As We Are Now Summary
by May Sarton

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As We Are Now Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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 and complexity of older adults. Caro begins her journal with the reference to the nursing home as “a concentration camp for the old, a place where people dump their parents or relatives exactly as though it were an ash can.” Sarton aims to show that individuals (the old included) may strike back when they are made to feel abandoned, unproductive, and worthless. The only escape may be a cleansing holocaust that occurs when the old person, her identity and sense of well-being crushed by cruel and abusive treatment, believes there are no other options available to her.

Caro does meet others who understand the complexity of her character and the beauty of her spirit. A minister who visits residents befriends her, and his daughter joins him and soon comes to love and appreciate Caro. They do their best to assist Caro in her attempt to alleviate the degrading conditions in the nursing home, but their actions are undermined by the oppressive hand of Harriet Hatfield, the administrator. When Harriet goes on vacation, Caro experiences a brief respite from this woman’s harsh treatment. Anna Close replaces Harriet and treats Caro as an individual. Anna’s warmth and affection rejuvenate Caro, but when Harriet returns to work...

(The entire section is 643 words.)