I’ll be looking at the physiological approach and mainly focusing on the emotional problems. In the book, Disclaimer, Catherine Ravenscroft hides her secret for 20 years, after which a self-published book The Perfect Stranger appears on her nightstand and it is about her and her long kept secret. The secret itself is an emotional problem for Catherine as she carries the burden for 20 years and when it is almost reviled she is unable to handle it.
The Perfect Stranger recounts events that happened twenty years earlier — the gist soon revealed in Disclaimer, though the details are only slowly filled in, and the full picture only emerges very late on. Disclaimer shifts back and forth between Catherine Ravenscroft and Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher and widower, and the one responsible for the novel. Catherine is a successful documentary filmmaker, married to Robert, a lawyer. They have an underachieving son, Nicholas, who is in his mid-twenties, and they’ve just moved to a smaller house.
Catherine never told her husband about what happened twenty years earlier — and now everything about those events comes back to haunt her. Disclaimer relies very much on a lack of communication. Twenty years earlier, Catherine failed to tell her husband what had happened on the family vacation in Spain after he had to leave early. The number-one reason people keep secrets or lie is to “keep the peace. ” They hold onto secrets to keep other people happy, safe, set in their vision of the world, and in their vision of the person.
She doesn’t immediately come clean in the present-day, either and when she wants to, Robert refuses to listen saying either he does not have the time or he doesn’t want to know. Similarly, when she goes to confront Stephen, early on, he refuses to come to the door. It extends throughout the novel: even when everything has been wrapped up, Catherine comes to a major, life-changing decision and, of course: “She hasn’t told him yet. ” Our main character keeps telling people that she needs to explain what really happened, but when given the chance, she unnecessarily stalls.
This is due to her not knowing how to word her secret and her being afraid of what people will think. This is emblematic of the book itself: it unnecessarily stalls. In the revelation of the truth also leads a character to take the most extreme of steps yet another immoral twist. Arguably the truth may set them all free, in one form or another, but it shakes up their lives pretty much as much as the misinterpretations of the secret did.
There are photos of our main character which depict her engaging in sex acts with someone other than her husband, while on vacation with their very young son fifteen years before. The young man who took the photos died the day after they were taken. The main character keeps insisting that the photos aren’t what they look like, however, due to her not telling anyone what happened the miscommunications cause her life to crumble. The truth was that she was raped. Nobody stopped to even think that this might be the case.
She kept it a secret for years, for the same reason many women do – shame, and horror, and the need to carry on. And when she is discovered by the father of the young man who took the photos, he goes trying to ruin her marriage and her career, when he threatens her life she continues to keep it a secret. Rape ruins a woman’s life, that even if it doesn’t ruin her life right away, it will catch up with her sooner or later, and ruin her. Self-blame is among the most common of both short- and long-term effects and functions as an avoidance coping skill that inhibits the healing process.
Catherine is unable to cope with her being raped and therefore, is unable to tell her secret. It even ruins her son’s life in the final twist in the book, is that the five-year-old boy witnessed the rape, and it left him indelibly emotionally scarred. Nicholas is now underachieving before of the emotional trauma and as a child had many problems. One of the themes of the book is the weight of shame. Many women who are raped come away from the ordeal with a burden of shame. This book depicts that with realism at first, but later in the story, the shame becomes fetishistic.
The woman is so obsessed with her shame that she allows her career and marriage to dissolve rather than speak up about the reality of what happened to her. When she does finally defend herself, the result is precisely what one would expect: people are horrified at what happened to her. People are horrified on her behalf. The father of the young man, the father who has been attempting to punish her is horrified, immediately attempts to rectify the situation, and then kills himself. The father was unable to deal with, yet another trauma, that his son was the one who rapped her.
Many parents blame themselves for their children’s mistake and he was not able to cope with this burden as throughout the book he was blaming Catherine for seducing his son. The moral of the book was that keeping secrets is fine, however at one point or another they come out. Catherine decided to keep her rape a secret, secrets weigh us down, but sometimes that weight is the only possible option. And yet, later on, her refusal to release that burden becomes entirely unrealistic. If she had simply told her husband and the father of the boy about the rape as soon as the blackmail began, the book would have no plot.