The Way We Live Now Summary (Susan Sontag)

Susan Sontag


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The plight of Max, a victim of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), is told entirely through the voices of his friends. They observe his first reactions to his illness—denying that he has it and delaying a trip to the doctor for the blood test that will establish his condition definitively. Each friend reacts differently to Max’s dilemma. Some sympathize with his state of denial; others worry that he is not seeking medical attention early enough. Aileen thinks of herself, wondering if she herself is at risk. She doubts it, but her friend Frank reminds her that AIDS is a totally unprecedented illness; no one can be sure they are not vulnerable. Stephen hopes that Max realizes he has options; he should not consider himself totally helpless at the onset of the disease.

When Max is hospitalized, Ursula says that Max has received the AIDS diagnosis almost with relief after his months of anxiety. Friends wonder how to treat him. They decide to indulge him with the things he likes, such as chocolate. They visit him frequently, and his mood seems to lighten.

Does Max really want to see so many people? Are they doing the right thing by visiting him so frequently? Aileen asks. Ursula is sure they are; she is certain that Max values the company and is not judging people’s motives. Friends such as Stephen question Max’s doctor, trying to assess the gravity of each stage of Max’s illness. The doctor is willing to treat Max with experimental drugs, but she tells Stephen that the chocolate might bolster Max’s spirit and do as much good as anything else. Stephen, who has followed all the recent...

(The entire section is 664 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

"The Way We Live Now’’ is comprised of a series of conversations as a large network of friends share information and express concern...

(The entire section is 621 words.)