Thursday, September 23, 2010

Men in White by Sidney Kingsley (1934)

Summary:  Doctors at various stages of their careers are at work in a hospital.  One night, the engaged Dr. Ferguson has an adulterous tryst with a nurse named Barbara.  A few months later, Barbara herself is on the operating table after an abortion goes wrong.  Ultimately, Barbara dies and Laura (Dr. Ferguson’s fiancee) leaves Dr. Ferguson, reminding her overworked former fiancee to, “work hard.” 

Thoughts:  Abortion!  Adulterous trysts!  1934!  When I read the line, “septic abortion”, I immediately put an exclamation point in the margin.  To that point, the drama of the play surrounded the action of the hospital and the interpersonal relationships of the characters; but the botched abortion served as a catalyst for the remainder of the dramatic action.  While Nurse Barbara is being prepared for surgery, Dr. Hochberg (a senior physician) invites Laura to watch Ferguson's next surgery in order to help her understand the importance of his work.  The next surgery "coincidentally" happens to be the removal of Barbara's uterus.  During the surgery, the entire sordid situation becomes clear to Laura…who is understandably devastated.  

One of the most interesting things about this play is Kingsley’s extensive usage of footnotes.  Sometimes, his footnotes simply translate medical language “Stat=hospital jargon for immediatley” (443), but other times, his liberal inclination shines through:   
“No one wants to encourage the indiscriminate use of this grim practice.  However, the lash of the law, instead of correcting the evil, only whips it into dark corners, creating a vicious class of criminal practitioner--bootleg doctors and ignorant midwives who work in dark, back-room apartments.  A saner, healthier attitude is that adopted by the Soviet government, which is fostering birth control education, and instituting legal abortion clinics in a spirit best expressed by the motto inscribed over the door of one such clinic:  "You are welcome this time, but we hope you will never have to come here again" (466). 
This was Kingsley's first published work, written six years after his graduation from Cornell where he "distinguished himself with his talents in forensic and dramatic art" (436). 

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