Reading Response to Berger’s A Fortunate Man

“One of them shouted a warning, but it was too late.” (p.17)

With the very first sentence of his story, Berger throws his reader right into the unknown: there is no setup, introduction of the place or characters. This short piece is an example of ethnographic writing, a social observation which Berger wrote while accompanying an English country doctor. The writing is fast-paced, mirroring the action of the doctor hurrying to save the man crushed by the tree. The narrator of the story is Berger himself: an observer, not emotionally involved in the events but reporting on them. His writing, however, is not devoid of emotion: behind the events, Berger conveys emotions which paint an image of his characters: pain of the injured man, worry of the onlookers and dedication of the doctor.

The doctor is the main focus of Berger’s writing: he is the one whose actions we follow from the moment he gets the call about the accident until the injured man is taken away in an ambulance. Conveying the reality of the country doctor’s life is at the heart of the story. As people around comment on what’s happening, the doctor’s attention is focused on helping the trapped man. He also takes the time to explain what he’s doing to the three onlookers, reassuring them. Berger wonderfully captures the reactions of the onlookers to the doctor’s presence and his actions. To them, he is a friendly saviour but also a not-always-welcome outsider. To the injured man, he is a source of courage and hope.

“The three onlookers were relieved by the doctor’s presence. But now his very sureness made it seem to them that he was part of the accident: almost an accomplice” (p.18)

“Again the doctor, whom they knew so well, seemed the accomplice of disaster” (p.19)

So strongly tied to ideas and memories of illness, the country doctor seems to the people a part of the accident. His presence is synonymous with the presence of illness and injury. At the same time, he can relieve pain and illness but also be a constant reminder of their existence. The above sentences convey the mixed emotions people have towards doctors and reveal a truth about being one. The country doctor is a friend who is only present during most difficult and unpleasant of times. When that time is over, he doesn’t necessarily want to be remembered.

Works cited:

Berger, John, and Jean Mohr. A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor. Canongate, 2016, pp. 17-19