UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Brilliant and Some Kind of Happiness : a close reading of two middle-grade novels' direct and symbolic representations of depression Moser, Caitlin


Depression is the “leading cause of disability worldwide” (World Health Organization), and is known to affect children and teens as well as adults (“Anxiety and Depression in Children”). This thesis works toward a greater understanding of the current cultural landscape of depression through a close reading of direct and symbolic representations of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in Roddy Doyle’s Brilliant and Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness. The study investigates how authors depict the symptoms listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5), techniques authors use to prevent stereotyped or overgeneralized portrayals, and what authors’ symbolic representations—Doyle’s Black Dog of Depression and Legrand’s inner darkness, poisonous fog, and Dark Ones—imply about lived experiences with MDD. The findings suggest that both novels depict eight out of nine symptoms listed in the DSM-5 excepting suicidal ideation, which is nevertheless hinted at or briefly mentioned. Both authors succeed in avoiding stereotyping and overgeneralization through different strategies: Doyle through his wide cast of depressed characters and Legrand through a combination of one depressed character’s intimate, first-person narration and inclusion of other characters with different mental health challenges. Through symbols, each author also captures varied depictions of lived experience with depression, notably depressed mood, feelings of inappropriate guilt and worthlessness, fatigue, hyper-/insomnia, and a loss of interest or pleasure. Doyle’s narrative is problematic because the responsibility (or at least ability) to save their depressed loved ones is placed on the children and because the entire city of Dublin is miraculously cured overnight. However, positively, much emphasis is placed on the importance of teamwork and community when facing the Black Dog. Legrand’s novel illustrates both the short-term positive effects and long-term negative effects of Finley’s coping strategies and the interference of self-stigma in help-seeking. Like Brilliant, this novel also stresses the importance of family and community support in working toward health. This thesis calls for other members of our global community to build on this research and fill gaps in varied and accurate representations of depression.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International