Thinks… and Ross

Thinks… by David Lodge most definitely capitulates, as Roth would say, to reductive or deterministic ideas about the brain. Throughout the novel, readers are exposed to these ideas through the character of Ralph. However, Lodge, especially in the beginning of the novel, used Helen’s character as  filter of sorts for the information that Ralph is giving. It is through the dialogue or writing of Helen that she questions or repeats what Ralph has just said, therefore making it easier to understand for the reader. A very clear example of the differences between Helen and Ralph’s characters comes in one of their very first conversations. When Helen and Ralph go to lunch together and Helen tells Ralph about the death of her husband, Martin, Ralph responds by saying that it was a good way for him to die. When Helen understandably becomes upset, Ralph responds by saying, “Who knows? He might have developed some horribly painful degenerative disease next year” (Lodge 34). The difference between Ralph thinking that Martin was actually lucky to have died the way he did and Helen’s opinion that he was cheated out of the joys of growing old could be seen as the difference between a positive outlook and a negative outlook. However, the real difference between these two points of view is that Ralph’s is more reductive than Helen.

This difference can be seen again later in the novel when Ralph sends Helen the article on grief. The article’s explanation that grief is simply a function of the brain is quite cold, especially to Helen who is a writer and views something like grief as the working of the “soul” or “heart” rather than the chemicals in the brain. This is a yet another example of the differences between Helen and Ralph as well as the difference between a reductive and non-reductive view. Although Ralph may seem to be insensitive by sending Helen this article, I do believe he truly is attempting to help. However, it is interesting to note that his attempt to help is by attempting to diagnose Helen’s grief as a working of the brain; something that can be measured and explained through science. As Ross says, this is somewhat common in the neurological novel and is also present in novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Reminiscent of Ralph’s actions, in both of these novels the author feels the need to diagnose the characters on medical grounds. This connection puts Ralph’s character firmly in the reductive or deterministic categories that Ross describes. Moreover, in my opinion, it also firmly establishes Thinks… as a neurological novel.

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