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Is society uncomfortable with suicidal literary characters?

Mental illness in general is a delicate topic in today’s society. Mention the word suicide, and people instantly get uncomfortable and disturbed. Is it socially acceptable for a writer to write a story about a person with a mental illness who is suicidal? Should we encourage writers to write about potentially controversial topics and themes, or should they stick with those that are more conventional and would make readers more comfortable?

  • See "One Flew over the Coo Coo's Nest". – JDJankowski 5 years ago
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  • Depending on the direction the article takes, looking at classical examples such as Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet might be something to do. – MichelleAjodah 5 years ago
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  • Another example is Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. – Camille Brouard 5 years ago
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  • Obviously everyone is going to come down on the side of encouraging controversial topics. That's the point of writing and literature. To tackle those issues head-on. If you're trying to create a balanced article, maybe try starting from a hard position of "No, this topic is too sensitive" and talking yourself back. Start from the most unpopular opinion and see if that gets the juices flowing. – CrunchyEnglish 5 years ago
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  • Suicide has been present in literature for quite some time. I don't think that we are uncomfortable with suicide. Rather, I think it has been misunderstood. Particularly in Realist & Naturalist fiction women characters who behaved "immorally" for the time often committed suicide at the end as a form of literary justice (see works of Wharton, Chopin, Dreiser). I think the mental illness, and the way to portray it accurately in a story is the challenge. One of the finest examples is not a book, but the movie Silver Linings Playbook. Tackling mental illness, and presenting it as clearly and accurately as possible is a worthy literary goal. – eringesine 5 years ago
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  • Suicide is definitely something prevalent both in Japanese literature and Japanese society (which incidentally has among one of the highest suicide rates in the world.) Haruki Murakami explores suicide in many of his works, including "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" and "Norwegian Wood." – jstorming 5 years ago
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  • Traditional Japanese theatre forms also use suicide as an acceptable ending to many plays. Perhaps a good angle might be - what is the difference between how suicide is socially accepted as a trope in Eastern lit/entertainment forms and how it is used/perceived in Western forms? In Japan, suicide has long been seen a noble way to die (especially on the battlefront) and the honorable thing to do when dealing with bringing shame to one's family. In the Western world, suicide is seen as tragic and/or selfish. – Katheryn 5 years ago
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  • The latter question about writing things that are "comfortable" is just plain silly. Of course we should use literature as a way to tackle the tough stuff, question convention, and explore even the ugly side of humanity. Is mental illness any more of a taboo than it was even ten years ago? Absolutely not. As medical science advances, and society gets better informed, rhetoric about mental illness changes. Take autism spectrum disorder for example. The term "on the spectrum" has entered society's casual lexicon. Books like The Reason I Jump, movies like Adam, and shows like Parenthood have created a safe social space in which to discuss the disorder. The same could be said for mental health issues like depression or suicide. I think a more interesting question here is at what age should kids be exposed to tough topics like this? I recently read a YA novel entitled My Heart and another Black Holes. Without any spoilers, the main character, a 17-year old girl, is suffering from severe depression and is suicidal. I found the novel handles this delicate issue incredibly well without sugar-coating or romanticizing it. I would recommend the novel to a young person above the age of say, 13, without reservation, but any younger than that and I'd hesitate. So what does that say about me? Perhaps I'm naive--wanting to preserve the innocence of a young person by keeping them ignorant of some of the terrible things in this world as if they didn't already know. – ladyabercrombie 5 years ago
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