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“Theatre 6” by Sarah Hall

Introduction

It might be difficult for people to openly discuss the moral dilemmas that can cause one to choose between abiding by the law and helping others. The story that is described in this essay discusses this issue by placing the reader out of his or her comfort zone and showing its impact in a hospital setting. The thesis of this paper: Sarah Hall’s short story “Theatre 6” explores the ethical dilemma between bureaucratic formalities and saving human lives by employing various elements of setting, symbolism, and point of view. This paper aims to analyze the primary theme and literary devices that are used in this story.

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Main body

The story combines several crucial elements to evoke feelings of compassion and show the reader that it is not a one-of-a-kind type of situation. The narrative is set in a hospital operating room and in-house chapel, perpetuating the atmosphere of bureaucratic conformity that defies morality. The setting serves as the display of the conflict between individual choice and procedures. The inability to abstain from the paperwork entirely puts significant pressure on the protagonist. The author writes, “The on-call room is never dark enough, even with your eye-mask,” indicating that she wants darkness to hide from the unnecessary formalities (Hall 1). The intent of this setting is to show the mix of the exhaustion of the personnel and the pressure from this type of work.

The author uses juxtaposition to indicate further the absurdity of the fact that the law can be harmful to those whom it aims to protect. The closeness of the description of a sign that reads “Life Is Sacred” with the description of punishments issued to medical personnel who disregarded laws to save a life shows a ridiculous contradiction. Moreover, when the main character passes the chapel, the chapel is described with disregard, “You’ve seen these items on sale in the hospital gift shop – 20 pence each – they’re found all over… in the chapel’s votive plates” (Hall 1). This attitude towards the chapel further indicates the neglect of sacred moral values.

The dubious legality of actions and the burden of decisions on the fly in a healthcare setting in the story contrasts with real-life incidents. The implied overly complicated process for proving the necessity of an abortion is a primary issue that the author highlights. Barbosa et al., in Health Care for Women International, approach the clash between morality and laws by examining abortions and argue that these issues are controversial due to peculiarities in individual perceptions (761). The protagonist expresses strong disapproval of the legal framework of the non-removal of dead fetuses.

The use of symbolism highlights the central ethical dilemma between laws and morality. The story begins with a description of the protagonist’s dream, which predisposes the reader to think abstractly about the symbolic meanings of such elements. Hall writes, “You are dreaming of geese, of all things. Geese in a field by a river. Grey geese” (1). The image of geese represents the monotonousness of the protagonist’s work-life flooded by paperwork rather than saving lives.

The operation theatre is a symbolic battleground of the main character’s moral dilemma since, here, she mentally expresses her dissatisfaction with work. Despite having saved a life, she understands that it will lead to another unnecessary round of regulatory actions and additional paperwork. Sousa et al. find that similar to the protagonist of this short story, 26% of physicians in the US feel burnout and job dissatisfaction (63). The situation leaves the main character exhausted both physically and emotionally, however, the battle is not yet over, and the legal issues await ahead, which severely dampens the fact that a life has been saved.

The second-and third-person’s points of view are used throughout the story to allow for a deep insight into the moral dilemma. The second person is utilized to provide readers with an insight into the protagonist’s thought process, “You are dreaming of geese, of all things” (Hall 1). This method creates an atmosphere of conformity since it resembles instructions, which echoes the central conflict of laws versus morality. Hall aims to put a reader into the confined space for a tough decision that leaves little choice, and both outcomes will weigh the protagonist down. When describing other characters, the third person is employed to portray the context of the protagonist’s experiences within the hospital, “Ah, beautiful, he says. Yes, that’s the best way to come. Of course” (Hall 6). By implementing inner statements regarding past experiences and similar incidents as evidence, the author invites the reader to take a side in this decision.

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Furthermore, the reader receives a clear description of the protagonist’s attitude toward these laws. In an article titled “Point of View in Narrative” in Theory and Practice in Language Studies journal, Alami argues that the second-person point of view creates “creates an intimate relationship between character and reader” (911). It is evident in the given story since it cultivates a more intimate outlook through the main character’s eyes, as the reader can see what motives drive her actions. The author is able to use this setup to have a noticeable impact on the reader’s attitude towards the problem. Even within an unfamiliar setting, a sufficient description of the character’s emotions establishes the connection between their decisions and the reader’s expectations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this story uses a second-person point of view to make the main character relatable and more believable. The author uses several literary devices, such as allegory and juxtaposition, to demonstrate the severity of the issue. Moreover, the setting of the story sets up a perfect example of the moral dilemma that the author aims to put into the light, and it complements their point of view with its profound significance. The behavior of the characters further adds to the feeling of the surrealistic struggle between life and death, depicting how burdensome these issues can be. The combination of these features in the story makes it highly relatable and compels the reader to support the author’s point of view.

Works Cited

Alami, Suhair. “Point of View in Narrative.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 9, no. 8, 2019, pp. 911-920. Gale Literature Resource Center, Web. 

Barbosa, Cacique Denis, et al. “Perspectives of Healthcare Workers on the Morality of Abortion: A Multicenter Study in Seven Brazilian Public Hospitals.” Health Care for Women International, vol. 41, no. 7, 2020, pp. 761-776. CINAHL.

Hall, Sarah. Madame Zero. Faber & Faber, 2017.

Sousa, Camila Carvalho, et al. “Occupational Stress and Job Dissatisfaction with Health Work.” Psicologia: Reflexão e Crítica, vol. 32, no. 1, 2019, pp. 63-80. Gale Literature Resource Center.

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