The seemingly invisible social barriers that exist in our world today erect walls between humans of the same species forcefully isolating each of us. Of the many, awkwardness, shyness, unfamiliarity, etc. therein lies translational barriers, language barriers. In William Carlos William’s book “The Doctor Stories” he makes many references to the obstacles that prevent human communication. During the chapter “Ancient Gentility” William’s discusses an experience in the house of some low class Italian peasants.
Regardless of the specifics of the event that he has while briefly caring for this older female patient, the story is a tale pieced together with bare human experiences that relate to us all.
The account that Williams recorded details a time in which the conversation between human beings flowed purposefully and effectively regardless of their ability to effectively communicate the same language.
Williams begins the chapter discussing a peculiar curiosity with a certain house that he had passed many times during his medical career.
He contrasts its peculiarity with the fact that he has pretty much been the only doctor in Guinea hill for a long while and that he knows pretty much every person or has treated them medically. It obvious that he was curious about this house from the beginning, he directly admits it, but Williams also records stark detail about the old man in the front of the house smoking that he had seen at times blatantly showing us where the passage is leading from the beginning.
The description of his memory of the house made it clear that Williams had a strong desire to see to the people in that house, in fact it was puzzling to him and possibly unsettling that he had never been to care for those residents, it was his town after all.
It seems at first that he might be only doing a good dead when he agreed to see the old woman inside the house, but Williams is frank in admitting that he jumped at the opportunity, because he knew that there was something waiting for him inside of the house.
Although from a business standpoint he realized he would not have been receiving any compensation, as a physician he was dying to open the door to that little frame building. This part of the story seems to represent a weird phenomenon to me that I have experienced at times in my life. Often I will observe a particular human being or a place privately in my day-to-day activity wondering about it curiously, only to later be surprised that this person became my best friend, or ended up in my class working with me on a project. Almost like clock work each individual or place reveals something to me that I could not have expected, learned, or experienced otherwise.
Williams was quick to mention that the peasants that lived inside the house could not speak the same language as him, yet this apparent barrier did not prevent Williams, the old man, and the old woman from effectively communicating. Seemingly subtle this bit of the novel alludes to an insight about human beings, that spoken word misleads us into thinking that is our only method of communication.
In fact, the words that we use each day are dead. They mean nothing. Words are simply arbitrary symbols that represent ideas each human possesses in some form or another. At times words prove to be the most ineffective form of communication; often misheard or misinterpreted by one another words can be a barrier of their own. Irrefutably though, dependence on a monolingual form of communication is inhibiting to the flow of each of our individual humanities.
Even though the old man or woman could not communicate the same language was Williams each time there was information that needed to be relayed or could it happened. From the very beginning of the experience Williams could tell he was welcome and in a home with good people by the way that the old man opened before he could knock eagerly awaiting his arrival and the numerous times he bowed to Williams in respect and gratitude. The old man can communicate to
Williams the location of the ill patient with out nearly any intelligible words. The patient even effectively translates the ideas that she has nothing truly wrong with her and she has been aware of it. He observes the appearances of both the woman and man and determines that they are harmless in gentle. Williams paints them each in a beautiful light of innocence using the color imagery of the brilliant white in each of their hair. He even describes the old woman’s hair as silvery, which makes the reader believe that even though these two humans are near death they are indeed full of life. At the end of the exchange the old man effectively communicates his gratitude again and the fact that he is sorry that he has no money to pay Williams with very sparse Italian.
The end of the entire scene for me is the most powerful part of the interchange. Williams plainly ends the chapter with the such words as “ Finally, with tears in my eyes, I felt the old man standing there, smiling, an experience the like of which I shall never, in all probability, have again in my life on this mundane sphere”. Before this statement Williams mentions his experience with the awkwardness of a conclusion that almost all humans face when trying to end conversation but maintain a good impression on the other. The old man offers Williams snuff as a sort of token of gratitude. Williams reaches out for the can and cannot make out exactly what it is or why the man gave it to him.
The main quaintly realizes his confusion and gently grabs the can from Williams showing him what it is and how to use it. Williams then human-like attempts to vainly imitate the same process as the man, completely aware of his lack of experience. In an almost guaranteed fashion Williams eyes begin to water as he regrets his decision. Through his watery eyes Williams claims he feels the old man smile rather than sees it. He describes the experience as one that he will never have again. I believe that all at one time Williams began to realize almost exactly what he makes reference to in his essay “The Practice”.
Williams knows that he has always been curious of that house, that he and the patients all communicated with out nearly any use of cloudy dialect, and that he had very made a friend with the old man on the basis of purely human sentiments not the shady forecasting that comes with words. Williams’s last three words are my favorite of the book, he names earth “this mundane sphere” as to almost say that this planet is barren and the true joy and experience is held within the richness of its people.
Through this chapter in his novel “The Doctor Stories” Williams lays waste to the fundamental concept that words are necessary for communication by showing in fact that they are not. His anecdote of the Italian family in the tin house provided sufficient evidence about how humans can get along with out the use of the stormy misleading dialects we shield ourselves with. Indeed the spring the gives life to us all shall never cease to spew through the cracks of conversation and life. Williams leads us to all believe that indeed the richness, the fullness of life comes within our relationships and stout observation of the words we all use but do not know how to speak clearly.