A Burnt-Out Case Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Querry takes the long boat ride into the African jungle, traveling deeper and deeper into the Congo and escaping farther and farther from the misery of his life in Europe. When the boat reaches its ultimate point—a leper colony run by Catholic missionaries—Dr. Colin and the priests invite Querry to stay. Settling in at the colony, Querry asks only for solitude. “So you thought you could just come and die here?” Dr. Colin asks him. “Yes, that was in my mind,” he responds. “But chiefly I wanted to be in an empty place, where no new building or woman would remind me that there was a time when I was alive, with a vocation and a capacity for love.” Querry explains to Dr. Colin that he is figuratively like the lepers—the burnt-out cases—who lose their toes and fingers to the disease, but, once mutilated, no longer suffer pain. “The palsied suffer, their nerves feel, but I am one of the mutilated, doctor,” Querry says. After a month at the leper colony, Querry offers to drive to Luc, the capital city, to pick up some medical equipment for Dr. Colin. While in the city, Querry is accosted by Rycker, who recognizes the famous architect from an old cover photo in Time magazine. After picking up the doctor’s equipment, Querry agrees to spend the night at Rycker’s house, near the palm oil factory that Rycker manages. At the house, Querry meets Rycker’s childlike young wife, Marie, and witnesses firsthand the misery of her marriage to Rycker.

While Marie is preparing a drink for her guest, Rycker explains to Querry that he married a very young woman because women age rapidly in the tropics and he wanted a wife who will still be sexually attractive when he is an old man. He adds that young women are more easily trained and that he trained Marie to “know what a man needs.” Rycker, who spent six years in the seminary, complains that Marie is ignorant of Catholic rituals and that she cannot understand his spiritual needs the way Querry can. Querry insists he no longer believes, but Rycker refuses to listen. Appalled by Rycker’s insensitivity and disgusted by his hollow professions of faith, Querry leaves hurriedly the next morning.

For a time, Querry feels at ease only in the company of Dr. Colin. Dr. Colin respects Querry’s need for peace and quiet, but Rycker, the failed priest, and Father Thomas, the doubting priest, refuse to respect Querry’s privacy. Although Querry...

(The entire section is 997 words.)