Intolerable human suffering and the role of the ancestor: literary criticism as a means of analysis
This essay explores the experience of intolerable human suffering in Toni Cade Bambara's novel, The Salt Eaters. The method of analysis is literary criticism, a technique that shares many of the same goals as other types of inquiry. It employs close reading to illuminate the novel's meaning(s), thereby revealing information about the nature of intolerable human suffering. Morrison's characteristics of black art is the literary and cultural framework that guides the analysis of Bambara's novel. The paradigm has broad application for nursing. The purpose of this analysis was to describe the role of the ancestral system as a predictor of the trajectory of suffering. The results extend Morrison's paradigm and her notion of ancestor to include traditions and other non-corporeal factors that are essential for well-being and survival. The protagonist in Bambara's novel, Velma Henry, is the patient and exemplar who does not succumb to intolerable suffering because of its cumulative weight, but because she has lost touch with the traditions of her people, an essential component of her ancestral system. The ancestral system is a rich and complex network of individuals, groups, customs and beliefs that are instructive, protective and benevolent. Ancestors are also timeless and provide wisdom, but when the ancestral system is weak or absent, the trajectory of suffering is not favourable. Nurses must learn to recognize intolerable human suffering, to identify the patient's ancestral system, and to work within that system to keep suffering patients from harm.