29 pages 58 minutes read

Susan Sontag

The Way We Live Now

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1986

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Important Quotes

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“[B]ecoming seriously ill was something that happened to other people.”

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Denial is often the first stage of grief, and the story begins with the denial that often accompanies the diagnosis of terminal disease. This grief is experienced by both the protagonist and the collection of friends who must process this catastrophic turn of events.

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“[T]here’s something morbid I’m getting used to, getting excited by, this must be like what people felt in London during the Blitz.”

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In a moment of honesty, Ellen describes what it’s like to live through a prolonged crisis. Her life is impacted by a pervasive threat, but she cannot fathom that she will be personally impacted. Regardless of the actual risk, she believes she is on the periphery of danger, and she is excited by the proximity. Her response reflects the concept of Illness as a Metaphor.

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“[I]t wasn’t like the old days, as Kate pointed out to Aileen, they’re not even segregated in the hospital anymore, as Hilda observed, there’s nothing on the door of his room warning visitors of the possibility of contagion, as there was a few years ago.”

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This quote offers important information to the reader and establishes the setting of the story. Fear of contagion leads to the quarantining of infected patients and limited physical and social contact, both in the hospital and at home. The tone of the quote is significant in showing how time seems to move differently during periods of stress and anxiety; AIDS was first identified and categorized in 1981, so the “old days” can be no more than five years before the story.