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A Study of Alienation Theme in Tom Shadyac's Book, Patch Adams

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There are endless crossroads in the human life, and the ability to distinguish these crossroads relies on ones ability to relinquish any preconceptions of the meaning of life. These crossroads embody what sociological critics for centuries have referred to as alienation and reification. They deem the twin theories are the essence of our individual universes. They interpret the abyss humans deem from their legitimate sense of self. Every human at one divergence in their life has loss the path they were intended to take, thus becoming alienated. This is because society unduly influences humanity into assuming materialism, is the preeminent necessity to strive for, thus experiencing reification. Sociological critics find alienation and reification as important concepts in understanding literature and films. An excellent way to illustrate how important these theories are is to apply them to the story of one man who faced and overcame them. The man I refer to is Hunter Adams, and the movie based on his life is Patch Adam.

In the beginning of the film, Hunter interprets his feelings of alienation when he states, the storm was in my mind, or as the poet Dante put it, in the middle of the journey of my life I found myself in the dark woods for I had lost the right path. Eventually, I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place (Patch). Hunter committed himself to a mental institution for suicidal tendencies. Ashley Montagu would say, Patch was attempting to understand how in evading the demands of evolution, he had gone astray, then he would give up his present course and join the general mass of humanity (80).

During his institutionalization, Hunter found himself coming out of solitude do to the peculiar characters that encircled him. Arthur Mendleson, a fellow patient enlightened Hunter that; if you focus on the problem you cant see the solution. You have to look pass the problem, and see what everyone refuses to see, fear, conformity, laziness, and see each day a new (Patch). Using what Arthur told him, Patch was able to help his roommate Rudy, who could not go to the toilet because of an infirmity about squirrels. The precipitance that Patch experienced from creating a war like milieu with imaginary guns and bazookas against the squirrels was unbelievable. Upon helping Rudy subdue this infirmity, Hunter realized he was able to, as Freud would say use a defense mechanism (Barry, pg. 98). Hunter is avoiding his painful problems by exerting himself in the aiding of others. It was this incredible feeling of alleviation from his own problems that made Hunter realize he wanted to connect and comfort as many people as possible. Upon this revelation, Hunter, now known as Patch, left the institution in search of his life.

A couple of years later, Patch was accepted into Medical School. When Patch met his roommate Mitch, he was amused. Mitch was not personal enough to converse, but gave his resume of accomplishments with airs. Patch realized Mitch was as Ashley Montagu would say, developed in competition instead of cooperation, in narrow selfish interests instead of altruism, in atomism instead of universalism, in the value of money instead of the value of man (100). Patch realized at the first lecture by Dean Wilcox, that he was not going to be able to conform to the rationale of capitalism, which is the pursuit of individual economic self-interest that would bring economic and social benefits to the whole of society (Barry, pg. 157). Patch did not see conformance as being beneficial to society as a whole, but more as apathy to the quality of life. This was a challenge to Patch, and he was ready to confront the medical professions ego. Patch intentionally goes out of his way to compare his theories against the ideologies of his peers and superiors. His theories are that laughter, compassion, and just relating with another person can improve the quality of life around them. Patch sees the intended teaching of the dean as what Louis Althusser would call interpellation (Barry, pg. 165). Whereby, you can treat the disease, but you can not treat the patient because transference was not permissible.

Patch used what German philosopher Hegel calls the dialectic to his advantage whereby using the opposing forces or ideas (existing medical ideologies) to bring about new situations or ideas (his ideologies) (Barry, pg. 157). Patch begins to test his theories by visiting the patients before his junior year. Patchs wild experiments included appareling in costumes, granting the unusual aspirations of the patients, and showing compassion for them. He wanted to prove that if doctors treated the patient as well as the disease, then the quality of life for all could be improved (Patch). Patch was met with great opposition by the dean, and was warned not to go to the hospital to see patients again. Once Patch saw the difference he was able to make with the patients, he ignored the dean and the advice of his friends, and continued to interact with the patients. It was within this interaction that Patch visualized doctors and patients working together without any barriers.

This visualization would become the first fun hospital with slides, waterfalls, and the treatment would be with laughter and compassion. Patch, along with his two trusted companions, Corrine and Truman, opened the doors to the Gesundheit Institute during their junior year. Things seemed to be going well, but Corrine still had her doubts on the safety of transference. She felt, as Freud did that transference takes place when the patient develops a dependency and emotions towards the doctor, which were actually felt towards the parent (Montagu, pg. 78). Corrine felt this way because she had alienated herself from others since childhood. One night, she uncovered her feelings of alienation and reification to Patch, and explained that abuse by men during her entire life had castrated her. She wanted nothing to do with men until she met Patch. It was upon this meeting that the ice she built around her heart began to melt. Patch finally thought his life was whole, and nothing co!

uld ever threaten the wholeness he is feeling but he was wrong. While assisting a patient they had treated in the past, Corrine was killed. This devastation caused Patch to uncover the feelings he was repressing. Freud had once stated there is always a return of the repression (Barry, pg100). Freud believed that repression hides on the level of the unconscious and similar feeling triggers it. Patch felt he had taught her the medicine that killed her, and he was not going to be responsible for anyone else. As Ashley Montagu says, for no man can ever be other than involved in mankind. Human beings by their very nature are involved with and dependent upon other human beings all the days of our lives (78). Patch realized that he can not let this destroy his life, but he could use it as a learning experience. He went back school to fulfill his destiny only to face the State Medical Board and the accusations of Dean Wilcox.

The dean told Patch he was dangerous, and that he made everyone around him nervous. The dean also stated that this type of behavior was not what it takes to be a doctor. Patch realized it was not that he was dangerous to others only the dean, because he represented change. While addressing the medical board, Patch argued the true meaning of what a doctor is. He asked the medical board since when did a doctor become more than just a trusted and learned friend who visited the sick(Patch)?

Then he turned and addressed the medical students in the room and pleaded:

Do not let them anesthetize you, do not let them numb you from the miracle of life. Always live in awe of the glorious mechanism of the human body. Let this be the focus of your studies and not a quest for grades. This will give you no idea of the kind of doctor you will be. In addition, do not wait until you are on the floor to get your humanity back, start your interviewing skills now. Starts talking to strangers, friends, wrong numbers, talk to everyone and cultivate friendships with the nurses. They have a wealth of knowledge to share, and the professors you respect who are not numb from the heart up. Share their compassion, and let that be contagious (Patch).

Patch wanted to insure that the next class of doctors was, not subjected to the alienation and reification that classes in the past were. He gave them the medicine and hoped they took it. Ashley Montagu best sums up what is at the heart of Patch Adams theories by saying, the measure of a persons humanity is the extent and intensity of his love for mankind (109).

Sociological critics would say that Patch Adams clearly defines the affects of alienation and reification on society. I would agree with them because no matter how many times I watch this film, I am still struck by the intensity it creates. It is so easy to relate to the stages within the film because it is not fiction. It is based on a real persons life and the lives he touched. Critics would argue that it had a traditional happy ending, with the hero on top. I feel it was not so much a happy ending as much as a happy beginning.

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A Study of Alienation Theme in Tom Shadyac’s Book, Patch Adams. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
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