Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Wally  Lamb

Caroline  Clinton 

The Prejudicial Characteristics of the Lobotomy in the Twentieth Century

Faith as a Saving Force in Wally Lambís Novels

The recognition and growing public fear of mental illnesses during the twentieth century encouraged the acceptance of lobotomies and demonstrated prejudice towards those with mental disabilities, especially woman. These prejudices were highlighted after the lobotomy was invented and continued when Dr. Walter Freeman brought the procedure to the United States. Dr. Egas Moinz believed that if the nerves were severed through the lobotomy procedure, then the suffering of the patient would improve. When the first procedure didnít go as planned, Moinz changed the method of the surgery to the method that Dr. Freeman and Dr. Watts later adopted as their own. The first lobotomy in the United States was performed on a woman named Alice Hammatt in 1936. Following the supposed success of this surgery, Freeman and Watts went on to perform about 2,500 lobotomies together. The two men sought to rid the world of mental illnesses and disabilities, but the process of singling out women because of their lower social status and taking advantage of those with mental disorders caused the lobotomy to become a much maligned procedure.

As Dr. Freeman and Dr. Watts performed lobotomies in their fight against mental illnesses, Dominick Birdsey, of Wally Lambís I Know This Much is True, must also fight to balance the search for himself and the search for justice for his brother who is schizophrenic. Even prior to his twin brotherís diagnosis, Dominick had been aware of the differences between Thomas and himself; it was evident in the difference of treatment from their parents. Later in their lives, after Thomas amputates his own hand in the name of God to stop the war, Dominick is forced to become the primary caretaker and advocate for his brother. While seeking justice for his brother with Dr. Patel, his therapist, he also realizes that he himself is lost in his relationships with others, himself, and God. In strengthening his relationship with God and knowing that He is always there for him, he is gradually able to rebuild his relationships with the other people in his life, like his ex-wife and his stepfather, and come to terms with his brotherís death.

Major Works Consulted:

Beam, Alex. Gracefully insane: the rise and fall of America's premier mental hospital. New York: Public Affairs, 2001.
Hai, Jack. The lobotomist: a maverick medical genius and his tragic quest to rid the world of mental illness. Hoboken, N.J.: J. Wiley, 2005.
Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009
--. I Know This Much Is True. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008.
Photo Credit: Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009