Essay: Insignificant Gestures – Jo Cannon

In the text Insignificant Gestures the story about the narrator’s relationship with his maid is told. The relationship is extremely hard to describe with words because of the complications and consequences of the actions. The author Jo Cannon presents guilt, feelings and the ability to move on in this text written in 2007.

The narrator is a young doctor, who does not reveal his name throughout the story. He tells the reader that after coming back from Africa he has become a psychiatrist. The narrator tells multiple times that he is not the same man that he used to be, for example: ‘I barely recognise the man I was then’. In Africa he often painted to let his mind wander off. By doing that he could get his mind off the depressing life as a doctor in Africa. In Africa he had a strong sense of justice, as we can see in the way he felt about having a maid at first: ‘Servants were a symbol of inequality and exploitation’. Even though he feels this way he decides to help Celia because he finds out that her family is depending on her income.

Now when he has returned from Africa he has changed a lot because of Celia’s death. He has not been panting since he returned from Africa, because it makes him think of Celia: ‘That’s why I don’t draw any more ‘I don’t like the places my thoughts go when set free’. The incident in Africa has broken him completely – he says that every time he sees bright light from cars on his walls he wakes up: ‘Even now, when a passing car lights up my wall I jerk awake with hot
rivulets of anxiety running through my limbs’. He also says: ‘Things were clearer then; I have lost my old certainty’. By that he means that he has lost the ability to know the difference between right and wrong.

Celia and the narrator develop a kind of bond when Celia watches the narrator making a sketch. He offers Celia to draw with him and her talent amazes him. The staff at the hospital seems to think that there were more than friendship in their relationship, but according to the narrator there was not: ‘Celia was my companion; our elbows at the table never touched’. By that he means that he never touched her, in any way.
They also develop a relationship by Celia protecting him from cockroaches: ‘She seemed to feel it was her duty to protect me from cockroaches’. The doctor was touched by her insignificant gesture.
It is first after Celia’s death it becomes obvious how much the doctor cared about her. When he hears that the boy that beat her up was caught he feels something that he never felt before: ‘For the first time in my life, desire for revenge set like lava around my heart’. He feels that somebody needs to be held accountable for her death.

On the day of Celia’s death the narrator was obviously very shocked. Some of the nurses tell him that it was her boyfriend who has beaten her up, and he believes it, even though he earlier said: ‘An African hospital is as much a gossip factory as a British one’.
When the doctor gets the letter that says that Celia died of meningitis he is shocked. By then he remembers that Celia went home early that day because she felt sick and he realizes that he could have saved her life with an injection of penicillin. Instead he trusted a second hand story from a scared frightened village woman. He tried to change his statement to the police officer but it is to late, Celia’s will be sent to prison no matter what.

The short story is from 2007 but we do not know the exact date of the story. At a point in the story the narrator says: ‘Her face has been with me every day for ten years’, which indicates that it has been ten years since the death of Celia. At some point in the story the narrator compares the African hospitals to the British hospitals. This statement indicates that the narrator is British.
The place of the hospital is not mentioned but they speak the language ‘Chichewa’.

The time and place are not relevant in this story. The consequence and the life afterwards one little mistake is what the story is about.

Source: Essay UK -

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