Elizabeth Grace Newhall
26 January 2020
Response to A Fortunate Man
On the surface, Henry Berger’s A Fortunate Man tells the story of a country doctor. Each passage, however, tells not only the doctor’s story, but a story he shares with at least one other person, including the patient. In the short narrative about the man caught under a tree, the bystanders play an equal, if not greater, role in the story. In fact, the reader hears more from the bystanders than the actual injured person, who doesn’t express anything except for some grunts and groans. Once the doctor arrives and the initial franticness of the accident subsides, all three onlookers begin to parrot this idea that the man caught “had a chance” and “could’ve got clear” of the tree before it fell. Readers feel the awkward lull that accompanies being a bystander without a “job.” In the beginning, the men occupied themselves with leading the doctor to his patient, but once the doctor takes over, the only thing the men can do is stand there. They transition from bystander to commenter just in an effort to fill the uncomfortable silence.
Although the tone is fairly innocuous, they imply through their comments that the man had a choice as to whether or not he would be injured, but he chose to get caught under the tree. For a reader, this attitude can be angering and especially disturbing. Although this takes place in early 20th century England, it has implications on the modern idea of victim-blaming. Although today we normally don’t shame people for being victims of this type of physical injury, it makes as much sense as blaming a victim of sexual assault or a person that suffers from mental illness, which is no sense at all.