The Limits of Narrative and Culture: Reflections on Lorrie Moore’s “People Like that are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk”

Pamela Schaff, Johanna Shapiro

This article provides a discussion of the limits of both narrative and culture based on a close textual analysis of the short story, “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk,” by Lorrie Moore. In this story, a mother describes her experiences on a pediatric oncology ward when her infant son develops Wilms’ tumor. The authors examine how the story satirically portrays the spurious claims of language, story, and culture to protect us from an unjust universe and then exposes their false promises. The various personal, professional, and genrespecific narratives we use to create order and coherence from the terror of serious illness are ultimately ineffective. Similarly, the superficially comforting culture of the hospital ward cares more about creating the illusion of control than it does about the suffering of sick children. Language and culture cannot make sense of human anguish, the article concludes, yet they are all we have to hold back the chaos. Mystery and uncertainty, as part of the human condition, must become part of our stories and part of our culture.

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