Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

by Tracy Kidder
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Why is it important to Farmer to show both photos in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World?

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In the context of his examination of the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician who dedicated his life to helping the poor, author Tracy Kidder attempts to illuminate the the internal contradictions that he believes might lie at the heart of his subject's psyche. Farmer, Kidder notes, is a...

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In the context of his examination of the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician who dedicated his life to helping the poor, author Tracy Kidder attempts to illuminate the the internal contradictions that he believes might lie at the heart of his subject's psyche. Farmer, Kidder notes, is a workaholic, seemingly unable to separate himself from his work and tireless in his efforts at healing the indigent sick of such Third World hell-holes as Haiti. This dedicated physician, the author writes, does not condemn the more-fortunate for their extravagances, and encourages his staffs and others to indulge in some of the leisurely activities that their incomes offer. He, himself, however, cannot so-indulge, obsessed as he seems with the imperative to treat those less-fortunate than himself. It is in this context, then, that Kidder provides the following discussion of the photographs that Farmer habitually displays, which contrast the privileges of his own daughter with the plight of those for whom he devotes his time and energy:

"He was carrying a pair of photographs on this light month for travel. One was of Catherine, and at each stop he'd show it off to friends like any proud parent, but then sometimes he'd show the other, a photo of a Haitian child of about the same age, except in the throes of kwashiorkor. . .She was Farmer's patient, and I think in his mind she stood for all the others, including tuberculosis prisoners in Russia, for whom he was leaving his daughter tomorrow on the morning flight to Moscow."

The contrast between his well-tended daughter Catherine and the malnourished children he regularly visits in Haiti and elsewhere is employed to remind himself and others of the advantages that have accrued to them by virtue of their birthright as citizens of more advanced societies. Farmer needs to justify his long absences from his daughter by always emphasizing the vast disparities that separate his daughter's world from the one that exists in such desperately-poor locales as Haiti. 

 

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