Saturday, September 01, 2007
the madwoman of the cloister: the question of maria’s insanity in gabriel garcia marquez’ “i only came to use the phone”
To say outright that the protagonist in Marquez’ fiction, Maria, was insane is unfair to her because she was only a victim trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was established that she was in her right mind when she took to riding a ramshackle bus loaded with female mental patients and was unwittingly brought to a sanatorium. In a nightmarish turn of events, she was erroneously identified as among the madwomen when she just intended to place a phone call to her magician husband.
The gray area of her sanity loomed in the picture when she ultimately gave up on asserting her rational mind to the very person who should have doubted her craziness: her husband. Why is it that she did not grab the chance to get out of the cloister during the times her husband (and her husband’s eventual girlfriend) returned there successively? The answer is plain and simple: she was already taken for a madwoman even by her husband, as attested by an expert and her exasperated behavior. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back: she decided to remain in the mental institution the moment she decided against the foremost person who should have believed her sanity.
I think it makes perfect sense for Maria to give up trying to prove her sanity. She was not crazy, but everyone was not convinced anyway. She was not seen as sane by the sanatorium personnel even as she cast a mysterious origin when she arrived in the hospital (in which case, as per institutional policy, she should really be withheld). There was another bureaucratic error when the doctor—the first person she had a chance to pour out her fears and insecurities to—took her actions as symptomatic of mental instability. Finally, the more she resisted being withheld in the cloister, the more her rage was seen as fits of madness. It is a classic case of articulating the truth, wherein no one seriously listened. She was trying to enlighten people of her take at truth, but they were all irreparably unmindful.
In philosophy, it is not uncommon that people like Maria possess the truth although not taken substantially. Preachers on the bus, madmen, and others like them get judged unfavorably. Nowadays, truth is vested upon people who have earned academic degrees. Even the wisdoms of the ages are being frowned upon because they are labeled as superstitious, baseless, unscientific, outmoded. It does not occur to judging people that everyone has the ability to philosophize. However, just because their looks and—as may be gleaned in Maria’s behavior—actions appear irrational, this capacity for philosophy is already denied. In the case of Maria, she knew she was not insane and wanted the people around her to be enlightened of her mental stability, except that she just received the opposite treatment.
The aforementioned casts philosophy in a bad light: that truth is selective, whereas it is not. It helps that one gains the authority over truth by virtue of a great effort devoted to philosophizing, but it does not follow that crazy people cannot articulate truth at all. For all we know, mad people possess more beautiful truth than the best among us can possibly dole out of our supposedly stable minds.