The New Old Age
The coda brings together the concerns of the book via a reading of Charles Chesnutt’s “The Wife of his Youth.” Through an examination of this story, the coda pursues some of the questions raised in the final two chapters about the representation of elderly characters and about caregiving, individualism, and autonomy. I argue that the story’s treatment of age markers in relation to social hierarchies and historical trauma suggests ways not only to read them critically but also to engage them ethically. That is, the story urges its resistant readers toward an accountability to vulnerable populations, a responsibility that can seem onerous, even grotesque, in an age in which ideals of individualism, autonomy, and acquisition prevail. Ultimately, the coda positions the book in relation to contemporary concerns about growing old in a neoliberal climate that stigmatizes dependence and repose.
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