When I teach my Sick Lit course, I always begin with Work Death and Sickness, by Leo Tolstoy. In this short fable, Tolstoy imagines a perfect world where no one has to work, no one gets sick, and everyone dies at exactly 100 years old. But people don’t need each other, either.
So God makes it necessary to work to survive, hoping that people with different talents and strengths will join together to create prosperity. Man is no longer self-sufficient. When he comes back, God discovers that the strong men have forced the weak to work for them. Next, God gives man uncertainty in death; if men can die at any time, they certainly won’t waste any of their time fighting. But when God comes back he discovers that the strong have used this uncertainty as another tool to subjugate the weak.
In a last-ditch attempt to foster unity and brotherhood, God allows sickness to come into the world. Sickness is his final tool. The great leveler. Surely the healthy will care for the sick, knowing that they’ll get sick too and need others to care for them in turn.
Instead, man creates hospitals: