Confined by her illness to cage-like existence, the woman subject in excerpt of John Berger’s A Fortunate Man, becomes newly acclimated to her surrounding air. Revealed most explicitly in her acquired condition of asthma, air — the pattern and availability of it — becomes an important observational thread throughout the story. Berger begins the story by taking note of this air ‘about’ the woman, one he equates to that of a schoolgirl. He foreshadows the vanishment of this particular kind of air and by the end of the story we realize it is the doctor that has disturbed such. The woman has suffered from insomnia and asthma though her tests for allergy were negative. We find that the source of her illness is not irritability from the surrounding environment but rather deeply rooted emotional trauma. Berger offers up the metaphor, “cage of her illness,” to evoke the image of a woman closed off to the surrounding world, and possibly even herself (Berger, 21). This cage, I find, seems to play a dual role: one of constriction (similar to the way her airways behave) and one of protection (from the outside and from self). Berger carefully describes the instinctive twitching of her eyes and wrinkling her nose — like a rabbit’s — if something is to come too close to the side of her cage. These subtle changes in her features forbode the greater change in demeanor that comes when the doctor asks the woman if her manager ever made a pass on her; “She froze…her hands stopped moving…her breathing became inaudible. She never answered him” (Berger, 23). The doctor had punctured the sides of her cage. By surfacing the source of her pain, it was as if he had ripped the bandaid off to expose her wound to the icy, stinging air that surrounded. His question had penetrated into the air about the woman — one that she used to control her exposure to by the protection of her cage — and taken away her breath.
Berger, John . A Fortunate Man. New York : Vintage Books , 1967. 21-23. Print.