'Visiting a war-zone' : experiencing the ageing process in fiction
Ageing is not solely a biological process. It also involves psychological, social and cultural elements that cannot be analysed using conventional scientific and sociological research methods. Humanistic and literary gerontology explore these non-biological factors in order to gain a fuller understanding of the whole ageing process. Within this growing field fiction explores older people's thoughts and feelings as well as how they sustain their identities, assign meaning to experiences and develop strategies to cope with ageing. It tries to convey what the ageing experience is actually like - what it is, what it feels like and what it means. Old age is frequently portrayed as a physical, emotional, social and/or spiritual battle against decline, discrimination and stereotyping. Novels allow readers to enter this 'war zone' of old age in order to experience, understand and identify with different aspects of ageing. The analysis of fiction allows examination of ideas and images constituting and conveying the concept of old age. This thesis examines how and why fiction is selected, analysed and utilised by literary gerontologists and how it can contribute uniquely to gerontology. Firstly, an analysis of themes in forty-five novels shows how far modern literature shares the concerns and interest of both social gerontologists and the wider public alike. Secondly, the detailed analysis of four novels examines how ageing is represented through characterisation, structure, style and imagery. It shows how readers are drawn into and identify with characters' subjective experience in order to enhance sympathy and understanding of the ageing process. Although modern fiction still harbours many deeply negative attitudes about ageing, novels engage readers' feelings and imagination enabling them to 'visit' and thereby experience the 'war zone' of old age.