The world we live in is often compared to a massive theatre, where our actions are controlled by our surroundings. What defines realism, and how do we determine an individual’s sanity? The legal dictionary defines insanity as “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behaviour” (Hill). This definition by the law dictionary is appropriate, because of the situations Campbell faces. In the novel “Night Mother” by Kurt Vonnegut, the protagonist, Howard W. Campbell, goes through numerous events that have a drastic effect on his mental state. Through these incidents I am confident that Campbell is insane. This is brought upon by the death of his wife, the arrest of his only friends, the trickery of someone he once trusted, and the after math of all these events.
One reason why we find Campbell to be insane is due to his unwillingness to think on the future, instead of dwelling on the past. This world that he desires so dearly, does not exist. For example, after the death of his wife he lives with the illusion that she still exists. His daily life in his attic is built around Helga who is presumably dead “I drank toasts to her, said good morning to her, said goodnight to her, played music for her, and didn’t give a damn for one thing else’” (47). We can relate Campbell’s experience to a disorder called post-traumatic stress. This symptom is defined by psych central (Grohal) as “a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event” (Grohal), in our case the death of Campbell’s wife. This disorder results in symptoms such as, illusions of the deceased. To conclude, this all leads back to our definition of insanity. How the individual is unable to accept that his wife has perished. As he lives through a false fantasy that she is still with him, abnormally building his life around her spirit
Campbell is seen to be insane by us, for he is unable to distinguish the difference between Resi and Helga. This is illustrated through the introduction of Resi, who he thinks is Helga. “As lithe and blooming as my Helga had been on our wedding night” (78). This experience by Campbell is defined as Schizophrenia, which is a medical term of psychosis. The emotions and thoughts of Campbell are intertwined, resulting in poor behaviours of judgment, when first seeing the illusion of Helga in Resi. It could have been any women that Jones introduced to Campbell, but due to his illness he would have the same “ We cried, like babies, wrestled each other up the stairs to my attic”(79) reaction every time.
Adding to the argument of Campbell’s insanity, are his actions displayed after the loss of his most valued and loved friends. After the arrest and death of his links, the police find Campbell in an uncontrollable state, where his emotions are in a state of chaos. “How long I stood frozen there, I cannot say. If I was ever going to move again, someone else was going to have to furnish the reason for moving” (232). Campbell states as he is released out of jail with no charges. At this point, Campbell is lost from the physical world and his mental state is far from balanced. He is unable to snap out of this state, until an officer asks “You all right” (232) and follows up with “Better move on, don’t you think” (232), after finding out Campbell was not waiting for anyone. It was only until the officer forced Campbell to move, pressing him to forget about the punishing events that took place.
Campbell’s insanity is displayed through his alternating thought pattern, after the raid of Jones home. In the beginning of the novel Campbell claims his innocence by stating, “I did not hang” (29). However, after the loss of his friends, his primal emotions take control of his thoughts. Campbell pleads to Mr. Epstein to take him to Israel for trial, contradicting his previous thoughts. This correlates with Schizophrenia as we previously discussed, which is closely related to Psychosis (Bengston). Campbell’s uncontrollable behaviour appears again, through his reaction to Mr. Epstein denial of his desire to go to Israel. “When I did not move, did not reply, did not even blink, did not even seem to breathe, he began to understand that I was a medical problem after all” (256). By saying “I was a medical problem” (256), Campbell illustrates that this problem was internally caused by his altered thoughts due to these recent events.
In conclusion, Campbell experiences many different situations which lead to his insanity if that may be threw the losing a loved and his traumatic experiences. The result of these situations leads to his psychosis and his actions are unpredictable due to his illness. Through these experiences Campbell mind gets reformed into something he is not like we discussed when he started the beginning of the novel saying that he was an innocent man to pleading Mr. Epstein for him to take him to Israel to put on trial for all the things he has done. It is because of these occasions that Campbell’s insanity is in question and, because of this I find Campbell to be insane.
Grohal, John . “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Psych Central . N.p., 1 06 2010 . Web. 29 Jan 2013.
Bengston, Michael. “Schizophrenia and Psychosis.” Phych Central. N.p., 17 06 2012. Web. 29 Jan 2013. <
Vonnegut, Kurt. Mother Night. New York: Dial Press, 2009. Print.
Hill, Gerald. “http://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=979Insanity.” Law. Publisher Fine Communications. Web. 29 Jan 2013.