|Genre||Short Story (19 pp.)|
|Keywords||Caregivers, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Institutionalization, Mental Illness, Obsession, Patient Experience, Psychiatry, Religion, Suffering|
The story opens with the protagonist, identified only as the "Patient," being forcibly carried into the insane asylum. Once there, he no longer protests, but seems to accept his incarceration in the huge, overcrowded hospital. The doctor and other staff members seem particularly kind. Because the Patient rapidly loses weight, despite his good appetite, he receives a special diet.
The Patient notices a single scarlet flower among the many beautiful flowers in the hospital garden. He suddenly realizes that all the evil in the world is condensed into the scarlet flower. His mission is to destroy it. But when he attempts to pick the flower, hospital personnel prevent him from doing so, since picking flowers is prohibited. Eventually, he manages to destroy the flower, but notices a second scarlet blossom in the garden. He destroys that one as well, but a third scarlet flower appears. Finally, the Patient sneaks out at night to deal with the third flower, and then is found dead in the garden the next morning, clutching the remains of the scarlet blossom.
This story, which is based on the author's own experience in a mental hospital, is considered Garshin's masterpiece. Garshin suffered from a mental disorder throughout his adult life and eventually committed suicide in 1888, at the age of 33.
Despite his unruly behavior, the Patient receives special care, but to no avail. His mission is to rid the world of evil, as embodied in the scarlet flowers. While the withered Patient dies smiling, having uprooted the last scarlet flower in the garden, there is no guarantee that another won't appear. Overcoming evil schemes are Pyrrhic victories.
|Source||The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||First published in 1883. Translated from the Russian by Peter Henry. This story was dedicated to the memory of Ivan Turgenev.|
|Annotated by||Coulehan, Jack|
|Date of Entry||07/19/06|