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Reflections on The Scream

Background Information

In 1893, Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch created a composition which was titled “The Scream.” In it, in the foreground, a person is seen holding his/her head and screaming. In the background, a blood-red sky can be seen, and two other people are standing on the boardwalk, some distance away.

It has been theorized that the painting represents the anxiety of the human condition. It has also been theorized that, at the time Munch created the painting, his sister was committed to a mental asylum, and the painting was Munch’s way of capturing his, and her, anguish.

Munch offered this explanation: “I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety– and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

As with so many iconic paintings, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.


A Powerful, Personal Reaction

Few paintings have touched me as much as this piece. To borrow from a much-too-often used phrase, it speaks to me on an almost primal level. On only one other occasion, in all of my seventy-one years, has that sort of reaction happened to me, and that occasion happened when I was in college attempting to gain some semblance of intelligence.

I was haunting the college library one night, reading random poems, and came across a stanza by Tennyson in his work “Ulysses,” which I now share with you:

“That which we are, we are

One equal temper of heroic hearts

Made weak by time and fate

But strong of will.

To strive, to seek, to find,

And not to yield.”

How many feel helpless?

How many feel helpless?

Perhaps They Are Related?

I memorized that stanza back in 1969 and have never forgotten it. Why is that? Why is it so important to me?

I believe, and again this is just my interpretation, they both speak of the human condition and the constant struggle within us all.

There have been days in my life when I have literally screamed from emotional/psychological pain. I had no other outlet other than to scream. The walls I had built in an introverted frenzy kept people out. I did not trust others. I could not possibly share my torments with others and hope for understanding, so I made the walls higher, fortified them so they could not be breeched, and then sat behind those walls screaming silently.

A Painful Song

Give a listen someday to “Vincent” by Don McLean.

“Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free
They would not listen - they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

“For they could not love you - but still your love was true
And, when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do

“But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

Oh man!

I get it!

No, I am not depressed and no, I am not suicidal, but I understand the depths of despair, been there, done that, and hopefully never returning, and truth be told it is that dark side which delivers to me, and feeds, whatever writing talent I may have.

These people lived The Great Depression...my family!

These people lived The Great Depression...my family!

A Hard Program to Watch

I was watching a news special, a series of conversations with health care professionals who were working in one health care facility in Kirkland, Washington. Their descriptions of twenty-hour work shifts, of fearing the possibility of catching COVID-19 themselves, of worrying about their families, of being surrounded by illness and death and feeling so damned helpless, AND getting up each morning and doing it all again because they were needed. And you could see it on their faces, the abject weariness which can only come with an overload of emotions.

The Scream in real life!

The Oregon Trail and the Great Depression

Take a moment to browse the internet in search of photos from the Oregon Trail and The Great Depression. There is one photo in particular, of a mother holding her infant, a Depression photo I think, possibly breast-feeding the child, and the expression on her face was one of total defeat. The light of life was gone, the switch had been flicked, she had given up on life at the moment that photo was taken. The farm has been taken by the bank, the old truck might not make it to California, the dust stings the eyes, is in the food, and coating her soul.

The silent scream.

And I am absolutely certain that today, August 6, 2020, there are millions of people, around the world, screaming silently as their life savings disappear and their dreams with them, as the plans for next month and next year evaporate, and they are faced with the very real possibility that they will never again have firm footing as they walk through life. You know it’s true. Perhaps you are one of the struggling masses. Whether you believe in the severity of COVID-19 or not, the outcome cannot be debated: people are struggling mightily and there is great loss all around us.

The silent scream.


The Inward Struggle

I know a man. Late-twenties. Suffers from clinical depression.

There are days when his personal darkness appears to have weight, defying the laws of physics, an oppressive, smothering weight pushing down on him, preventing him from rising from bed, preventing him from facing people and functioning with the most basic of tasks.

I am not depressed, but I felt exactly that way my final months of drinking. Alcohol had taken complete control of me. I had no desire to do anything other than drink. I did not care if I ruined my life. I doubt I even cared if I lived. I just wanted to be left alone and be allowed to drink myself to death.

The silent scream.

Thankfully, there were two friends who would not allow me to follow through on my desire, and nearly fourteen years later I love my life, can’t imagine that kind of darkness every again falling down upon me, but still . . .

I have had friends commit suicide. They haunt me still. How could I not have seen it? How did I not know?

The answer is in the painting: their screams were silent!

The Message

There is no grand message here. I have no answers. I give no advice. I am a simple man who observes life and my fellow human beings, and my observations often find their way into pieces like this one, tossed out onto the waves of the internet, flotsam rising and falling, drifting through your lives for a brief moment and then gone. My only goal is to stimulate thought in this ten-second-stimulation, convenience world we live in. If I can entice a few people to take a time out, consider these topics for just a moment, I will have accomplished what I set out to do. Not a terribly lofty goal, but a goal nonetheless.

May your week be filled with happiness and purpose, and may you never again experience The Scream in your life.

And for the love of God, if you are feeling depressed, overloaded, or on the edge of a cliff, reach out to me. I’m a damned good listener and I will make time for you.

Pax Vobiscum, my friends! Be kind to one another!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

Finding peace within

Finding peace within


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 19, 2020:

Thank you Brenda! I pray the news your boyfriend awaits will not be as bad as expected. At least he will have you to support him through it. Blessings to you always.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 18, 2020:


This article really hits home with me. There have been many times in my life where I can feel myself silently screaming, but I usually do not reach out to anyone.

I have always made it through even when sometimes were not bearable...lots of tears when alone.

I, too, have had others I know commit suicide and wished there was something I could have done. But that silent scream...the way we shut others out gets us every time.

You seem to be a very compassionate man offering to help others...your struggles must have been difficult for you.

I worry right now with impending news...just how much he ( my boyfriend) can handle.

He is a quiet one, always trying to be braver than he is...not wanting to be wimpy.

Thank you for sharing this article. I am sure it has touched many and will help them.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 13, 2020:

I agree with Winston, Lawrence, and I feel so badly for people who cannot simply make that decision. Thank God I don't suffer from depression.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 12, 2020:


I've always hated that painting. I know the subject and what it's meant to be, but I'm just not wired for depression!

Don't get me wrong, my beloved suffers from clinical depression, that's why she went back to University to study Psychology, to try and find a way out because none of the counsellors could help (some real quacks in that area).

Nine years ago we lost everything, almost ended up living in our car, but I couldn't give in, I just couldn't!

I know there are people who can't rise up again without help, and I'm not sure I can help at times, but I do try to take their load.

My attitude? As Winston Churchill (who suffered depression) said, "Never give up, never, no never give up!"

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 31, 2020:

Thank you Dora! We find strength and comfort in a variety of places; the passage you quoted has always provided comfort for me. Blessings to you always.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 30, 2020:

Touching read, Bill. I can identify with the silent scream. Sometimes it's a muffled scream, which makes one look and feel insane. I find refuge in God's promise that "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [God] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 30, 2020:

Or they don't want to worry their loved ones by talking about it? Thank you for your insights about this, Adrienne. Truth be told, I can't look at that painting very often. It actually does depress me if I concentrate on it too many times.

Adrienne Farricelli on August 30, 2020:

This painting has always haunted me. The face looks almost like a ghost and the hands brought up to the face just emphasize the desperation. I am sure many humans are screaming silently and many people cannot imagine their distress. I don't think it's because we aren't attentive enough, it's likely because some people are good at hiding their depression or are very secretive about it, perhaps because they're afraid that it would be perceived as weakness or they may not be understood.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 29, 2020:

Thank you for your thoughts, Rajan! It is a remarkable painting, I believe, one which most people can relate to.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 29, 2020:

And I am a blessed, man, .Denise, and ain't that great, that we both ended up on a pretty good place? :)

Blessings always


Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 28, 2020:

Reflections worth pondering over. Sometimes there are so many ups and downs in one's life that some people can not handle the downs and resort to all sorts of extreme steps to get over it, sometimes, resulting in tragedies.

I find the painting by Munch to be an expression of a very powerful inner turmoil he was possibly going through at the time. A very expressive painting.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 28, 2020:

This is a beautiful tribute to a great painter and the depression and anxiety that prompted him to paint. Like so many others we artsy types tend to feel things deeply. That's what makes us good artists and also what promotes tragedic ends. I'm so glad you had friends to help you when you needed it. I know what you are saying. I've had a few moments like that in my life but not right now. I am a blessed woman at the moment, thank God.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2020:

Oh wow, Mary, I had no idea about your husband's urn and those words. I don't think I've ever talked to anyone who recognized the words from that poem before. Thank you for sharing that, and blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2020:

You are very kind, Mel, and I thank you. Yes, I am doing well, thanks for asking. My problems today pale in comparison to what my problems were fourteen years ago, and pale compared to the problems millions of Americans face today.

Thanks for your thoughts. I concur completely about writing.,

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2020:

Thank you for your thoughts, Ann! This is a tough time we are living through, and there are many who are not adjusting as easily and you and I. I just wish I was better at spotting the signals of someone severely depressed.

At least awareness is helpful.

Have a superb weekend, my friend.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

Oh shoot, Allen, now you have me blushing. I ain't no hero, sir, but I am a man who is no longer afraid of the past and who is unwilling to let the past haunt me even one more day. I'm a spiritual being having a human experience, and I make mistakes along the way.

Thank you my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

Thank you Devika! You are absolutely correct. Usually the signs are never seen.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

Zulma, I'm very sorry for your loss. I understand. It's the unanswered questions following a death like that which haunt us for quite some time. Such a terrible waste.

Be well, my friend, and thank you for sharing that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

What a difference indeed, Lora! It's a lofty goal, but one worth reaching for, don't you think? Of course you do. You are a compassionate, loving woman, and I thank you for that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

I'm very glad of that too, Linda. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

Lori, it is my pleasure. If my life can be of any help to others, it would be a life well-lived. Thank you for reading my memoir. My own son hasn't done that yet.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

Not depressed at all, Flourish. I contemplate all the time without falling into the abyss. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

MizB, The Grapes of Wrath was certainly an example of this. It was so bleak, so filled with hopelessness....powerful and sorrowful.

Thanks for your thoughts, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2020:

I love your description of the world moving, Marlene. Standing still means falling behind. Love that image, dear friend.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 27, 2020:

What a beautiful article, Bill. So timely at this time when many are struggling. I used to sing the Van Gogh song as I identified with it so much. Maybe in my years of a silent scream. I haven't sung it for years now. Scream is one of my favorite paintings. It has so much depth. Tennyson's poem has been a favorite in our family for generations now. In fact, the verses you chose were the ones I placed on my husband's urn. I just love the way you describe your own scream. I wish I could do a description like that.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 27, 2020:

I think the painting captures the helplessness and isolation we have all felt at one time in our lives. Yes there are two people standing in the background, but in the point of view of the screamer, they might as well be on the moon. He is all alone with his demons.

Somehow life goes on through these temporary forays into madness. Writing is one thing that has been my therapy, and certainly yours too. As long as we have these worlds in our head that need to be built, there is a purpose in life that defies and survives whatever else is bringing us down.

Hope you are doing well. You are a guiding light to many who are stuck in darkness on some lonely bridge.

Ann Carr from SW England on August 27, 2020:

A powerful message, bill, and an immensely kind one. You have much compassion in your heart.

Many people say they are depressed but for most it's just an expression simply meaning 'I'm fed up!'. Clinical depression is totally different. It's when you give up, when even kind words from someone can't change it - it can take a long, long time, for all sorts of reasons that others just don't understand. This is not me, it was my mother later in life, after a series of events she couldn't cope with and had no control over.

Talking is a great healer, someone to care and to look over you. You obviously had friends who cared and helped you through. Even then, it must take huge courage when you've been that low, so all credit to you.

This is so relevant to the present day crisis. I keep saying it's the prospect of going on for a long time, the not knowing when there will be an up-turn, a vaccine, whatever. In the meantime, we all have to try to stick to the positive, but at the same time recognise those who find that more difficult and give them a life-line to grab hold of.

We can all try to help someone stop screaming. We first have to learn about the symptoms.


Allen Edwards from Iowa on August 27, 2020:

Thank You Bill! I find great solace in your words, that so clearly originate from that part of you where complete and utter honest acceptance of Your --"It is what it is" -- reality resides.

The best advice -- and message -- anyone can give to another, is wrapped in the "truthful" recounting of what they gained or lost from their experiences, and for additional affect...how the Hell could "that" of happened?

Your writing and Your unwavering responses to your "thousands" of admirers; are those things of which "heroes" are made Bill, and this "Ole(Old) Iowa Boy" appreciates it!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 27, 2020:

Bill I know a few who have taken their lives were sad and depressed. No one saw this coming and it is sad for the rest of the family left to figure out why? This is true about life and people should know the signs of a depressed person. The changes are never noticed until too late. Thank you for a great message.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on August 27, 2020:

Such a timely article, Bill.

Tomorrow is the funeral of my daughter's friend who committed suicide. When I think of her three young children wondering why Mommy left them, it just tears me up inside. She adored those kids and if she had been thinking straight, she never would have left them. I understand that depression really warps your thinking and you do things that are incomprehensible to others. What I can't understand is why no one saw it coming. Was she so isolated that there was truly no one around to see her mental state? I doubt that somehow. Did someone notice and assume it was just a phase and told her to 'snap out of it'? (This piece of advice was actually given to a lady I once knew by her brother while he visited her in the mental ward.)

I hope one day her children will understand that their Mom was ill and forgive her. I hope someone will help them understand that.

I'm a little depressed right now thinking about her. I will get past this but not by ignoring my emotions. I'll shed my tears and mourn the family's loss all the while sticking to my routine so I don't lose myself in sorrow.

Thanks for listening, Bill.

Lora Hollings on August 26, 2020:

Such a reflective article, Bill, on how a painting captures the psychological pain of so many who feel overwhelmed with life and the devastating events that it can bring. I love the way that you open up to the reader about your past and share your own struggles to overcome your addiction and your deep depression. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and concern for so many whose lives have been so negatively impacted by the events of 2020. And thanks for reaching out to them and offering to listen to their sad stories. If we all did that, even for just one person, what a difference it would make!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 26, 2020:

Thanks for sharing Munch's interesting statement about his painting. I'm very glad that you had two friends to help you during your "silent scream."

Lori Colbo from United States on August 26, 2020:

I loved this piece. I've seen that painting many times. I've had many moments of madness and that image resonates. Vincent is my favorite artist and after reading the novel Lust for Life by Irving Stone on his life, I feel a deep connection to him. My scream moods only make rare appearances now. But I do get times when I am sobbing inside but don't know why. It is God I turn to in those times and He never lets me down. I read your memoir and am so very grateful you found freedom. God has blessed you. Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 26, 2020:

That’s should be the poster representation of 2020. I’m glad you said you are not depressed or suicidal, just contemplative I guess. It will get better. Not everything sucks.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 26, 2020:

This is an interesting take on life, and I think it is appropriate to use the Scream as a perfect representation of 2020. Life seems so hopeless to so many. I somehow have this uncanny ability to stand back and see life as an observer, not a participant. I guess that's how I've always managed to keep my sanity.

The only piece of literature that ever touched me was John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Perhaps it is because my parents were children of the Great Depression and they painted the picture so vividly in my mind.

You have some good observations, and I'm so glad you survived your younger life. For our future now though, "whatever will be, will be."

Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 26, 2020:

When I look at "The Scream" I feel as if it depicts absolutely how I feel sometimes, like everything in the world is constantly moving and if I want to live in it I must constantly move with it. Standing still and doing nothing means I am at resistance to the world. I must keep on keeping on. Have a beautiful rest of the week, dear friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

I sure hope they reach out, or that I will notice them when they need help, Sha. If I can do my part to help just one person who feels hopeless well, that would be a fantastic moment in my life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

All true, Peggy, and yes, let's pray for the hurricane people. Such a rotten time for people to have to deal with one more hardship.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I, too, am not depressed, and actually my wife and I are in good shape during these hard times, but my heart goes out to those who are not as lucky as we are.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 26, 2020:

This is a very thought-provoking and eye-opening article, Bill. Random occurrences all with a common theme: the silent scream of despair.

I've always held the mindset that there is a solution for everything. Everything. So, while I may feel squashed from time to time, I muster up the strength to direct my thinking away from despair and towards light. I know not everyone has the wherewithal to do that. For those who feel themselves falling into an abyss, I hope they try to reach out before disappearing into darkness.

We all need to be more aware of behavior changes in those close to us. Perhaps if we pay more attention, we can be there to catch them before they fall.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 26, 2020:

If there is one painting that depicts the year of 2020, "The Scream" is a perfect one. So many people are suffering in countless ways, and the path ahead is not yet clear, at least in the U.S. I loved listening to that song while perusing the rest of your article.

Let's pray for all of the suffering people, including those in the path of Hurricane Laura which is about to devastate areas of our country starting tomorrow.

Let's also vote, like our lives depend upon it, when we cast our ballots this year! In the meantime, stay safe!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 26, 2020:

This Munch painting is haunting and it expresses how I feel about the happenings of 2020 overall. However, I also really like Expressionist art. I have always liked "Vincent". It is such a touching song.

If there is a photograph that expresses the silent scream the one you posted of the woman holding the baby is certainly one of them. Most human beings can go through tough times pretty well as long as they have some hope.

I am not depressed, and I am also a good listener. I know there are many people struggling in so many ways right now. I hate to think of children going to bed without food and I know it happens. Thanks for a very thought provoking article.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

For you and I, Rosina, there is always hope, but I have known people who don't believe that is true, and I find that very sad.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

You speak the truth, Linda, and I'm going to make a conscious effort to do just that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

Thank you Heidi! This is, for sure, the Year of the Silent Scream! Let's hope it ends soon, eh?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

Thank you Liz! I just think it is so important for people to realize they are not alone.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

You betcha, John! Thanks for finding the time to comment on my humble offering.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2020:

Thanks Eric, and I apologize if I offended you on Facebook the other day. That was certainly not my intention. I was expressing surprise that there are undecideds based on all of the vitriol I see on Facebook. I'm afraid my flippant attempt at humor backfired.

Rosina S Khan on August 26, 2020:

It's true masses of people in the modern day are screaming silently as depicted in the painting, finding it difficult to make ends meet. But there is always hope for the future, and one can dream of better tomorrows. Your article was a fruitful read. Thanks for sharing, Bill.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on August 26, 2020:

Bill, you were rescued from the brink by friends who love you. And you are paying it forward--extending your hand (listening ear) to anyone who needs it. Now, more than ever, we need to step out of ourselves and love one another.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 26, 2020:

True art can be interpreted in many ways. And this painting is true art. But then I'm biased since I love Expressionist works.

I don't think there's any more appropriate work to represent 2020 than this one. Whether it's silent or vocal, we're all screaming in some way this year.

Thanks for sharing your interpretation of this iconic work!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 26, 2020:

You have done an excellent job in drawing out so much from this famous painting. This article works on a lot of different levels. I appreciate its modern day application and, most of all, your offer to engage with those who are struggling at this time.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 26, 2020:

I'm with you on these Bill. Munch's painting 'The Scream' has always intrigued (sometimes haunted) me. 'Vincent' is one of my favourite songs of all time, and touches the soul. The stanza of the poem by Tennyson the same. I can see why you memorized it. I am sure there is a lot of inner screaming going on at the moment. Thanks for sharing this.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 26, 2020:

Thank you friend. I am just about done with a trilogy of sorts on being "crazy". You have just, in me, and will for many lift them up as they will be once again reminded that they are not alone -- such a fine gift my friend.

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