PSYCHIATRIST AND BOY SWITCH ROLES
A Follow-up Story
A Pullman psychiatrist finds the motives behind a 17-year-old’s
mysterious act of violence, and discovers some of the same motives within
Alan Strang, a Pullman High School student, was sent to psychiatrist Martin
Dysart after he blinded six horses with a metal spike last month. It was
a case that shocked the country, but in the aftermath, Dysart himself
was the most shocked of all.
Strang was sent to the long-time child psychologist on the suggestion
of Judge Hesther Salomon, who said that anyone else would have been too
shocked and horrified to handle such a case. Salomon described how other
doctors would react to such a case.
“Oh, they’ll be cool and exact,” Salomon said. “And
underneath they’ll be revolted, and immovably English. Just like
my bench” (19).
Dysart himself was not quite as confident in himself when the case first
arrived. He said he expected very little to come from the Strang case.
“One more dented little face. One more adolescent freak. The usual
unusual. One great thing about being in the adjustment business: you’re
never short of customers” (21).
Needless to say, Dysart was quite troubled when he realized that this
“adolescent freak” and himself have more in common than one
Dysart began where every good child psychologist does: with the parents.
Dysart said he had an idea of the type of people Frank and Dora Strang
were before he ever met them. Alan’s actions suggested a religious
and oppressive upbringing; however not uncommon by any means, Dysart said.
Frank Strang proved to be the stricter of the two. He believed in society
and its ability to become better, Dysart said. Thus, he would not allow
Alan to watch television for fear that it would stunt his mental growth.
“Relentlessly self-improving,” as Dysart described him (28).
Nora Strang put her beliefs and her hope in religion instead. She believed
that that was the only law or discipline the boy needed to know, Dysart
The Strang’s lived by two different sets of laws, both laws set
up by society, and very conflicting with one another in Alan’s mind.
Dysart said it reminded him of a couple he met with a few years back,
Torvald and Nora Helmer. While Torvald believed in the laws set by government
above all else, Nora believed that the laws set within oneself, dictated
by love and emotion, overrides those set by government. The signals were
also too confusing then, and Nora left her husband and children.
Dysart said he was surprised to discover that he too is part of a destructive
relationship such as these. Dysart and his wife live on two different
realms of what is important, just as the Helmers do and just as the Strang’s
“Do you know what it’s like for two people to live in the
same house as if they were in different parts of the world? Mentally,
she’s always in some drizzly kirk of her own inheriting: and I’m
in some Doric temple – clouds tearing through pillars – eagles
bearing prophecies out of the sky. She finds all that repulsive”
These couples are living together as one, and yet as far apart in beliefs
as strangers, as many couples do. Alan Strang sensed that in his own household,
Another shocking similarity, Dysart said, were the concurrent nightmares
of Alan and Dysart. While he never learned specifics, Dysart did discover
through Alan’s parents that he was dreaming about the horse “Equus”
– Alan’s God.
Dysart, similarly, said he was dreaming about his God, Greece, and yet
in his own dream, Dysart almost was the God. When one places that much
power in themselves, as Dysart did in his dream, there is the fear of
failing. Dysart felt that fear in his dream as he fought to hold back
Many people try to be their own God, it seems. They worship nothing –
except themselves and their own abilities, and yet that leaves so much
room for failure, as in Dysart’s case.
Which lead him to his final and most unnerving conclusion, Dysart said,
which was that Alan had what Dysart wanted – something to worship.
Dysart thought his wife was the worshipless one, when he says:
“If I had a son, I bet you he’d come out exactly like his
mother. Utterly worshipless” (62).
Dysart thought he worshipped Greece, until he met Alan who really worshipped
something, with his whole self, and Dysart said he realized that that
is what he was missing. And Alan knows this. Alan should be the psychiatrist,
because Dysart is the one missing something, Dysart said.
“That’s the Accusation! That’s what his stare has been
saying to me all this time. ‘At least I galloped! When did you?’
… I’m jealous Hesther. Jealous of Alan Strang” (82).
The Pullman psychiatrist was disturbed to discover that he and Alan Strang
were so similar. The motives that lie within this violent boy also lie
within an accomplished child-psychologist. And within everyone, Dysart
said, but everyone is not as passionate and strong as Alan Strang, so
we keep those things hidden. Dysart must bring Alan back into the world
of normalcy that Dysart himself has come to hate.
“I’ll give him the good Normal world where we’re tethered
beside them – blinking our nights away in a non-stop drench of cathode-ray
over our shrivelling heads! I’ll take away his field of Ha Ha, and
give him Normal places for his ecstasy – multi-lane highways driven
through the guts of cities, extinguishing Place altogether, even the idea
of Place!” (108).