The proverb every young adult hears most often is to ‘look before you leap’. Take part, indulge, and yet proceed with caution. However, what if you can’t? What if fantasy and reality are so tightly entangled that to separate them would be like a needle in a haystack? What if decisions become too difficult to make, and judgment falls apart into chaos? That is insanity. A psychological phenomenon where the person has absolutely no control over his thoughts or actions.
And yet in spite of the recognition that insanity is no joke, the word by itself is precisely that. “Dude, that’s insane”, or “Oh my gosh, last night was so insane” are common college phrases used to express enthusiasm and passion – one of the many things a truly insane person lacks. Colloquially, it means to be different and maybe even bizarre, but in a way that makes the people around you like you a little more. Curiously, the limit of the word expands to encompass not just people but even situations and ideas. People can be crazy, sure. But can a spiraling roller coaster ride down at six flags, with the people inside flailing their arms and controlling their digestive systems, really be personified as man’s worst state of mind? Why yes, yes it can.
The reason is simple. It is established that people can be insane. And obviously, it is only with people around that a situation can be created. Only in a situational context can a person’s personality be identified. Take for instance, a tribal dance. If the members of the Masai Tribe in Africa take part in the ‘Jumping Dance,’ it would be considered perfectly normal. But if a man in the middle of Burger King initiated the same, he would be seen up in the psych ward. And so, continuing with the same idea that the environment creates people, it really should not be so different if the relationship were to be reversed. And this is why after a long session of the ‘Jumping Dance’ the Masai Tribe excitedly talks among themselves about each other’s ‘insane’ dance moves.
By using words that don’t actually represent their truest, most pristine meaning, we could classify everything around with being insane. But take for a moment the classic Shakespearean character Hamlet. The man put on a show of insanity, and despite the act, he actually felt reality pull away from him at times. The stress of ‘to be or not to be’ may have just gotten too real. In applying his tragedy to our lives and situations, the times often get too tough. We seek solace in our dreams, draw away from difficulties and feel burdened by responsibility. What if the insanity we laugh about just got too real? In the same whispered breath we question: are we all insane too?
The state of being mentally ill and performing frenzied and chaotic activities is called madness. Yes, this is the dictionary definition of madness. But, what exactly is madness? Is it the crazy yelling, kicking, screaming of humans running around in despair or is it evil without remorse, cold-blooded stonehearted lack of sentiment?
In reality, the word ‘mad’ has multiple meanings and connotations, depending on the author’s discretion. Edgar Allen Poe and Benjamin Reiss, both employ the use of mad in their stories. In ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, Poe describes the narrator as not mad; however the story in set on lunacy of the narrator who has no ‘sane’ motive to kill the old man. He only hated the old man’s eyes, and this for him, was reason enough to kill an individual. Thus Poe uses the word mad to associate with the narrator’s unstable mental state. Further, towards the end, the narrator confesses to his crime, tearing up boards under which he hid the old man’s disassembled body. However, this is not out of remorse or regret. He is indubitably proud of his scheming. He only confesses to stop the ringing in his ears, which further hints at his insanity.
Benjamin Reiss, a professor of English at Emory university, on the other hand intentionally uses the word ‘madness’ instead of the clinical word ‘mental illness’. The happenings of the Virginia Tech Massacre, where Seung-HUi Cho killed thirty-three people, is madness. However, as we read the article we realize that his somber writings and ‘abnormal’ tendencies scared the students and the faculty, which led to close scrutiny of Cho’s creative writings. Reiss poses an important question as to what highlights ‘madness’ more: denying students privacy and creative liberties in written assessments or the shootings of the Virginia Tech Massacre.
In conclusion, Poe uses the term ‘mad’, to describe the narrator’s state of mind while Reiss is more creative and uses the term ‘mad’ as a reaction to the two questions posed above. Both authors are specific with their intended meaning of ‘mad’, but yet show the readers how the same word can be viewed differently in different contexts.