(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The plot of As We Are Now is simple: An old woman, Caro Spencer, is placed in a rural nursing home, finds little stimulation in her relationships with other residents, experiences hostile and abusive treatment from the administrator and head nurse, communicates her distress to helpful acquaintances from the outside world, is frustrated and ridiculed by the head nurse after repeated attempts to improve conditions in the home, and decides finally to set fire to the nursing home and kill everyone inside, including herself.

Sarton tells this tragic story from Caro’s point of view by means of a journal that she begins to write shortly after entering the nursing home. The journal reveals Caro as an intelligent, articulate, and sensitive older woman who is definitely out of place in this inadequate rural facility. Few residents share her intellectual background. Only one, Standish Flint, befriends her. He is a tough-minded old farmer who appreciates Caro’s clarity of mind and sense of humor. He seems a potential ally of Caro, but his untimely death hastens the development of her desperate state of mind.

Sarton wants readers to feel the physical, psychological, and spiritual degradation the elderly experience at the hands of insensitive, controlling caretakers who treat them as invisible and useless. The journal format invites readers to empathize with Caro’s feelings of helplessness and vulnerability and to appreciate the individuality...

(The entire section is 505 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Berman, Harry J. “May Sarton and the Tensions of Attachment.” In Integrating the Aging Self: Personal Journals of Later Life. New York: Springer, 1994.

Blouin, Lenora P. May Sarton: A Bibliography. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 2000.

Braham, Jeanne. Crucial Conversations: Interpreting Contemporary American Literary Autobiographies by Women. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1995.

Fulk, Mark. Understanding May Sarton. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Ingersoll, Earl, ed. Conversations with May Sarton. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Kallet, Marilyn, ed. A House of Gathering: Poets on May Sarton’s Poetry. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Peters, Margot. May Sarton: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Sherman, Susan, ed. May Sarton: Selected Letters. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1997-2000.

Swartzlander, Susan, and Marilyn R. Mumford, eds. That Great Sanity: Critical Essays on May Sarton. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.