Unit 9 The Discus Thrower
Text I "The Discus Thrower"
An Introduction of the Author
Surgeon and writer Richard Selzer was born in Troy, New York, graduated from Union college in 1948 and received his M.D. from Albany Medical College in 19
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After completing a surgical internship and residency at Yale University in 1960, Dr. Selzer remained as Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery until 1985 in addition to maintaining a private practice. Selzer's writing career began in the 1970's with the publication of Rituals of Surgery (19
  73), his first collection of short stories. Since then he published Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery (19
  76), Confessions of a Knife (19
  79), a collection of 24 essays, roughly half of which are
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surgical memoirs, Letters to a Young Doctor (19
  82), and his most recent collection, Taking the World in for Repairs (19
  86), Imagine a Woman (five novellas) (19
  90) and A Mile and a Half of Ink (a diary) (19
  90). Making use of a vast store of information and experiences from his medical career, Selzer's tales of the sick and diseased, while often startling and shocking, are filled with compassion and a certain awe for the mystery of the human body.
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In a review of Rituals of Surgery, Judith Ramsey, writing for the Village Voice praised Selzer for his "deftness of style, his imaginative use of medical and surgical materials, and his clear narrative talent..." Selzer is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a National Magazine Award, an American Medical Writers Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His articles have appeared in Esquire, Harper's and many other magazines.
"Richard Selzer creates a metaphor for medicine which has all the strange, crude honesty that gives his writing its power." Anna Fels, The Nation, on Letters to a Young Doctor On April 15, 1999 Dr. Richard Selzer was a panel participant on Writing and Healing, with Donald W. Faulkner, at the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference in Albany, New York.
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Lead-in Questions

  1.What do you think the text is about?
  2.How do you think a dying man will most probably behave?
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Questions for Text Comprehension

  1. Does the doctor feel guilty of spying on his patients? Why or why not?
  2. How would you account for the possessions in Room 542?
  3. Why does the patient ask for shoes time and again?
  4. Why does the patient throw his plate?
  5. What kind of laughter does the patient give?
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Structural Analysis

  1. Summary of the Story The story begins with the doctor-narrator unobtrusively observing an older man lying in a hospital bed. The patient is blind and has amputations of both legs. (We are given no medical details that cannot be observed in the room.) The narrator tends to the man's amputation wounds and answers a few simple questions. The man requests a pair of shoes.
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Structural Analysis
Back in the corridor, a nurse tells the doctor that the patient refuses his food, throwing his china plate against the wall of his room. The narrator hears the man and a nurse argue briefly about food and then, by himself, watches as the patient carefully and powerfully throws another dish against the wall. The next day the doctor discovers that the patient has died.
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  2. Division Introduction (Paragraphs
  1) spying on patients: a habit of mine; Development (Paragraphs 2-
  13) --encounters with a particular patient; Ending (Paragraphs 9-
  15) the death of the patient.
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  3. Commentary of the Story This portrait of a difficult and only semicommunicative patient is more a sketch than a story, but it poses interesting challenges: What to think of this man, how to understand him, and how to treat him? Clearly the man's enigmatic speech and actions are saying something, and Selzer suggests that few are listening. The story offers no answers, but it suggests that the kind of empathy the narrator develops
through watching the patient (but does not express) is a good start. The patient's provocative behavior and the story's openness make it a good point of departure for a discussion of reading difficult or inscrutable patients.
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Paragraph Analysis
Paragraph 1 In this paragraph the narrator tells about one of his unique habits and justifies himself for it. The following questions may be asked to help students understand this paragraph:
  1) What is unique about the narrator as a doctor? As a doctor he spies on his patients.
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  2) What does the narrator mean by asking the question "Ought not a doctor ... assemble evidence?" The quoted sentence is not a real question. The narrator poses this pseudo-question to argue that he believes a doctor is entitled to spy on his patients for the sake of medical treatment.
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  3) Why does the narrator say "it is not all that furtive an act"? Because he wants to justify his action: he does not actually spy but rather observes his patients.
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Language Work
  1) ... he might the more fully assemble evidence? ... he might gather evidence more fully than without spying? The structure "the more fully" is the elliptical form of "all the more fully". In English the structure "all / so much / none + the + the comparative degree of adjectives or adverbs" is used without "than ..." following it to express emphasis. Sometimes all can be omitted.
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  1) ... he might the more fully assemble evidence? e.g.: She was waiting for the spring. She felt the younger for it. I walked around for two hours yesterday, and the doctor said I was none the worse for it. I know there's danger ahead, but I'm all the more set on driving forward.
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  2) furtive attempting to avoid notice or attention; secretive e.g.: I saw him cast a furtive glance at the woman at the table to his right. There was something furtive about his behavior and I immediately felt suspicious. Translate: 那人鬼鬼祟祟的样子引起了警察 的怀疑. The man's furtive manner made the policeman suspicious.
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Paragraphs 2-13 This part talks about the narrator's contact with "the discus thrower". The miserable condition of the patient is described and the reason for his discus throwing is implied. The following questions may be helpful for comprehension:
  1) Why does the man seem deeply tanned? His skin is brown not because of the suntan but because of his approaching death, i. e. he was in the last stage of his life.
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  2) Why does the narrator compare the patient to a bonsai? A bonsai is an ornamental tree or shrub grown in a pot and artificially prevented from reaching its normal size. The patient resembles a bonsai in several ways. His confinement caused by blindness is like the restricted growth domain of a bonsai: the domain permitted by a pot. He is legless in the way the roots and branches of the miniature tree are pruned.
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  3) Why is the patient's ward empty of all possessions? Because there is none of the usual possessions like get-well cards, private caches of food, flowers, and so on, which shows that he is forsaken by his friends and family. As stated in the following part, he is intolerable. And there aren't possessions such as shoes, either, for he is legless and blind, and thus is confined to bed.

  4) When the doctor asks how he feels, he responds with a question "Feel?" What does this show? This shows he is numb in emotion. His plight throws him into despair and he hopes for nothing, waiting for death. This is also confirmed by the fact that he wants to know nothing but time.
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  5) What does the patient mean when he says "Yes, down"? This is his response to the doctor's remark, "Down you go. " What the doctor means is that the man is going down with the bed, yet the patient means that he is going down towards death.
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  6) Why does the man ask for a pair of shoes? The man knows he is legless and has no need for a pair of shoes. Yet he still asks for a pair of shoes when the doctor offers him help. This shows that at the bottom of his heart the man aspires after freedom: only a pair of shoes can give him freedom.
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  7) Why is the head nurse waiting for the doctor? Because she is waiting for the doctor to suggest measures to deal with the patient, who throws the food plate against the wall every time it is brought to him.
  8) What is the head nurse's attitude toward the patient? Irritated by his behavior, she is impatient and disgusted with him.

  9) What is the doctor's attitude? The doctor does not agree to take immediate measures. He wants first to make sure of the fact described by the nurse.
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  10) Why does the patient lift the cover and probe the eggs before throwing the plate? This seems to show that what is important to him is not the crack of the plate against the wall. Otherwise he would have thrown the plate with the lid, or thrown the lid before the plate. What he is interested in seems to be the scrambled eggs. This is confirmed by the Fact that he orders the scrambled eggs every day and that it is after hearing the wet sound of the scrambled eggs that he starts to laugh.
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  11) Why does he laugh? For one thing, the laughter suggests his vision of hope of his ultimate emancipation. He laughs when he hears the small wet sound of the scrambled eggs. Probably the scrambled eggs are his favorite food. Yet he is determined not to eat them because he feels hopeless in this world. He wants to put an end to his life but he desires to die a dignified death. Thus going fasting may be the best way. The discus throwing just strengthens his
resolve. In the sound of the scrambled eggs dropping to the floor he visions in his mind the hope of being liberated in the other world. For another, his laughter is also a sign of defiance of the unfair fate and the unfriendly hospital workers.
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  12) Why does the narrator say the laughter could cure cancer? Because every time the man throws the plate he feels a triumph over his ego that urges him to eat and live. His laughter is joyous from the bottom of his heart and expresses a sense of complete release, and therefore it could give a promising future to him if he were a patient of cancer.
  13) Why do the eyes of the head nurse narrow? Because she frowns on the patient's behavior.
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  14) Does it mean that the patient cannot recognize the doctor's voice when he asks, "Who are you?" It does not mean that the man cannot recognize the doctor's voice, for the doctor is not new to him. His question only shows that he distrusts the doctor: he does not believe that the doctor can help him anyway. It is, rather, a signal of dismissal.
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Language Work
  3) It is rusted, rather, in the last stage of containing the vile repose within. Rather, his skin gets dark brown because he was approaching the last stage of his life, that is, he was dying. The "vile repose" metaphorically means "death".
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  4) And the blue eyes are frosted, looking inward like the windows of a snowbound cottage. And (under scrutiny) the blue eyes are not clear but covered with a gray frost-like layer, without looking outside at the external world like the windows of a snowsurrounded cottage. frosted: covered with frost or something like frost e.g.: a frosted window; frosted blue eyes

  5) ... he cups his right thigh in both hands. ... he holds his right thigh with his hands curved like a dish. cup: support or hold something with the hands that are curved like a dish e.g.: He cupped her chin in the palm of his hand. David knelt, cupped his hands and splashed river water onto his face. Translate: 她把冰冷的双手捂在热茶杯周围. She cupped her cold hands round the mug of the hot tea.
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  6) swing move something from one side to the other e.g.: A large pendulum swung back and forth inside the grandfather clock. The truck driver swung himself up into the driver's seat. His mood swings between elation and despair.
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  6) swing swing at sth/sb: to move your arm up in an attempt to hit sth. or sb. 对准…打去,挥 动…打… e.g.: I made a harmless remark to some guy at the bar and he swung at me. 在酒吧里我向某个家伙说了句无恶意的话, 他就向我打了一拳.
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  7) probe physically explore or examine (something) with the hands or an instrument; investigate e.g.: They probed in/into the mud with a special drill, looking for a long-buried shipwreck. Detectives questioned him for hours, probing for any inconsistencies in his story. The official enquiry will probe into alleged corruption within the Defence Ministry.
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  8) heft lift or hold (something) in order to test its weight e.g.: I hefted a suitcase.
  9) I see that we are to be accomplices. e.g.: I see that I have to help the aide feed the patient.
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Paragraphs 14-15 This part tells about how the man is found dead and what secrets the doctor discovers about him. Questions to be asked:
  1) How is the man found dead? He is found dead accidentally by the head nurse, who reports it to the doctor.
  2) What death is it? It can be said that the patient died a dignified death.

  3) How did he die? The man starved himself to death as is suggested at the end of the text by the doctor's attention



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