Morbidity of Mendel’s Dwarf
What struck me as perhaps the most poignant aspect of Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf was the impossibility of a happy ending.
For the most part, there are two reservations that bar Jean from accepting Benedict as a partner: the fact that she is married and the fact that he is a dwarf. The prevalent factor seems to be Jean’s marriage, but the latter might also contribute, demonstrated by Jean’s squeamishness towards the possibility of having a (illegitimate) dwarf child. Jean, despite the occasional instances when she asserts herself, doesn’t seem to possess the strength of character necessary to leave her husband permanently. Maybe it is this same lack of strength that prevents her from seeing past Benedict’s achondroplasia. We can’t quite be sure because we only see her through Benedict’s eyes. On the same note, maybe she simply doesn’t want to see past Benedict’s condition. After all, she is the one who often tells Benedict how “brave” he is, to Benedict’s lasting disgruntlement. If Benedict secretly wishes, deep down inside, for his own happy ending, he should probably look for it somewhere other than Jean. This has nothing to do with the way Jean is left indefinitely comatose at the end of the novel, nothing at all.
If we disregard the innate cynicism through which Benedict sees the world, it isn’t impossible for a dwarf to find a significant other. Yes, it’s more likely for an achondroplasiac woman to find a normal man than for an achondroplasiac man to find a normal woman, but the possibility is there. If the novel Mendel’s Dwarf is just about desire, then it’s the impossibility of reaching a desire that keeps it alive. However, Benedict once mentions that he wants, or at least he thinks he wants, a someone else. He simultaneously disbelieves that this desire can be fulfilled due to his self-hatred, his internalization of society’s worst view of him. If a woman were to find him attractive, Benedict would either ceaselessly check for an ulterior motive or he would be convinced that she’s crazy and just as much of a freak as he is. I certainly agree that society holds very real prejudices against achondroplasiacs, and those prejudices do make it very difficult for Benedict to operate socially. Benedicts makes a quite clear throughout the novel that it sucks to be him. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, though, the way Benedict helps those prejudices along.
Quite frankly, you almost want to ask the guy, why? What’s stopping you from ending it all? Benedict has a lack of childhood suicidal instincts because he believes that there’s something out there for him. Later on, it’s likely that Benedict doesn’t believe in Thanatos, the term Freud coined for self-destruction, because he’s a geneticist. Your genes want you to stay alive. After Benedict passes on his genes, he can off himself, but he’s too busy doing his victory dance over the body of Hugo Miller. The sense of finality comes when Miller kills Benedict’s child. Yes, Benedict can certainly reproduce again, but the quiet sense of tragedy points to the fact it’s the end of something. It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of the relationship between Jean and Benedict. It’s the end of Benedict’s tenuous emotional connection with normalcy.
So now what?