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Research Anaylsis Paper
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In Pamela Zoline’s Heat death of the Universe, Sarah Boyle is a mother and a housewife going through moments of conceptual insanity.  She is overrun by the demands and burdens that are placed upon her. Throughout the story Sarah shows subtle signs of mental instability by her messages she leaves to herself around the house: Over the stove she wrote “Help, Help, Help, Help, and Help.” (1144).  These indications show that the daily routine that she goes through and her housewife responsibilities is a contributing factor to her nervous breakdown down.

  The term nervous breakdown comes mainly from the medical term Neurasthenia which in all actuality, does not correspond to a medical entity and its meaning has altered over the years.  Barke and company write that “another distinction highlighted working-class women, whose neurasthenia resulted from the fact they were characteristically overworked”.  Sarah Boyle falls into this category.  It is said that neurasthenia is commonly accompanied by unhappiness, alienation, and general disaffection.  The fact that housework is never completed is more evidence of her overload put on herself to obtain spotlessness and order.  She also insists on numbering everything in the house, which shows her obsession another uncommon practice in my opinion:  “Sometimes the numbers or letters the things in the room, writing the assigned character on each object… there are 819 moveable objects in the room.” (1144).

 And any mother who can’t remember how many children she has are not common and may have some psychological concern: “Sometimes Sarah can hardly remember how many cute, chubby little children she has.” (1150).  She often also finds herself daydreaming about the end of the world by ice, water, and nuclear war which could be argued as a little disturbing but not totally farfetched. What makes her breakdown obvious is her mental collapse at the end of the story when she discovers the family’s turtle has died: “Sarah pokes at it with a pencil but it does not move… she begins to cry… she takes up three bunny dishes and throws them against the refrigerator, they shatter, and then the floor is covered with shards… she is crying again…she throws a jar of grape jelly and smashes the window over the sink…” (1152). Her reaction at the end of the story runs a little deeper than her disappointment in the turtle’s demise and fits the description of a nervous breakdown/psychotic episode.  Hewitt writes that “Sarah’s collapse at the end of the story would seem to attest to her enclosure in a contained domestic sphere and a domestic order that ensures her generative failure.  Zoline’s story shows how the modern housewife of yesterday can put too much on them self and everyone has their “limit” of what they can bear.

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