‘More Than Just the Disease’ tells us of a boy’s struggle to live with psoriasis, but also shows us much more. This short story gives us an insight into how boys of Michael and Neil’s age thought and what their opinions are on certain ‘touchy’ subjects such as, in this case, skin diseases. These points are put across in the style of writing MacLaverty uses and in several other ways. Although we follow Neil through his experiences on holiday, the reader doesn’t hear his thoughts as in other novels.
This makes him appear distant to us. It seems as if he has no feelings or emotions save being attracted to Anne and his paranoia surrounding his chest. “He blushed because she looked directly into his eyes and she smiled as if she liked him.” This also shows that he is a shy and fairly timid boy. “Buttoning the jacket right up to his neck.” He is ashamed even around his best friend. Neil is continually haunted by the words of him mother “Be tidy at all times.”
This makes it seem as Neil is suppressed by his mother to do what she says all of the time. His mother has drilled her rules into him. Her phrases are continually running around his head. In his house, the family always eat breakfast at the table “Breakfast wasn’t a meal like in his house.” This again shows that he is a timid boy and has let his mother rule his life. Even ruling his life though, she still wants the best for him. Getting into a high-quality school for free of charge made her “cry with happiness.” She wants him to get a good education in order to get a well-paid job, “now you’ll be at school with the sons of doctors and lawyers.”
The only time that Neil’s mothers voice is silenced is when he is with Mrs Wan. Mrs Wan is the exact opposite of his mother in the way she keeps her caravan. Mrs Wan encourages Neil to expose his chest to the sun, unlike his mother who wanted Neil to button up his shirt to the top to hide it. Neil may see Mrs Wan as a kind of second ‘dissimilar’ mother. Mrs Wan’s caravan is where Neil’s mother should me running riot.
She couldn’t abide a milk bottle on the breakfast table so in Mrs Wan’s caravan where Neil “saw that nothing was clean. Neil briefly thinks on how his mother would disapprove of him speaking to her. There is an air of mystery surrounding Mrs Wan, we get to know very little about her yet she “seemed to demand the truth” from Neil. He doesn’t get the chance to resist showing her his chest. “He was amazed to find himself unbuttoning his shirt”.
Neil’s feeling of uneasiness with the family is increased when the one person whom had a positive view of him, gets angry with him. “I might as well have asked a girl to come away on holiday.” Michael is regretting bringing Neil on holiday, this makes Neil feel misunderstood and bitter “Neil’s fist bunched in the sand.” Neil wants to tell Michael of his problem but is afraid of Michael not liking just because he is different. Neil “Bunching” his hand in the sand is a physical representation of his frustration. Since Neil doesn’t explain why he isn’t joining in with all the activities, Michael presumes that he is mundane and monotonous. Michael and Neil are getting frustrated with each other because each is not telling what the other is thinking. If Neil could overcome his fear he could tell Michael, feel at ease around him and be able to join in with the swimming and so on.
From the beginning of the story Anne is shown to be superior to Neil, yet equal to Michael since they are siblings they taunt and squabble with each other. This would add to Neil’s feeling of inferiority. Neil sees Anne as somewhere he can never reach in authority due to his Psoriasis, people wont accept him in society. So far in his life the only society he knows of is in his school where, for the majority, people don’t get on with him. “Who they hated most.”
When talking with Michael about whom he doesn’t like in their year, he appears to be extremely hypocritical, giving nicknames to people depending to their ‘deformities’, “the crow with his black gown and beaky nose, the moon with his pallid round face”. How can he feel so bad about his chest, when he criticises others about their irregularities as well? I believe he holds different principles for himself and for others just as inauspicious as him.
Recapitulating Michael is drawn out to be the troublesome friend that sometimes he gets on with, never the less still infuriating one now and again. Mrs Wan, in her decrepit caravan, is seen to be the exact opposite of Neil’s mother. However acting as a makeshift substitute for her in his time of need. Helping Neil to realise how his disease is consuming him. Anne is a target in society Neil is aiming to reach, not minding about anyone’s opinion of him and feeling at ease in any situation.
Neil’s mother, with her voice constantly nagging inside of his head represents the changing attitudes in modern day living. No longer are people desperate to impress with standards and achievements. Ultimately Neil’s disease has, in all essence, wormed its way into his brain as well as being on his chest. It had consumed him. This is something that should not happen to anyone. Matters of life must be kept aboveboard.