Private Troubles, Master Narratives: Dilemmas of Dementia Care in a Short Story

Suzanne E. England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mary Gordon's short story, Mrs. Cassidy's Last Year, is about a family trying to cope, not only with Mrs. Cassidy, who has dementia and is physically and verbally abusive, but also with her elderly husband's difficulties caring for her at home. Mr. Cassidy's dilemma, expressed through the dissonance between his private "inner talk" of emotions and desires that he feels are forbidden and shameful, and his insistence to his son and daughter-in-law that his wife is still the woman he married and her care is not too much for him. This article attempts to open up conceptual space on such questions of caregiver perceptions of the personhood (who they are now), and "personness" - the motivations and intentions - of the person with dementia; caregiver and family motivations and feeling states; and the ways that cultural narratives of obligation in family caregiving affect a caregiver's sense of self and moral certitude. In addition, the story helps us to consider the implications of a bifurcation between a caregiver's inner feelings, and what he or she understands to be the way he or she should feel and act publically. The article attempts to illustrate the interplay and tensions between narratives - master narratives from the culture, those from more immediate ideological environments, auto- and biographical stories, memories, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are - and how these come into stark relief in the context of a radically altered intimate relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-968
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Family caregiving
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Moral reasoning
  • Self-in-relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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