A Childhood Memory
The narrator starts by telling us about her little trip to the movie theatre with other children to see A Night At the Opera, starring the Marx Brothers. She said, “We acted the cliché’. We melted with laughter.” She described Harpo Marx as “a dumb sad man with hair like wheat and round eyes like paddling pools.” Later she wondered why they laughed so much.
She goes on to describe years later, that she was in a refractory, called Park House. It was the part of a hospital set aside for people with mental health problems. She said, “disturbed”. It was a locked facility. She goes on to describe how nicely decorated the hospital for regular patients was, It was so welcoming, “Like a country retreat”.
Then we find out how dark and dreary the refractory was. There was not much to do there except for a walked outside for the few privileged, non-violent patients. Even then they were taken threw hidden please so that the rest of the hospital would have to see them. Bedtime was at 6:00.
One day it was announced that things were going to change. There was to be films showed in the day room, after the more violent patients went to bed. The first film was to be.. you guessed it A Night At the Opera.
When I was finished reading the story, I wasn’t sure how I felt. After a few days something made me think of it. Maybe it was something a client said. For those of you who don’t know, I am a social worker in the field of mental health. Whatever it was, I started re-examining the story in my head.
Park House was horrid, like most institutions of that time. Now a day’s most people are living in the community with assistance as they need it or in group homes. Mental illness isn’t swept under the carpet anymore. That’s it, what I was feeling from the story was frustration. I think that may be in part what Frame wanted her readers to feel.
Janet Frame’s writing was brilliant. Her language electrifying. With less than four pages her story was surprisingly well developed. I highly recommend it.
Janet Frame was from New Zeeland, 1924-2004. This short story was found among Janet Frame’s papers after her death in 2004. It was published in The New Yorker. You can read it here.

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