29 pages 58 minutes read

Susan Sontag

The Way We Live Now

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1986

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Way We Live Now”

“The Way We Live Now” is not primarily a story about AIDS; few details of the disease are included in the narrative, and little is revealed about the patient’s life or identity. Rather, it is a story that examines how people respond to an AIDS diagnosis and a satire that exposes the dehumanization of terminal patients by even their closest companions.

The title of “The Way We Live Now” is borrowed from English novelist Anthony Trollope’s 1875 satirical novel of the same name. Trollope’s novel establishes a framework that Sontag follows: A catastrophic event leads to a prolonged crisis, during which the author takes note of particular social failings. Specifically, Trollope lampoons the greed and dishonesty that were made evident by the economic depression following the Panic of 1873 and expressed in opportunistic marriage proposals and unscrupulous business deals. Sontag adopts the same approach as she critically examines social responses to terminal illness, specifically to AIDS. In this short story, the catastrophe is the discovery of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which leads to the crisis of the epidemic and the failings of support systems. She demonstrates that the patient’s support network operates narratively—according to the stories people tell themselves—instead of being anchored logically in asking a patient what support they need and meeting those requests.