The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is written from the point of view of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist and former editor-in-chief of ELLE magazine, in Paris. Bauby suffered a severe stroke on December 8, 2005, leaving him with a rare condition known as locked-in syndrome, in which the brain continues to function normally, but the body is completely paralyzed. Jean-Do retained some movement in his head and left eye, and wrote his memoir through a tedious method of blinking.
An interlocutor would read aloud a special alphabet, ordered by their frequency of use in French language, and Bauby would blink whenever the person reached the correct letter (Wikipedia).
Through this method, the reader is offered a glimpse into the mind of a man who, otherwise, was unable to communicate to the outside world. The story would not be the same if it were told from another perspective. If told from the point of view of one of his therapists at the hospital, his condition would be told from a primarily medical standpoint.
If a family member or friend told the story, our view of Bauby’s condition would be limited to hospital visits and personal memories. It is only by hearing the story directly from Bauby, that we get a clear understanding of the life that he lived and the condition of which he suffered, on a day-to-day basis. Bauby died on March 9, 1997 due to pneumonia, 10 days after the publication of his book (Wikipedia). The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir told through Jean-Dominique Bauby’s unique perspective, vivid imagination, beautiful prose, and discussion of universal themes, stands as a testament to the vitality of the human mind.
At the beginning of the book, Jean-Do is in his hospital room, at the Naval Hospital in northern France. He explains that a year ago he suffered a massive stroke in his brain stem that has left him completely incapacitated. Jean’s stroke resulted in a phenomenon known as locked-in syndrome. His mental capacities function as normal, but he is paralyzed from the neck down, although he can swivel his head from side to side and blink his left eye. Jean goes on to share his experiences at the hospital, explaining his life on a day-to-day basis.
He talks about his different doctors and therapists, the tortures that come with an inability to move, and what it’s like to be bathed, dressed, and fed. His right eye is eventually sewn up, as the eyelid no longer functioned. Bauby describes the communication code he sets up with his speech therapist, Sandrine, in which she recites the alphabet and he blinks when she calls the right letter. Friends and family sometimes visit Jean-Do. He recounts a day he spent with his children and their mother, on the beach, for father’s day, among other visits.
Bauby also reminisce about his life before the stroke, recalling his early days as a journalist, shaving his father, a pilgrimage he once took with his lover, and, finally, the day of his stroke. At the end of the book, Bauby sees the contents of a half-open purse on a nearby table, a hotel room key, a metro ticket, and a hundred-franc note, and realizes that these ordinary objects have become alien to him: remnants of a way of life he has become a stranger to. This forces Bauby to realize that he is beginning a new life, and must acknowledge this in order to move ahead.
This differs from the beginning of the book, in which he only displays a longing for life to return to how it was before the stroke. It is not until he truly accepts his condition that Bauby’s mind is able to soar like a butterfly. The theme of the book is the persistence of the human spirit in the face of extreme physical disability. Throughout the memoir, Bauby describes the difficulties of living with locked-in syndrome: his ambivalence to being bathed, the pain of receiving phone calls with loved ones in which he can only listen, the frustration of not being able to remove a fly that has landed on his nose, among other things.
The title, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, comes from Bauby’s idea that while his body was weighed down and unable to move, like a diving bell, his imagination and memories still had the lightness and freedom of a butterfly. Bauby states, “My cocoon becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. ” There are many other symbols prevalent in the book. Jean-Do sees the lighthouse outside the hospital as a symbol of hope for his future and a light in dark times.
When dressed in his old student clothes, instead of becoming upset by the poignant memories they brought back, Bauby says he views the clothes as a symbol of continuing life and proof that he still wants to be himself. His daughter Celeste’s drawing of a fish, that resembled the mathematical symbol for infinity, could also represent continuing life and the perseverance of spirit. Given the nature of his condition, the author is, understandably, concise in his use of words. Jean-Do wrote the entire book by blinking his left eyelid, in July and August of 1996.
A transcriber continually recited the French alphabet, by order of frequent use (E, S, A, R, I, N, T, U, L, etc. ), until Bauby blinked to move on to the next letter. The book was written in about 200,000 blinks, with the average word taking approximately two minutes to spell. Bauby was an educated man and experienced journalist, so his vocabulary reflects such. Even though much of the writing is to the point, Bauby’s words are thoughtful, emotional, poignant, and beautifully written, as the book was composed and edited in his head and conveyed letter by letter.
There is very little dialogue in the book, because of Bauby’s inability to communicate vocally. Instead, the story is told through Jean-Do’s internal voice, as he expresses his thoughts on his experiences in the hospital and remembers his life before the stroke. The general mood of the novel is both sad and light. There are moments in Bauby’s story that break your heart. One example of this is when his children come to visit him on father’s day, and Bauby’s son, Theophile, must wipe the drool from his father’s mouth, and Jean-Do is unable to run his fingers through his son’s hair.
However, the novel is not completely somber, as the author’s enduring hopes and dreams and memories drown out the moments of self-pity. Bauby frequently inserts witty and humorous commentary into his internal dialogue. He gives the nurses nicknames, such as “Big Bird”, “Rambo”, and “Terminator”, and when an arrogant doctor asks Bauby whether he sees double, Bauby replies to himself, “Yes, I see two assholes, not one. ” The atmosphere of the story is mainly one of loneliness and isolation. Trapped in his body, Bauby longs to, again, have contact with the outside world.
Jean Bauby began writing the memoir as a way of attaining that human connection, in order to quell his feelings of loneliness and share his experience of living with LIS. Not only does Bauby learn a lot about himself through this process, but also, intentionally or unintentionally, teaches a lot to the reader, pointing out the things in life that truly matter and that most take for granted. Bauby shows that every passing second is another chance to turn it all around, and inspires us all to show the same strength in spirit and drive to live. I think he is more than uccessful with his purpose in writing the memoir, as while he may have written it to give himself a reason to live, in turn, he has given purpose and meaning to many other lives, including my own. The thing that particularly impressed me about this book was the composition of the book itself. The fact that he was not only able to write a memoir, but a moving, beautifully written memoir, only blinking his left eye is an amazing feat. The thing that annoyed me about this book was that I did not always get the references to some of the French people and places mentioned, and there were no footnotes to make them clear.
If I were to rewrite this book, I would change it by talking more about Bauby’s relationship with his girlfriend, as well as his relationship with his children and their mother. If I had had the opportunity to speak to one of the characters in his book, I would have told Sylvie, the mother of his children, that she should let the children spend more time with their father, and to visit him on Sundays, a day which Bauby comments as being excruciatingly dead.
One thing in this book that reminded me of another book I read was when Jean-Do mentions the character of the elderly Noirtier de Villefort, from the Count of Monte Cristo, who he describes as being “literature’s first — and so far only — case of locked-in syndrome. ” The character I could best relate to was Jean-Do, because his plight represents the plight of all humans: to transcend our physical boundaries and find connection with the world around us. We both share an active imagination and a positive outlook on life.
If I had to teach this book, I would cover the process in which the story was written, as the story really speaks for itself. I would recommend this book to anyone in need of a motivational or inspirational read. I think everyone can take something out of this book. Jean-Dominique Bauby’s story serves as a reminder to us all that even when life is difficult, it is still beautiful, invaluable, and well worth living. Works Cited “Jean-Dominique Bauby. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2008, 13:34 UTC. 9 Dec 2008 .
Cite this The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (2018, Feb 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-diving-bell-and-the-butterfly/