Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

DBC  Pierre

Caroline  Hathaway 

A History of Pennhurst Asylum

DBC Pierre: Building a New Reputation in a Judgemental Society

DBC Pierre’s novels feature young protagonists who must leave home and all that binds their identities and pasts in order to make sense of their place in the world. To overcome their painful experiences, the characters must learn to take responsibility for their actions and understand their own role in the problem. In his novels, Lights Out in Wonderland, Ludmila’s Broken English, and Vernon God Little, Pierre explores the pressure the individual feels to either conform to society’s views of them or rebel against them to form their own identity. In Vernon God Little, Pierre challenges this pressure to conform through the title character, who is accused of killing seventeen of his classmates one Tuesday afternoon. Vernon must choose whether to fight to prove his innocence, or give up and allow himself to go to jail as an innocent man. Ultimately, Vernon decides to fight for his freedom and vindicate himself. After being isolated from their friends and family, the characters in Pierre’s novels struggle to rebel against the reputation society has constructed for them, and find their place in the world.

Similarly, at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, the mentally ill were isolated from society. Founded in 1909 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, Pennhurst was an institution that housed and cared for the mentally ill and disabled. There was minimal support and funding from the government, and without a large focus on mental health, Pennhurst earned the reputation of an institution that ran on neglect and abuse rather than care and comfort. Without the necessary equipment and knowledge, the employees at Pennhurst struggled to care for the patients and resorted to cruel behavior. Pennhurst was closed in 1987 after a former patient filed a lawsuit against the institution and its employees for mistreatment and abandonment. Today, Pennhurst is home to a Halloween-based haunted house, but the people of Pennsylvania believe that former patients deserve a better memorial. Despite its efforts to help the mentally ill, Pennhurst became home to abusive behavior by employees and discrimination and neglect of its patients.

Major Works Consulted:

“About Pennhurst State School and Hospital.” Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance. Accessed January 17, 2018.
“Bill Baldini: Suffer The Little Children.” Dir. Bill Baldini. Philadelphia: NBC10, 1968.
Pierre, DBC. Ludmila’s Broken English. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
---. Vernon God Little. New York: Grove, 2003.
Photo Credit: “DBC Pierre on the Loss of Meaning and the ‘Horror of Disconnection.’” ABC Radio National.