very deeper level – and this appears to be exactly the level Quintana wishes to access with his prose – is a greater misrecognition, whereby the protagonist does not only understand what is happening to him, but does not understand what is happening in the world in general. This argument makes sense when we consider the trauma is caused to the protagonist through his war-time experiences. They are not self-inflicted traumas. His own personal madness is rather a sign of his own understanding that society itself is mad, and this causes a crash in his own mind: why does society need war, murder, genocide, and young men and women to perform these acts on the one hand, and people of all ages and races as the victims of these acts on the other hand? When the doctor said he has an “explanation” for the halluncation, this can be read as a metaphor for society: the doctor is someone with a distinguished social status, representing the social normativities and society. This means that he is acknowledged by society as “productive”, as a type of rational agent if you will, in this social structure. It is the social structure – the clear hiearchies of roles played, from impoverished Latinos forced to join the army because of lack of other opportunities, to those in power – that is also a structure of madness. It must be a structure of madness since it involves and perpetuates the phenomenon of war.

The narrator of the story is thus not himself insane: his insanity only comes from realizing that the society itself is sick. The narrator is simply too sensitive and too out of tune with the harshness of reality as the social structure creates it to be able to handle it. However, this is viewed from the perspective of society as his own individual madness, as his own psychological weakness and instability. But from the other perspective, and this is the perspective that Quintana adapts in his story, the exact opposite is true: the individual who would not experience horror from war is the one who has a pathological condition, who is mad. Because this means that the individual who does not experience posttraumatic stress disorder is essentially dehumanized: he or she has no qualities of empathy, no rational faculty that prompts him or her to question the logic behind why war is necessary, instead just accepting it as self-evident and thereby being complicit with a mad and inhuman process of war and violence promoted at the highest levels of the social structure, that is government and politics, those individuals who have control within society.

Quintana, it can therefore be said, reverses what posttraumatic stress disorder means in this story: it is not a psychological abnormality, but is instead a reflection of the abnormality of society. Hallucination, in Quintana’s story, is not irrational, but rather rational: hallucination arises in the main character because he cannot cope with the utter irrationality of war. If the narrator were able to accept this irrationality, this would mean that he is mad, in so far as war is essentially madness in Quintana’s vision. With this reversal, Quintana asks the reader to fundamentally question what may be considered to be normal: hallucination of the narrator in Quintana’s hands becomes a rational and clear criticism of the violence that the social structure promotes, most explicitly in the form of war and the sacrifice of individual lives to a cause that is ultimately irrational, selfish and itself a form of psychological disorder, the true psychological disorder as opposed to the psychological disorder of the narrator: the narrator dreams on “Jesus Street”, and here Jesus is a clear symbol of a justice and righteousness. By being exiled to Jesus Street, by hallucinating here, Quintana wants to show that hallucination is more close to justice than the apparently normal world ever is.

Accordingly, Quintana on the one hand challenges our assumptions about psychological normality within a greater social system. Who is to be considered mad? Where does the hallucination begin and end, or where are the true hallucinations in our lives? By framing the protagonist’s hallucinations in terms of their cause in war, Quintana answers this question by saying that society is the cause of this madness, because society is mad. To hallucinate, for Quintana, is the exact opposite of madness in this context: it is to be conscious of the irrationality of the decisions and structures of a society that encourages war and death.

Works Cited

Quintana, Leroy V. “The Man on Jesus Street – Dreaming”, in J.S. Christie & J.B. Gonzalez (eds.) Latino Boom: An Anthology of Latino-American Literature. New York: Pearson, 1997. pp. 333-338.

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