In Praise of Aging Protagonists in Literature
This Week from the Reading Women Podcast
From the episode:
Jaclyn: I mentioned on the last episode that when I read this book, it immediately made me want to have an entire theme dedicated to ageism in literature and depictions and representations of aging protagonists in literature. I think the way that Meg is written is such a refreshing take on seeing a woman in her seventies being portrayed. She’s written with so much complexity and nuance. She’s not just relegated to this two-dimensional characterization. She’s robust. She’s complicated. She’s navigating body image issues. She’s internalizing so much of the social conditioning and stereotypes around older women. But she’s also working through things like grief and the changing nature of her friendships, the way that she connects with society, with romance even.
One of the scenes I wanted to talk that really unpacks ageism and so much of the stereotypes that get written into literature in this space is a scene that happens later in the book. Meg is seeing a doctor, a male doctor. And he makes her feel very uncomfortable about her body and how she’s connecting with it, how she’s feeling about being sick. And I thought the scene was just loaded with so much without being heavy-handed—you know, “This is ageism! Look at it.” I thought it was very clever how things were laid in that scene.
Kendra: Yes. I really appreciated the way that Melanie Cheng was able to illustrate how oftentimes medical professionals will belittle older people when they go to doctors. It’s almost like they become children again in the eyes of medical professionals sometimes. That scene actually reminded me of going with my grandma to some of her doctor’s appointments and the way the doctor would talk down to her. It was really difficult to read in certain ways, but also is very real. I don’t think a lot of people realize that is the experience of many older people as you age, as you become more disabled, as your body deteriorates over time; that’s what age is. Getting more medical care for that as you deteriorate is just a very emotional experience, and the doctor was not helping things in any way, shape, or form.