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Cover photo: Frida Kahlo, "Self-Portrait with Portrait of Doctor Farill," 1951. !Banco de
Mexico, fduciary of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums. Reproduced with permission
from the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBA), Mexico.
Columbia University Press
Publishers Since 1893
New York Chichester, West Sussex
Copyright !1997 Columbia University Press
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thomson, Rosemarie Garland.
Extraordinary bodies : fguring phy sical disability in American
culture and literature /Rosemarie Garland Thomson.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-231-10516-9 (cloth: acid-free paper).
ISBN 0-231-10517-7 (paper)
. American fction-19th century -History and criticism.
2. American fction-20th centur-History and criticism.
3. Phy sically handicapped in literature. . Body, Human, in
literature. 5. Body, Human-Social aspects. 6. Phy sically
handicapped-Social aspects. 7. Women in literature. 8. Popular
culture-United States-History. 9. Sideshows-United States
History. 10. Feminism and literature-United States. . Title.
PS374.P44T49 1997
813' .0093520816-dc20 96-21998
Casebound editions of Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent
and durable acid-free paper.
Printed in the United States of America
c 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
p10 9 8 ` 6 5
CO !1 t !1S

Preface and Acknowledgments I
Part 1 POLITICIZING BODILY DIFFERENCES
1 Disability, Identity, and Representation: A Introduction 5
The Disabled Figure in Culture
The Disabled Figure in Literature
The Gap Between Representation and Reality
An Overview and a Manifesto
2 Theorizing Disability
Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure
Sociocultural Analyses of the Extraordinary Body
The Disabled Figure and the Ideology of Liberal Individualism
The Disabled Figure and the Problem of Work
Part 2 s e e e s CONSTRUCTING DISABLED FIGURES:
CULTURAL AND LITERARY SITES
5
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3 The Cultural Work of American Freak Shows, 1835-1940 55
The Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body
Constituting the Average Man U^
Identifcation and the Longing for Distinction UU
From Freak to Specimen:
"The Hottentot Venus" and "The Ugliest Woman in the World" 70
The End of the Prodigious Body 78
e e e e e Contents
4 Benevolent Maternalism and the Disabled Women
in Stowe, Davis, and Phelps
The Maternal Benefactress and Her Disabled Sisters
The Disabled Figure as a Call for Justice:
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Empowering the Maternal Benefactress
Benevolent Maternalism's Flight from the Body:
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom' Cabin
The Female Body as Liability
Two Opposing Scripts of Female Embodiment:
Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills
The Triumph of the Beautiful, Disembodied Heroine:
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's Te Silent Partner
5 Disabled Women as Powerful Women
in Petry, Morrison, and Lorde
Revising Black Female Subjectivity
The Extraordinary Woman as Powerful Woman:
Ann Petry's The Street
From the Grotesque to the Cyborg
The Extraordinary Body as the Historicized Body:
Toni Morrison's Disabled Women
The Extraordinary Subject:
Audre Lorde's Zami: . Ne Spelling of My Name
The Poetics of Particularity
Conclusion: From Patholog to Identity
Notes
Biblio
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Index
81
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139
173
191
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Thisbookisthcconscqucnccolacoming-outproccss Asisoltcnthccasclor
pcoplcvithdisabilitics, l hadlcarncdto sccmybodilydillcrcnccasaprivatc
mattcr, anaspcctolmyscllthat l acknovlcdgcdandncgotiatcdinthcvorld
vithamiturcolcomposurcandcmbarrassmcnt l kncvthatmybodymadc
pcoplc uncomlortablc tovaryingdcgrccs and that itvas myj ob to rcassurc
thcm thatlvasgoingtobchncthatvcvcrcgoingtodohnctogcthcr ldid
notidcnti|withdisabilityculturc, nordidlhaveanylriendswithdisabilities
Likcmanyvomcnbclorclcministconsciousncss-raisingor somcblackpcoplc
bclorcthccivilrightsmovcmcnt,lsavmydillcrcncclromthcvalucdnormas
apcrsonalsituationrathcrthanasapoliticalorsocialissuc
Ncvcrthclcss, inmyvorkasalitcrarycritic, l alvaysrccognizcdand idcn
tihcd vith thc myriad ol critically unnoticcd disablcd charactcrs scattcrcd
throughoutthcvvorkslrcad Putbccauscthcidcaoldravingattcntiontodis-
abilitycontradictcdalilctimcoldisavovingit, mycritical comingoutvasat
hrst quitctcntativc andunscttling Withoutthcboldlcministasscrtionthat
thcpcrsonalis politicaland its authorization olidcntitypolitics as a critical
pcrspcctivc, vithoutthc rcccntbroadcningolour scopcolacadcmicinquiry,
l vouldncvcrhavcallovcdmysclltocmbarkonaprojcctsuchasthis lpcr-
sistcdbccauscthctimcvasripctointroduccdisabilityintothcacadcmysin
tcrrogati on ol thc politics ol rcprcscntation l am indcbtcd, thcn, to this
momcntinthchistoryolcriticalthoughtandculturalstudics Pcingoutabout
disabilityhascnablcdmcbothtodiscovcrandtocstablishahcldoldi sability
stud|csvithinthc humaniticsand to hclpconsolidatcacommunityolschol-
arsvhoarcdchningit
ThisbookovcsitsbcingtothccncouragcmcntolMichaclCilmorcandto
myintroductionbythclatclrZolatothcbodyolscholarshipandsupportivc
groupolscholarsvorkingindisabilitystudicsinthc socialscicnccs |orgcn
crous supportandhclplulcommcnts onthcmanuscript atvarious stagcs, l
amgratclul to mycollcagucs Pob Pogdan, Mary Campbcll , Lcnny Cassuto,
X e r e e e Preface &Acknowledgments
LennyDavis ,VaiCheeDimock,TracyFessenden, SkipCates, CarolineCeb
hard, Nancy Coldstein, David Cerber, Cene Coodheart, Harlan Hahn, Phil
Harper, Liz Hodgson, AmyLang, ClaudiaLimbert, Simi Linton, Paul Long-
more, Lric Lott, Helena Michie, David Mitchell, Llisabeth Pantajj a, Karen
Sanchez Lppler, and RobinVarhol andtothe l 992Commonvealth Center
PostdoctoralFellovship CommitteeattheCollegeolVilliamandMaq
Severalinstitutionssupportedthisproj ectalongthevayvithresearchand
vritinggrants l vishto thankthe National Lndovmentlor the Humanities
loraFellovshiplorniversityTeachersin l 99+-9 , theVoodlnstituteolthe
College olPhysicianslora researchlellovship in l 99 , the Massachusetts
HistoricalSocietyloranAndrevV MellonResearchFellovvshipin l 99 , the
AmericanAssociation olniversity Vomenlora dissertation lellovship in
l 99 l -92, the lrandeis niversity DepartmentolLnglishlor anAndrevV
Mellon Dissertation Fellovship in l 99 l -92, and the lrandeis niversity
VomensStudiesDepartmentlortheirdissertationlellovshipin l 99 l -92
lamalsogratelultotheVomensCommitteeoltheModernLanguageAs-
sociationloravardingthe l 939FlorenceHoveAvardlorFeministScholar-
shiptomyessayentitledSpeakingAboutthenspeakableTheRepresenta-
tionolDisabilityas StigmainToni hIcrrisons Novels , vhichisan earlyex-
plorationolapartolchapter lappreciateasvelltheencouragementolthe
SocietylorDisabilityStudies, vhichavardedmeitsLmergingScholarAvard
in l 990 Portionsolchapters2andappearinadillerentlorminanessayon
AnnPetryin\omensSuJiesInerncionc| , andaversionolchapter+ispub
lishedinAmericcnLiercure l appreciate theeditors permission to reprint
this material l also vantto thank|ennilerCreve and Leslie Kriesel at Co-
lumbianiversityPresslortheirgeneroussupportandcarelulediting
Theconstancy, emotional sustenance, patience, encouragement, andsup
portollob, Rob, Lena,andCaraThomsonmakethisprojectandmanyother
things possible l alsovanttoacknovvledgemysustainingrelationshipsvith
lriends scattered across the country and to thank the many vomen vho
helped carelormy childrenovertheyears so that l had some quiettime to
vriteandread
ln1 I

Politicizing Bodily Diferences
Nature is only the raT material of culture, appropriated, preserved,
enslaved, exalted, or otherwise made flexible for disposal by culture in
the logic of capitalist colonialism.
-Donna Haraway, Primate Visions
Representation is the organization of the perception of [actual bodily
differences] into comprehensibility, a comprehensibility that is al
ways frail, coded, in other words, human.
-Richard Dyer, Te Matter of Images
Anomaly appears only against the background provided by the para
digm.
-Thomas b. Kuhn, Te Structure of Scientifc Revolutions
O!t

Disability Identity and
Representation: An Introduction
The Disabled Figure in Culture
ln its broadcst scnse, this book invcstigatcs hov rcprcscntation attachcs
mcanings to bodics Although much rcccnt scholarship cxplores hov dil-
lcrcnccandidcntityopcratcinsuchpoliticizcdconstructionsasgcndcr, racc,
and sexuality, cultural andlitcrary criticismhasgcncrally ovcrlookcd thc rc-
latcdpcrccptionsolcorporcalotherncssvcthinkolvariouslyasmonstrosity,
mutilation, dclormation, cripplcdncss, or physical disability ' Yct thc
physicaIlyextraordinaryhgurc thcsctcrms dcscribcis as csscntial to thccul-
turalprojcctolAmcricanscllmalngasthcvaricdthrongolgcndcrcd, racial ,
cthnic, and scxual hgurcs olothcrncssthatsupport thc privilegcdnorm. My
purposchcrcistoaltcrthctcrmsandcxpandourundcrstandingolthccultural
construction olbodics and idcntity by rclramingdisability as anothcr cul -
turebound,physicallyjustihcddillcrcncctoconsidcralongvthracc, gcnder,
class, cthnicity, andscxuali ty lnothcrvords ,lintcndtointroduccsuchhgurcs
as thc cripplc, thc invalid, and thc lrcakintothc criticalconvcrsationsvcdc
votc to dcconstructinghgurcs likc the mulatto, thc primitivc, thc quccr, and
thcladyTodcnaturalizcthcculturalencodingolthcscextraordinarybodics , l
go bcyondassailingstcrcotypcs to intcrrogatc thc convcntions olrcprcsenta-
tion and unravel thc complexitiesolidcntity productionvithin social narra-
tivcs olbodilydillcrcnccs ln accordanccvithpostmodcrnismsprcmiscthat
thc margin constitutcs thc ccntcr, l probc thc pcripheral so as to vicv thc
6 e + e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
vholc in a lrcshvay Py scrutinizing thc disablcd hgurc as thcparadigm ol
vhat culturc calls dcviant, l hopc to cxposc thc assumptions that support
sccminglyncutralnorms Thcrclorc,llocushcrconhovdisabilityopcratcsin
culturcandonhovthcdiscourscsoldisability, racc, gcndcr, and scxualityin
tcrminglctocrcatchgurcsolothcrncsslromthcravmatcrialsolbodilyvaria
tion, spccihcallyatsitcsolrcprcscntationsuchasthclrcakshov, scntimcntal
hction,andblackvomcnslibcratorynovcls. Suchananalysislurthcrsourcol
lcctivcundcrstandingolthccomplcxproccsscsbyvhichc||lormsolcorporcal
divcrsityacquircthcculturalmcaningsundcrgirdingahicrarchyolbodilytraits
thatdctcrmincsthcdistributionolprivilcgc,status, andpovcr
Oncolthisbooksmajoraimsistochallcngccntrcnchcdassumptionsthat
ablcbodicdncss and its conccptual oppositc, disability, arc scllcvdcnt
physicalconditions Myintcntionistodclamiliarizcthcscidcntitycatcgorics
bydisclosinghovthcphysicallydisablcdarcproduccdbyvayollcgal ,mcd
ical, political , cultural , andlitcrarynarrativcs that comprisc an cxclusionary
discoursc Constructcdas thccmbodimcntolcorporcalinsulhcicncyanddc
viancc, thcphysicallydisablcdbodybccomcs arcpositorylorsocialanxictics
aboutsuchtroublingconccrnsasvulncrability, control, andidcntity l nothcr
vords , lvanttomovcdisabilitylromthcrcalmolmcdicincintothatolpolit
icalminoritics , torccastitlromalormolpathologytoalormolcthnicity Py
asscrtingthatdisabilityisa rcadingolbodilyparticulariticsin thccontcxtol
socialpovcr rclations , l intcnd to countcrthc acccptcd notions elphysical
disabilityas an absolutc, inlcrior statc andapcrsonalmislortunc l nstcad, l
shov that disability is a rcprcscntation, a cultural intcrprctation olphysical
translormation orconhguration, and a comparison olbodics thatstructurcs
socialrclationsandinstitutions Disability, thcn, isthcattributionolcorporcal
dcvianccnot so much a propcrty olbodics as a product ol cultural rulcs
aboutvhatbodicsshouldbcordo
Thissociallycontcxtualizcdvicvoldisabilityiscvidcnt, lorcxamplc, inthc
currcntlcgal dchnition oldi sability cstablishcd by thcAmcricans vith Dis
abiliticsActoll 990.This landmarkcivilrightslcgislationacknovlcdgcs that
disability dcpcnds uponpcrccption and subjcctivcj udgmcntrathcrthan on
objcctivcbodilystatcs altcridcntiingdisabilityasanimpairmcntthatsub
stantiallylimitsoncormorcolthcmaj orlilcactivitics, thclavconccdcsthat
bcinglcgallydisablcdisalsoamattcrolbcingrcgardcdashavingsuchanim
pairmcnt Lsscntialbutimplicittothisdchnitioni sthatbothimpairmcnt
and limits"dcpcndoncomparingindividualbodicsvithunstatcdbutdctcr
miningnorms, ahypothcticalsctolguidclincslorcorporcallormandlunction
arisinglrom culturalcxpcctations abouthovhumanbcings shouldlookand
Disability, Identity, and Representation 7
act Although thcsc cxpcctations arc partly loundcd on physiological lacts
aboutt_icalhumanssuchashavingtvolcgsvithvhichtovalkuprightor
havingsomccapacitylor sightorspccchthcirsociopolitical mcanings and
conscqucnccsarccntirclyculturallydctcrmincd Stairs ,lorcxamplc,crcatca
lunctional impairmcntlorvhcclchairuscrs thatramps do not Printcdin
lormation accommodatcs thcsightcdbutlimitsblindpcrsons Dcalncss is
not a disablingcondition in a community thatcommunicatcs by signing as
vcllasspcaking. `Pcoplcvhocannotliltthrcchundrcdpoundsarcablcbod
icd, vhcrcas thosc vho cannot lilt hlty pounds arc disablcd Morcovcr,
such cul turally gcncratcd and pcrpctuatcd standards as bcauty, indcpcn
dcncc, htncss , compctcncc, andnormalcycxcludcanddisablcmanyhu
man bodics vhilc validating and allirming othcrs Lvcn though thc lav
attcmpts to dchnc disability in tcrms ollunction, thc mcanings attachcd to
physical lorm and appcarancc constitutc limits lor many pcoplcas cv
dcnccd, lorcxamplc, byuglylavs , somcrcpcalcdasrcccntlyas l 9+, that
rcstrictcdvisibly disablcd pcoplc lrom public placcs Thus, thc vays that
bodicsintcractvith thcsociallycnginccrcdcnvironmcntandconlorm to so
cial cxpcctations dctcrminc thcvarying dcgrccs oldi sability orablcbodicd
ncss, olcxtraordinarincssorordinarincs s
Conscqucntly, thc mcanings attributcdt ocxtraordinary bodics rcsidc not
ininhcrcntphysicalllavs ,butinsocialrclationshipsinvvhichoncgroupislc
gitimatcdbyposscssingvalucdphysical charactcristicsandmaintains its as
ccndancyanditsscllidcntitybysystcmaticallyimposingthcrolcolculturalor
corporcalinlcriorityonothcrs Rcprcscntationthussimultancouslybuttrcsscs
ancmbodicdvcrsionolnormativcidcntityandshapcsanarrativcolcorporcal
dillcrcnccthatcxcludcs thoscvhoscbodicsorbchaviorsdonotconlorm So
by locusing on hov rcprcscntation crcatcs thc physically disablcd hgurc in
Amcricanculturc, lvillalsoclarithccorrcspondinghgurcolthcnormativc
Amcricanscllsopovcrlullyctchcdintoourcollcctivcculturalconsciousncss
Vc vill sccthatthcdisablcdhgurcopcratcsas thcvividlycmbodicd, stigma
tizcdothcrvhoscsocialrolcistosymbolicallylrccthcprivilcgcd, idcalizcdhg
urcolthcAmcricansclllromthcvagaricsandvulncrabiliticsolcmbodimcnt
Oncpurposcolthisbook,thcn, istoprobcthcrclationsamongsocialidcn
titicsvalucdanddcvalucdoutlincdbyouracccptcdhierarchicsolcmbod
imcnt Corporcal dcparturcs lrom dominant cxpcctations ncvcr go unintcr
prctcdorunpunishcd, andconlormiticsarcalmostalvaysrcardcd Thc nar
rativc oldcviancc surroundingbodics considcrcd dillcrcntisparallclcdbya
narrativcolunivcrsalitysurroundingbodics thatcorrcspondtonotionsolthc
ordinaryorthcsupcrlativcCulturaldichotomicsdothcircvaluativcvorkthis
8 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
body is inlcriorandthat onc is supcrior, this onc is bcautilul orpcrlcctand
thatoncisgrotcsqucorugly lnthiscconomyolvi sualdillcrcncc, thoscbod
ics dccmcd inlcriorbccomc spcctaclcsolothcrncssvhilc thc unmarkcdarc
shcltcrcd in thc ncutral spacc olnormalcy l nvcstcdvith mcanings that lar
outstrip thcirbiologicalbascs, hgurcs suchas thc cripplc, thcquadroon, thc
quccr,thcoutsidcr,thcvhorcarctaxonomical ,idcologicalproductsmarkcdby
socially dctcrmincd stigmata, dchncd through rcprcscntation, and cxcludcd
lromsocialpovcrandstatus Thus, thcculturalothcrandthcculturalscllop
cratctogcthcrasopposingtvinhgurcsthatlcgitimatcasystcmolsocial, cco
nomic, andpoliticalcmpovcrmcntjustihcdbyphysiologicaldillcrcnccs `
Asl cxamincthcdisablcdhgurc, lvillalsotroublcthc mutuallyconstitut
inghgurcthisstudycoins thcnormatcThisncologismnamcsthcvcilcdsub
]cctpositionolculturalscll, thchgurcoutlincdbythcarrayoldcviantothcrs
vhoscmarkcdbodicsshorcup thc normatcsboundarics Thc tcrmnormce
usclully dcsignatcs thc social hgurc through vhich pcoplc can rcprcscnt
thcmsclvcs as dchnitivc human bcings Normatc, thcn, is thc constructcd
idcntityolthoscvho, byvvayolthcbodilyconhgurationsandculturalcapital
thcyassumc,canstcpintoapositionolauthorityandvicldthcpovcritgrants
thcm lloncattcmptsto dchncthc normatc positionbypcclingavayallthc
markcdtraitsvithinthcsocialordcratthishistoricalmomcnt, vhatcmcrgcs
is avcrynarrovlydchncdprohlcthatdcscribcsonlyaminorityolactualpco
plc LrvingCollman,vhoscvorkldiscussingrcatcrdctaillatcr,obscrvcsthc
logicalconcIusionolthisphcnomcnonbynotingvrylythatthcrcisonlyonc
complctcunblushingmalcinAmcrica: ayoung,marricd,vhitc, urban, north
crn, hctcroscxual, Protcstant lathcrolcollcgc cducation, lullycmploycd, ol
goodcomplcxion, vcightandhcight, andarcccntrccordinsports lntcrcst
ingly, Collmantakcslorgrantcdthatlcmalcncsshasnopartinhisskctchola
normativc humanbcing Yct thisimagcs ubiquity, povcr, and valucrcsonatc
clcarly Onc tcstimony to thc povcr olthc normatc subj cct position is that
pcoplcoltcntrytohtitsdcscriptioninthcsamcvaythatCindcrcllasstcpsis
tcrsattcmptcdtosqucczcthcirlcctintohcrglassslippcr |amingthchgurc
olthcnormatcisoncconccptualstratcgythatvillallovustoprcssouranaly
scsbcyondthc simplc dichotomicsolmalc/lcmalc, vhitc/black, straight/gay,
or ablcbodicd/di sablcd so that vc can cxaminc thc subtlc intcrrclations
amongsocialidcntiticsthatarcanchorcdtophysicaldillcrcnccs
Thcnormatc subjcctpositioncmcrgcs , hovcvcr, onlyvhcnvc scrutinizc
thcsocialproccsscsanddiscourscsthatconstitutcphysical andculturaloth
crncss lccausc hgurcs olothcrncs s arc highly markcd i npovcr rclations ,
cvcn as thcyarcmarginalizcd, thcirculturalvisibilityas dcviantobscurcsand
Disability Identity and Representation r 9
ncutralizcsthcnormativchgurcthatthcylcgitimatcTo analyzcthc opcration
oldisability,itiscsscntialthcntothcorizcatlcngthasldoinpart labout
thcproccsscsandassumptionsthatproduccboththcnormatcanditsdiscor
dant companion hgurcs Hovcvcr, l alsovant to complicatc any simplc di-
chotomy ol sclland othcr, normatc and dcviant, by ccntcringpart 2 olthc
bookon hovrcprcscntations somctimcs dcploydisablcdhgurcs incomplcx,
triangulatcdrclationships orsurprisingallianccs, andonhovthcscrcprcscn
tationscanbcbothopprcssivcandlibcrating lnpart2, mycxaminationolthc
vaydisabilityisconstitutcdbythclrcakshov, scntimcntalhction, andblack
vomcns libcratorynovclslocuscsonlcmalchgurcslortvorcasons hrst, bc
causcthc links bctvccn disability andgcndcrothcrncss nccdinvcstigating,
and sccond, bccausc thc nonnormatc status accordcd disability |cminizcs
all disablcdhgurcs hatl uncovcrbyclosclyanalyzingthcscsitcsolrcprc
scntation suggcststhatdisability lunctions as a multivalcnt tropc, though it
rcmainsthcmarkolothcrncss Althoughccntcringondisablcdhgurcsillumi
natcs thc proccs scs that sort andrankphysical dillcrcnccs intonormaland
abnormal, atthcsamctimc, thcscinvcstigationssuggcstthcpossibilityolpo
tcntiallypositivc,complicatingintcrprctations lnshort,bycxaminingdisabil
ityas a rcadingolthcbodythatis inllcctcdbyracc, cthnicity, andgcndcr, l
hopctorcvcalpossibiliticslorsignihcationthatgobcyondamonologicintcr-
prctation ol corporcal dillcrcnce as dcviancc Thus , by hrst thcorizing dis-
abilityand thcn cxaminingscvcral sitcs that construct it, l can uncovcrthc
complcxvaysthatdisabilityintcrscctsvithothcrsocialidcntiticstoproducc
thccxtraordinaryandthcordinaryhgurcsvhohauntusall
The Disabled Figure in Literature
Thcdiscursivcconstructolthcdisablcdhgurc,inlormcdmorcbyrcccivcdat-
titudcs than by pcoplcs actual cxpcricncc oldisability, circulatcs in culturc
andhndsahomcvithinthc convcntionsandcodcsollitcraryrcprcscntation
As PaulRobinsonnotcs ,thcdisablcd, likcall minoritics, havc cxistcdnot
as subj ccts olart, but mcrcly as its occasions Disablcd litcrary charactcrs
usually rcmain on thc margins olhction as uncomplicatcd hgurcs orcxotic
alicnsvhoscbodilyconhgurations opcratc as spcctaclcs , clicitingrcsponscs
lromothcrcharactcrsorproducingrhctoricalcllccts thatdcpcndondisabil
itys cultural rcsonancc lndccd, main charactcrs almostncvcrhavc physical
disabilitics Lvcnthoughmainstrcamcriticshavclongdiscusscd, lorcxamplc,
thcimplicationsolTains|imlorblacks ,vhcnlitcrarycriticslookatdisablcd
charactcrs, thcyoltcnintcrprctthcmmctaphoricallyoracsthctically, rcading
1 0 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
thcmvithoutpolitical avarcncss as convcntionalclcmcnts ol thc scntimcn-
tal,romantic, Cothic, orgrotcsquctraditions `
Thcdisparitybctvccndisablcdas anattributcd, dccontcxtualizingidcn
tityand thc pcrccptionsandcxpcricnccsolrcalpcoplclivingvithdisabilitics
suggcsts thatthishgurc olothcrncs s cmcrgcs lrompositioning, intcrprcting,
andconlcrringmcaninguponbodics Rcprcscntationyicldsculturalidcntitics
andcatcgori cs, thcgivcnparadigmsAllrcdSchutzcallsrccipcs, vithvhich
vc communally organizc rav cxpcricncc and routinizc thc vorld ' Litcrary
convcntions cvcn lurthcrmcdiatccxpcricnccthat thc vidcrculturalmatrix,
includinglitcraturc itscll, has alrcadyinlormcd llvcacccptthc convcntion
that hction has somc mimctic rclation to lilc, vvc grant it povcr to lurthcr
shapc our pcrccptions ol thc vorld, cspccially rcgarding situations about
vhichvchavclittlc dircctknovlcdgc lccauscdisability is sostronglystig-
matizcdandiscountcrcdbysolcvmitigatingnarrativcs , thcli tcrarytrallicin
mctaphorsoltcnmisrcprcscntsorllattcnsthccxpcricnccrcalpcoplchavcol
thcirovnorothcrs disabilitics
lthcrclorcvanttocxplicitlyopcnupthcgapbctvccndisablcdpcoplcand
thcirrcprcscntationsbycxploringhovdisabilityopcratcsintcxts Thcrhctor
icalcllcctolrcprcscntingdisabilitydcrivcslromsocialrclationsbctvccnpco-
plcvhoassumcthcnormatcpositionandthoscvhoarcassigncdthcdisablcd
position |rom lolktalcs and classical myths to modcrn and postmodcrn
grotcsqucs, thcdisablcdbodyisalmostalvaysalrcakishspcctaclcprcscntcd
bythc mcdiatingnarrativcvoicc Most disablcdcharactcrsarccnvclopcdby
thcothcrncssthatthcirdisabilitysignalsinthctcxtTakc, asalcvcxamplcs,
DickcnsspathcticandromanticizcdTinyTimol ACarismcsCcro' , | M lar-
ricsvillainousCaptainHooklromPeerPcn, VictorHugosCothicQuasimodo
in1aeHunca|cc|o]NoreDcme, D H LavrcnccsimpotcntClillordChat
tcrlcy in LcJy Cacer|eys Lover, and Tcnncsscc Villiamss longsullcring
LauraVinghcldlrom1ae C|cssMencgerie. Thcvcryactolrcprcscntingcor
porcalothcrncssplaccsthcminalramcthathighlightsthcirdillcrcnccslrom
ostcnsiblynormatcrcadcrs Although suchrcprcscntationsrclcrtoactualso-
cial rclations, thcydonotolcoursc rcproduccthoscrclations vith mimctic
lullncss Charactcrs arc thus ncccssarily rcndcrcd by a lcv dctcrmining
strokcs thatcrcatcanillusionolrcalitylarshortolthcintricatc, undillcrcnti-
atcd, and unintcrprctcd contcxt in vhich rcal pcoplc cxist Likc thc lrcak
shovsthatlvilldiscussinchaptcrl , tcxtualdcscriptionsarcovcrdctcrmincd
thcyinvcstthctraits , qualitics, andbchaviors olthcircharactcrsvithmuch
rhctoricalinllucnccsimplybyomittingandthcrclorccrasingothcrlactors
ortraitsthatmightmitigatcorcomplicatcthcdclincations Adisabilitylunc
Disability Identity and Representation e e e e e 1 1
tions onlyas visual dillcrcncc that signals mcanings Conscqucntly, litcrary
tcxtsncccssarilymakcdisablcdcharactcrsintolrcaks ,strippcdolnormalizing
contcxtsandcngullcdbyasinglcstigmatictrait
Not only is thc rclationship bctvccn tcxtandvvorld notcxact, butrcprc
scntation also rclics upon cultural assumptions to hll in missing dctails All
pcoplcconstructintcrprctivcschcmatathatmakcthcirvorldssccmknovablc
and prcdictablc, thus producingpcrccptual catcgorics that may hardcn into
stcrcotypcs or caricaturcs vhcn communally sharcd and culturally incul
catcd ' `As Aristotlc suggcsts in thc Peics , litcrary rcprcscntation dcpcnds
morconprobabilityvhatpcoplctakc tobcaccuratcthanonrcality Cari
caturcs andstcrcotypicalportrayals thatdcpcndmorc ongcsturc than com
plcxity arisc ncccssarily out ol this gap bctvccn rcprcscntation and lilc
Stcrcotypcsinlilcbccomctropcsintcxtualrcprcscntation |orcxamplc, M ar
iannaTorgovnickdcscribcsthctropcolthcprimitivcasadiscursivcconstruct
inthcbroadcstscnsc,avorldthathasbccnstructurcdbysctsolimagcsand
idcas thathavc slippcdlrom thciroriginal mctaphoric status to control pcr
ccptionsolactualprimi tivcs ' ' Suchportrayalsinvokc,rcitcratc,andarcrc
inlorccd by cultural stcrcotypcs A highly stigmatizcd charactcristic likc
disabilitygainsitsrhctoricalcllcctivcncss lrom thc povcrlul, oltcnmixcdrc
sponscsthatrcaldisablcdpcoplcclicitlromrcadcrsvhoconsidcrthcmsclvcs
normatcs. Thc morc the litcrary portrayal conlorms to thc social stcrcotypc,
thcmorccconomicalandintcnscisthccllcct, rcprcscntationthuscxaggcratcs
analrcadyhighlightcdphysicaldillcrcncc Morcovcr,Vcstcrntraditionposits
thcvisiblcvorldasthcindcxolacohcrcntandjustinvisiblcv orld,cncourag
ingustorcadthcmatcrialbodyasasigninvcstcdvithtransccndcntmcaning
lnintcrprctingthcmatcrialvorld, litcraturctcndstoimbucanyvisualdillcr
cnccsvith signihcancc thatobscurcs thccomplcxityolthcirbcarcrs
Pcsidcsstrippinganynormalizingcontcxtavaylromdisability, litcraryrcp
rcscntation sctsup static cncountcrs bctvccn disablcdhgurcs andnormatc
rcadcrs , vhcrcasrcalsocialrclationsarcalvaysdynamic |ocusingonabody
lcaturctodcscribcacharactcrthrovsthcrcadcrintoaconlrontationviththc
charactcrthatisprcdctcrmincdbyculturalnotionsaboutdisability Viththc
notablc cxccption olautobiographical tcxtssuch as Audrc Lordcs Zcmi ,
vhichladdrcssinthclastchaptcrrcprcscntationtcndstoobjcctidisablcd
charactcrs by dcnyng thcm any opportunity lor subjcctivity oragcncy Thc
plotorthcvorksrhctoricalpotcntialusuallybcnchtslromthcdisablcdhgurc
rcmaining othcr to thc rcadcridcntihably human but rcsolutcly dillcrcnt
Hov couldAhabopcratccllcctivclyilthcrcadcrvcrcallovcdtoscchimas
anordinarylcllovinstcadolasaniconolmonomaniacalrcvcngcilhisdis
1 2 4 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
ability lost its transccndcnt mcaning Vhat vould happcn to thc purc pity
gcncratcdlorTinyTimilhcvcrcportraycdassomctimcsnaughty,likcanor
malchildThusthcrhctoricallunctionolthchighlychargcdtraithxcsrcla
tionsbctvccndisablcdhgurcsandthcirrcadcrs lldisablcdcharactcrsactcd,
as rcalpcoplc vith disabilitics oltcn do, to countcrthcirstigmatizcd status,
thcrhctoricalpotcncyolthcstigmavouldbcmitigatcdorlost llHavthorncs
Chillingvorthmadcmanylricnds ,lorinstancc, orappcarcdlovablctoHcstcr,
his rolc in 1e Sccr'e Leer vould bc diminishcd ll |lanncry O Connors
HulgaHopcvcllvcrcprctty, chccrlul, andonclcggcdinstcadoluglyandbit
tcr, Cood Country Pcoplc vvould lail So, likc c|'ecux vivcns, bcauty
pagcants , andlrcakshowsall rclatcd lorms olrcprcscntation groundcd in
thc convcntionsolspcctaclclitcrarynarrativcs oldisabilityusuallydcpcnd
onthcob]cctihcationolthcspcctaclcthatrcprcscntationhascrcatcd
The Gap Between Representation and Reality
Vhcthcronclivcs vvithadisabilityorcncountcrssomconcvhohasonc, thc
actualcxpcricnccoldisabilityismorccomplcxandmorcdynamicthanrcprc
scntationusuallysuggcsts |ustonccxamplcillustratcsthcsklldisablcdpco
plc oltcn must lcarn in managing social cncountcrs l nitial or casual
cxchangcs bctvccn normatc and disablcd pcoplc dillcr markcdly lrom thc
usualrclationsbctvccnrcadcrs anddisablcdcharactcrs lna hrstcncountcr
vithanothcrpcrson, atrcmcndousamountolinlormationmustbcorganizcd
and intcrprctcd simultancously cach participant probcs thc cxplicit lor thc
implicit, dctcrmincsvhatissignihcantlorparticularpurposcs,andprcparcsa
rcsponscthatisguidcdbymanycucs, bothsubtlcandobvious Vhcnoncpcr
sonhasavisiblcdisability, hovcvcr,italmostalvaysdominatcsandskcvsthc
normatcsproccssolsortingoutpcrccptionsandlormingarcaction' Thcin
tcraction is usually straincd bccausc thc nondisablcd pcrson maylccl lcar,
pity,lascination,rcpulsion, ormcrclysurprisc, noncolvhichi scxprcssiblcac
cordingtosocialprotocol Pcsidcs thcdiscomlortingdissonanccbctvccncx
pcricnccdandcxprcsscdrcaction, anondisablcdpcrsonoltcn docsnotkncvv
hov to act tovard a disablcd pcrson hov or vhcthcr to ollcr assistancc,
vhcthcrtoacknovlcdgc thc disability, vhat vords, gcsturcs, orcxpcctations
touscoravoid Pcrhaps mostdcstructivctothcpotcntiallorcontinuingrcla
tionsisthcnormatcslrcqucntassumptionthatadisabilitycancclsoutothcr
qualitics, rcducingthccomplcxpcrsontoasinglcattributc Thisunccrtainty
and discord makc thc cncountcrcspcciallystrcsslullorthcnondisablcdpcr-
son unaccustomcd to disablcdpcoplc Thc disablcdpcrson may bc anxious
Disability, Identity, and Representation 1 3
aboutvhcthcrthccncountcrvillbctoouncomlortablclorcithcrolthcmto
sustainandmaylcclthccvcrprcscntthrcatolrcjcction Lvcnthoughdisabil
itythrcatcnstosnapthcslcndcrthrcadolsociability, mostphysicallydisablcd
pcoplcarcskillcdcnoughinthcsccncountcrstorcpairthclabricolthcrcla
tionsothatitcancontinuc
To bcgrantcd lullyhuman statusbynormatcs, disablcdpcoplcmustlcarn
tomanagcrclationshipslromthc bcginning ln othcr vords, disablcdpcoplc
mustusccharm,intimidation,ardor,dclcrcncc, humor,orcntcrtainmcnttorc
licvcnondisablcdpcoplcolthcirdiscomlort Thoscolus vithdisabiliticsarc
supplicantsandminstrcls, strivingtocrcatcvalucdrcprcscntationsoloursclvcs
in our rclations vith thc nondisablcd majority This is prcciscly vhat many
ncvly di sablcdpcoplccan ncithcrdo noracccpt, itis a subtlc part oladjust
mcntandoltcnthcmostdillicul t ' ` llsuchcllortsatrcparationarcsucccsslul,
disablcdpcoplcncutralizc thcinitial stigma oldisabilitysothat rclationships
can bc sustaincdanddccpcncd Only thcn can othcraspcctsolpcrsonhood
cmcrgc and cxpand thc initial locus so that thc rclationship bccomcs morc
comlortabl c, morcbroadlybascd, andlcssallcctcdbythcdisability Onlythcn
cancachpcrson cmcrgcasmultilacctcd,vholc ll, hovcvcr, disablcdpcoplc
pursucnormalizationtoomuch, thcyriskdcnyinglimitationsandpainlorthc
comlortolothcrsandmaycdgcintothcscllbctrayalassociatcdvithpassing "
Thisisnottosuggcstthatalllormsoldisabilityarcintcrchangcablcorthat
alldisablcdpcoplccxpcricnccthcirbodics orncgotiatc thciridcntitics in thc
samcvays l ndccd,itisprccisclythcvariationamongindividual sthatcultural
catcgoricstrivializcandthatrcprcscntationoltcndistorts Disabilityisanovcr
archingand insomcvaysartihcialcatcgory that cncompasscscongcnitaland
acquircd physical dillcrcnccs, mcntal illncss and rctardation, chronic and
acutc illncsscs , latalandprogrcssivc discascs, tcmpora( and pcrmancnt in
jurics, andavidcrangcolbodilycharactcristicsconsidcrcddishguring,suchas
scars, birthmarks, unusualproportions, orobcsity Lvcnthoughthcprototypi
cal disablcdpcrson positcdin cultural rcprcscntations ncvcrlcavcs a vhccl
chair, is totally blind, or proloundly dcal, most ol thc approximatcly lorty
millionAmcricansvith disabilitics havcamuchmorcambiguousrclationship
tothclabcl Thcphysicalimpairmcntsthatrcndcrsomconc disablcd"arcal
mostncvcrabsolutcorstatic ,thcyarcdynamic,contingcntconditionsallcctcd
bymanycxtcrnal lactors and usuallyHuctuatingovcrtimc Somcconditions ,
likc multiplcsclcrosisorarthritis ,arcprogrcssivcand chronic,othcrs , suchas
cpilcpsy,canbcacutcLvcnsccminglystaticdisabiliticslikcamputationallcct
activiticsdillcrcntly,dcpcndingonthcconditionolthcrcstolthcbody
Olcoursc, cvcryonc is subjcct to thc graduallydisablingproccss ol aging
1 4 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Dif erences
Thclactthatwcwillallbccomcdisablcdilwclivclongcnoughisarcalitymany
pcoplcvhoconsidcrthcmsclvcsablcbodicdarcrcluctanttoadmit' Asphys-
ical abilitics changc, so do individual nccds, and thc pcrccption ol thosc
nccds Thc pain that oltcn accompanics or causcs disability also inllucnccs
boththcdcgrccandthcpcrccptionolimpairmcntAccordingtoLlaincScarq
bccauscpainisinvisiblc,unvcrihablcandunrcprcscntablc,itisoltcnsubjcctto
misattributionordcnialbythoscwhoarcnotcxpcricncingit ' ` Disability, thcn,
canbcpainlul, comlortablc,lamiliar,alicnating,bonding,isolating,disturbing,
cndcaring,challcnging,inluriating,orordinary Lmbcddcdinthccomplcxityol
actualhumanrclations , itisalwaysmorcthanthcdisablcdhgurccansigni
That anyonccanbccomcdisablcdatanytimcmakcsdisabilitymorcHuid,
andpcrhapsmorcthrcatcning,tothoscwhoidcntithcmsclvcsasnormatcs
thansuchsccminglymorcstablcmarginalidcntiticsaslcmalcncss,blackncss,
ornondominant cthnic idcntitics ' lnaddition, thc timc andwayi nwhich
oncbccomcsdisablcdinllucnccitspcrccption, as dothcvays oncincorpo-
ratcs disabilityinto oncs scnscolscllorrcsists i t Forinstancc, thcgradual
disablcmcnt ol aging or a progrcssivc illncss may not bc considcrcd a dis-
abilityatall lncontrast, ascvcrc, suddcnimpairmcnt, aslromanaccidcnt, is
almostalwayscxpcricnccdasagrcatcrlossthanisacongcnitalorgradualdis
ability,whichdocsnotdcmandadj ustmcntsoabruptlyAdisabilitysdcgrccol
visibilityal soallccts social rclations Aninvisiblc disability, muchlikc a ho-
moscxualidcntity, alwaysprcscntsthcdilcmmaolwhcthcrorwhcntocomc
outortopass Oncmustalwaysanticipatcthcriskoltaintingancwrclation-
shipbyannouncinganinvisiblcimpairmcntorthccqualhazardolsurprising
somconcbyrcvcalingaprcviouslyundiscloscddisability Thcdistinctionbc-
twccnlormalandlunctional aspccts ola disability allccts itspcrccption as
wcll Pcoplcwhoscdisabilityisprimarilylunctionalbutnotvisiblc oltcnarc
accuscdolmalingcringoroldisappointingcxpcctations aboutthcirphysical
capabilitics Yct thosc whosc disabilitics arc largclylormal oltcn arc consid
crcdincapablc olthings thcy can casily do Furthcrmorc, lormal conditions
suchaslacialdishgurcmcnt, scarring,birthmarks , obcsity, andvisual orhcar-
ingimpairmcntscorrcctcdwithmcchanicalaidsarcusuallysociallydisabling,
cvcnthough thcycntailalmostnophysicaldyslunction Morcovcr, asthchis
toryolthclrcakshovthatappcarsinchaptcrlrcvcals ,nohrmdistinctioncx
ists bctvvccn primarily lormal disabilitics and racial physical lcaturcs
considcrcdatypicalbydominant, whitcstandards
thoughcatcgoricssuchascthnicity, racc, andgcndcrarcbascdonsharcd
traits that rcsult in community lormation, disablcd pcoplc scldom considcr
thcmsclvcsagroupLittlcsomaticcommonalitycxistsamongpcoplcwithdil
Disability Identity and Representation 1 5
lcrcntkindsoldisabiliticsbccauscnccdsandsltuationsarcsodivcrsc Ablind
pcrson,ancpllcptic,aparaplcgic,adcalpcrson, andanamputcc, lorcxamplc,
havcnosharcdculturalhcritagc,traditionalactlvitics , orcommonphysicalcx-
pcrlcncc Only thc sharcd cxpcricnccolstigmatizatlon crcatcs commonality
Having bccn acculturatcd similarly to cvcryonc clsc, disablcd pcoplc also
oltcnavoldandstcrcotypc oncanothcrlnattcmptingto normalizcthcirown
social idcntitics Morcovcr, many disablcd pcoplc at onc timc considcrcd
thcmsclvcsnondisablcdand mayhavchadvcrylimitcdcontactwithdisablcd
pcoplcbclorcjoiningthclrgroupAswithallculturallyimposcdcatcgoricscx
trapolatcdlrom biological dillcrcnccs, thc ldcntlty has a lorccdquality that
lcvcls intragroup variatlons |or cxamplc, thc now crumbling institution ol
spccial cducationcnacts this culturalimpulsctowardghcttoizationbyscg
rcgatingpcoplcvithdisabiliticslromnondisablcdstudcntsrcgardlcssolindi
vidual nccds |inally, most disablcd pcoplc arc surroundcd by nondisablcd
lamilicsandcommuniticsinwhichdisabiliticsarcunanticipatcdandalmost
alwayspcrccivcdascalamitous nlikcthccthnicallygroupcd,butmorclikc
gaysandlcsbians, disablcdpcoplcarcsomctlmcslundamcntallyisolatcdlrom
cachothcr,cxistingoltcnasalicnswithinthcirsocialunits '
Yct rcprcscntation lrcqucntly obscurcs thcsc complcxitics in lavor olthc
rhctoricalorsymbolicpotcntialolthcprototypicaldisablcdhgurc,vhooltcn
lunctionsasalightningrodlorthcpity,lcar,discomlort,guilt, orscnscolnor
malcyolthcrcadcroramorcsignihcantcharactcr lintcndhcrctoshiltlrom
this usual intcrprctivc lramcworkolacsthctics and mctaphor to thc critical
arcna olcultural studics to dcnaturalizc suchrcprcscntations Pycxamining
thcdisablcdhgurc, rathcrthandiscussingthcgrotcsqucorcripplcordc-
lormcd, l hopctocatapultthisanalyslsoutolapurclyacsthcticcontcxtand
lntoapoliticalonc Pyopcnlngup a critl calgap bctwccn disablcdhgurcs as
lashioncdcorporcalothcrsvvhoscbodicscarrysocialmcanlngandactualpco
plc wlth atyplcal bodics in rcal vorld soclal rclatlons, l suggcst that rcprc-
scntationinlorms thc idcntityandoltcnthc latcolrcalpcoplcwithcxtra-
ordinarybodics
An Overview and a Manifesto
ln ascnsc, thisbookisamanilcstothatplaccsdisabilitystudicswithinahu-
manitics contcxt Although disability studics has dcvclopcd as a subhcld ol
scholarly inquiry in thc acadcmlc hclds ol soclology, mcdical anthropolog,
spccial cducation, and rchabilitativc mcdicinc, almostno studics in thc hu-
maniticscxplicitlysituatcdisabilitywithinapoliticizcd,socialconstructionlst
1 6 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
pcrspcctivc' ` Oncolmyaimsinthisbook,thcn

istobcginlormulatingwhat
disabilitystudicsmightlooklikcasasubhcldinlitcraqcriticismandcul tural
studics lwillthcrclorcoutlincinsomcdctailhcrcthccontcntsandthcargu-
mcntsthatappcarin thclollowingchaptcrs
Thisproj cctcntailstwotasks hrst, thcorizingthcopcrationoldisabilityin
culturalandlitcraryrcprcscntation, and sccond, locusingon cxcmplaqsitcs
thatconstructdisabilityinculturcandintcxts Thus, part l olthcbookincor-
poratcs a rangc olthcorctical worklrom various acadcmic arcnas, most ol
which docs not addrcss disability dircctly but instcad conccptually danccs
arounditscdgcs Havingcxamincdinthisintroductionhowthcdisablcdhgurc
opcratcsin litcraqrcprcscntation andhavingprobcdaswcl l thc dillcrcnccs
bctwccndisabilityinlilcandinrcprcscntation, lcxplorcinchaptcr2thcways
thatscvcraldiscourscsaddrcssthcconstructionoldisability First,ldctailthc
culturalintcrtwiningollcmininityanddisabilityandrccruitlcministthcoryas
arclatcddiscourscolothcrncssthat canbctranslcrrcdtoanalyscsoldisabil
ity Sccond, l cnlistthrcc sociocultural thcorics, Lrving Collmans notion ol
stigma, MaqDouglassconccptoldirt,andMichclFoucaultsidcasonpartic-
ularityandidcntity, inordcrtouncovcrthcproccsscsthatconstructdisability
Third,lcritiqucthcrolcolthcdisablcdhgurcwithinthcidcologyollibcralin-
dividualism Finally, l analyzc howthcidcologyolworkhas constructcd thc
disablcdhgurcovcrtimcasthcmcansoladdrcssingdisabilityhasshiltcdlrom
acompcnsationtoan accommodationmodcl Thcscthcorctical spcculations
laythcgroundworklorthcanalyscsthatlollow,cacholwhichccntcrsonnar-
rativcsolcorporcalothcrncssthatraiscbroadqucstionsolhowscllhoodisrcp
rcscntcdinAmcricanculturc
Part 2 shows how thc idcologicsolscllrcliancc, autonomy, progrcss, and
work,aswcllasthcproccsscsolstigmatizationandthclormationolthcmod-
crnsubjcct, inHucncchovthcdisablcdhgurcandthcculturalscllarcrcprc-
scntcd at spccihc litcrary and cultural sitcs As l havc suggcstcd, thcsc
particularsitcsallowmctoprobcthccomplcxiticsinculturcsuscoldisablcd
hgurcs Lachculturalandlitcraryproductioncxplorcdhcrccmploysdisablcd
hgurcs inways thatsomctimcsrcinscribcthcirculturalothcrncssbutalsoat
timcscxploitthcdisablcdhgurcspotcntiallorchallcngingthcinstitutionsand
politicalpolicicsthatdcrivclromandsupportanarrownormThcscnarrativcs
ol corporcal/cultural dillcrcncc thus simultancously conhrm and challcngc
thcrcccivcddchnitionolphysicaldisabilityasbodilyinadcquacy
ChaptcrlcxamincsAmcricanlrcakshowsaspopularsocialritualsthatcon-
structcdanddisscminatcdahgurcwhosccrucialculturalworkwastocxhibit
tothcAmcricanmasscswhatthcyimagincdthcmsclvcsnottobc Suchshows
Disability, Identity, and Representation v 1 7
choreographedhumanvariationintoaspectacleolbodilyothernessthatunited
theiraudiencesin oppositionto the lreaksaberrance and assuredthe onlook-
ersthattheyvereindeednormal Highlystructuredconventionsolrepresen
tation sculpted exoticized lreaks lrom people vho have vhat ve nov call
physicaldisabilities, asvellaslromotherpeoplevhosebodiescouldbemade
tovisuallysigniabsolutealienness Ciants, dvarls,visiblyphysicallydisabled
people, tribal non-Vesterners , contortionists , lat people, thin people, her-
maphrodites, thementallydisabled, andtheveryhirsuteallsharedtheplat-
lormequallyas humanoddities Theironlycommonalityvasbeingphysically
dillerent lrom theiraudiences Forthe priceola ticket, the process olwhat
DavidHeveycallsenlreakment ' 'olleredtothespectatorsaniconolphysical
othernessthatreinlorcedtheonlookerscommonAmericanidentityverihedby
abodythatsuddenlyseemedbycomparisonordinarytractable, andstandard
lalsosuggestthatlreakshovsat the sametimeolleredacounternarrative
olpeculiarityaseminence, thekindoldistinctiondescribedbyPakhtinsand
Foucaults notions olthe particularized pre-Lnlightenment body Straddling
the ideologies olthe traditionaland the modern, the lreakshovmanilested
tensionbetveenanoldermodethatreadparticularityasamarkolempover
ingdistinctionandanevermode thatllatteneddillerencestoachieveequal
ity lnsuchaliminalspace, thedomesticatedlreaksimultaneouslyembodied
exceptionality as marvel and exceptionality as anomaly, thus posing to the
spectatortheimplicitpoliticalquestionolhovtointerpretdillerencesvithin
anegalitariansocialorder
Chapter + centers on sentimental social protest novels vritten by mid-
nineteenth-century middleclass vhite vomen, in vhich disabled hgures
lunctionasdiscursivelightningrodslorcomplexsocialtensions l arguethat
HarrietPeecherStoves |nc|e1omsCc|in, RebeccaHardingDavissLi]e in
aeIronMi| |s, andLlizabethStuartPhelpss1aeSi|enPcrnerconstructgen-
deredandracialized disabledhgures asicons olcorporealvulnerabilityin an
attempttospotlighttheconllictbetveensocial]usticeandindividuallreedom
inherent in theAmerican liberal tradition Thi s cluster ol texts introduces
vhatl callacompensationmodel, invhichdisabilityi sinterpretedasalack
thatmustbecompensatedlorbyvhatltermthebenevolentmaternalismol
themiddle-classvomenVhereaslreakshovsliterallydisplaythedisabledto
conhrmthenormal , thesetextsdisplaydisabledhguresinordertomobilize
and validate social relorm agendas Although the disabled hgures invoke a
rhetoricolsympathytoachievesociopoliticalrelorm, theyalsodehne andle-
gitimizethenormalized, genderedroleolthematernalbenelactressthatthese
novelspromotelorvomenoltheemergingmiddleclass, vhoveremarginal-
1 8 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
izedvithin the changingsocialorder The increasinglynegativeportrayals ol
disabledvomenhguresasthegenremoveslromStovethroughPhelpscom
prises an anxious subtext thatsplits the disabled vomen and the benelac
tresses , paralleling the displacement ol middle-class vhite vomen lrom
meaninglulvork Thisescalatingrenunciationolthe disabledhgure teststhe
limitsoldomesticitysscriptolmaternalbenevolenceasasolutiontotheprob
lemsollemalerolesinlatenineteenthcenturyAmerica
Chapter discusses several tventieth-century, vomencenteredAlrican
Americanliberatorynovelsthatusethedisabledhgureandotherextraordinary
bodies to elaborate an identity that insists upon and celebratesphysical dil-
lerence lnthesetexts ,theextraordinarybodyinvokesaprincipleoldillerence
oversamenessthatservesapostmodernpoliticsthatisnationalistratherthan
assimilationist Vhereas the nineteenthcentury sentimental novels ol the
previouschaptercastthedi sabledhgureasantitheticaltothelemalerolethey
soughttodelineate,theseblacknationalisttextsincorporatesuchahgureinto
theirvisionoloppositionalidentity Ann Petrys l 9+onovel1eSreetenta
tively initiates this type olrepresentation, and is lolloved bythe postcivl
rightsversionolblacklemalesub]ectivityarticulatedbyToni Morrisonshrst
hve novelsandbyAudreLordes biomythographyZcmi A^ Sje||ing o]
MyNcme lsuggestthatonerhetoricalaimolthesevorksistoestablishanar
rativeoltheparticularizedbodyasasiteolpoliticizedhistoricalinscriptionin-
steadolphysicaldeviance DisabledhguressuchasMorrisonsLvaPeaceand
PabySuggs , lorexample, revise a historyolassignedcorporealinleriorityso
that bodilydillerencesbecomemarkers olexceptionality to beclaimed and
honored This ideologyolidentityasparticularityre]ectsthe culturalimple-
mentationoldemocracythatnormalizessamenessandstigmatizesdillerence
Suchastrategyolidentitylormationvalidatesvhatl callanaccommodation
modelolinterpretingdisability,asopposedtotheearliercompensationmodel
Myhnalpointisthatthisappropriationoltheextraordinarybodyrehabilitates
the premodern narrative ol the vondrous lreaks by casting the disabled
vomenaspoliticizedmarvelousmonsters ,inthemedieval sense)vhosesin
gularbodiesbeartheetchingsolindividualandcollectivehistory
Althoughnoneoltheseculturalortextualsitesemploysthepoliticizedterm
physicaldisabilitythatisatthecenterolthis study thelreakshov, this sen
timentalrelorm hction, andtheseblackvomens liberatorynovels allpartici
pateinvaryingvaysintheculturalvorkoldehningthedisabledsub]ectasan
ob]ectolvisual dillerence Thisbookthusbeginsvhatl hopevillbe alively
conversationvithinthehumanitiesnotonlyabouttheconstructionoldisabil
itythroughrepresentationbutalsoabouttheattendantpoliticalconsequences
1 VO

Teorizing Disability
Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure
The Female Body and the Disabled Body
Manyparallelsexistbetveenthesocialmeaningsattributedtolemalebodies
andthoseassignedtodisabledbodies Poththelemaleandthedisabledbody
are castas deviant and inlerior, both are excludedlrom lull participationin
publicasvellaseconomiclile,botharedehnedinoppositiontoanormthat
is assumed to possess natural physical superiority lndeed, the discursive
equation ol lemaleness vith disability is common, sometimes to denigrate
vomenand sometimestodelendthem Lxamplesabound, lromlreuds de-
lineatinglemalenessin terms olcastrationtolatenineteenth-centuryphysi-
cians dehning menstruation a disabling and restricting eternal vound to
ThorsteinVeblensdescribingvomenin l 399asliterallydisabledbyleminine
rolesandcostuming Lvenleministstodayinvoke negativeimages oldisabil-
ity to describetheoppressionolvomen, lorexample, |anellaxasserts that
vomenaremutilatedanddelormedbysexistideologyandpractices '
Perhaps the lounding association ollemaleness vith disability occurs in
thelourthbookolCenerciono]Animc|s ,Ari stotles discourseolthenormal
andtheabnormal , invhichherehnesthePlatonicconceptolantinomiesso
thatbodilyvarietytranslatesintohierarchiesolthe typical andtheaberrant
A]nyonevhodoesnottakealterhisparents , Aristotleasserts,isreallyina
vayamonstrosity, sinceinthesecasesNaturehasinavaystrayedlromthe
generictype Thehrstbeginningolthisdeviationisvhenalemaleislormed
insteadolamale Herethephilosopher,vhomvemightconsiderthelound-
20 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
inglatherolVesterntaxonomy, idealizesbodiestoproduceadehnitive,seem
inglyneutralgenerictypealongvithitsantithesis ,themonstrosity, vhose
departure lrom such a type i s a prolound deviation Aristotles spatial
metaphorplacesacertainhumanhgure,thegenerictype, atthecenterolhis
systemOntheoutermarginisthemonstrosity, thephysicalconsequenceol
Natureshavingstrayedontoapatholdeviance, thehrststopalongvhichis
thelemalebody Aristotle thuscon]oinsthemonstrosityvhomvevould
today term congenitally disabledand the lemale outside the dehnitive
norm ln PookTvo, Aristotle alhrms this connectionoldisabledandlemale
bodies bystatingthatthelemaleisasitvereadelormedmale orasitap-
pearsinothertranslationsamutilatedmale
More signihcantthanAristotlessimpleconllationoldisabilityandlemale
nessishisdeclarationthatthesourceolallothernessistheconceptolanorm,
ageneric typeagainstvhichallphysicalvariationappears as dillerent, de-
rivative, inlerior, andinsullicient Notonlydoesthisdehnitionolthelemale
as a mutilatedmale inlorm laterdepictions olvoman as diminishedman,
but it also arranges somatic diversi ty into a hierarchy olvalue that assigns
completenesstosomebodiesanddehciencytoothers Furthermore,bydehn
inglemalenessasdeviantandmalenessasessential ,Aristotleinitiatesthedis
cursivepracticeolmarkngvhati sdeemedaberrantvhileconcealingvhatis
privilegedbehindanassertionolnormalcyThisisperhapstheoriginalopera
tionolthelogicthathasbecomesolamiliarindiscussionsolgender,race, or
disability male,vhite,orable-bodiedsuperiorityappearsnatural, undisputed,
andunremarked, seeminglyeclipsedbylemale,black,ordisableddillerence.
Vhat this passage makes clearest, hovever, is that vithout the monstrous
bodytodemarcatethebordersolthegeneric,vithoutthelemalebodytodis-
tinguishtheshape olthemale, andvithoutthepathological togive lorm to
thenormal , thetaxonomiesolbodilyvaluethatunderliepolitical, social , and
economicarrangementsvouldcollapse `
Thispersistentintertviningoldisabilityvith lemalenessi nVestern dis-
courseprovidesastartingpointlorexploringtherelationshipolsocialidentity
to the body As Aristotle`s pronouncement suggests, the social category ol
disabilityrestson the signihcanceaccordedbodilylunctioningandconhgura
tion,]ustas the social categoryolvoman does Therelore, leministtheorys
recentinquiriesintogenderas acategory, the bodysrolein identityandsell-
hood, and the complexityolsocialpoverrelations canreadilytranslertoan
analysisoldisability Moreover, applyingleministtheorytodisabilityanalysis
inlusesitvith leminisms insistenceon therelationship betveenthemean
ingsattributedtobodiesbyculturalrepresentationsandtheconsequencesol
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 2 1
thosemeanings in thevorld As l bringleminismtodisabilitystudies , l vill
alsosuggesthovthecategoryoldisabilitym:ghtbeinsertedintolemini stthe
orysothatthebodilyconhgurationsandlunctioningvecalldisabledvillbe
includedinallleministexaminationsolcultureandrepresentationThisbriel
explorationaimsthenatbeginningtoalterthetermsolbotllemini standdis
abilitydiscourses
Feminist Theory and Disability Discourse
Contemporaryleministtheoryhasprovedtobeporous , dilluse, andperhaps
mostsignihcantsellcritical Thus , ve speaknov olleminisms , conllicts
in leminism, hyphenated leminisms , and even postleminism ` Histori
cally, academicleminismcombinesthehighlypoliticalcivilrightsandaccom
panyingidentitypolitics impulsesolth l 9o0sand l 90svithpostructural
ismstheoreticalcritiqueoltheliberalhumanistlaithinknovledge,trutl, and
identity, olten adding an insistence on materiality gleaned lrom Marist
thought Thelocusolleministconversationhasshiltedlromearlydebatesbe
tveenliberalandradicalleminisms , vhichlocusedonachievingequality, to
laterlormulations olcultural andgynocentric leminisms, vhichhighlighted
andrehabilitatedlemaledillerence s Mostrecently, thedebatebetveenthcse
vho vould minimize dillerences to achieve equ+lity and those vho vould
elaboratedillerencestoval orizethelemininehasbeencomplicatedbyanin-
terrogationolgenderconstructionitsellandarecognitionolmultipleaxesol
identity,botholvhichproloundlychallengetheverynotionolvomanasany
knd ol unihed identity category ` lemin:sins insistence that stanpoint
shapespolitics, thatidentity, sub]ectivity, andthebodyareculturalconstructs
tobequestioned, andthatallrepresent+tionispoliticalcomprisethetheoret-
icalmilieuinvhichlvanttoexaminedisability
The strands ol leminist thought most applicable to disability studies are
those that go beyond a narrov locus on gender alone to undertake a broad
sociopoliticalcritiqueolsystemic, inequitablepoverrelationsbasedonsocial
categories grounded in the body leminism thus becomes a theoretical per-
spective andmcthodology examininggenderas a discursive, ideological , and
materialcategozthatinteractsvithbutdoesnotsubordinateothersocialiden
tities or the particularities ol embodiment, histo and location that inlorm
sub]ectivity Priellyput, leminismsoltenconHict.ngandalvayscomplexaims
olpoliticizing the materialityolbodies and revriting the category olvoman
combineexactlythemethodsthatshouldbeusedtoexaminedisability
lvanttoextendinalresh]uxtaposition, then, the associationoldisability
22 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
and lemalenessvithvhichl beganthissection Putratherthansimplycon
llatingthedisabledbodyviththelemalebody, lvanttotheorizedisabilityin
thevaysthatleminismhastheorizedgender Pothleminismandmyanalysis
oldisability challenge existing social relations , both resistinterpretations ol
certain bodily conhgurations and lunctioning as deviant, both question the
vaysthatdillerencesare investedvithmeaning, both examinetheenlorce
ment ol universalizing norms , both interrogate the politics ol appearance,
both explore thepolitics olnaming,bothlorge positive identities Neverthe-
less , leminismhaslormulated theseterms andprobedtheseconcernsmuch
morethoroughlythandisabilitystudieshas
LveKosolskySedgvicksdistinction,lorexample,betveenaminoritizing
andauniversalizingvievoldillerencecanbeappliedtodisabilitydiscourse
AccordingtoSedgvickshybridolleministandqueertheory, oneminoritizes
dillerencebyimaginingits signihcanceandconcerns as limited to a narrov,
specihc, relativelyhedpopulationorareaolinquiry ln contrast, auniversal
izingvievseesi ssuessurroundingaparticulardillerenceashavingcontinu
ing, determinative importance in the lives olpeople across the spectrum ol
identities ` Disabilitystudies shouldbecomea universal|zingdiscoursein
thevaythatSedgvickimaginesgaystudiesandleminismtobe Disability, or
gender or homosexuality) vould then be recognized as structuring a vide
rangeolthought, language,andperceptionthatmightnotbeexplicitlyarticu-
latedasdisability lamproposing,then, auniversalizingvievoldisabilityby
shoving hov the concept ol disability inlorms such national ideologies as
Americanliberalindividualismandsentimentalism, asvellasAlricanAmeri
canandlesbianidentities Suchtermslromleministtheorycanbeenlistedto
challenge thepersistentassumptionthatdisabilityis asellevidentcondition
olphysicalinadequacyandprivatemislortunevhosepoliticsconcernonly a
limitedminority
Auniversalizeddisabilitydiscoursethatdravsonleminismsconlrontation
viththegendersystemrequiresunderstandingthebodyasaculturaltextthat
is interpreted, inscribed vith meaningindeed maJevithin social rela-
tions Suchaperspectiveadvocatespolitical equitybydenaturalizingdisabil
itysassumedinleriority, bycastingitasdillerenceratherthanlack Although
thisconstructionistperspectivedoesthevitalculturalvorkoldestigmatizing
thedillerencesvecallgender,race, ordisability. thelogicolconstructionism
threatensneverthelesstoobscurethematerialandhistorical ellects olthose
dillerencesandtoerasetheverysocialcategoriesveanalyzeandclaimassig
nihcant Thus, the poststructuralist logic that destabilizes identity can lree
marginalized people lrom the narrative ol essential |nadequacy, but at the
Teorizing Disability 8 8 8 8 8 23
sametimeitrisksdenyingtheparticularityoltheirexperiences ' Thetheoret-
ical bindis that deconstructingoppressive categories can neutralize the el
lectsolrealdillerences
Adisabilitypoliticscannotatthis moment, hovever, allord to banishthe
categoryoldisability +ccording to the poststructualistcritique olidentityin
the vay that some leminists have argued lor abandoning the concept ol
vomanashopeles slyimprisoningandabstract
U
Thekindolaccesstopublic
spacesandinstitutionsthatvomengainedinthenineteenthcenturyandhave
expandedsincethe l 9o0svasonlylullymandatedlordisabledpeoplebythe
Americansvith DisabilitiesActol l 990, a broadcivil rights lav thatis only
beginningto be implemented And vhile in the movement tovard equality,
race andgenderaregenerallyacceptedas dillerencesratherthandeviances,
disability is still most olten seenasbodily inadequacyorcatastrophe tobe
compensated lor vith pity orgood vill, rather than accommodated by sys
temicchangesbasedoncivilrights On the one hand, then, itis importantto
usethe constructionistargumenttoassertthatdi sabilityis notbodilyinsulli
ciency butinsteadariseslromtheinteracti onolphysicaldillerencesvithan
environmentOntheotherhand,theparticular,historicalexistenceolthedis
abled body demands both accommodation andrecognition ln otherwords ,
the physical dillerences ol using a vheelchair or being deal, lor exampl e,
shouldbeclaimed, butnotcastaslack

Poth constructionism and essentialism, then, are theoretical strategies
lramings olthebodyinvokedlorspecihcends , such aspsychologicallylib
erating people vhose bodies have been dehned as delective or lacilitating
imagined communities lrom vhichpositive identities can emerge Strategic
constructionism destigmatizes the disabled body, makes dillerence relative,
denaturalizes socalled normalcy, and challenges appearance hierarchies
Strategic essentialism, bycontrast, validates individual experience and con
sciousness, imaginescommunity, authorizeshistory, andlacilitatessellnam
ing The identity disabled operates in this mode as a pragmatic narrative,
vhatSusanPordocallsalile-enhancinghctionthatplacesthe realityolin-
dividual bodies and perspectives vithin specihc social and historical con
texts
Z
Imagining Feminist Disability Discourse
Put il the category disabled is a uselul hction, the disabled body set in a
worldstructuredlor the privilegedbodyis not Disability, perhaps morethan
otherdillerences, demands areckoningviththemessinessolbodilyvariety,
24 e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
vith literalindividuationrun amok Pecausedisabilityis dehnednotasaset
ol observable, predictable traitslike racialized or gendered leaturesbut
ratherasuU] departurelromanunstatedphysicalandluctionalnorm,disabil
ityhighlightsindividualdillerences ln othervords, the conceptoldisability
unites ahighlymarked, heterogeneous group vhoseonlycommonalityis be
ingconsidered abnormal As the norm becomes neutral in an environment
createdtoaccommodateit, disabilitybecomesintense, extravagant,andprob
lematic Disability is the unorthodox made llesh, relusingto benormalized,
neutralized, orhomogenized More important, inaneragovernedbythe ab
stractprincipleoluniversalequality, disabilitysignalsthatthe bodycannotbe
unlversalized Shapedbyhistory, dehnedbyparticularity, andatoddsvithits
environment, disabilityconloundsanynotionolageneralizable, stablephysi
calsub]ect Thecripplebelorethestairs, theblindpersonbeloretheprinted
page,thedealpersonbeloretheradio,theamputeebelorethetypevriter,and
thedvarlbelorethecounterareallproolthatthemyr|adstructuresandprac
ticesolmaterial, dailylileenlorce the culturalstandardolauniversalsub]ect
vithanarrovrangeolcorporealvariation
Disability, asalormalidentitycategoq canpressure leministtheoqtoac
knovledgephysicaldiversitymorethoroughly Perhapsleminismsmostuselul
conceptlordisabilitystudiesisstandpointtheoryvhichrecognizestheimme
diacyandcomplexityolphysicalexistence Lmphasizingthemultiplicityolall
vomensidentities, histories, andbodies, thistheoryassertsthatindividualsit
uationsstructurethesub]ectivitylromvhichparticularvomenspeakandper
ceive ' ` lncorporatingpostmodernisms challenge olthe unsituated, ob]ective
Lnlightenmentvlevpoint,leministstandpointtheoryhasrelormulatedgender
identityasacomplex,dynamicmatrixolinterrelated, oltencontradictory, expe
riences, strategies, styles , andattributionsmediatedbycultureandindividual
history Thisnetvorkcannotbeseparatedmeaninglullyintodiscreteentitiesor
ordered into a hierarchyAckovledgingidentitys particular, complex nature
allovs characteristics beyond race, class, and gender to emerge Standpoint
theoqandthe leministpracticeolexplicitlysituating onesellvhenspeaking
thusallovlorcomplicatinginllectionssuchasdisabilityor,morebroadly, body
conhgurationattributions such as lat, dishgured, abnormal, ugly, or de
lormedto enterintoourconsiderations olidentityand sub] ectivity Sucha
dismantlingolthe unita(categoryvoman has enabledleministtheorytoen
compassalthoughnotvithoutcontentionsuchleministspecializationsas,
lor example, Patricia HillCollinss blackleministthoughtormyovn explo
rationsolaleministdisabilitystudies ' So]ustasleministtheorycanbringto
disability theory strategies loranalyzingthe meanlngs olphysical dillerences
Teorizing Disability 2 5
and identi|ngsites vhere thosemeaningsinHuenceotherdiscourses, itcan
alsohelparticulatetheuniquenessandphysicalityolidentity
Aleministpoliticalpraxislorvomenvithdisabilitiesneeds , then, tolocus
attimes onthesingularityandperhapstheimmutabilityolthellesh, andat
thesametimetointerrogatetheidentityitsupports Forexample,inexploring
thepolitics olsell-naming, NancyMairs claimstheappellationcripplebe
causeitdemandsthatothersacknovledgetheparticularityolherbody Peo-
ple vinceatthevord cripple , Mairscontends Lventhoughsheretains
vhathasbeena derogatoryterm, sheinsists on determiningits signihcance
hersellPerhapslvantthemtovince lvantthemtoseemeasatoughcus-
tomer, onetovhomthelates/gods/viruseshave notbeenkind, butvhocan
lacethebrutaltrutholherexistencesquarely As acripple, l svagger Here
Mairsis notsimplycelebratingthe termolothernessorattemptingtoreverse
itsnegativeconnotation,rather, shevantstocallattentiontothematerialre-
alityolhercrippledness, toherbodilydillerenceandherexperienceolit For
Mairs , thesocial constructionistargumentrisks neutralizingthe signihcance
olherpainandherstrugglevithanenvironmentbuiltlorotherbodies ' `
Disability, hovever,isleltoutolseveralmainstreamleministassumptions
Forinstance, vhileleminismquitelegitimatelydecriesthe sexualob]ectihca-
tionolvomen, di sabledvomenoltenencountervhatHarlanHahnhascalled
asexualob]ectihcation, theassumptionthatsexualityisinappropriateindis-
abled people One vomanvho uses a vheelchair, lor example, andi s also
quitebeautilulreportsthatpeopleoltenrespondtoherasilthiscombination
oltraitsverearemarkableandlamentablecontradiction The] udgmentthat
thedisabledvomansbodyisasexualandunlemininecreatesvhatMichelle
FineandAdrienneAschtermrolelessness, asocialinvisibilityandcancella-
tionollemininitythatcanpromptdisabledvomentoclaimthelemaleiden-
tity that the culture denies them Forexample, Cheryl Marie Vade insists
uponaharmonybetveenherdisabilityandhervomanlysexualityinapoem
characterizinghersellasTheVomanVith|uice ' AsMairssexplorationol
sellnamingandVadesassertionolsexualitysuggest, aleministdisabilitypol-
iticsvouldupholdtherightlorvomentodehnetheirphysicaldillerencesand
theirlemininitylorthemselvesratherthanconlormingtoreceivedinterpreta-
tionsoltheirbodies
VdespoemolselldehnitionechoesMairsbymaintaininghrmlythatshe
i snotoneolthephysicallychallenged Rather, sheclaims , l m the Cimp/
l mtheCripple/l mtheCrazyLady Allirmingherbodyasatoncesexualand
dillerent, sheasserts ,lmaFrenchkssvithclelttongue Resistingthecul
turaltendencynotonlytoerasehersexualitybuttodepreciateandob] ecti
26 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
herbody, shecharacterizeshersellasasockintheeyevithgnarlcdhst This
imageolthedisabledbodyasavisualassault,ashockingspectacletothenor
mate eye, captures a dehningaspectoldisabled experience Vhereaslemi
nistsclaimthatvomenareobjectscltheevaluativemalegaze,Vadesimage
olherbodyasasockin theeyesubtlyremindsusthatthedisabledbodyis
theobjectolthestare llthemale gazemakesthenormativelemaleasexual
spectacle, thenthestaresculptsthedisabledsubj ectintoagrotesquespecta
cleThestareisthegazeintensihed, lramingherbodyasaniconoldeviance
lndeed, asVadespoemsuggests, thestareisthegesturethatcreatesdisabil-
ityasanoppressivesocialrelationshipAndaseverypersonvithavisibledis-
ability knovs intimately, managing, dellecting, resisting, or renouncing that
stareispartolthedailybusinessollile
ln addition, disabled vvomen must sometimes delend againstthe assess-
mentoltheirbodiesasunhtlormotherhoodorolthemselves asinlantilized
objectsvhooccasionotherpeoplesvirtueVhereasmotherhoodisoltenseen
as compulsorylorvomen, disabledvomen are oltendenied ordiscouraged
lrom the reproductive role that someleminist thinkers hnd oppressive The
controversial leminist ethic olcare has also been criticized by leminist dis-
abilityscholars lorunderminingsymmetrical, reciprocalrelationsamongdis-
abledandnondisabledvomenasvellaslor suggestingthatcare isthesolc
responsibility olvomen Making disabled vomen the ob]ects olcare risks
castingthemas helplessin ordertocelebratenurturingas virtuousleminine
agency PhilosopherAnitaSilvers explainsthatlarlromvanquishingpatriar-
chalsystems,substitutingtheethicsolcaringlortheethicsolequalitythreat-
ensanevenmoreoppressivepaternalism '
Perhaps more problematic still, leministabortion rationale seldomques
tionsthepre]udicialassumptionthatdelective letusesdestinedtobecomc
disabledpeopleshouldbeeliminated Theconcernsololdervomen, vhoarc
olten disabled, tend also to be ignored byyounger lcminists ' ` One ol the
most pervasive leminist assumptions that undermines some disabled
vomens strugglei stheliberalideologyolautonomyandindependencethat
luelsthebroaderimpulsetovard lemale empoverment Pytacitlyincorpo-
ratingtheliberalpremisethatlevelsindividualcharacteristicstopositanab
stract, disembodied sub]ectoldemocracy, leministpractice otten leaves no
spacelor the needs and accommodations that di sabledvomen s bodies re-
quire ' ' Prominentdisabilityrightsactivist|udyHeumannsangrand disap-
pointed vords reHect an alienation not unlike that betveen some black
vomenandsomevhiteleminists henlcomeintoaroomlullolleminists ,
all they see is a vheelchair These conllicts testi that leministslike
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 27
everyoneelse, includingdisabledpeoplethemselveshaveabsorbedcultural
stereotypes
Femininity and Disability
Although l insist on disabled womens identity even vhile questioning its
sources , l alsovantto suggestthatahrmboundary betveen disabled and
nondisabled vomen cannot be meaninglully dravnj ust as any absolute
distinctionbetveen sexandgenderisproblematic Femininityanddisability
are inextricably entangled in patriarchal culture, as Aristotles equation ol
vomenvithdisabledmenillustrates Notonlyhasthelemalebodybeenla-
beleddeviant, buthistoricallythepracticesollemininityhaveconhguredle
malebodies similarlytodisability Footbinding, scarihcation, clitoridectomy,
andcorsetingvere ,andare) sociallyaccepted, encouraged, even compulsory
culturallormsollemaledisablementthat,ironically, aresociallyenabling,in-
creasingavomansvalueandstatusatagivenmomentinaparticularsociety
Similarly,suchconditionsas anorexia, hys teria, andagoraphobiaareinasense
standardlemininerolesenlargedtodisablingconditions, blurringthelinebe-
tveennormallemininebehaviorandpathology '
The disciplinaryregimes ollemininebeautyolten obscure theseemingly
sellevident categories olthe normal and the pathological For example,
thenineteenthcentury Luroamerican prescription lor upper-class leminine
beautypaleskin, emaciatedbody,videeyespreciselyparalleledthesymp-
tomsoltuberculosi s, justas the cultolthinnesspromotedbythe lashionin-
dustry today mimics the appearance oldi sease ln a similar example, the
iconography and language describing contemporary cosmetic surgeq in
vomens magazines persistently casts the unreconstructed lemale body as
havingabnormalitiesthatcanbecorrectedbysurgicalproceduresthatim-
prove the appearancebyproducingnatural looking noses, thighs , breasts,
chins , and so on `This discoursetermsvomens unmodihedbodies as un-
natural andabnormal , vhilecasting surgicallyalteredbodies as normaland
natural Although cosmetic surgery is in one sense a logical extension ol
beauty ptactices such as usingmakeup, permingorrelaxinghair, lightening
skin, andremovinghair, itdillers proloundlylrom thesebasicallydecorative
lormsolsellreconstructionlikeclitoridectomiesandscarihcation,itinvolves
themutilationandpainthataccompanymanydisabilities
Allol thesepracticescannot, ol course, beequated, hovever, eachtrans-
lorms an inhnitely plastic body in vays similar tothe ellects oldisability
Peautihcationchangesareimaginedto bechoicesthatvillsculptthelemale
28 + Politicizing Bodily Diferences
bodysoitconlormstoaleminineideal Disabilities , incontrast, areimagined
toberandomtranslormationsthatmovethebodyavaylromideal lorms ln
asocietyinvhichappearanceistheprimaryindexolvaluelorvomen, and
increasinglylormen) ,beautihcationpracticesnormalizethelemalebodyand
disabilitiesabnormalizeit |eminizationpromptsthegaze,disabilityprompts
the stare |eminization increases a vomans cultural capital , disability re
ducesi t
PutasAristotlesequationollemalesvithmutilatedmalessuggests, even
the ideallemalebodyis abnormalcomparedto the universal standard olthe
malebody Thenormativelemalethehgureolthebeautilulvomanisthe
narrovlyprescribedopposite olthe ideal mal e llheis tobe strong, active,
large, hirsute,hard, thenshemustbeveak,passive, small ,hairless , soltThe
ncrmativelemalebcdy, then, cccupiesadualandparadcxicalculturalrcle it
isthenegativetermopposingthemalebody, butitisalsosimultaneouslythe
privileged term opposingtheabnormalized lemale body |orexample, the
nineteenthcentury obsession vith scientihc quantihcation produced a de
taileddescriptionolabsolutebeauty, laidoutbyHavelockLllis, vvitha Dar
vinian ranking determined entirely by physical characteristics and ranging
lrom the beautilul Luropean voman to vhat vas considered to be her
grotesqueopposite, theAlricanvoman ` Moreover, scientihcdiscoursecon
ceivedthisanatomicalscaleolbeautyassimultaneouslyoneolpathologThe
lurtheralemalebodydepartedlromabsolutebeauty, themoreabnormalit
became The markers olthisindubitablepathologyveretraitslike darkskin
andphysicaldisability, orbehaviorslikeprostitution,thatvereoltenlinkedto
bodycharacteristics Vithinthisscheme,allvomenareseenasdeviant,but
some more sothan others Sothesimple dichotcmyolob]ectihedleminine
bodyandmasculinesub] ectiscomplicatedbyotheroppositions lndeed, the
unleminine, unbeautilul body dehnes and is dehned by the ideal leminine
body This aberrant hgure olvoman has been identihedvariously inhistory
anddiscourseasblack,lat,lesbian,sexuallyvoracious ,disabled,oruglyVhat
isimportanthereisthatthishguresdevianceandsubsequentdevaluationare
alvaysattributedtosomevisiblecharacteristicthatoperatesasanemblemol
herdillerence, ]ustasbeautyhasalvaysbeenlocatedinthebodyolthelem
ininevoman
Asonemanilestationoltheunbeautilulvoman, then, thehgureolthedis
abledvomandisruptsopposi tionalparadigms Thi sculturalhgureolthedis
abled voman, not theactual vcmanvitha disability, isthe sub]ectolthis
study Pecauserepresentationstructuresreality,theculturalhguresthathaunt
us olten must, like VirginiaVoollsAngel olthe House, bevrestled to the
Teorizing Disabilit 29
lloorbelore evenmodestselldehnition, letalonepoliticalaction, can occur
Thehgureolthedisabledvomanllocusonhereisaproductolaconceptual
triangulation She i sa cultural thirdterm, dehnedbythe originalpairolthe
masculinehgureandthelemininehgure Seenastheoppositeolthemascu
linehgure, butalsoimaginedastheantithesis olthenormalvoman,thehg
ure ol the disabled lemale is thus ambiguously positioned both inside and
outsidethecategoryolvoman
Disabled Women Figures
Mypurposehere is totracethecomplexitiesthatariselrom the presenceol
theseambiguousdisabledvvomenhguresvithinculturalandliterarytextsin
vhich, lorthemostpart,theyoccupymarginalpositions lnalmosteverycase,
thedisabledvomanhgurelunctionsasasymbololotherness , eitherpositive
ornegativeThepresenceoltheseoltenmultiplymarginalizedhgurescompli
catesandunbalancesseeminglystablenarrativeeconomiesinthetexts lnthe
account ol lreak shovs in chapter l, lor example, exhibitions ol disabled
vomen ol color introduce race, gender, and ethnicity into lreak discourse,
vhich seemsinitiallytoturn upon thesimple opposition betveen normal
andabnormalbodies Freaks alvays appeared not]ust asmonsters , butas
genderedandracializedmonsters
Thecomplicationprovokedbythe disabledvomanhgureisperhapsclear
est, hovever, intheliterarytextsexaminedhere Shiltingtheanalyticallocus
lrom maincharacters andcentralplots to the secondary, oreven incidental ,
disabledvomenrevealscomplexalignmentsandotherviseburiedtensionsat
vorkinthe texts lnchapter+, lorinstance, the clusterolnineteenthcentury
sentimental hction setsa leminine narrativevoice and perspective againsta
masculinepointolviev ll, hovever, verecognizethetriangle oltheimplic
itly masculine cultural sell, theleminine voman, andthedisabledvoman,
lreshperspectivesemerge Lxaminingthe oppositionthatthesesocialrelorm
novelspositbetveenthelemininevomanandthedisabledvomanbetveen
LlizabethStuartPhelpssheroine, Perley, andherdealandmuteantiheroine,
Catty, lorinstancerevealsthetexts otherviseobscuredentanglementinlib-
eral individualistideology Similarly, the primary discourse in the tventieth
centuryAlrican-Americannovelsdiscussedinchapterisoneolrace Yet, as
viththeearliergroup oltexts ,examiningthedisabledhgures rhetoricallunc
tioncomplicatestheprimaryoppositionbetveenblackandvhitecultureon
vhich the novels turn ln Toni X1orrisons 1crBc, lor example, the blind
Thereses narrative empoverment mustbecontrastedvith thebeautilul|a-
30 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
dines loss olpover in orderlor the novels socialcritique to be lully appre
hended Thus , thepresenceolthedisabledvomanhgurechallengesanysim
ple textual reading that arranges dominant and marginal positions along a
singleaxis olidentitysuchasgender,race, orclass
Sociocultural Analyses of the Extraordinary Body
Ering Goffman's Stigma Theor
As l have suggested, the contemporarytheorymostsuitedto examiningdis-
abilitylusesidentitypolitics viththepoststructuralistinterrogationoliden-
tity, truth,andknovledge,placesitsconcernsinhistoricalcontext,andlorms
a complex analysis of the relationship between society and the body. Although
leministtheorys attentiontothe bodyand identityis uselul in thisregard, to
satislactorilylormulatedisabilitytheoryit is necessaqtoinvokeseveralother
theorists, though theirmain locusis neithergendernor disability Toclari
hovrepresentationattachesmeaningtothephysicaldillerencesvetermdis-
ability, l discusshere theintersectionsolbodyandcultureprobedbyLrving
Collman, MaryDouglas, andMichelFoucault, amongothers Olthese, only
Collmans sociological stigma theory directly addresses disability, to utilize
Douglass , loucaults , and others vork, l have extrapolated hov disability
couldbe included in their analyses This brielsurveyhighlights the aspects
olthese theorists ideas thatpertain to the vays the disabledbody emerges
lromculture
LrvingCollmans dehnitive l 9olanalysis , Sigmc Noes on ae Mcncge
meno]Sjoi|eJIJeniy, lays outatheoryolstigmatizationasasocialprocess
that attempts to accountloralllorms olvhat Simone de Peauvoirs earlier
study olvomen called Otherness Despite its curiously insensitive title
anddisturbinglyhostile tonetovardits sub]ectsperhapsin thetraditionol
FreudCollmans vorkunderpins the nascent held oldisability studies in
the social sciences Likeleministtheory, stigma theoryprovidesa uselulvo
cabularylorplacingdisabilityinsocialcontexts Vhereastermssuchasoth
ernessoralteritydominateliterarycriticism, botharelimitedlorexplaining
marginalizedidentitiesbecausetheyarenouns lncontrast, thetermstigma,
takenbyCollmanlromtheCreekpracticeolbrandingormarkingslavesand
criminals and lrom Christian notions about the vounds olsaints, can take
manygrammaticallormstomatchthecomponentstrandsolacomplexsocial
process Thetransitiveverbstigmatize, lorexample, suggestsaprocessvith
botha sub]ectand anob]ect SuchsemanticHexibility can callto accounta
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 3 1
stigmatizer, identianinstitutionthatis stigmatizing, isolateastigmaas
onlyoneaspectolavhole, complexindividual , ordescribepeopleortraitsas
stigmatized Some socialpsychologists have extendedCollmans theoryby
usingthetermmarktonameapotentiallystigmatizablephysical orbehav
ioraltrait Thissubtledistinctionstressestheseparationbetveenactualchar
acteristicsorbehaviorandtheprocessesoldevaluingthem lndividualsare
markablebecauseolparticulartraits ,andmarkersarethosevhointerpret
certaintraitsasdeviant Stigmatheorythusprovidesameansolpreciselytrac
ing the production ol cultural minorities or others ln short, stigmatize
describes distinctions among people, their physical traits , vhat is done to
them, vhodoesit, andvhatitmeans
lnessence, stigmatizationisaninteractivesocialprocessi nvhichparticu
larhuman traits aredeemednot only dillerent, but deviant lt is a lorm ol
socialcomparisonapparentlyloundinallsocieties, thoughthespecihcchar
acteristicssingledoutvaryacrossculturesandhistory Mostimportantisthat
these social devaluations are collective, part ol a communal acculturation
process Stigmatizationcreatesashared, sociallymaintainedanddetermined
conceptionolanormalindividual, vhatl earliertermedanormate, sculpted
by a social group attempting to dehne its ovn character and boundaries
Though anyhumantraitcanbestigmatized, thedominantgrouphastheau
thorityandmeanstodeterminevhichdillerencesareinleriorandtoperpetu
atethose]udgments `Thustermslikeminority, ethnicity, anddisability
suggest inlusing certain dillerences vith negative value Stigmatization not
onlyrellectsthetastesandopinionsolthedominantgroup, itreinlorcesthat
groups idealized sell-descriptionas neutral , normal , legitimate, andidentih
ablebydenigratingthe characteristics olless poverlul groups orthose con
sidered alien Theprocess olstigmatization thus legitimates the status quo,
naturalizes attributions olinherent inleriority and superiority, and obscures
the sociallyconstructedqualityolbothcategories
Recentelaborationsolstigmatheorybysocialscientistsprobethe motiva
tionlorthisapparentlyuniversalsocialprocess Aphenomenologicalaccount
suggeststhatstigmatirationariseslromthehumanimpulsetocategorizedil
lerencesandimposesomekindolmeaninglulorderonexperience llpeople
apparentlyneedtoroutinizetheirlivesvithinterpretiveschemata,orvhatAl
lred Schutz calls recipes, that make theirvorlds seem knovable andpre
dictable Putstigmatizingismorethanorganizingexperience lnthiscomplex
process, certainhumantraitsbecomesalient,suchas the physiologicalchar-
acteristicsveusetoanchorsex, race, ethnicity, anddisability Collman
identihes three types olphysical and behavioral characteristics lrom vhich
32 e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
stigmataare usuallyconstructedbya given socialunit hrstare physical dis-
ability, delormity, oranomaly,nextareindividualbehaviorssuchasaddiction,
dishonesty, unpredictability, lackoleducation ormanners , orcertain sexual
habits ,hnallyarerace, religion,ethnicity, orgender 'Complexhierarchiesol
assignedsocialstatusareloundedonsuchactionsandcharacteristics
Collmanlurtherrehneshisanalysisol socialstigmatizationbyrecognizing
thatmostpeopleinthissocietypossesssomestigmatizedtraittosomedegree,
making the group v

o meet the narrov criteria olthe idealized norm avery


smallminority Theprotot_icalhgurevhomVesternsocietyconstructsasits
idealandits norm is theremnantolhumanityalterallthosebearingstigma
tized traits have been peeled avay The normate hgure Collman acknovl
edgestheyoung, married, vhite, urban, northern, heterosexual , Protestant
latherolcollege education, lully employed, olgoodcomplexion, veightand
height, andarecentrecordinsportsthatlmentionedearlierisanupdated
versionolthesell-possessedindividualdelineatedinnineteenth-centuryAmer
ican discourse Pypointingout hovlevrealpeopleconlorm tothis descrip
tion, Couman reveals the illusory ideological nature ol the normate sub]ect
position ltisanimagethatdominatesvithoutmaterialsubstance, aphantom
ma] ority opposedtoanovervhelmingandequallyillusoryminority `
Theimplicitquestion underlying stigma theory is vvhy dillerences vithin
social groups are not simplyperceivedvithout assignedvalues \\hilepost
structuralisttheorypositsthatbinaryoppositionisalvays hierarchical , social
scientists tendtogroundexplanationsindataaboutsocialpractices An his-
toricist approach, lor example, asserts that parents, institutional practices,
andvarious lormsolart and communications mediainculcate stigmatization
across generations and geographies On the individual level, motivational or
psychologicalexplanations suggestthatpro]ecting unacceptableleelings and
impulses onto members ollesspoverlul groups establishes identityand en-
hancessellvorthRegardlessolthecause, suchavidespread, ilnotuniversal ,
humanpracticeHiesinthelaceolmodernitysideologyolliberaldemocracy
Stigmatheoryis uselul, then, becauseituntangles theprocessesthatcon-
structboththenormativeasvellasthedeviantandbecauseitrevealsthepar-
allels among all lorms ol cultural oppression vhile still alloving specihc
devaluedidentitiestoremaininvievltessentiallyresituatestheproblemol
disabilitylromthe body olthe disabledperson to the social lramingolthat
body Finally, stigmatheoryremindsusthattheproblemsveconlrontarenot
disability, ethnicity, race, class, homosexuality, orgender, theyareinsteadthe
inequaliti es, negative attitudes, misrepresentations , and institutional prac
ticesthatresultlromtheprocessolstigmatization
Teorizing Disability 8 8 8 8 8 33
"Matter Out of Place": Mar Douglas's Concept of Dirt
AnthropologistMary Douglas alsopoints to cultural pattcrns that shovhov
thc disability catcgory opcratcs ln hcrclassic study, PuriycnJDcngerAn
Anc|ysiso]Concejso]Po||uioncnJ1c|oo, Douglasspcculatcsaboutthcrcl
ativityoldirtinvaysthatcanbcapplicdtothcculturalmcaningoldisability
Dirt, shcobscrvcs, ismattcroutolplacc thcby-productola systcmatic
ordcringandclassihcationolmattcr,insolarasordcringinvolvcsrc]cctingin-
appropriatcclcmcnts ` ' Hygicncandpathogcnicity, Douglaspoints out, arc
rclativcly rcccntlcgitimations lorthc conccpt oldirt as a cultural contami
nant Dirtisananomaly, adiscordantclcmcntrc] cctcdlromthcschcmathat
individualsandsocicticsuscinordcrtoconstructastablc, rccognizablc, and
prcdictablcvorld `OncmightcombincDouglasandCollmantoasscrtthat
humanstigmatalunctionassocialdirt
Thisculturalintolcranccolanomalyisoncolthcmostpcrasivcthcmcsin
Vcstcrn thought Onccxamplci sAristotlcs Poeics, thcloundingdocumcnt
olVcstcrnlitcrarycriticism, invhichthcschcmatavccallprobabilityand
rationali tydclimitthctragicplot, dctcrminingvhichclcmcntsmaybcprop-
crlyincludcdandvhichdonotht For thc plottobc unihcd, vhichisAristo-
tlc scsscntialrcquircmcnt, anomalicsmustbccxcludcd Anothcrparticularly
vivid instancc olthis antipathy tovard dillcrcnccoccurs in Kants acsthctic
thcory, Critiquc ol |udgmcnt, in an cxcccdingly abstract discussion on
bcauty Kantasscrtsthatcolorsarcbcautilulonlyilthcyarcpurc, onlyilthcy
displaya unilormity that is troublcd and intcrruptcdby no lorcign scnsa
tion Conscqucntly, Kantbclicvcs thatsimplccolorsarcbcautilulandcom
positc colors arc not Such a dchnition ol bcauty parallcls Douglass
conccptionolpurityasthcabscnccoldirt,thcanomalousclcmcnt Suchab-
stractvalucsystcmsthatstructurcclcmcntsintothcpurcandthccorrupt, thc
lcgitimatcandthcillicit, mightcasilybctranslormcdintothcidcologyolhu
manracialpuritythatdccmssomcpcoplcimpurc, unbcautilul, orunht ``
Douglassintcrprctationoldirtasanomaly,asthecxtraordinary, canbccx-
tcndcdtothc bodyvccalldisablcdasvcllastoothcrlormsolsocialmar-
ginalization Likcdirt, alldisabilityis in somc scnsc mattcroutolplaccin
tcrms ol thc interprctivc lramcvorks and physical cxpcctations our cul turc
sharcs Visiblcphysical disabilitylics outsidc thc normativc ordcring systcm
andcanonlybcincludcdandcomprchcndcdunderDouglass classihcations
olabcrrantoranomalous , catcgorics thataccommodatcvhatdocsnotht
intothcspaccolthcordinary `Douglasdocsnotincludcdi sabilityinhcrthc
ory, thoughshcrclcrstothccommoninlanticidcolcongcnitallydisablcdncv-
bornsasancxamplcolthcvayculturcsdcalvithanomaly Ncvcrthclcss, hcr
34 e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
speculations suggest thatdisability is the systematic social interpretation ol
some bodies as abnormal, ratherthan anyactualphysical leatures Douglas
acknovledges that culture mediates all individual experience, imposingsys-
temsolperceptionthatarenoteasilyrevised Shenoteslurtherthatall soci
eties must come to terms vith the anomalies thattheirschemata produce
Pecauseculturesdonottoleratesuchallrontstotheircommunalnarrativesol
order, vhat emerges lrom a given cultural context as irremediable anomaly
translates notasneutraldillerence, butaspollution, taboo, contagion Llabo
ratingthisprocess, Douglasdiscusseshvevaysthatculturescopeviththeex
traordinary Thesestrategiescorrespondgenerallytothemannerinvhichour
culturelramesandrespondstodisability
First, socialgroupscanreduceambiguityby assigningtheanomalousele
menttooneabsolute categoqortheother Similartootherdualisticsystems
suchasgenderandrace, thedisabled/ablebodieddichotomysortspeopleby
interpretingphysicaltraitsthatareinlactlesseasilycategorizedthanthesys-
tem admits Forexample,althoughactualimpairmentsusuallyallectparticu
larbodypartsorphysicallunctions ,onespecihcdillerenceclassihesanentire
persondisabledeven though the restolthe body anditslunctions remain
normal Accordingto thistotalizingmasterstatus , thedeviantcharacteris
ticovervhelmsallolapersonsother, unmarkedaspects ` ` Categoriesolcul
tural otherness thus reduce indivduals to particular identiing traits ,
renderingamultilacetedindividualablack, agay, oroneolthe disabled
lnstitutionssuchaslegalsystemshaveenlorcedsuchdichotomousclassihca-
tions in thenameolboth]usticeand discrimination lndeed, sopoverlul is
the culturalimperative to structureexperiencevithabsolutecategories that
hguresvhoseeminglydeclassihcationsuchasmulattos,lreaks ,transves
tites ,bisexuals ,andothershybridselicitanxiety, hostility, orpityandareal-
vaysrigorouslypoliced `Therigidity olsocialordertestihes tothedestabi
liz|ngthreatolambiguityasvellastheartihcial, constructedqualityolallso
cialidentities
Douglasidentihesthesecondculturalsolutiont oanomalyaselimination
Shenotesvrylythatilthenecksolnight-crovingcocksarepromptlyvrung,
theydonotlive tocontradictthedehnitionolacockasabirdthatcrovs at
davn Thi sprinciple Douglas ollers so casuallybecomes much more trou-
blingvhenitisappliedtopeoplevithdisabilities Poththemodern eugen-
ics movement, vhich arose lrom the midnineteenth-century scientihc
community, and its current counterpart, reproduetivetcehnologydcsigncdto
predictandeliminatedelectiveletuses , revealadeterminationtoeradicate
disabledpeopleVhiletherhetoricclaimsthatsuchproceduresareaimedat
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 3 5
ending disability, the reality is olten thatpeoplevith disabilities are elimi
nated Lugenics, thescienceolimprovingthe stock, vasarespectedheld
thatsuccesslullypromotedmandatorysterilizationlavsinthenitedStates
as vell as thelmmigration RestrictionActol l 92+, botholvhichrellected
learsthatthebestpeoplevouldbeoutnumberedbytheirphysicalormen-
talinleriors Thenotionolimprovementanditsconcomitantconceptolde-
generacy depend on the values ol autonomy and productivity included in
liberalindividualism, as vellason the Platonicidealismthat is ourVestern
inheritance l ndeed, RonaldValtersarguesthateugenicthinkingvas asec-
ularmanilestationolthenineteenthcenturyrelormellort toperlectsociety
Lliminatingdisabledpeople as discordant social elementsis thelogical ex-
tension olanideology that esteemsnational andindividualprogresstovard
sellreliance, sellmanagement, and sell-sulliciency, a pointto vhich l vill
return `
A third cultural response Douglas recognizes i s avoiding anomalous
things Historically,disabledpeoplehavelorthemostpartbeensegregatedei-
ther as individuals or in groups Much ol Michel Foucaults analysis olthe
modern sub]ect reveals the vay marginalized individualssuch as disabled
peoplehavebeenenclosed, excluded,andregulated Societiesencodetheir
collectivepre]udicesinsegregationlegislation,suchasthecommon S ugly
lavsolthe nineteenthandtventieth centuriesthatbannedvisiblydisabled
peoplelrom appearinginpublicplaces `` Similarly, asylumsandalmshouses
thatourishedinnineteenth-centuryAmericaprovidedcustodialsegregation
aslimitedaidlordisabledpeople Perhapsthemostenduringlormolsegrega-
tionhasbeeneconomicthehistoryolbeggingisvirtuallysynonymousviththe
historyoldisablliiy Puch olAmericandisabilitylegislatlonhas attemptedto
sortoutthis conllation, termed byTom Comptonthevagrant+eggar/cripple
complex `'Today,disabledpeople,especiallyvomen, tendtobeghettoizedby
povertyandlackoleducation, thosestigmaticsituationsthatsolrequentlyco-
incidevith andreinlorcemarginalizationbasedonphysicaltraits
Segregation, despite its disadvantages, canlorge the sense olcommunity
lrom vhich politicized consciousness and nationalism emerges Although a
lraughtdebategoesonregardingthemeritsanddangersolracialorgenderna-
tionalismversusassimilation, thesolidarityvrestedlrom strategicseparatism
oltenleadstopolitical activismandchallengessocialattitudes Pecausedis -
abledpeople tendto be scatteredamongthe nondisabled, politicalunityand
consciousnessraisinghaveemergedprimarilyas a resultoltraditional segre-
gationorthesellimposedsegregationthatoltenaccompaniespositiveidentity
politics Thehighlypoliticizeddealcommunity,lorexample, aroselromsegre
36 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
gatedschoolslorthedealTheindependentlivingmovementalsopartlyoves
itsexistencetothepracticeolsegregatededucationandinstitutionalization
Douglassuggeststhatalourthmethodsocialgroupsusetodealvithanom-
alyisto labelit dangerous Poth segregation and eliminationare social and
politicalpracticesbasedinpartontheinterpretationolphysicaldisabilityas
notonlyanomalousbutdangerous , indeedcontaminating,likedirt Douglas
pointsoutthatalthoughanindividualresponsetoanomalycanbequitecom
plex,publicbelielstendtoreducedissonanceamongindividualresponsesand
promotea conlormitythathndsexpressioninlargersocialinstitutions Con
sequently, anomalyoltenbecomes synonymousvithdangerandevil Thisis
novhereclearerthaninthesymbolicusesoldisabilityinliterature andhlm
Thatubiquitousiconolphysicalanomaly, the monster, exemplihescultures
preoccupation with the threat of the different body. 4 1 Disabilities do not sim
plymarkevil, butlunctionasmenaceinsuchprototypicalvillains asShake-
speares Richard lll, Dickenss Quilp, MelvillesAhab, Poes Hop Frog, and
Stanley Kubricks Dr Strangelove Likethemonstersvhoaretheirlantastic
cousins, disabledcharactersvithpovervirtuallyalvaysrepresentadangerous
lorce unleashedonthesocialorder, asattestedbyFlanneryO Connors one-
armedvillainTom ShiltletinThe LileYou Save May PeYourOn, Carson
McCullershunchbackedCousin LymonVillis lromThePallad olthe Sad
Cale, Nathanael \\ests crippled Peter Doyle ol Aiss Lone|yaecrs, and
Havthornes humpbacked Roger Chillingvorth ol 1e Sccr|e Leer Pe-
cause these characters operate as embodiments olan unnamed, prolound
peril , thenarrativeresolutionisalmostalvaystocontainthatthreatbykilling
ordisempoveringthedisabledcharacter Thelogic thatgoverns thiscultural
narrative, then,isthateliminatingtheanomalyneutralizesthedanger
Theinterpretationoldisabilityasasignolevilorsinisexplainedinanother
vaybyXIelvin Lerners ] ustvorldtheory Accordingto Lerner, the human
needlororderandpredictabilitygivesrisetoabelielthatpeoplegetvhatthey
deserveorthatthewaythingsareisthevaytheyshouldbe Suchatheoryac-
countsnotonlylorthenormsthatestablish]ustice, butalsolorthe] udgment
oldillerences ltisthelogicoltheodicy ilsomethingbadlikehavingadis
abilityhappens to someone, thenthere mustbesomegoodreasonlike
divine or moral ] usticelor its occurrence This troubling vay ol thinking
gainedmuchlorceandlegitimacylrom nineteenth- centurysocialDarvinian
pseudoscience, especiallyHerbertSpencerandhisAmericandisciples appli
cation ol Lamarckian evolution to social relations Although this doctrine
providesa psychological saleguard againstthe intolerablerandomnessolex
perience, itresultsinvictim-blamingandscapegoatingolthosevhoaredil-
Teorizing Disability + 3 7
lerent Pecause disability is such a contingent condition, it may inspire the
|ndolanxietythataj ustvorldconceptismostsuitedtorelieve Notonly
cananyonebecomedisabledatanytime, butthepain, bodilydamage, orim
pairmentsometimesassociatedvithdisabilitymake itseeman uncontained
threattothosevhoconsiderthemselvesnormal Thebeliclthatdisablcdpeo
pleare simplythelosersinsomegrand competitive scheme ortheonce-ac
ceptedconvictionthatmasturbationcausedblindnessattesttotheprevalence
oljust-vorld as sumptions about disability ` Perhaps the most unlortunate
currentjust-vorldassumptionisthatAl DSisamoraljudgmentonhomosex
uals andintravenousdrugusers
Podies that are disabled can also seem dangerous because they are per
ceivedasoutolcontrol Notonlydotheyviolatephysicalnorms , butbylook
ingand actingunpredictablethey threatento disrupt the ritualized behavior
upon vhich socialrelations turn The uncontrolledbody does notperlorm
typicallythequotidianlunctionsrequiredbythe elaboratelystructuredcodes
olacceptablesocialbehavior Plindness, dealness, orstuttering,lorinstance,
disturbthecomplexvebolsubtleexchangesuponvhichcommunicationrit
uals depend \\heelchairs or paralysis require dillerent ambulatory choreo
graphies Furthermore, thedisabledbody transgresses individualisms codes
olvorkandautonomybyenactingpatternsthatdillerlromthenorm,another
pointlvilldiscussmorelullylater
The modern secularvorlds method ollabelingdisability dangerous is to
termitpathologicalratherthanevilorimmoral FreudsessayonTheLxcep
tions, lorexample, labelsdisabledpeoplepsychologicallypathological Con
llating the inner and outer selves, Freud concludes that delormities ol
characteraretheresultsolphysicaldisability lndeed, disabilityhasbeenal
mostentirelysubsumedintventieth-centuryAmericaunderamedicalmodel
thatpathologizesdisabilityAlthoughmedicalinterpretationrescuesdisability
lromitsearlierassociationsvithevil, pathologizeddillerenceis lraughtvith
assumptionsoldeviance, patronizingrelationships, andissuesolcontrol `
The hlth andhnal cultural treatmento|anomaly Douglas observes i sin
corporating theanomalouselements intoritualtoenrichmeaningortocall
attentiontootherlevelsolexistence OlDouglasshvesolutions, thisiscul
tures onlypotentiallypositive ortranslormative interpretationoltheextraor
dinary l vill brielly mention here tvo ol several theorists vho expand
Douglass idea by exploring anomalys potential to alter cultural patterns,
though none specihcally discusses disability ln 1e Srucure o] Scieni]c
levo|uions , Thomas S Kuhn revises the narrative ol incremental scientihc
discovery by tracing the role ol anomaly in scientihc understanding Vhat
38 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
Kuhncallsnormalsciencehndscoherenceand unanimitybyexcludingthe
extraordinarylromitsparadigms , bysuppressinglundamentalnovelties be
causetheyarenecessarilysubversiveolitsbasiccommitments Kuhnde
hnesnoveltiesasphenomenathatcannotbealignedithscientihcexpecta
tions, andarguesthatvhensuchexceptionalphenomenaaccumulateorbe
come so compelling that they can no longer be dismissed, their presence
lorcesashiltinscientihcparadigmssothatanevsetolbelielsemerges
Kuhnsvievolthe extraordinaryspovertounsettlethe ascendantorderis
echoedbyMikhailPakhtins notionthatthegrotesquebodyascarnivalesque
disrupts the status quo and inverts social hierarchies Vhereas Kuhn sees
anomaly as subverting scientihc classihcation, Pakhtin posits the carniva
lesqueasaritualisticuse oltheextraordinarybodytodisturbthesocialorder
According to Pakhtin, the carnivalesque hgureperhaps his version ol the
disabledhgurerepresentstherighttobeotherinthisvorld, therightnot
tomakecommoncausevithanysingleoneoltheexistingcategoriesthatlile
makes available, none olthesecategoriesquite suits them, they see the un
dersideandlalsenessoleverysituation `Pakhtinsconceptolthedisorderly
bodyasachallengetotheexistingordersuggeststheradicalpotentialthatthe
disabledbodyassignlordillerencemightpossessvithinrepresentationThe
Pakhtiniancarnivalesquehgurelrequentlyappears in critical analysesolthe
grotesqueasaliminalaestheticcategorythatenablesradicalrepresentations
by straddling and transgressing categories ' lmagining anomaly and the
grotesqueasagentscapableolreconstitutingculturaldiscoursessuggeststhe
possibilityolinterpretingbothdirtanddisabilitynotas discomlortingabnor
malitiesorintolerableambiguities, butratherastheentitledbearersolalresh
vievolrealityMoreover,becausethedisabledhgurealvaysrepresentstheex
traordinary, suchinterpretations open thevaylorus toimaginenarratives ol
physicaldisabilityotherthandevianceandabnormality lndeed, largueinthe
lollovingchaptersthatatspecihcsitesolrepresentation,thedisabledhgures
operateinvaqingdegreesaschallengestotheculturalstatus quo, introduc
ingissuesandperspectivesviththepotentialt orehgurethesocialorder
Historicizing the Disabled Body: Michel Foucault's "Docile Bodies"
VhileCollman and Douglas ollerrelational analysesthat help us placedis
abilityinasocialcontext, MichelFoucaults speculationsontheconstitution
olthe modern sub]ectbringtodisabilitythenotionolhistoricalchangethat
bothCollmanandDouglasomitFoucaultsconceptionolthevaysthatpover
embedded in everyday practices structures subjects suggests hov cultural
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 39
classihcationandstigmatizationvhichmayindeedbeuniversal, associolo
gists assertare nevertheless complicated by history Vhereas Collmans
stigmatheoryilluminatesthemoderncontextoldisability, Foucaultstheoryol
thee|ghteenth-centuryshilttoamodern, Enlightenment, reason-basedcon
ccptolthcbodysupportsothcrreadingsandtrcatmcntsolthcdisabledbody
Arguingthatthe modern sub]ectemergedinthe Neoclassical age, as dis
courseandinstitutionssolidihedtoreproducenevsocialrelationsoldomina
tionandsubordination, FoucaultassertsinDiscij|inecnJPunisathatleudal
societytranslormedintoadisciplinaryregimethatsystematicallycontrolled
the body as concern lor its ellicient operation and its ultimate utility in
creascdThisconceptoldocilebodiesyieldstherigidtaxonomiessolunda
mentaltonineteenth- andtwentieth-centuryVesternscienceandmedicines
pro] ectoldistributinghumancharacteristicsindiscreteandhierarcbicalrela
tions tooneanother``Architectural , pcdagogical , andmedicalpracticesma
nipulatedthebody, bothgeneratingandenlorcingtheCartesianimage olan
individualasaseparate, isolated, ellicientmachinevhosegoalvas sell-mas
tcry Suchautilitarianconccptolthcbody, incitedbycconomiccrisis , ledin
the seventeenth century to vhatFoucault calls inMcJness cnJ Civi|izcion
theCreatConhnementolbeggars ,thepoor, andtheidleinhospital s These
hospitalsvere,hovever,notmedicallacilitiesbutpoorhouses ,institutionses
tablishedbythearistocracyandthebourgeoisietosegregate,assist, andpun
ishagreatundillerentiatedmass oleconomicallyunproductivepeople, the
ostensible lailures at sell-mastery Concern vith culling out the sickpoor
lromeconomicallyuselulmendicantsgaveriseintheeighteenthcenturytoa
dominantideologyolhealthandphysicalvell-bcingas acivicdutyandpolit
ical ob]ective X| edicine, tben, as administered by doctors , enlorced vhat
Foucaultterms inPover/Knov|eJge aPolitics olHealth, rationalizedbyhy
giene and bcnt not on aid but on containment through curing ` ' This dis
course, vhichclassihedthehealthybodyandthepathologicalbody, locused
ondiscipliningallbodiesinthenameolimprovement Thi sinstrumentalviev
olthe body as a productive, vell-operatingmachineproducedthe ideaola
norm,vhichFoucaultcallsanevlavolmodernsocietyandaprincipleol
coercion, usedtomeasure,classi, andregulatehumanbodies `
Foucaultshistoricalexplanationolthenormasauniquelymodernconcept
bringsustothethresholdolstigmatheory, tooppressivehierarchiesolphysi
cal appearance Vhereas Collmans and Douglass transhistorical and tran
scultural accounts naturalize the norm, Foucault aggressively presents the
norm as both coerciveandpunitive byconnectingitnotmerelyto devaluing
socialattitudes , buttosocialinstitutionslegitimatedbyhistoricalconceptions
40 e e e + Politicizing Bodily Diferences
oldeviance |oucault, hovever,nevermentionsdisabledpeoplespecihcallyin
his analysis Although many paupers had physically disabilities, he never
makesdistinctionsamongthem ``V canneverthelessextrapolatelrom|ou
caults theorythatthemodernsocialidentityoldisabledemergedlromthe
shiltshechartsandthatitaroseintandemvithitsoppositetheabstract, sell
possessed, autonomousindividual
|oucaults suggestionthatthe modernindividualisdeterminedbyitsovn
particularityis the mostuselulinsightlormypurposeshereVhereasinpre
modernsociety, individuatingmarkersindicatedpoverandprivilege, inmod
ernsociety, anunmarkednormistherelerencepoint Thosevhomostdepart
lromthenormativestandardaremostsubordinated Vhiteness, lorexample,
isconcealedandneutral ,vhileblacknesscarriestheburdenolrace These
differences are marked also inthe costuming of pre- and post-Enlightenment
ari stocratic males 8elore thenineteenth century, anarrayolornateparticu
larscrovns , scepters , insignias , badges, vigsdistinguished the poverlul
individuals lrom the undillerentiated lovly masses Today, hovever, male
poveris costumedin indistinguishable, undis tinguishedbusiness suits and
ties, vhile otherness is elaboratelyvisible, vhethermarkedbytheprisoners
striped suit, the Star ol David arm band, or the decorative vomans ornate
govnandhighheels Foucaultstheorythuspredictsthepositionolpowerand
privilegeattheheartolCollmansstigmatheory theunmarked, prototypical
subject, theunblemishedone, the normateS4 lnitscomplexsocialcodihca
tion, pover is veiled by a rhetoric ol neutrality that creates the illusion ol
meritocracy. Yet pover`s vi sible nonparticularity is its marker in the subtle
economyoldisplaythatsignalsstatusinmodernity
Althoughdisabilityhashistoricallybeenseenasadisadvantageor acurse,
inmoderntimesmarkersolindividuationlikephysicaldisabilityrenderonea
caseupon vhich pover is exercised 8utdisabilitymight have been more
easilyreadinapremodernsocietyasadistinguishingmarkolpcverandpres
tige, vhereasinthemodern era, disempovermentismarked byvisible stig
mata lndeed, Harlan Hahn ollers archeological evidence suggesting that
disabled people may have been held in high regard in earliercultures The
saints stigmatic vounds , Oedipuss and Socratess lameness, Tiresiass and
Homersblindness, andPhiloctetessvoundcertainlyseemtolunctionasen
noblingmarksratherthansignsoladiminishingabnormalitylikethoseolthe
modern cripple ` ` |oucaul t`s notion that the signihcance ol particularity
shiltedinmodernity, then, challenges thedehnitionoldisabilityasacorrup
tion olthe norm Such speculations enable us to envisioninterpretations ol
theextraordinaryhumanbodyotherthandevianceandinleriority
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 4 1
Taken together, Collmans analysis oldisability as dehned by socialrela
tions, Douglass observations about cultural responses to anomaly, and |ou-
caults historical delineation ol the modern norm as unmarked reveal the
phys|cally disabled hgure as a culturallyand historically specihc social con
struction Such a critical lramevorkhelps situate the disabled hgure vithin
theAmericanideologies olliberal individualismand themoralimperative ol
vork,andilluminateshovthedisabledhgureoperatesinliterature
The Disabled Figure and the I deology of Liberal I ndivid ualism
Emerson's Invalid and the Doctrine of Self- Reliance
ln anthropologist Robert Murphys groundbreaking ethnography olhis ovn
disability, 1eBoJy Si|en , he emphasizes thatothersavoidance, discomlort,
and devaluationolhim amountedto alossolstatus andavoundtohissell-
imageas devastatingashisrecentparaplegia Disability, Murphyobserves, is
a social malady Ve aresubvertersolanAmerican ldeal,justas thepoor
are betrayers ol the American Dream ` `Iurphy goes beyond simply ac-
knovledging the social dimensions oldisability to examine the disabled hg-
urescrucialrole inestablishingtheboundariesolthenormateAmericansell
Like thepoor, \lurphyasserts , disabledpeoplearemadetosignivhatthe
restolAmericansleartheyvillbecome |reightedvithanxietiesaboutlossol
controlandautonomythattheAmerican idealrepudiates , thedisabledbe-
come a threateningpresence, seeminglycompromisedbythe particularities
andlimitations oltheirovnbodies Shapedbyanarrative olsomaticinade-
quacyandrepresentedasaspectacleolerraticsingularity, the disabledhgure
delineates the corresponding abstract cultural hgure ol the sellgoverning,
standardized individual emerging lrom a society inlormed by consumerism
andmechanization Castasoneolsocietysultimatenotmehgures, thedis-
abledotherabsorbsdisavovedelementsolthisculturalsell,becominganicon
olallhumanvulnerabilityandenablingtheAmericanldealtoappearasmas -
terolboth destinyand sellAt oncelamiliarlyhumanbutdehnitivelyother,
thedisabledhgureinculturaldiscourseassurestherestolthe citzenryolvho
theyarenotvhilearousingtheirsuspicionsaboutvhotheycouldbecome`
Vitness , lorinstance, abrielbutexemplaryinvocationolthedisabledhg-
ure in Ralph Valdo Lmersons rhetoric olSell Reliance And novveare
men vrites Lmersonin the l 3+version, not minors andinvalids in a
protected corner, not covards lleeing belore a revolution, but guides , re
deemers, and benelactors , obeying the Almighty ellort , and advancing on
42 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
ChaosandtheDark singthe disabledhgureagaininhislateressayFate,
Lmersondi sparages conservativesbycharacterizingthemaselleminatedby
nature,bornhaltandblindandableonly,likeinvalids , toactonthedelen-
sive ScholarshavenotedthatLmersonselaborationolliberalindividualism
as a neo-Platonic, disembodied lorm olmasculinity depends upon hiscon-
structionolandllightlromadenigrated, oppositionallemininityuponvhich
he pro] ects a lear not only oldependence and neediness , but also olvhat
David Leverenzcallstheperils olthebody ``Vhathas goneunremarked,
hovever, is Lmersons invocationolinvalidsas a related categoryolother-
ness that mutually constitutes his liberal sell nlike the supposedly invio-
lablerealmen, vhoactasguides, redeemers , andbenelactorscapableol
advancing, Lmersonsdisparagedandstaticinvalids arebanishedinapro-
tectedcorner, alongvithminorsand,presumably,vomenTheblind, the
halt, andtheinvalidsLmersonenlists:odehnetheliberalindividualbyop-
positionare, aboveallelse, iconsolbodilyvulnerability Theinvalidbodyis
impotencemademanilest Pybarringthedisabledhgurelromhisdehnitionol
the universal man, Lmerson reveals the implicit assumption olan exclu-
sionaryphysical norm incorporatedintheideal olanautonomousindividual
sellViththespecterolphysicalvulnerabilityexiledintoaprotectedcorner

alongviththeleminine, Lmersons naturalizedman emerges as Murphys


American l deal , unimpededbythephysicallimitationthathistoryandcon
tingencyimposeuponactuallives
Lmersonsjuxtapositionolanunrestrictedculturalsellvithamutedother
thvartedbyphysicallimitsexposestheproblemolthebodyvithintheideol
ogyolliberalindividualismTheAmericanl dealpositedbyliberalindividu-
alismisstructuredbyalourpartsellconceptthatisproloundlythreatenedby
vhat Richard Selzer has called the mortal lessons that disability repre
sents `'Thelourinterrelatedideological principlesthatinlormthis normate
sellmightbecharacterizedassell-gcvernment, sell-determination,autonomy.
andprogress Suchasell imageparallelsthenationalidealinanindividualist
egalitarian democracy that each citizen is a microcosm ol the nation as a
vholeAvellregulatedsellthuscontributestoavellregulatednation Hov
ever,theselourprinciplesdependuponabodythatisastable, neutralinstru
mentoltheindividualvill l tisthislantasythatthedisabledhguretroubles
Formypurposeshere, itisuselultodisentanglethesenationalandindividual
principlesolselltoexaminehoveachrelies onthedisabledhguretoabsorb
vhatitreluses
Lgalitariandemocracydemands individualsell-governmenttoavoidanar-
chy A system in vhich individuals make lavs and choose leaders depends
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 43
uponindividualsgoverningtheiractionsandtheirbodies] ustas theygovern
the socialbody Consequently, the disabledhgure is auniqueand disturbing
constructamongthe culturalothers opposed to theidealAmericansell ltis
perhaps easier to establish dillerence based on relatively stable, although
highlypoliced, bodily markers like gender, ethnic, and racial characteristics
thanit i stodistance disability Disabilitys indisputably random and unpre
dictablecharactertranslatesasappallingdisorderand persi stentmenaceina
socialorderpredicatedon sell-government Furthermore, physicalinstability
isthebodilymanilestationolpoliticalanarchy, oltheantinomianimpulsethat
is thethreatening, butlogical, extensionolegalitariandemocracy `Thedis
abledbodystandslorthesellgoneoutolcontrol, individualismrunrampant
itmocks thenotionolthe bodyas compliantinstrumentolthe limitlessvill
andappears intheculturalimaginationasungovetnable, recalcitrant, llaunt-
ingitsdillerenceasiltorelutethelantasyolsamenessimplicitinthenotion
olequality Lvenmoretroubling,disabilitysuggeststhattheculturalotherlies
dormant vithin the cultural sell, threateningabrupt or gradual translorma
tionslrommantoinvalid Thedisabledhgureisthestrangerinourmidst,
vithinthelamilyandpotentiallyvithinthesell
|ust as the principle ol sellgovernment demands a regulated body, the
principleolsell-determinationrequiresacompliantbodytosecureaplacein
thehercelycompetitive anddynamic socioeconomicrealm Theideaolsell
determinationplacestremendouspressure on individuals to leelresponsible
lortheirovnsocial stations , economic situations, andrelations vithothers
Among the emerging middle classes ol the nineteenth century, lrom vhom
ttaditionalgroupalliliationshadbeen shorn, thedesireloridentityproduced
conlormity that vas expressed in an intolerance ol dillerencesprecisely
those distinctions that lreedom encouraged Pecause democracy precluded
lormerclassalliancesandgenerational continuities , peoplehadonlyonean-
otheraltetvhichto modelthemselves Py l 3l Tocquevillenotedthisten-
dency to conlorm, observing that all ol the minds ol theAmericans vvere
lormedupononemodel, soaccuratelydotheylollovthesameroute ' Fur
thermore, thedevelopingmass culturemandatedbyequalitylurtherencour-
ages a unilormitythatstabilizesthreatsolanarchy, enlorcingconlormityand
punishing dillerence Thus , democracys paradox is that the principle ol
equalityimpliessamenessolcondition, vhilethepromiseollreedomsuggests
thepotentialloruniqueness ThatpotentialamountedlormanyAmericansto
amandatelordistinctivenessthekindolnonconlormitythat Lmersonand
Thoreau sovehementlyextol in theirellorts to lormulate an individual sell
lreelromallrestraint
44 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
Vhatoltengoesunstatedis the bodyscrucialrole inthisparadoxicalide
ology olsell-determination Forinstance, nineteenth-century concern vith
health, especially the obsession vith bodily lunctions such as elimination,
cleanliness, and vhat C | Parker- Penheld calls spermatic retentiveness
canbeseenasaphysicalexpressionolpressurestocontrolthecorporealsell
Moreover,therhetoricolnonconlormityandanti-authoritycoexistedviththe
developmentolmass-producedgoodsandthestandardizationolappearance
through reproducible images, encouraging the unilormity ol lilestyle that
seres modern consumer and mechanized culture The disabled hgure
speaksto thistensionbetveenuniquenessandunilormity Ontheonehand,
thedisabledhgureisasignlorthebodythatrelusestobegovernedandcan
notcarryoutthevilltosell-determination Ontheotherhand, theextraordi
narybcdyisncnccnlcrmityincarnate lnasensethen, thedisabledhgurehas
thepotentialtoinspirevithitsirreverentindividualityandtothreatenvithits
violationolequality lndeed, largueinthenextchapterthatapartolthelas -
cinationthelreakshovheldlornineteenth-centuryAmericansvasthisdou
blenessinherentintheextraordinarybody
|ustasthedominantculturesidealsellrequirestheideologicalhguresolthe
vomanto conhrm itsmasculinityandoltheblackto assureitsvhiteness , so
Lmersons atomized sell demands an oppositional tvin to secure its able
bodiedness Thelreak,thecripple,theinvalid, thedisabledlikethequadroon
andthehomosexualarerepresentational, taxonomicalproductsthatnatural
izeanormcomprisedolacceptedbodilytraitsandbehaviorsregisteringsocial
poverandstatus Thustranslated,physicaldillerenceyieldsaculturaliconsig
niingviolatedvholeness, unbounded incompleteness, unregulatedparticu-
larity, dependent sub]ugation, disordered intractability and susceptibility to
externallorces Viththebodysthreatolbetrayalthuscompartmentalized, the
mythical Americansellcanunlold, unobstructedandunrestrained, acccrding
toitsovnmanilestdestiny
Melvlle's Ahab: The Whale-llade Man
This paradoxical , simultaneous demandlorindividualityand equality isper
haps vhat renders Mo| Dc|s CaptainAhabperhaps the quintessential
disabledhgure inAmerican literatureso compellinga characterAlthough
certainlynot Emersons impotent invalid, Herman MelvillesAhabneverthe
lesssuggeststheprcblemclthebodyinAmericasgrandexperimentolliberal
individualism `Pothsell-governmentandsell-determinationrequireindivid-
ualautonomy, theh_otheticalstate olindependenceLmersoncalls sell-re-
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 45
liance Thedisabledhgureproloundlythreatensthislantasyolautonomy, not
so much because itis seen as helpless, butratherbecauseitis imaginedas
havingbeenalteredbylorcesoutsidethesellAlterall ,eventhoughAhabuses
thecrevtocarry outhis revenge, his indignation |spersonal thevhale im
pingeduponhisbodyAutonomyassumesimmunityto externallorces along
viththecapacitytomaintainastable, staticstateolbeing,likethepossessive
individualismdescribedbyC PMacPhersonAccordingtosuchlogic,phys-
icalalterationscausedbytimeor the environmentthechangesve calldis-
abilityare hostile incursions lrom the outside, the ellects ol cruel
contingenciesthatanindividualdoesnotadequatelyresist Seenasavictim
ol alien lorces, the disabled hgure appears not as translormed, supple, or
uniquebutasviolated lncontrast, theautonomousindividualisimaginedas
havinginviolateboundariesthatenableunletteredsell-determination, creat-
ingamytholvholeness `Vithin such an ideologicallramevork, thehgure
vhosebodyis aneutralinstrumentolthe sellgoverningvillbecomesalree
agentin contractualrelations Conversely, the disabledhgure representsthe
incomplete,unbounded, compromised, andsub]ectedbodysusceptibletoex
ternallorces propertybadlymanaged, alortressinadequatelydelended, asell
helplesslyviolated Ahabs outrage compensateslothisvulnerability, render-
inghimbothasublimeandathreateningversionolthedisabledhgure
Ahab i s, perhaps above all else, dillerent lrom othermen At once com
pellingandrepelling, herepresentsboththeprospectivelreedomolnoncon-
lormity and the terrible threat ol antinomianism The outer mark ol his
dillerence is his ivoryleg, and the innermanilestation is his monomaniacal
lury Neither loss ol lunction nor pain motivatesAhabs vengelul quest as
muchashisproloundsenseolviolationbythevhale, alorcelromoutside
Castasanintractableexternalvill , thevhalehasbreachedAhabsindividual
boundaries ,alteredhisverybeing,anddeterminedhislutureThevhalesin-
cursionanditspovercverAhabsdestinymocktheideasolselldetermination
andautonomy Ahabisnot+ sellmademan, butavhale-mademan, hisdis
abledbodytestihestothesellsphysicalvulnerability, theominousknovledge
thattheideologyolindividualismsuppresses Forsuchapostasy,Ahabsbody
isviolentlyand dehnitivelyseparatedlrom the restolthe communityonthe
PequoJasthevhalepullsAhablromtheshipviththeharpoonrope, control
linghimindeath]ustasinlile Ahabsnobility, likehismenace, ariseslrom
hisphysical dillerence, the symbololbodily limitation and vulnerabilitythat
threatens the notion ol the autonomous, inviolable sell Ahab, along vith
otherdisabledhgures, posesthetroublingquestionolvhetheranypersonis
independent olphysicallimitations , immuneto externallorces, andvithout
46 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
needolassistanceandcarelromothers `Thedisabledbodyexposestheillu-
sionolautonomy,sell-government, andsell-determinationthatunderpinsthe
lantasyolabsoluteable-bodiednes s
Thelileolavellgoverned, sell-determinedmani s imaginedas anarrative
olprogress on vhich Protestantperlectionism, the doctrine olsuccess , and
theconceptolsell-improvementalldepend Democraticnations, Tocqueville
notes, areparticularlyinvestedinthenotionolhumanperlectibilityandlikely
to expanditbeyondreason 'Putthe disabledhgurelliesin the laceolthis
ideal , renouncingithitsveryexistencethe hctionolsell-improvementand
atthesametimepresentingtheultimatechallengetoperlectionandprogress
Suchdiversephenomenaas laith healing, cosmetic surgery, medical separa
tionolcon] oinedtvins ,and|erqLevissTelethonstesti|notonlytothecul
tural demand for body normalization, but to our intolerance of the disabled
hguresreminderthatperlectionisachimeraAsaculturalemblemlorthere-
strictedsell, the disabledbody stubbornlyresiststhevilledimprovementso
lundamental to theAmerican notionolthe sell lndeed, lurkingbehindthe
able-bodiedhgureisthedenied,andperhapsintolerable, knovledgethatlile
villeventuallytranslorm us into disabled selves ln theend, the body and
historydominate thevill, imposinglimits on themytholaphysicallystable
sellprogressingunletteredtovardsomehighermaterialstate `
The Disabled Figure and the Problem of Work
The Proper Pauper
Aslhavesuggested, disabledpeopleare oltenimagined asunabletobepro
ductive, direct their ovn lives, participate in tbe community, or establish
meaninglul personal relationsregardless ol their actual capabilities or
achievements lnlact, thelimitationsdisabledpeopleexperienceresultmore
oltenlrominteractionvithasocialandphysicalenvironmentdesignedtoac
commodate the normate body ln othervords, people deemed disabled are
barredlromlull citizenship becausetheirbodies do not conlormvitharchi
tectural, attitudinal , educational , occupational , andlegal conventionsbased
onassumptionsthatbodiesappearandperlormincertainvays
Novhere is the disabledhgure more troublingtoAmericanideology and
historythaninrelationtotheconceptolvork thesystemolproductionand
distribution oleconomic resources in vhich the abstractprinciples olsell
government , sell-determination, autonomy, and progress are manilest most
completely Labor, the dehnitive creed ol Puritan through contemporary
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 47
America, translorms necessity intovirtueandequates productive vorkvith
moral vorth, idleness vith depravity The hgure olthe sellmadeAmerican
man has alvays held much cultural authority, especially in the nineteenth
century, although poverty vas videspread and industrialization vas rapidly
convertlngvorkintounrecognizablelorms Theconceptsolautonomyandin
dependencees sentialtothevorkethicbecame contortedasvagelaborsup-
planted sellemployment, the lraglle economy surged up and dovn, and
machines began to damage vorkers on a nev scale As modernization pro
ceeded, thedisabledhgureshoulderedinnevvays societysanxietyaboutits
inabilitytoretainthestatusandoldmeaningsoll+borinthelaceolindustri-
alizationandincreasingeconomicandsocialchaos
Americanindividualismismostclearlym+nilestintheconvictionthateco-
nomicautonomyresultslromhardvorkandvirtue,vhilepovertystemslrom
indolence and moral inleriority ' Paupers had to be held culpable lor their
socioeconomic situations in order to support the cherished belielthat in a
democratic society each individual vas a selldetermining lree agent in a
progress narrative oleconomic manilestdestiny Hovever, a moral dilemma
andcontradictionemergewhenthiscreedi sappliedtothedlsabled, people
vhosebodies are dillerentor translormedbylile Vhathappensto thelink
betveenvirtueandvorkvhenapersonsbody, throughnoonesvolition, sud
denlyorgraduallynolongerhtsthevorkenvironment Hov, inshort, cana
culture lounded upon and committed to the values olliberal individualism
dealvithphysicaldisability
lnavorldincreasinglyseenaslreelromdivlnedeterminismandsub]ectto
indiv1dual control, the disabled hgure calls into question such concepts as
vill, ability, progress, responsibility, and lree agency, notions around vhich
peopleinaliberalsocietyorganizetheiridentities Moreover,secularthlnking
and a more accurate scientihc understandingolphysiologyand diseasepre
vented nineteenth-centuryAmericans lrom interpreting disability as the di-
vinepunishmentithadbeenlabeledinearlierepochs Theproblemolhovto
lormulate disability as a social category arises lrom a conHict betveen the
need to presere a social hierarchy linked to individual economic condition
andtheneedtorecognizethelreedomlromdivineinterventionthatmakesin-
dividual achievementtenable The disabledhgures existencemandatesthat
societyconsiderundervhatcircumstancesapersonshouldbeheldresponsi-
blelor earninga living and, conversely, vhenone shouldbereleasedlrom
that expectation because olcircumstances beyond ones control The social
categorydisabledi sagrudgingadmissionolhumanvulnerabilityinavorld
nolongerseenasdivinelydetermined, avorldvheresellgovernmentandin
48 Politicizing Bodily Diferences
dividual prcgresspurportedly prevail Sucha classihcation elicits mucham-
bivalencelromanationalconscicusnesscommittedtoequatingvirtuevithin
dependentindustry, especiallyduringperiodsinvhichpublicpolicytovard
those cutside the labcr lcrce is being lcrmulated That ambivalence ex
pressesitseIlassocialstigmatizaticnandasrigcrcus , scmetimesexclusicnary
supervsicnclpecplecbligedto] cinthe ranks clthedisabled
The davningindustrial translcrmaticnclantebellumAmericalcrcedthe
S legal system to address the i ssue clphysical disability as ccntingency
ratherthandivinepunishment , as industrialaccidentsbegan tcincreaseand
stablecommunitiesandclderlcrms clproductionbegan to dissolve |crex-
ample, aspcvervasbeingtranslerredlrcmmaleparentstcmale]udgesdur
ing the hrst hallcl the nineteenth century, a dehning decisicn vritten by
LemuelShawin l -+2legallylramedthedisabledsocialcategoryaccordingto
the precepts cl ccntractarian eccnomic individualism Shav reversed the
ccmmcn-lavprecedentthatmademastersliablelcrtheirservants acticnsby
lcrmulating the lellov-servant rule that dehned negligence in lavcr ol em-
ployers , thusseringbusiness interestsattheexpenseoldisabledvorkersby
makingitverydillicultlcrin]uredvcrkerstcsuelcrccmpensaticn `Thisrul
ing interpretedbcth emplcyerand emplcyee as autcncmcusagentsentering
lreelyintcacontractinvhichthemarketvagecompensatedlcrtheriskclin
] uryThatthislegallormulaticndidnotlcllovtheprecedent, establishedearly
on, olcompensatingvoundedsoldiersmayhaverepresentedanellcrttclree
econcmic develcpment, seemingly separating issues olprivate ]ustice lrcm
state ] ustice Nevertheless, nevly disabled vcrkers had little reccurse but
charityorpcorrelielAslcngas eccnomicresourceslrom thepublic sphere
vere notequitablyavailablelcrin] uredvorkers , theynotonlylcsttheir]cbs
butalscdroppedcutolsightintcaprivate sphereolcharityvhere themar
ketplace and the statevere nlongeraccountablelcrtheir eccncmic situa
tions Thatamanmightbeavirtuousvorkeronedayandanindolentpauper
thenextdoubtlessraiseduneasy questions aboutanindividuals capacitylor
unlimitedsell-determinism
Lven though the legaland scciceconcmic categcry ol disabledadmits tc
ccntingency, thisclassihcaticnmust, nevertheless , be assiducuslydelineated
andmcnitcred, scgreatis itsthreattcAmericans belielinthelinkbetveen
hardvork andeconomic andsocial success llthemythclautoncmy and
sell-determinaticnistoremainintact,thcsevhosesituaticnsquesticnitmust
besplitollintoadiscretesocialcategorygovernedbydillerentassumpticns
lndeed, atleastsince the incepticn olLnglishPocr Lavs in l l33, the state
andctherinstituticnsccncernedviththeccmmcnvellare havemcldedthe
Teorizing Disability e e e e e 49
politicalandculturaldehnitionolvhatvenovknovasphysicaldisability
inanellorttodistinguishbetveengenuinecripplesand malingerers , those
deemedunabletovorkandthosedeemedunvillingtovork`Althoughabil-
|tyandvillarecertainlycomplicatedandquestionablcconceptsinthcso
cial relationcalledearningaliving, itisclearthatin distributingresources
thestateandthepopulaceinsistupontryingtodravahrmboundarybetveen
thesetvogroupsolpeople
From Compensation to Accommodation
Vhile the social history ol disabled people has generally remained consis -
tentlyoneolstigmatization andlovstatus , thc statcsresponsetodisability
inAmeri cahasvidenedandshiltedlromearlyandcontinuingreimbursement
suchasveteranspensionslorpublicservice, tovorkmen scompensationlor
civilianvorkersinindustrialAmerica, to the mandateintheAmericanswith
DisabilitiesActoll 990thataccommodationratherthanrestitutionistheap-
propriate response to disability The notion olcompensation that character-
izeddisabilitypolicybelore l 990impliesanorm, thedeparturelromorlossol
vhichrequiresrestitution Seenthisvay,disabilityisalosstobecompensated
lor, ratherthan dillerence to be accommodated Disability then becomes a
personalllav, and disabledpeople are the ablebodiedgonevrong Diller-
encethustranslatesintodevianceMoreover,thelocusonvarvvoundsandin
dustrialaccidentsasdehnitivedisabilitiessupportsanarrovphysicalnormby
limitingeconomicbenehtstothosevhooncequalihedasable-bodiedvork-
ers, barringpeoplevi thcongenitaldi sabilitiesanddi sabledvomenhomeco-
nomiccompensationbecausetheycouldnotlosea hypotheticaladvantage
theyneverhad Accordingtothelogicolcompensation,then, disabledcon-
notesnotphysiologicalvariation, buttheviolationolaprimarystate olputa
tivevholeness Thclogic olaccommodation,ontheotherhand,suggeststhat
disability is simply one olmany dillerences among people and that society
shouldrecognizethisbyad]ustingitsenvironmentaccordingly
The tvin myths olbodilyvholenessand bodilylackthatunderpinacom-
pensationmodeloldisabilitystructurethehistoryolpublicpolicytovardthe
extraordinarybody Theconceptolablebodiednessanditstheoretical oppo-
site, disability, vere continually reshapcd as the state attempted to qualita-
tively distinguish bctveen pcople vhose physical or mental conditions
legitimatelypreventedthemlromobtainingvagelaborandpeoplevho sim-
ply relusedtovork As disability became increasinglymedicalizedvith the
riseolscienceandtechnology, methods lordistinguishingbetveenthesick
50 e e e e e Politicizing Bodily Diferences
poor vho deserved aid and the lrauds vho meritedpunishment and dis
couragementbecame the states guidingprinciples Yetevenas ideology de
manded the separation olthe ablebodiedlrom the disabled topreserve
themyths olautonomyandsellgovernanceas keys toeconomicsuccess , the
conHictingimpulsestocomlortandcastigatepaupersoltenmergedinpublic
policyandsocialattitudes sothatneithervas accompli shedellectively The
history olpublic andprivate distribution olresources to people termed the
disabledhasbeentingedviththepunitive andthepaternalistic asvellas
thecompassionateandthe]ust
Science and medicine promised midnineteenth- and tventiethcentury
Americathemeanslorcordoningollthe groupolpeopleitneededtoclassas
unable to vork so that supposed slackers could be rehabilitated \|edical
technologysuchasthestethoscopeand the Xrayhnallyprovidedvhat soci
etybelievedvasanob]ectiveandquantitativemeasureolapersonsphysical
capabilitylorvork lnaddition, anevunderstandingolspecihcdisease-caus-
ingagents attributeddisablingillnessesandimpairmentsless tolackolper-
sonalresponsibilityandmoretolateMedicalvalidationolphysicalincapacity
solvedtheproblemolmalingeringbycircumventingthetestimonyolthe in-
dividual nderthisconhrmationscheme, thedoctorsoughtdirectcommuni-
cationvith thebodyregardingits condition, eliminatingthepatients ability
lorselldisclosure and, ultimately, lorselldetermination Ratherthanclos-
ingthe gap betveen the vork environment and the exceptional body, legal
compensation lurtheralienated disabledvorkers by separating their bodies
lromtheirconscious experiences olthemAs aresult, disabledbecame, in
thetventiethcenturyvellarestate,amedicalizedcategorybyvhichthestate
couldadministereconomicrelielinaseeminglyob] ectiveandequitableman-
ner `XIoreover, inconstructingthatlegal socialgroup, quitedistinctcondi
tions merge intoa single administrative and social identity Thus, a disabled
hgure vhose bodily conhguration vas earlier read as divine retribution lor
some nameless sinvas exonerated Yet the nev, clinically disabledcategoq
dehned thepersonvitha disability as a hgureexcludedlrom economic op
portunities andtherelorevithoutlreeagency,selldeterminism, and sell-pos
session,theennoblingattributesoltheliberalAmericanindividual
To sociallyand legallyconstructacategoryolproperpaupersvhoseex-
traordinarybodiesexcludethemlromtheburdensandprivilegesolvorkisto
partiallyrelieveanxietiesaboutphysicalvulnerabilitybydisplacingthemonto
an identihable group olcorporeal others Furthermore, granting exemption
lromvorkduetoaphysicaldisabilityisinonesensevievedasaproperact
ol mercy, ilnot moral generositythe simultaneous recognition olhuman
Taeori:ingDisc|i|iy e + o 5 1
l i mi tation and human obligati on. Al though the very young and the very ol d are
rel eased from offi ci al labor by simi l ar logic , the di sabl ed soci al category i s
harder to escape and far more stigmatizing than youth or age, vvhi ch are seen
more as s tages in t he l ives of productive people than as i mmutabl e identiti es .
On the other hand, to be offi cially or sympathetically relieved of the obligation
of productive labor-cast out of the publ i c economic realm into the private
sphere of chari ty-i s al so to be excl uded from the privilege of laboring i n a so
ciety that affi rms work as \;hat Dani el Rodgers calls " the core of moral l i fe .
Thus , the moral generosi ty that seeks to compensate for physi cal differences
makes cultural outcasts of i ts recipi ents by assumi ng that i ndividual bodies
must conform to i nstitutional standards, rather than restructuring the soci al
environment to accommodate phys ical variety.
Bi ll ed as `Jhc Ugl iest \;Volnan i n the World, " as \vel l as " Bear \t1on1an, " "ipe
\Von1an, " and " Hybri d I ndi an, " Jul i a Pastrana, c hirsute J1exi can- I ndian vvoman)
sang and danced hefore audi ences from l o + until her death i n l ooU. This photo
graph Ol her elnbal n1 ed COr-c, \vhi ch \a- exhi bi tLd in -hOv- and circuses for over
one hundred years after her deat h, i l l ustrates that t he freak's body is equal ly valuabl e
vhet her al ive or dead.
JLl!-\ j;\})\
l mIcxc: hIl c , J \ . .
| . . . , +s, |t`ll1'l 0Sl 0 0t u0I tl
'. . . -.. .| . . L - <:t(. io t | | t i i :t | i i i : i s(
J Jl! -:\'.\
l l i ni dtcti|i . .)n. i \| - .
T|e ;t| + | . . . . +|d| ' u |0 l |\ | | | | t' \ : i | u
sh| s:t n| in:| |sh r.tl pn| .| ri q iid J.i i u.
.
, t \ ; ( i
. . . . o | | ` l ` u , } ( :' l | n '' . .
`i ss ] uli a Past rana, "The Nondescri pt , " i s adverti sed here i n her vari ous cost ulnes ,
A n1aj or conventi on o f freak di spl ay \vas t o exaggerate t he freak' s corbi nat i on o f t he
ordi nary, such as Past rana' s femi ni ne figure, voi ce, and dress, vvi t h t he ext raordinary,
s Ll ch a hcr loid ond upocd|y i n+ i an lcaturc
Harvard Theater || |cc|| n The |ouo:on || |;
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TOIO I1MO O IO 1O BS C1 JNO
O1O BOOJ @O1DuO N ONOY 1NO-
Tb|e rarkable gid is 00W 17 yean o 8g6, bom a s!avc in C!u
emQ, North Caro!na, Is ofa ngbt Mu!atm compIexop wm
TW0 b08t8I0, W0 0V0000
*
f ||ll lJ Jll | || | ll |||
AtI ef WNte& 0eu0 t&to M&o MeG
AudaomIlytorms bu|one persou, physcalIy apeakug. 8be 1ALb5, 8INU,
XAT5 aud DRIN]Swith bothouths, oothcravugmet tbe omethingatmc
same time. She has four feo|, and o!k HQ0D aU of the, or cn waIk upon
tWO of tHCm with C88C. \YilI C | \ VBt8u witb lWo persona ouaia-:-at sat-::s8
ID 80mC tie. Bing VCy bcau.ituIIy twc parts of 0D air 3I 0HUC, Ot coaver
8UC smg toetLer. Sne I8 nteIIgent aud p!easIng iu couvotsa|ion, an1 bas 0
nnc, Lappy dispcsiticn. 5U! IS IO M0NS1I0SITY, hrs D0 rop.usivc !ook
abonther nthe Ieast, Iut0H tho contr=r i VtY INTB3TING. 8be h
DCBD eriticaIlyexamiaed, D3D bysIcaIy rnd au|omicahy,y tbc Ieadiug phya-
IC\0D8 of Jc6evson MedicaI OoIIege. at Iu|Iad:Ihia, who uuhesItatngly pro-
nonncc her tie MOST LSTUNlSUING, bMARKABL and INT8Ld11NU
MWM O
M M2
sirce thc creanon o OUt 6rstarents. Iar D0I0 -urprsing B0U ondeHuI thm
tIe 5iameee J`wms. Io pctcn s!ouId ai! to 8PP er 8 >igLt o! wbiob &
, IiIe time w never c !crgottcn.
33 C1 M3 $ ]
J!fD Jt0Ht U t I :3- m-. fO , DOu 7 I0 U . - "CIIOFMBOC
tvty U . OHI.
Freak di scourse cast the extraordinary body as "wonderful , " I' astonishing, " and
"remarkable . " Testi moni es of physi ci ans authenticated freaks , and infated
descriptions testi fied to the freak' s appeal and ordinari ness whi l e simultaneously
proclaiming the singularity of the freak body.
The llassach usetts Historical Society
The freak sho\v exhi bi ted exoti cized racial ot hers in order to defi ne by staged
vi sual contrast the \vhi te, mal e subj ect of democracy as civi l ized, sel f- control led ,
and rational . JIarl rd TheCter Collecti o1l , 1|c Houghton Li brary
JnC cont rast h et\veen t hi s Ubangi \!voman and thi s Euro- An1eri can establi shes t he
tenns of beauty and ugli ness i n Areri can cul t ure. Li p di s cs, d pi pe, and an androgy
nous cost unle render t hi s Afri can VOnlan the grotesque oposi te of the \vhi t e
\\'H11an, presented i n standard, se?ualiZed CmlnlnC gJrb, hJl r, and makeup .
Ci rc ls \ \r||i[usel ll , BamlJOo, vscmlsill
l. J. BarnUlT'S "vhat | | l , created fr0 l11 tTi crocephal i c 'l oCl .:un, chal l enged
vi ev'ers to detern1 i ne vvhet hc r t hi s "lTOst rnarvcl oLl s CICdIUIC h\ |ng ''c c ` l o\.cr
orde r of c or " hi gher orde r of +iOnlc
\
|rco- \vere often staged o- hybri ds i n
order t o provi de t he i r audi ences v",i th c opportuni ty t o exerci se thei r experti se at
defi ni ng truth.
S/el H +/5t H Hl , ' | .| | c. \t|u|. |' ! ' | |c| l iH|||

1uDru
au ITT

.., ,
Ni se !0 Ur>. IIUIU |` \\ 5IH^CTU^, (t|c lo!brof0uI |ouoIq,)
\\l|I D Sl^ ^
t1 t 1tttu Mt C ,
\ n |!l ^ . un ` !1, !hc 1 \ h . J 7|h
ol .cmucr, ` ` uud !`!`!^L
JL1'' ! ITH .-uii gut l !Ju' I I' uu~l a-|oni-i uguuu cmios|
y iuHo .
1ml d ! >l: 1 (ii ! - vn uI A tti+ ~I i t i u l;. ,i|c I.it| wro| \o|mgton,)
ai i l I\ | | |.| pt'r,1) 1 1 'hu pH c i |clI luC | cu| , vo,iu ocrdaa,Ied
Our!tr| c ltl u I > Ou IO l |y, lu vt l|}, auJ t\|uO|. O Uu PI U\B |+agcagcvv |eu
ut0K| |2 ol !h|.: : | . u-t ii o | - !uI | | + u u \uUf | II], '-hcr:dl u' J0| C! H1TU
as Uu!n i ll \ t r l ( , und u, tOti:i:tumI | , ooa:rivdt||toui:litg
E I
Ou IY|g| -lu l I0F1Y- c| X 1\l' 1', and_c| ! S \0r clccJ.t | and i nieresI:ng. 5h::
te|tio ' : ae1J l l i,", tti unpal ll l lt> itd d''grN). t|\ \t:t:- IIt_, -ug mi crou hymos,
Ir!0|- n t i i y i.|, r:ttIi_tni0| t t /ltu0_ u-htn_|Ou. a:co0. |augucati |yattet
Owu\Ci I n\rl, | |i-t O Ut tsc| + cr . 1 theh 1= Qr| c! | gOud, 0n l lm 0|PmuC6
Y^I] ! ` + i I - u uu|I -luu lul icull 0-\!rC ncunvi|-n_ W| | m| U|8|II>BD0reIgi-
OuS r6 I. Jht uuurt|c ot| .smi l rv cl !il uofdif ofunl iqui ! y -' rIK |t |Hmldrwith
utD0=' II | I | , und Uti viLcnu I u1 |u! hi- tS ulc rcs. c O| !t ul t! specuwn | Dur-
tal i l Y I \ '' ! :lr: ui i d 0| g| u+|uuIhtu!It; und i u-u|ut Utt\Ii | UB\S B0U~
a,.|ir r vi, hnwf<yr)l' u-lOi I- | II ! t!uCI mayup(aI, thaI oll`! HtJ1i- n
uVI t-tsl l ii: ttOn >l1c |ri lid.

| i in! . . : . o,:. t h,I t: ut+ un! | ot | l | geut mcn n ' ia ^-
Yor|. o-| n, aul I ir \iu. | i u\ i utuu u ! h|+ bo 8rrtto:t| Iht nutumcuI8 0C-
Comjutr j| i\_ htr, t ud all . :nrInhlg, +uiuUc0 lct IO 0u, 0- . l l qt0`4g
P |ni l i' iu Cun| t rm, uHtit\iuct' , u| U wil l giVH t\ty uIIrUl|uu !O !h uUI08 W0Vm
lh8 c' . u| h-_Ont
| .. hn.- |)i i t! Phibdt: l l' hi a, Ncw'OrK, !os| ou. c., ly
JYl ^1 \\' \ ^\ ili:- uuu Genl l i' men. V ! I n Ihu \| lhttO
H:csj !r/||:|:oucomU/ Io l 1.M .e slu O cwI|i J.
MWZ72MOM 2 Cons, OJJMMW MM& * Ms
:.::t-b J. 6+u++
The first freak l. J. Barnum exhi bi ted \vas Joi ce Heth, the supposed 1 6 1 -year-ol d
nursemaid to George \Vashi ngton. Heth, a bl ack, ol d, toothl ess, bl ind, crippl ed
sl ave \VOn1an \vas c dOI1esti cated and trivialized versi on of what the ideal Ameri can
sel f \vas not , thus assuring her audiences of thei r i dentities .
Somers Historicrd Societ) Somers, lew Yrh
O ci rc us s i desho\vs , text ual , spat i al , and oral di scourses made up o
f
l uri d banners, s i gns , sho\;\/lTen on stands, 11usi c, pi t chmen, and
stages
f
ramed t he
f
reak
f
i gures as extraordi nary and exaggerated thei r st rangeness.
Ci rClf S \!+|J .\USel f1l , Barul)o, \Visconsin
Sartjee, " ' The O||Cn|O|
\Cnu , HJnCd hCrC by c
d7arf and an albino ,;oman.
Fen1ale freaks 'I' ere created
by publ icly di splaying vomen
\vi |h extraordi nary bodies to
establ i sh by contrast the
contours of the ideal Euro
Ameri can "Toman, who
remuined in priVatC -
Librar ofthe College of
Physicians of Philadelplria


o
,. ., . I'u lrtmnt
u
J
rrr, f /. rIo: /A
.----____ .._._'.,,.' w,"<,.,.,,,.<,<, . ...

Sci ent i fi c i l l us t rations s uch a s |hl - one of c fenld l e "Caucasi an" and hcr tnut ucdl y
defi ni ng count erpart , a " Hot t entot" \\'Olnan, at ten1 pt ed |O bi ol ogi ze c u l t ural di ffer
ences a nd est ahl i s h a n i .rc
|
u|ull c h. crurcl\ of en1bodi rnent , Lnarki ng the pol es of
hU111ani ty for the ni neteent h- cent ury \stern rni nd. Scient i sts recruit ed " Hottentots"
l i ke Sar tj e Baart rna n | O enl body an | n
|
tr Or| |\ that affirnl ed European s uper| or| ty-
|r| || | |t |a(
Souveni r life narratives sol d at shovls fused medi cal \ii th ent ertainment
di s courses. These pan1 phlets augmented vi s ual di spl ays by provi di ng detailed
descri pti ons and sci ent ifi c authenti cati ons of the extraordinary body as well as
exaggerated accounts of the freaks ' lives .
Li hrmy (d t he Col lege of Physi cians of Phi ladelphia
Jhc | nt crl or- ol di ii1 c
\>LL ` ad si desho\vs
us uall y di s pl ayed O seri e`
of frea ks , each surrounded
y a hyperbol i zi ng
envi ronnlent designed
IO |roduce |hc great est
i l l usi on of di fference ond
di st ance froIll t he vi c\vers .
| /Cl \J \|ucit+ti
Iaa|, \|.oii/ i
The freak show stage brought together people whose bodi es coul d signi(the enormous , the miniature, the exoti c, the excessive,
the l acking, the profuse, the i ndeterminate, or the alien to produce a motley chorus line of physi cal difference that made the
onlookers' bodi es seem ordinary and banal by comparison.
Circus \Vorld Museu11, Baraboo, Vsconsin
Freaks [nade fr01 n peopl e \vi th congeni tal di sabi l i ti es usual ly performed 11 undane
tasks l n al t ernati ve Inodes choreographed to anlaze a udi ences . Here C harl es Tripp,
; fanlous Annl<ss \\'onder, \\' hi t tl es wi th hi s toes \yhi l e surrounded \vi th other props
s uch as a teacup dnd \\Ti t i ng and c ut t i ng i lTI pl ernent s, al l of \Vh1 Ch he us es vi th hi s
t oes as a part or t nc exhi bi t .
||cUx \\J |'!|tl! l l , |a| \'|c|H
B:' j uxtaposi ng the very large \vi th the very small , freak exhi bi ti ons crcated wondrous
giants and lni dgets , fi gures ncnv vani shed-" c ured" by modern medi cal treatlnent .
Ci rcus ' Vrle \!ac. n/ RnrulJOo, tbsconsi n
l a n 1 I I

Constructing Disabled Figures:
Cultural and Literar Sites
1 n n t t

Te Cultural Work of American
Freak Shows, o3 - V+
The Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body
ln l S22 a native Prazilian voman calledTono Maria vas exhibited in Lon-
dons PondStreetastheVenusolSouthAmerica Herbodyborenearlyone
hundred scars , each ostensibly representingan actoladultery Accordingto
herpitchman,herculturessocialcodeallovedamaximumoll 0+suchscars
butpunishedthe onehundredhlthsexualtransgressionvithdeatb Hersex
ualityvasthuspurportedtohavereachedtheedgeolevenherovnostensibly
savagesocietysstandards Complementingthe displayolthisVenusssigni
ingscarsvasherperlormance, vhichconsistedoleatingto satietydespite
the encumbrances ola large lips tretchingdevice and toothlessness A con
temporary] ournalistsummedherupaslazyandnasty, describingindetail
theemeticspectacleolhersybariticachievement Regardlessolhisdisgust,
theobserver gleanedlrom Tono Marias shov a uselullesson havingprevi-
ouslylailedtolullyappreciateLnglishvomen, hevouldloreveralterpaythe
homage due totheloveliestvorksolcreation, enhancedinvaluebysovon-
derlulacontrast '
Strippedolherovn cultural context and lramedbythe luridinterpreta-
tions ol the Lngli shman and his society, Tono \l arias body became a mal
leableimageuponvhichheraudiencepro]ectedculturalcharacteristicsthey
56 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
themselves disavoved Follovingconventions oldisplayingandinterpreting
theextraordinarybodythatgobacktothebeginningolhumanhistory, thisrit-
ual spectacle combined and exaggerated lemale characteristics in order to
sharpenthedistinctionbetveentheidealEnglishvomanandherphysicaland
cultural opposite. Tono \larias perlormance testihedto aninherentlemale
sexualdeviance, indolence, carnality, andappetitetemperedonlybyVestern
civilization Personiingcultural and sexualaberration,Tono Marianotonly
conhrmedtheLnglishmanssenseolphysicalsell-mastery, butalsoprovideda
cautionarytaleolthenaturallemaleappetite, unmanagedbysocialsanctions
lnAmerica, lreeenterpriseandtheriseolademocratizedandlluidmiddle
classlosteredtheprolilerationolexhibitionslikeTono Marias ininstitution-
alizedshovsthatHourishedandthenladedbetveenabout l S+0and l 9+0
Anintegral part olmuseums and circuses olthe time, theAmerican lreak
shovaphenomenon thattoday is almostsynonymous vith badtastede-
scendedlromatraditionolreadingtheextraordinarybodythatcanbetraced
backtotheearliesthumanrepresentation StoneAgecavedravingsrecordthe
birthsolthemysteriousandmarvelousbodiestheCreeksandearlyscientists
vould latercallmonsters, the culture olP T Parnumvouldcall lreaks,
andvenovcallthecongenitallyphysicallydisabled Ourunremittinglasci
nationviththeextraordinary, especiallyasmanilestinourovnbodies , isevi-
dent in explications that begin as early as the seventh century . L. vith
cuneilormtabletsatNinevehdescribingsixty-tvohumancongenitaldisabili-
tiesandtheirreligiousmeanings,andculminatesinscholarlytreatisessuchas
|uliaPastrana, theNondescript AnExampleolCongenital ,CeneralizedHy-
pertrichosisTerminalisvithCingivalH_erplasia, inthe l 99volumeol1e
Americcn]ournc|o]MeJicc|Ceneics
Scrupulously described, interpreted, and displayed, the bodies ol the se
verelycongenitallydisabledhavealvayslunctionedasiconsuponvhichpeo
pledischargetheiranxieties, convctions ,andlantasies .lndeed, theLatinvord
monsrc, monster, alsomeans signand lorms therootolourvordJemon
srce,meaningtoshov `Alerventandpersistenthumanimpulsetoaccount
lorcorporealexceptionssurlacesinnearlyeveryvriterhocastshiseyeonthe
naturalvorld, beginningvithCiceroslinkingolmonstrousbirthstodivination
andculminating todayvith Oliver Sackss vondermentatmenvho conluse
theirvives vith theirhats Lvery historical era reinterprets thehgure olthe
prodigiousmonsterornaturescaprice, thelreakPlinycataloguesbodilyanom
alyasproololnaturesmarelousabundance, andAugustinedelightsincurious
andinexplicablebodiesassignsolhisChristiangodsbenevolentpurposeand
constant intervention in the universe lnstrikngcounterpoint topremodern
American Freak Shos + 5 7
narratives ol ave and vonder inspired by bodies that dehed the presumed
natural law, AristotleinitiatesintheNicomccaecnLaicsthedevaluationrec
ognizabletoday, claimingthatanormdependinguponameanrepresentsvirtue
andsuperiority, v hilean excessolordeparturelromthatstandardconstitutes
vice |ohnPlockFriedmantellsusthatduringtheMiddleAgesamonstervas
aprodigy, ashovinglortholdivinevill adisruptionolthenaturalorder,
bodingill andinChristianity theyvereasignolCodspoverovernatureand
Hisuseolitlordidacticends Pythethirteenthcenturyronsrcbegantoshilt
inmeaning,lromportenttovonder, designatingvhat |riedmancallspartol
thestockexoticismoltheliteratureolentertainment `Marvelousnarrativesol
these extraordinarybodiesvere disseminated popularly in the sixteenth and
seventeenthcenturiesvia |renchcanards , Lnglishchapbooks, vonderbooks,
+ndthecommonbroadsideballadthatoltenaccompanieddisplaysollreakson
thestreet Commercetheprecursorolcapitalismandcuriositythepre-
cursorolsciencebroughttheprodigiousbodyintosecularlile, enrichingthe
exclusivelyreligious interpretations Pythe eighteenth centuz the monsters
pover to inspire terror, ave, vonder, and divinationvas beingeroded bysci-
ence, vhichsoughttoclassiandmasterratherthanreveretheextraordinary
bodyThescientistsandphilosopherscabinetsolcuriositiesveretranslormed
into the medical mans dissection table The once marvelous body thatvas
takenas amap olhumanlatenovbegantobe seen asan aberrantbodythat
markedthebordersbetveenthenormalandthepathological
Physicallydisabledbodiesthatqualihedasprodigiestheconjoinedtvins ,
the spectacularly delormed, the hirsute, the horned, the gigantic, and the
scaledverealvayspresentedbypriests ,greedyordesperateparents ,agents,
philosophers , scientists, shovmen, and doctors Consequently, the concerns
and careers ol these mediators determined the narratives and the lates ol
theseuniquepeople lndeed, extraordinarybodieshavebeensocompelling
sovaluableas|oJiesthroughouthumanhistorythatvhethertheyverealive
ordead hadlittleconsequence llliveexhibitionvasenhancedbyanimation
andperlormance, thedisplayoladeadprodigyembalmedasaspectacle,pick-
ledas a specimen, ortextualizedas ananatomicaldravingderivedlrom dis -
section vas equally prohtable, and olten more readable and manipulable
Freaks andprodigies vere solely bodies , vithout the humanity social struc-
turesconleruponmore ordinarypeople Notonlyvere thesebodiesasource
olproht, butthenarratives olpathologyderivedlrom monstrousbodiesbuilt
reputationsattheRoyalSocietyandtheAcadmiedesSciences |orexample,
the embalmedbody ol|uliaPastrana, knovn as ThegliestVoman inthe
Vorld, vas displayedon thelreakshovcircuitlorvellover l 00yearsalter
58 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
her deathin l 3o0 Suchpracticesmoved RobertVadlov, thevorlds tallest
man,vhoresistedduringhisliletimevhatDavidHeveyhas calledenlreak
ment, torequestathis death in l 9+0thathebeburiedina reinlorcedcon
creteslabtodiscouragegraverobbersvhomightseektodisplayhisskeleton
Thecentury longheydayolAmericanlreakshovsrepresentedadramatic
resurgence olthe tradition olpublicly displaying and reading extraordinary
bodies Fueledbythedevelopingentrepreneurialspirit, dramaticsocialinsta
bility, and increasing mobility, these itinerant exhibitions institutionalized
earlier lorms and conventions in the service olpresent concerns lrom the
|acksonian Lra through the Progressive Lra Lven as the lreak shov bur
geonedinAmericaas akindoldemocraticversionoltheeighteenth-century
scientistscabinetolcuriosities, itvasbeingdiscreditedbytheveryinstitution
olscience thathad shapedit since the Renaissance Though still an oracle,
theextraordinarybodyvastranslerredlromthepublicgazetothesequestered
scrutinyolexpertsbythemid- tventiethcentury Thusthevondrousmonsters
olantiquity, vho became the lascinating lreaks ol the nineteenth centu
translormedintothe disabledpeopleolthelatertventieth century Theex
traordinarybodymovedlromportenttopathology Todaythenotionolalreak
shov thatdisplays the bodies oldisabledpeoplelorprohtandpublicenter
tainment is both repugnant and anachronistic, rejectedbutneverthelessre
centand compellinginmemory
P T Parnum, the apotheosis olAmerican entrepreneurship, brought the
lreakshovtoitspinnaclein the nineteenthcenturybycapitalizingonAmer
icashungerlorextravagance, knovledge, andmastery, alongvithitssimulta
neous questlorsell-apprehensionAs NeilHarris haspointedout, Parnums
lreakshovs vere populartests olknovledge thatparalleledandintersected
the halting emergence ol scientihc quantihcation as the elite, dominant
methodolsubduingthematerialvorldbynamingandmeasuringit lnaddi
tion to its penchant lor inlormation, especially numerical calculation, the
nineteenthcenturyvasaneraoldisplay Truthneeded tobedemonstrated
and understood objectively science measured and counted, vhatThorstein
Veblen called conspicuous consumption proved status , photography cap
turedthe real , andlreakshovs dehned and exhibited the abnormal ` Py
highlighting ostensible human anomalyolevery sort and combination, Par
numsexhibitschallengedaudiencesnotonlytoclassiandexplainvhatthey
sav, buttorelate the perlormanceto themselves, toAmericanindividualand
collective identity Vithbeardedladies, lorexample, 8arnumandhislollov
ers demanded thatAmerican audiencesresolve this allrontto therigid cate
American Freak Shos + 59
gories olmaleandlemale thattheirculture imposed Vith LngandChang,
thelamousSiamesetvins, thelreakshovchallengedtheboundariesolthe
indiv|dual , asklngvhethcrthlscntityvasoncpersonortvoVithdvarls as
vellas armlessandleglessvonders , thepitchmencharged theiraudiences
to determine theprecise parameters olhumanvholeness and thelimits ol
lreeagencyThelreakshovthrivedinaneraolunboundedconhdenceinthe
humanabilitytoperceiveandactupontruthThesecollectiveculturalrituals
provideddilemmas olclassihcationand dehnition uponvhichthethrongol
spectators could hone the skills needed to tameorldand sellinthe ambi
tiousproj ectolAmericansell-making Furthermore, lreakshovsveretothe
massesvhat science vas to the emergingelite an opportunityto lormulate
thesellintermsolvhatitvasnot
ThehrstlreakParnumdisplayedvas|oiceHeth, ablackvomanalreadyon
exhibit in Philadelphia in l S : as Ceorge Vashingtons l o l -yearold nurse
maidandTheCreatestNaturalandNational CuriosityintheVorld Par
num boughttheright to shov herlor one thousanddollars , hve hundred ol
vhichheborrowed, turninghisnevpossessionintothehrstactolalongand
prohtablecareer. ' Dismissedbythepublicasahoaxandlaterrenouncedvith
amixtureolchagrinandpridebyParnumhimsell,|oice Hethisnevertheless
the quintessential American lreak A black, ol d, toothless, blind, crippled
slave voman, sheluses a combination olcharacteristics the|dealAmerican
sellrejects |oice Heth thus representsAmerica`s composite physical other,
the domesticated and trivialized reversal olAmericas sellimage Droll and
mundaneasthis oldvomanmightseem, herbodylunctionsas themonster
manilestin the ordinary ratherthan the extraordinary She becomes a lreak
notbyvirtueolherbodysuniqueness, butratherbydisplayingthestigmataol
socialdevaluation lndeed, |oiceHethis the directantithesisolthe ablebod
ied, vhite, malehgureuponvhichthedevelopingnotionoltheAmericannor
matevas predicated Thisblack, disabledvomancommodihedasalreakish
amusementtestihestoAmericasneedtoratiadominant, normativeidentity
byrituallydisplayinginpublicthoseperceivedastheembodimentolvhatcol
lectiveAmericatookitsellnotobe
Astheinaugural exhibitolAmericas ColdenAge ollreak Shovs , |oice
Heth exemplihes the cardinal principle olenlreakent that the body en
velopsandobliteratesthelreakspotentialhumanity Vhenthebodybecomes
puretext,alreakhasbeenproducedlromaphysicallydisabledhumanbeing
Suchaccumulationandexaggerationolbodilydetailsdistinguishesthelreak
lromtheunmarkedandunremarkedordinarybodythatclaimsthroughitsvery
60 Constructing Disabled Figures
obscurity to be universal and normative ' ` ln Srugg|es cnJ 1riumjas, Par
nums autobiography, theshovmans descriptionolHeth exemplihes this ac
cretionolbodilydetailthatgeneratesthelreaknarrative
Joice Heth "vas certainly a remarkable curiosity, and she looked as if she might
have been far older than her age as advertised. She was apparently in good
health and spirits, but from age or disease, or both, was unable to change her po
sition; she could move one arm at will, but her lower limbs could not be straight
ened; her left arm lay across her breast and she could not remove it; the fngers
of her left hand were drawn down so as nearly to close it, and were fxed; the
nails on that hand were almost four inches long and extended above her wrist;
the nails on her large toes had grown to the thickness of a quarter of an inch; her
head was covered with a thick bush of grey hair; but she was toothless and to
tally blind and her eyes had sunk so deeply in the sockets as to have disappeared
altogether.
I I
|oiceHeths storyillustrates inanothervaythisprocessolbeingreduced
topurebodythroughrepresentation Pecausemedicinevaseagertoestablish
itsauthority, andbecauseParnumsoughtcontroversyasvellaspublicity, the
shovmanpromisedDavidL Rogers ,therespectedNcvYorksurgeon, thathe
could dissectHeth alterherdeath Vhen she died in l 3lo, a muchpubli
cizedand disputedpostmortemvasconductedbelorealatgecrovdoldoc
tors ,medicalstudents , clergymen, and editors , eacholvhompaidhltycents
toobserveAlthough chargingtovatchautopsiesvascommon, vieversvere
dismayed vhen Rogers announced that Heth vas probably not yet eighty
Heths handlers made seven hundred dollars lrom the autopsy and ten to
tvelve thousanddollars lrom the entire allair, all olvhichvas actively dis
cussed in thepapers As this accountmakes clear, lreaks arecreatedvhen
certainbodies serve asravmateriallorthe ideological andpracticalends ol
boththemediatorsandtheaudiences
Freakshovslramedandchoreographedbodilydillerencesthatvenovcall
race, ethnicity, anddisabilityinaritualthatenactedthesocialprocessol
making cultural otherness lrom the rav materials olhuman physicalvaria
tion ' The lreak shov is a spectacle, a cultural perlormancethatgives pri
macytovisual apprehension increatingsymboliccodesandinstitutionalizes
therelationshipbetveen thespectacleandthe spectators '` ln lreakshovs ,
the exhibited body became a text vritten in boldlace to be deciphered ac
cordingtotheneedsanddesires oltheonlookers Theshovs conventionsol
display situatedtheextraordinarybodyboth spatiallyandnarratively Forex
ample, the elevated lreak platlormsometimes , particularly in circuses , it
vas a pit insteadheld the observers gaze like a magnet, not only lore
American Freak Shos 6 1
groundingthebodyondisplay, butexposingitinsuchavvaythatthephysical
traitspresentedasextraordinarydominatedtheentirepersononexhibit
On thelreakshovstage,asingle,highlightedcharacteristiccircumscribed
andreducedtheinherenthumancomplexityolsuchhguresastheDvarl,the
Ciant,the8eardedVoman,theArmlessorLeglessVonder,andtheFatLady
Shovmen barked embellishing ad]ectives like vild or vondrous and
anachronistic, ironic pseudo-status titles like King, Queen, orCeneral
,as in the case olCharles Stratton, thelamousCeneralTomThumb) that
emphasized the extraordinary qualities olthe body on display Posters and
broadsides extravagantlyproclaimed the peculiarity olthe lreaks body, pro-
vokingthespectatorscuriosityvithtaunts suchasVhatlsltthatheight-
enedthedillerencebetveenthecommonobserverandthemarvelousbody ll
hyperbolic assertions such as The Most X1arvelous Creature Living en-
hancedexpectations , thecrudeillustrationson advertisementsimaginatively
distortedthe lreaksbodiesintogrotesque caricatures Anillustrated, printed
narrative pamphletalmostalvays accompanied the actual exhibit, authenti-
catingthelreakvithatruelilestoryandmedicaltestimoniesthatservedas
bothadvertisementandsouvenir,augmentingthepitchmansoralspiel These
souvenir narratives embelli shed the lreaks exotic history, endorsed the ex-
hibitsveracity,anddescribedthelreaksphysicalconditionlromascientihcor
medical perspective, as titles like History and Description olAbomah the
AlricanAmazonCiantessandPiography, MedicalDescription,andSongsol
MissMillie/Christine, theTvo HeadedNightingalemakeclear lnaddition
to staging and cos tuming, narrative transhgured vhat, lor example, vould
have been in a mundane context an ordinary delormed darkey into the
PeastolPorneo ' Together,thestaging, thepitchmansmediatingspiel ,the
scientihctestimony, andthevrittennarrativehxedthemutelreakasahgure
olotherness upon vhich the spectators could displace anxieties anduncer-
tainties about their ovn identities Lmbroidered by such elaborate conven-
tions, the sideshov lreakvas made to exceed vildly the common, lamiliar
expectationssetbythespectator`sovnordinarybody' `
Thenevtechnologyolphotographyhelpedtranslormextraordinarybodies
into lreak exhibits , its development intertviningvith the shovs evolution
Lxtremelypopular during the Victorian era, photographic portraits ollreaks
represented the extraordinary body in a mode similar to Parnums lecture
room vhere lreaks vere displayed Poth conventions claimed proolol au-
thenticityvhile producingmeaning through visual images and studied con
texts ln a description strikingly evocative ol the lreak shovs mode ol
presentation, |ohn Tagg characterizes the photographic images used in the
62 8 8 8 8 8 Constructing Disabled Figures
nineteenth centurytodocument and identithe trutholcaseslike pris
oners ,beggars ,andtheinsane Vehavebeguntoseearepetitivepattern in
thesephotographs thebodyisolated, thenarrovspace,thesub] ugationtoan
unreturnablegaze,thescrutinyolgestures, lacesandleatures , theclarityolil
luminationandsharpnessollocus ' Asdualculturalmethodsolproducing
the legible body vitnessing its ovn deviance, both photography and lreak
shovslrequently mergingin photographs ollreakscreated an iconogra
phy ol otherness set in a manipulated, yet naturalized, context olob]ective
lact Forexample, the conventionalVictorianindividualorlamilystudiopor
trait,manyolvhichveremadebyMatthevPradyandCharlesLisenmannin
theirPoverystudios , highlightedtheincongruityolthelreaksextraordinary
bodyby]uxtaposingitvithlormalsocialproprietyandordinarylamilylile' A
p+tticul+tlyintetestingconjunctionbetweenphotogtaphyandlteakshovsoc
curred in the ccres Jevisie, extremely popular photographic portraits col
lectedvidelylromthel So0sthroughthe l SS0s Formandcontentclashedin
astunningironyasthepopularccresolcelebratedlreaks disseminatedanit
erated, mass-producedimageolaniconthatstoodlorpreciselythereverseol
theinhnitelyreproducibleprint thesingular,astonishingbodyolthelreak
Thelreakshovconsequentlycreatedalreak, orhumancuriosity, lrom
anordinarypersonvho had avisiblephysicaldisabilityoranotherviseatypi
calbodybyexaggeratingtheostensibledillerenceandtheperceiveddistance
betveenthevieverandthe shovpieceontheplatlorm Thespatialarrange
mentbetveenaudienceandlreakritualizedtherelationshipbetveenselland
cultural other As in the social relations ol domination and subordination
based on raceandgender, here too the dillerentiatingstigmataliterallytook
centerstage,magnihedandintensihed, vhiletheunmarkedpositionolpover,
agency, and voiceremainedveiled The lreaksimultaneously testihedto the
physicalandideologicalnormalcyolthespectatorandvitnessedtheimplicit
agreement assigning a coercive deviance to the spectacle This determining
relationbetveenobserverandobservedvasmutuallydehningandyetunrec
iprocal , asitimposedonthelreakthesilence, anonymity, andpassivitychar
acteristic ol ob]ectihcation Vhat the spectator assumed vas a lreak ol
nature, vasreally,asSusanStevartobserves, alreakolculturevhosebody
hadbeen enlisted and paidat the expense olengullmentby his orherovn
stigmatizationinordertoconhrmthe spectatorsstatusand |dentity' `
Perhaps thelreakshovvs mostremarkableellectvas toeradicatedistinc
tionsamongavidevarietyolbodies, conllatingthemunderthesinglesignol
the lreakasother Freaks are above all products olperception theyare the
consequenceolacomparativerelationshipinvhichthosevhocontroltheso
American Freak Shos 63
cialdiscourseandthemeansolrepresentationrecruittheseemingtrutholthe
body to claim the centerlor themselves and banish others to the margins
Nothingbetterillustratesthisthanthe lactthatthe tvomaintypesolpeople
presentedas lreaksverenormalnonVesternersandabnormalVestern
ers As in the ancient and medieval traditions olimaginingloreign races as
monstrous, allthebodilycharacteristicsthatseemeddillerentorthreatening
tothedominantordermergedintoakindolmotleychoruslineolphysicaldil
lerence on the lreakshov stageActuallycalled|ig shovsin circus lingo,
lreak shovs traded indiscriminately in both cultural and corporeal other
ness ' 'Hence,anondisabledpersonolcolorbilledasthe Fij iCannibalvas
equivalenttoaphysicallydisabled, LuroAmericancalledtheLeglessVon
der. Ciants, dvarls ,visiblyphysicallydisabledpeople, tribalnonVesterners,
contortionists , lat people, thinpeople, hermaphrodites, conj oinedtvins , the
mentally disabled, and the very hirsuteall shared the platlorm equally as
human oddities , playing the assignedrole ol aberrant other to their audi
ences Nevertheless, themostsuccesslullreaks meldedbothbodilyandcul
tural dillerence For example, loreign exoticism apparently intens|hed the
physicalexceptionalityolChang,theChineseCiantorPiramalandSami ,
theconj oinedtvinsbilledastheHindooLnigma ChangandLng,theorig
inal Siamese Tvins, vere probably the most lamous lreaks , notorious lor
their merged extraordinarybodiesandmysteriousloreignness Simil arly, tvo
microcephalic CentralAmericannatives vere staged andcostumedas The
LastoltheAncientAztecs, theiratypicalphysicalappearanceandnon Luro
peanleaturescombiningtocreatetheantithesisoltheidealAmericansellim
age and promptingdebates about the comparative capacities oltheirbrains
andtherelative statesoltheirsouls `lnan eraolsocialtranslormationand
economic reorganization, the nineteenthcentury lreak shov vas a cultural
ritual that dramatized the eras physical and socialhierarchyby spotlighting
bodilystigmata thatcouldbe choreographedas anabsolute contrastto nor
malAmericanembodimentandauthenticatedascorporealtruth
Constituting the Average Man
Theconstructedlreakoccupiesthealarmingandchaoticspaceattheborders
thatdelimitthe average man, a conceptlormulatedbythe Pelgian statisti-
cianAdolpheQueteletin l S+2 Enthusiasticallyadoptedalthough notun
contestedin America, the notion ol | aomme ooyen jaysique and the
knottieri ssueol|aommemoyenmorc|mathematicallylormalizedtheegalitar
ian political idea ol the |acksonian common man and laid the theoretical
64 Constructing Disabled Figures
groundwork lor scientihc norms that dehne our modern concept ol de
viance ' Theculturaldilemmaregardingtheextenttovhichindividualvari
ationscouldbetoleratedvithinasocietybasedonlreedomandequalityvas
solvedbyinstallingtheaveragemanacommonversionolLmersons Repre
sentative Maninthepositionpreviouslyheldbythe dethronedexceptional
man, thearistocratortheking Anabstractconstructmandatedbythe ideaol
democracy, themultiplymeasuredaveragemanembodiedhumanitysregular-
ity and stability, around vhich particul arities ranged on a short leash The
lreakshovsprevalencealteraboutl S+0canbeseen,then, asservingtocon
solidate aversion olAmerican seluood thatvas capable, rational , and nor-
mative,butthatstrovetovardanontologicalsamenessuponvhichthenotion
oldemocraticequalityispredicated Lxtravagantinitsrepudiationolthetyp
ical , the displayed lreak Hattened the spectators peculiarities and aligned
themviththelamiliar
Thelreakshov thus quelledarangeolanxietiesaccompanyingthesocial
disorder in the nited States Americas great experiment in democracy
positeda social systemlreelrom the stagnantstratihcation olthe Luropean
patriarchy,butrequiredanevbasisolsocialorganizationconsonantvithegal
itarianindividualismandostensiblylimitlessgeographicandeconomicoppor-
tunities. Thisideological levelingolclassdistinctions setthestageloranev
socialhierarchybasedonabilityexpressed, lorinstance, inthe|ellersonian
idea olnatural leadershipand produceda distinctaristocracyol the body
TheAmerican ideal sellat thetop ol thishierarchyvas an autonomouspro
ducersellgoverningandsell-madeageneric individualcapableolcreat
inghisovnperlectedsell
Put recognizing that abstract ideological construct in onesell or ones
neighbor vas impossible vithout material markers Since identiing and
claimingstatusisperhapsthegreatestanxietyinatheoreticallyegalitarianand
volatilemodernorder,theboundariesolpovermustbeclear Thebodysma-
terial authorityprovides a seemingly irrelutable loundation upon vhich the
prevailingpoverrelationscanthusbeerected Thehgureolthelreakiscon
sequentlythenecessaryculturalcomplementto theacquisitive andcapable
Americanvhoclaimsthenormatepositionolmasculine, vhite, nondisabled,
sexuallyunambiguous , andmiddleclass Asl suggestedinchapter2, suchan
exclusive, idealized selldevelopsvithinanexpanding market economyas a
sell-controlledindividualresponsiblelorshapinghisdestinyandthesocialor-
derbycompetentlymanipulatinghis acquiescent, standardbody, alongvith
personalskllsandtechnologicaltools Freakshovsactedoutarelationshipin
vhichexoticizeddisabledpeopleandpeopleolcolorlunctionedasphysical
American Freak Shos 65
opposites ol the idealized American explicitly and implicitly delineated in
such cultural representations as Lmersons intellectual man in SellRe
liance, theindependentThoreauol\c'Jen,andthelolkheroDavyCrockett
Salely domesticated and boundedby the shovs lorms and conventions,
thelreak soothes the onlookersselldoubtbyappearing as their antithesis
The American produces and acts , but the onstage lreak is idle and passive
TheAmerican looks and names , but the lreakis lookedat and named The
Americanis mobile, enteringandexitingthe shovatvillandrangingaround
thesocialorder,butthelreakishxed, conhnedbythematerialstructuresand
theconventionsolthestagingandsociallyimmobilizedbyadeviantbodyThe
American is rational and controlled, but the lreakis carnal and contingent
Vithinthislantasy, theAmericans selldeterminestheconditionolhisbody,
justas thelreaksbodydeterminestheconditionolhissell Thisgrammarol
embodimentculturallynormalizestheAmericanandabnormalizes thelreak
Atthelreakshovv, culturalsellandculturalotherhoversilentlyloranhi stori-
calinstant, lacetolaceindim acknovledgmentoltheirunspokensymbiosis
The immense popularity ol the shovs betveen the |acksonian and Pro-
gressive Lras suggests that the onlookers needed to constantly reallirm the
dillerencebetveenthemand usata timevhenimmigration, emancipa
tionoltheslaves, andlemalesullrageconloundedpreviouslyreliablephysical
indices olstatusandprivilege suchas malenessandVestern Luropeanlea
tures Themoreheterogeneousthebodilytraitsolthe enlranchisedbecame,
the lessclearlymarkedpovervas intheegalitariansocialorderThosevhose
socialrankvasmosttenuousimmigrants , theurbanvorkingclass, andless
prosperous rural peoplelrequented the shovs , vhich vere alvays onthe
lringeolrespectabilityandoltenverevehementlycondemnedbysuchicons
olthestatusquoasHenry\\ardPeecherinhisLecuresooungMen The
extravagantandindisputableothernessolthelreaks physiognomyreassured
thosevhosebodiesandcostumingdidnotmatch thelullyenlranchisedand
indubitablyAmericanideal
Onemight speculate lurtherthat the lreakshovs popularityatthis time
vasalsoaresponsetoseveralspecihchistoricalsituations PoththeCivilVar
and escalatingindustrial accidents lrom machineryproducedmanydisabled
personsamongthevorkingclasses Perhapstheheightenedanxietyolactual
or possible disablementamongthat group drove them eithertovard an en-
counterviththephysicalotherasdistancedanddomesticatedortovvardsym
pathetic identihcation vith the stigmatized body ln addition, expansionist
acts like lndian removal andthe Mexican Var, as vell as slavery, required
propagationolavhitesupremacistideologythatthelreakshovenactedinits
66 9 9 9 9 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
display olcultural others The vhite vorking classes vho vere competing
vithimmigrants andpeople olcolorlor scarce resources during this period
alsobenehtedlromthesellimageolablebodiednessandracialnormalcythat
thelreakshovprovideditsspectators `
Freakshovsallirmedtheirnevlydemocratizedaudiencesi nothervaysas
vell Freaks embodied the threat ol individuation running rampant into
chaosthelearolantinomianlogicthatlurkedundertheoptimisticsurlace
ol ardent American egalitarian democracy The lreaks body mocked the
boundariesandsimilaritiesthatavellordereddemocraticsocietyrequiredto
avoidanarchyand createnationalunity Pyexoticizingandtrivializingbodies
thatvere physically nonconlormist, the lreak shov symbolically contained
thepotentialthreatthatdillerenceamongthepolitymighteruptas anarchy
Heightenedbythemodes olexhibition, the lreaks extraordinarinessinvoked
thetensionsbetveenuniquenessandunilormity, particularityandgenerality,
randomnes s andpredictability, exceptionandrule, byextendingthelormerso
larastodisruptthelatter The spectatorvas atonceshakenbythelimitless
possibilitiesunleashedbythelreaksanarchicbodyandmollihedbyhavinghis
ovn seeming ordinariness verihed and the peril ol dillerence restrained
Hence, domesticatingthelreaklorentertainmentandprohtbecameonevay
toellace suspicionsthatthevorldmightindeedbeintractable, chaotic, and
opaque Asthesubduedtokenlorallthatisinexplicableandunpredictable,
thecolonizedlreakmakesdemocracysalelorthevorldbysigni|ingthean
archicpotentialolindividualitycontainedandmastered
I dentification and the Longing for Distinction
AlthoughAmericanideologyencouragedthecitizentobecome| aommemoyen,
thelreakas| aommeexrcorJincireclearlyheldmuchattractionlorthosevho
enthusiastically llocked to see the shovs and buy the photcgraphs Freaks
vere celebrities as vell as spectacles, theirpopularity suggesting that audi
encessimultaneouslyidentihedvithandvererepulsedbytheperlormers . `
Pecomingordinaqerasedthemarkersthatemblematizedpoverandprestige
intherepudiatedLuropeanaristocracy, soasiconsoltheextraordinary, lreaks
vereanachronismsinanineteenthcenturydemocracyAsve savinchapter
2, aculturalreversalinthe signihcanceolindividuality occurredaroundthe
LnlightenmentasVesternsocietyshiltedlromaleudalto amodernorder
Z6
lnthepremodernera, themarksolindividuationbothenhancedandidenti-
hedpersonalpover Ceremonialcostumes, genealogies , eventhestigmataol
Christian saints testihed to exceptional status , lorexample, aristocratsvere
A1nerican Freak Shows 67
highlymarkedbyritualanddecorationcrowns , vigs , andsimilardillerenti
atingtokens Criminal s, heretics, andvitchesroutinelyverelorcedtoappear
inpublicinapenitential , ordinaryshirtthatsymbolicallystrippedthemolall
markers olindividual personhood and status ln the gradual move lrom a
highlystratihed, stablelormolsocialorganizationto the modernorderchar-
acterizedbyisolatedindividualsandlluidsocialrelations, uniquenesscameto
beread as deviance, vhile the common became the basis olnormalcy The
nineteenthcentury Vcstern cultural preoccupation vith measuring and
quantiinghumandillerencesillustratessomeoltheanxietyprovokedbythis
culturalreversal Thisvalidationolthecommoni sconsonantasvellviththe
riseolmasculinistegalitariandemocracyandthedemiseolpoliticalandreli-
gious hierarchical patriarchy Taking itsell as the apotheosis ol the modern
egalitarianimpulse, |acksonianAmerica, lorexample,deeplyopposedthecer-
emonies, insignia, and lineage that had separatedthecorruptLuropeanari s-
tocracylromtheundillerentiatedmassesithopedtoempover `
Alongvith that distrustoltheexceptional , hovever, camean apparently
insatiablelascinationviththeextraordinarythatmade menlikeParnumrich
Forinstance, VictorianAmericas obsessionvviththe curious, thegrotesque,
and the anomalous is vell documented ' Playing to that obsession, lreak
shovs vere vestiges olpre-Lnlightenment Luropean culture lashionedinto
entrepreneurialandcommunalrituals thatboth verihedandquestionedthe
orderolthings Theextraordinarybodys display lormalizedtherelativelyre-
centreversalolprestigeandpovermarkersinrelationsbetveenordinaryand
unusualcitizens Thelreakshovolleredthosevhoidentihedthemselves as
theAmericancommonman a trivializedparodyolthe old orderasvell as a
nos talgic respite lrom modern pressures tovard standardization The lreaks
indeliblephysicalmarkingsmockedtheinsigniaandconventionsthesacred
stigmata, sotospeakthatdistinguishedtheextraordinarymanlrom theor-
dinaryoneinthehxedsocialhierarchythatAmericaimaginedresistingPseu-
donymoustitlessuchasKing, Queen, Prince, andPrincess, asvellas
aristocratic-soundingstagenamesandthepretenseolelitepursuitslikevrit
ingpoetryandspeakingmanylanguagesvereintendedtosuggestthatlreaks
vere luminaries or perverse aristocrats ` As an ironic celebrity, the lreak
seemedatoncetoburlesque, vitiate,reproduce, andbovdovntoanaristoc
racy thatAmerica rhetorically denigrated during its cultural oedipal phase
Freak shovs thus conllated kings andlools in a tavdry, satiric extravaganza
thatinvertedtheoldceremonialspectacleolroyalpompandpoverbyritually
displayingapersonstigmatizedbybodilyparticularity, silencedby the pitch-
mansimposednarrative, andmanagedbytheshovman
68 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
This cultural ritual thus served more complex and compelling purposcs
than simply dispelling its patrons sell-doubts Like the di sabled hgure dis
cussedinchaptcr2, thelreakprovidedasitevherealundamentalparadoxat
the hcart ol egalitarian democracy could be probed Vhile the ideology ol
lreedomrecommendscultivatingindividualdillercnces ,1heidcologolequal-
ityencourages samenessolconditionandexprcssionamongdemocraticciti -
zens So even as Lmersons representative voice dehned the individual as
independent and exhorted hislellov countrymentoresistconlorming, Toc-
quevillc obscrvcd thata remarkablc conlormityvastheAmerican vay De-
spite the rhetoric ol individualism so basic to our national sell-image, the
individual ,as|ohnV Meyerhasobserved, achieveslreedomandpovcronly
undertheconditionthat hcbecomeisomorphic, orsimilarinlorm, toall the
otherindividualsinthesociety ` ' Snaggedbythecontradictionbetvecnlrec-
domandequality, Americans vere apparentlyat libertytobecome stiHingly
alikc, shorn oltraditions and contemptuous olauthority, thcy had only one
anotheras examples Sovhile achicvinga nationalidcntityrequircdAmcri
canstoimaginethemselvesasindependent, sell-determiningindividual s, the
cultureitsellincreasinglystandardizcdindividualsthrougharangeolinstitu-
tions universaleducation, massproduction, interchangeableparts, mechani-
cal reproduction ol images, advertising, and mass print culture Lvidently,
dcmocracyinpracticedoesnottoleratedissimilarity
Soalthough theanarchicbody ol the domesticated lreakreassured audi
encesolthcircommonality, atthesametimethe extraordinarybodysymbol-
ized a potentiallorindividual lreedomdenied by cultural pressures tovard
standardization Oneexplanationlorthenincteenth-centurylreakshovsim-
mcnse popularitycouldbe thatitprovideda sale, ritualized opportunitylor
banaldemocratstovoyeuristicallyidentivith nonconlormity X| anyspccta
torsvho verc disabledbyvaroraccidentorexcludedbyethnicityvcrcno
doubtdravntothescdisplaysbyanidentihcationviththelreaks cxtraordi
nariness Sympathyandalliliationsurelyllovedalongvithsmugnessanddil
lerentiation, assomc onlookcrsprobablyusedtheshovstoexplorc thelimits
olhumanvariation llthcnineteenthcenturyvasatimeolidentitycrisislor
Americans , itvas partlybecausetheintensiingcapitali stimperativetodis-
tinguishoneselleconomically and to markthat distinctionclashed vith the
egalitarian, antiaristocraticsocialimperativetocmulatetheidealizedcommon
manorycomanlarmer`Yet, asthepersistentrhctoricolnonconlormitylrom
Thoreauandotherssuggests , achicvingsomemeaningluldillcrentiationmay
havc beendillicult, inspite oltheiraniouscllortstodistinguishthemselves
economicallylromtheirneighbors Therepudiationolauthority,therelusalto
American Freak Shos r 69
lollovtraditions , andthedisavovalollineagesuggestedbythelreaksextrav
agantlydillerentbodymayhavelascinatedtheonlookervhoseegalitarianor
dinarinessseemedtobetraythepromiseoldistinctioninherentintheconcept
olindividual lreedom Sothespectatorenthusiasticallyinvestedhisdimein
thelreakshovnotonlytoconhrmhisovnsuperiority, butalsotosalelylocus
anidentihcatorylonginguponthesecreaturesvhoembodiedlreedoms elu
siveandthreateningpromiseolnotbeinglikeeverybodyelse
Notonlyvastheimageoltheindependentcommonmaninvhom|eller
son, Crcvecoeur,andVhitmanplacedsomuchlaithbeingthreatenedbythe
standardization vrought bymass culture and mechanical reproduction, but
hisputativeautonomyvasunderminedbythedivisionollaborthatcededau
thority to the specialists and experts olthe nevmiddle class The lreakish
bodylunctionedasakindolegalitarianshrinevheretheunderclassandthe
immigrantscouldloradimeoraquarterexercisetheirauthorityasreadersol
this extraordinaryphenomenon Americashationon the extraordinarybody
revisited the notion olthe prodigy, the ambiguousbodyinvhichpeoplehad
|orcenturiesloundthemeaningsandexplanationsthatverihedtheirperspec
tives ``Thelreakplatlorm bothmappedtheboundaries olhumanphysical
and culturalothernessand generatedaliminal spacevhere ontologicalcate
gories mingled The lreaks body conlounded the classihcation systems that
organize collective cultural perceptions, yielding hybrid exhibits like The
lrogManandThe CamelCirl `Alittleboyvithabnormalpigmentation
became The Leopard Child, vhile a hirsute Russian vas |o-|o, the Dog
lacedPoy Suchstagenamesillustratehovaninterpretivegridplacedthem
in relerence to anxiously hed social categories such as human and animal
HermaphroditessuchasPobbyKirk, theHall-andHall, compelledbecause
theyv1olatedtherigidculturalboundariesbetveenmaleandlemale Several
physically and mentally disabled black men vere displayed under the title
Vhat ls lt, a name that expressed the lreaks ambiguous umanity and
challengedspectatorstoresolvethedisparitybetveenthisbodyandtheirex
pectations Parnumsadvertisingposterchallengedonlookerstomakethedis
tinction lsita loverorderolMAN Orisita higherorderolMONKLY
Nonecan tell Perhapsitisacombinationolboth Pilledasmissinglinks,
theVhatlsl thgurescomplementedaltermidcenturyagrovinginterestin
Darvinian di stinctions betveen humans and gorillas lorinstance, in l So0
ParnumintroducedVilliamHenry|ohnson, ablackmicrocephalicman,asa
Vhat ls lt, depictinghimasamostsingularanimalvhovas neitherhu
mannorbeast, butamixtureolboththeconnectinglinkbetveenhuman
ity and brute creation `` Human exhibits like these, hose lreakdom vas
70 e e e e 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
loundedon ambiguity, providedaudiencesvitharichiconoldirectedmean-
ing Perhaps even more provocative vere conjoined tvins Vhile Lng and
Changveretvo completebodiesjoinedatthechest, more transgressive in-
stancesolvhatthemedicalvorldnovcallsmajorterataupsetthebound-
ariesoltheordinaqhumanbodyTheTocciProthers ,lorexample, verelrom
the vaistuptvo boys and lrom thevaistdovn onlyone,vhileMrs Pvas
lromthevaistdovntvobodiesandlromthevai stuponlyoneThelamous
LastlndianLaloo, asvellasseveralothermonstersrecordedlrommedieval
timeslorvard, hadparasiticminiaturetvinsgrovinglromtheirabdomens
Suchbeings inadvertentlyllaunttheerratic and spurn the stable, becom-
ingemblems olphysical andcultural anarchyand magnetslorthe anxieties
andambitionsoltheirtimes lnvestedviththeliminalitythatVictorTurner
suggeststhreatensbothtotranslormandtodisruptthesocialorder,extraordi-
narybodiescarryarangeolattributedculturalmeaningsproj ecteduponthem
byastonishedonlookers `Alter l S+0, lreakshovsmayhavebeenoneolthe
lastsitesvhere theordinarycitizencouldexercisetheauthoritytointerpret
thenaturalvorld, arightbestovedbytheRelormationthatvasbeingincre-
mentallyrevokedbytheclassdivisionollaborvhatParbaraLhrenreichand
DeirdreLnglishhavecalledtheriseoltheexperts `Theinstabilityoltradi-
tional lileundercutthelaymansbelielintheauthorityolhisovnsenses ,mak
ingordinarypeoplemorereceptivetotheprolessionalcontrololscientistsand
doctors ln lact, the consolidation olmedical authorityoccurred during the
lreakshovera ``LxistingasdehnitiveexamplesoltheLmersonian notme
renderedlreaks malleabletospectatorsspeculations Theshovsveretheh-
nalopportunitylorepistemological speculationavailablein a laycontext Py
l 9+0theprodigiousbodyhadbeencompletelyabsorbedintothediscourseol
medicine, andthelreakshovsvereallbutgone
From Freak to Specimen:
HThe Hottentot Venus" and HThe Ugliest Woman in the World"
To tracethe developmentollreakshovs through the nineteenth centuryto
theirvirtual extinction by the midtventieth century, ve can locus on tvo
lreaksvhosedisturbingculturalimages andpersonalhistoriesexempliand
claritheprocessolenlreakment Theconstructionaslreaksolboththenov
relativelyvellknovn Sartj e Paartman and the muchmoreobscure|uliaPas
tranavasinextricablylinkedtoculturalproductionsolgenderandrace Cast
inoppositiontotheidealAmericansellvhois,amongotherthings,maleby
dehnitionthe lreakis representedmuchlike thevoman both are ovned,
American Freak Shos 7 1
managcd, silcnccd, andmcdiatcdbymcn, botharc sociallydchncdasdcvia-
tionslromthcidcalmasculincbody, botharcmarginalizcdinthcrcalmolcco
nomic production, both arcappropriatcdlordisplay as spcctaclcs , both arc
sccnas subjugatcdbythcbody ThccxhibiticnsolSartjcPaartman, billcdas
ThcHottcntotVcnus , and|uliaPastrana, billcdas ThcLglicstVomanin
thc \\orld, lunctioncd as invcrtcd, parodic bcauty pagcants Lxhibition
lramcdthcscvomcnsbodicsasgrotcsquciconsoldcviantvomanhoodthat
conhrmcdthcVcstsvcrsionollcmininity Displaying ThcLglicstVomanin
thc Vorldsuggcstcd to hcrvicvcrs vhat thc prctticstvomanin thcvorld
shouldlooklikc, vhilcparading Thc HottcntotVcnusinstructcdhcraudi-
cncchovappropriatclcmalc scxualityshould appcar Sanctioncdlcmininity
vasatonccvcilcdandclaboratcdbyvayolitsoppositionalspcctaclc
Thcscvomcnstitlcstcstito thc csscntialrolcthatthc scxualizcdphysi-
calstandardvccallbcautyplaysindchningthclcmalc lnbothtitlcs, onc
tcrmpcrvcrtsthcothcr Hottcntot, vhichsignihcdtothcVcstcrnmindsav
agcry and irrcdccmablc physiological inlcriority, is paircd vith Vcnus, thc
Vcsts apothcosis ol lcmininity, Lglicst canccls out bcauty, thc dchning
csscnccolthcsubj cct Voman ThcprcscntationsolPaartmanandPastrana
asgrotcsqucvcrsionsolrcccivcdvomanhoodamplihcdthisparadox,dcstabi-
lizingthcvcrycatcgoryolvomancvcnvhilcvalidatingthcstandardnotionol
vomanhood Thc cxhibitslorccdthcir cnrapturcdaudicnccs to cxplainhov
thcsccrcaturcs couldgcsturc atoncc to lamiliarvomanhoodandits unsct-
tling, thrcatcning oppositc Posing this qucstion gavc thc onlookcrs vho
llockcdtosuchdisplaysthcauthoritytoprovidcspcculativcansvcrs
Thc publiclivcs and dcaths, indccdthcpublic|oJies, ol Sartj claartman
and ]ulia lastrana cxposc hov gcndcr, scxuality, colonization, racc, and
pathologyintcrrclatcinthcproccssolconstructingculturalicons laartman
vasanativcAlricanindcnturcdscrvantbroughtlromSouthAlricain l S l 0to
bccxhibitcdlorprohtinLondonandlatcrinParisuntilhcrdcathlromsmall -
pox, complicatcdbyalcoholism, in l S l : `AlthoughamcmbcrolaSantribc,
shcvasbillcdaHottcntot, thccxoticlabclthatstoodlorcvcrythingthcLng
lishmanconsidcrcdhimscllnottobc Lmcrgingscicntihcdiscourscidcntihcd
thcHottcntotsasthcmostprimitivc spccicsolhumans, thcmissinglinkin
thcchainolbcingthatscic
_
vasrclorgingandlatcrmanilcstcdinDarin-
ianthought Scicnccsobscssionvithmcasurcmcntandclassihcationscrvcd
vhitcsuprcmacismandlcgitimatcdcolonialcxploitation, itspovcrlulcvalua
tivclcnslocatingthcHottcntotsonthcvcrycdgcolhumanity, cquallyhuman
and bcstial ' ln thc Luropcanvicv, thcn, laartmanvas not only a Hottcn
totahumanlikc apc oranapclikc humanshcvas alsoa lcmalcbodydc

72 - - - - - Constructing Disabled Figures


viant by dchnition, and doubly so in hcr particular lcmalc conhguration,
pathologizcdasaconditioncallcdstcatopygia Sartj csdchnitivclcaturc,thc
markollrcakdom, vashcrbuttocks ,vhichvcrcquitcdillcrcntlyshapcdand
considcrably largcr than thc avcragc Luropcan vomans Likc othcr lrcaks ,
laartmanvas rccruitcd and managcdbya scricsolvvhitcmcnvho prohtcd
lrom hcrpcrlormanccs Onc actcd as hcr kccpcr during prcscntations in
vhich shc vas produccdlikc avildbcast, and ordcrcd tomovc backvards
andlorvards , andcomcandgointohcrcagc,morclikcabcaronachainthan
a humanbcing, accordingto a contcmporary rcportThc kccpcr, likc thc
lrcakshovpitchman, mcdiatcd bctvccnthc silcntspcctaclcandthcpaying
vicvcrs , collcctingan additional lcclorthcmto touch hcrasvcll Although
laartmans buttocks vcrc promincntlydisplaycd by a tighthtting, llcsh-col
orcdgarmcnt, suggcstingnudity, hcrgcnitalarca, vidclyrumorcdtobchcrsc
crctand most dramatic anomaly, vashiddcn, vithholdinggratihcationlrom
thcvoycuristicspcctators ln thctraditionolAristotlcsvicvolvomcnasmu
tilatcd malcs , lcmalc gcnitalialor thcVcstcrn culturc thatlatcrproduccd
|rcudvcrcthcstigmatamarkngthcputativcabscnccthatdchncdlcmalc
lack lycontrast, laartmansnotoriousbuttocksandgcnitaliabccamcanicon
lordangcrouslycxccssivcandgrotcsquclcmalcscxuality, simultancously cm
bodyingthcoppositcolsupposcdlydomcsticatcd, Luropcanlcmalcscxuality
and varningolvhatthatscxualitymightbccomcil not rigorouslymanagcd
Hcrcagcdramatizcdboththcurgcncyandthcrcalityollcmalccontainmcnt
Caginglaartmanlorpublicinspcctionolhcrovcrdcvclopcdgcnitalsrit
uallycnactcdoncolourculturcsmostcgrcgiouslormsolcthnoccntrism Thc
lrcakshovsmodcsolrcprcscntationrcvcalthataniconolculturalothcrncss
vas intcrchangcablcvithoncolphysicalothcrncs s lnthcsccxhibitions ,ab-
solutclynodistinctioncxistcdbctvccnthisAlricanvoman,vhoscbodyshapc
vas typical olhcr group, and thc conjoincd tvins , congcnital amputccs, or
dvarls vho alsolcll outsidc thc narrov, culturallyconstructcdbordcrs that
distinguishthcnormallromthcabnormal laartmansdisplayasalrcaklorccs
ustorccognizcthcrclativityolallphysicalstandardsandtoacknovlcdgcthat
sccminglyscllcvidcntcatcgorics such asabnormalorphysicallydisablcd
arisclrom a historically shiltingsociopolitical contcxt thatintcrprctshuman
variationsloritsovncnds
laartmansAmcricancountcrpart,|uliaPastrana, alsosimultancouslyrcp-
rcscntcdtohcrVcstcrnaudicnccscultural ,physical, andscxualothcrncs s A
mcmbcrolaMcxicanlndiantr|bccharactcrizcdinhcrcxhibitionpamphlctas
scmihuman vith lcaturcs havinga closc rcscmblancc to thosc ola lcar
American Freak Shas 73
andOrangcOutang, Pastranavashrstdisplaycdi nNcvYorki nl S :+vhcn
shcvasabouttvcntyycarscld `LikcPaartman, shchadabricl,luridcarccr
as a lrcak, dyingin childbirthvhilcon tourin Russiain l So0 Clcarly, both
Pastranas and Paartmans nonVcstcrn cthnicityvas csscntial to thcir cnl-
rcakmcnt, suggcstingthatthcmcdicvalpracticcolhguringalicncthnicgroups
asmonstrouspcrsistcdvcllintothcninctccnthccntury VhcrcasPaartmans
bodyvasrcadasasignlorgrotcsqucandhypcrbolicscxuality, Pastranasbody
bccamclrcakishsomcvhatdillcrcntly itviolatcdthcmalc/lcmalcand thchu-
man/animaldichotomics, tvoolourmostsacrcdculturalconstructs Hcrdis
tinctivcphysicallcaturcsvcrccxtrcmchirsutcncssandthcshapcolhcrnosc
andmouth, lromvhicha simianappcarancccouldapparcntlybcconstrucd
A dcscriptionbyDr | Z Laurcncci nan l S : i ssucolthcPritish mcdical
journalLcncedcscribcshcrviththcsamcattcntiontobodilydctailuscdby
Parnum in his accountol|oicc Hcth and suggcsts thc disturbingliminality
proj cctcduponhcrbody
[Her] main peculiarity consists in her possessing hairs nearly all over the body,
and more especially on those parts which are ordinarily clothed with hairs in the
male sex . . . . She is four feet six inches in height, thick-set, and exceedingly
well-proportioned in the trunk and limbs, the chief peculiarities residing in the
face. She has a large tuft of hair depending from the chin-a beara, continuous
with smaller growths of hair on the upper lip and cheeks-moustache and
whiskers . Her eyebrows are thick and bushy; the hair upon her head remarkably
copious . . . . The rest of the face is covered with similar short hairs . Indeed, the
whole of the body, excepting the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, is
more or less clothed with hairs . In this respect she agrees, in an exaggerated de
gree, with what is not very uncommonly observed in the male sex . . . . In other
respects she agrees with the female. Her breasts are remarkably full and well
developed. She menstruates regularly. 44
ln this hrst part ol his dcscription, Laurcncc rcvcals that Pastranas dc
vianccis inhcrbodyscombinationolmalcandlcmalcmarkcrs , inthctrou
blingcoincidcnccola bcardandmoustachcandvhiskcrsvithrcmark-
ably lull brcasts and mcnstruation This intcrprctation ol inbctvccnncss
vas cncouragcd bycxhibition titlcs both animal and human, suchas Pcar
Voman, Apcvoman, Nondcscript, Paboon Voman, and Hybrid ln
dian, allapparcntlyintcndcdtoinHamc thc imagination andchallcngc thc
pcrccptionsolonlookcrs
Thc discourscs anthropological as vcll as mcdical stylc tcxtualizcs thc
bodythatvashxcdundcrLaurcnccsgazc
74 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
Her face is peculiar: the alae of the nose are remarkably fattened and expanded,
and so soft as to seem to be destitute of cartilages; the mouth is large, and the
lips everted [ sic ] -above by an extraordinary thickening of the alveolar border of
the upper j aw in front-below, by a warty, hard growth arising from the gum.
The lower set of teeth is perfect; but in the upper set the front teeth are all but
defcient, the molars alone being properly developed. Her ears are unusually
long. The physiognomy is not that of the negro: the facial angle is rather small.
Her skin is of a yellowish-brown colour. The voice is that of a female, as is espe
cially brought out in her higher notes when she sings . 4
5
Strcvnvithvordssuchascxtraordinary, pcrlcct, dchcicnt, and unusu
ally, thisvcrydctailcdaccountolPastranasbodyisactuallymorcacompari-
son than a dcscription, itis hauntcd by thc implicdhgurc olthc normativc
Luropcanvoman, thc nco-Platoni c, idcologicallyinllcctcd standard rclativc
tovhomPastranasccmsbothhidcousandlcsshumanYctlorallhcrphysical
alicnncss in thc Luropcangazc, hcrrcmarkablylull brcasts and hcrlovcly
singingvoi ccuponvhichhcrchroniclcrsrcmarkrcpcatcdlyarcarcmnant
olthccxpcctcd, idcalhgurcThusPastranasrolcaslrcakandhcrlascination
loraudicnccsdcpcnds notuponhcrabsolutcothcrncs s , butrathcruponthc
conllictingprcscnccolradicaldillcrcnccsandlamiliartraits
lndccd, Pastranas handlcrsamplihcdthis coincidcnccolthc rccognizablc
andthcunidcntihablc, as didalllrcakdisplays ]ustasPaartmanmovcdback
andlorth inhcrcagc andvorcclothcsthatsctollhcrcxtraordinarybody, so
PastranagavcanclaboratcshovinvhichshcsangSpanishandLnglishsongs
anddanccdllingsandPcpitas Shcvorcclaboratclycmbroidcrcddrcsscsstylcd
toacccntuatchcrordinarylcminincbodyandcmphasizcbycontrasthcrcxtra
ordinarylacc, dcscribcdbythcnaturalistlrancisPucklandin l SSSassimply
hidcous YctPucklandvcnton,inthcsamcvcinasLaurcncc, tomarvclatthc
juxtapositionolthatlaccvithhcrscctvoiccandhcrhgurcvhich|vascx-
cccdingly good and gracclul , and hcr tiny loot and vcllturncd ankc, |ien
causse,pcrlcctionitscll AsthccxhibitionsolPastranaand Paartmanillus
tratc,thccompcllingpovcrollrcakslayinthcirapparcntstraddlingolthccat
cgorics that undcrpin Vcstcrn rationality As somanyslaps in rcasons lacc,
lrcakscrc dangcrousandalluringhgurcs thathadtobccontaincd Thcdis
coursc olvondcr had accommodatcd a prc-Lnlightcnmcnt vorld vicv that
placcdCod'sinscrutablcvvillatthcccntcr,butthatrcadingolthccxtraordinary
body could notarticulatc thc mastcryol thc naturalvorld that modcrn man
savashisdcstiny Thus , asthcninctccnthccnturyprogrcsscd,thccvcrvorri
somclrcakvascastlcssinthclanguagcolthcmarvclousandcxplaincdmorc
andmorcinthcasccndingscicntihcdiscourscolpathology
American Freak Shos 7 5
Although circus and cntcrtainmcnt narrativcs dchncd thc lrcak in ninc
tccnthccntury Vcstcrn socicty, this popular and transicnt mcdium vas no
match lor thc cmcrging, authoritativc, cnduring scicntihc discoursc that
lramcdthcsc pcoplc accordingto amcdicalmodcl Pythc l 9+0s, Amcrican
shovsvcrc goncinpart bccausc scicntistshadtranslormcdthclrcakintoa
mcdical spccimcn Thc convcntions ol thc lrcakshov dcrivcd lrom carlicr
culturalpracticcsthathcdindividual dcviancc through ritualizcd spcctaclc,
suchaspubliccxccutionsandothcrcommunaldisplaysolsocialdcbascmcnt
likc thcscalloldsccncandstigmaticmarkaroundvhichHavthornccrcatcd
1eSccr|eLeer Thc ancicntmind translatcd thc cxtraordinarybodys hy
bridityandcxccssintothcsupcrnatural, oltcnsacrcd, panthconolcyclopscs ,
satyrs, ccntaurs, minotaurs , and hydras Put thc modcrn mind ollicially rc
translatcdthoscqualiticsintoscicnccin l S22, vhcnlsidorcCcollroySaint
Hil airc coincd thc tcrm tcratology to mcan thc study olmonstcrs Rathcr
thanrcspondingvithlcarorvondcr, asinthcpast, thcmodcrnmcdicalman
compctcdvithCod, cxpcrimcntallyproducingmonstrous hshandmammals
todiscovcrthcctiologyolvhatcamctobckovninthctvcnticthccnturyas
birth dclccts Cradually changingavcandsupcrstitioninto rational cxpla
nation, scicnccintcntlysctuponsuchproj cctsasclassijinghumanvariation
andcrcatingclcltpalatcsinpigs `
Thc discoursc ol thc cxtraordinary body as mcdical spccimcn hnally
cclipscdthctraditionallrcakshovspcctaclcbythcmid-tvcnticthccnturyAl
though scicntihc and sidcshov discourscs had bccn cntanglcd during thc
lrcakshovcra,thcydivcrgcdtovardoppositccndsolaspcctrumolprcstigc
andauthorityastimcvcnton |rcakshovsvcrcalvayspartolpopularorlov
culturc,vhilcmcdicalscicncchasbccomcincrcasinglyclitcandpovcrlulin
modcrn timcs Ninctccnthccntury churchcs in Amcrica, lor cxamplc, tar
gctcdlrcakshovslorrclormlcgi slationandccnsurcbccauscthcyvcrccon
sidcrcdimmoralandcncouragcdrillrall,notbccauscthcycxploitcdlrcaks '
Py thc midtvcnticthccntury, physicians and scicntists, rathcrthanthc pub
licandthccntrcprcncur, govcrncdthcproductionollrcaks lnthctransition
pcriod, scicntistsraidcdlrcakshovslorobscrvationsandspccimcnsandrcl
crccdsidcshovdcbatcs, vhilcthclrcakshovcxploitcdscicntihcrationaliza
tion to authcnticatc its cxhibits |or cxamplc, thc narrativc pamphlct that
announccs|uliaPastranascxhibitionatPostonsHorticulturalHallin l S : : by
havkinghcrasThc\| isnomcrcdPcarVoman, alsocontainsollicialsound
ing mcdical accounts dravn lrom physical cxaminations olPastranas body
DrAlcxMottproclaims thatshcis ahybrid vhilc Prolcs sorPraincrd, vho
hascxamincdthchairolthc spccimcn, dccl arcs thatthcrcisNOTRACL
76 Constructing Disabled Figures
Ol NLCROPLOOD, and thcanatomistSamuclKncclandnolcsslrom
thc Poston Socicty olNatural History tcstihcs that shc is indccd human``
Vhilcthcmcdicalmansclitcdiscourscvas inllcctcdbythcpositivistidcol-
ogyolscicntihcprogrcssandhumanitarian conccrn, thc shovmans popular
discourscappcalcdtothcnotionolcgalitariancntrcprcncurship andthccm
povcrmcntolthccommonmanYctboththcmcdicalmanandthcshovman
vicdlor control olthc cxtraordinarybody upon vhich thcir carccrs and lor
tuncsdcpcndcd
Asvc savcarlicrin thc cascol|oiccHcths prohtablcpublicdisscction,
thclrcakvascquallyvaluablcinlilcandindcath Suchcxtrcmctcxtualization
olthchumanbodydcmonstratcshovvrcprcscntationattcmptstoconvcrtpco-
plcintothings ` ' Variationsonathcmc,yctcachvithitsovnbizarrctvist, thc
rcmarkablclatcsolSartj cPaartmanand|ulia Pastranacapturc thccompcti
tionbctvccnshovmanandscicntistlorcontrololthccxtraordinarybody, as
vcllas thatbodys translormationlrom avcsomcspcctaclctomcdicalspcci
mcn
VhcnPaartmandicdin l S l : ,thccmincntlrcnchzoologi stCcorgcsCu-
vicr disscctcd hcrbody, thus assuringhcrcontinuing lrcakdom by litcrally
and di scursivclymakinghcramcdicalspccimcn Cuvicrauthorizcdaplastcr
castingandapaintingolPaartmans nudcbodybclorcdisscctingit , hcthcn
prcscntcdthcscicntihccommunityvithbothavrittcnrcportandhcractual,
cxciscdgcnitals , suitablyprcparcdinajarthatrcma|nstothisdayonashcll
inthcAluseeJe| HommeinParis `Pothhcrprcscrvcdskclctonandthccast
olhcrcorpscarcstillamongthcmuscumscollcctionsasvcll Putthcidcaol
a Hottcntot Vcnus shapcdthc cultural consciousncss longaltcr Paartmans
bodyhadbccnmadctoactoutthatscript ` `SandcrCilmannotcsthatPaart
manshistoryinllucnccdscicntihcdcscriptionsolHottcntotvomcnthrough-
outthcninctccnthccntury, locusingdcscriptionsonthcirgcnitalsinancllort
tocstablishbiologicaldillcrcntiationolascparatcraccthatvas closcrtoan
imalsthantoLuropcans Pyl SHottcntotgcnitalsvcrcbcingdcscribcdin
gynccologi calhandbooksasacongcnitalcrrorinvolvingamallormationol
thcclitorisassociatcdvithcxccssivcscxualitythatlcdtolcsbiani sm `Thus,
lrom l S l 0 to l S, Sartj c Paartmans physical intcrprctation shiltcd lrom
lrcakishlylascinatingtoclinicallyabnormal ,incxtricablylusingthcculturally
cxtraordinary and thc physically cxtraordinary in a modcrn narrativc ol
pathology
LikcthcbodicsolPaartmanand|oiccHcth, |ulialastranasbodyvasalso
transmogrihcdintotcxtandcapital Pastranavasmanagcdbyamanvhomar
ricd hcraltcrshcbccamccxtrcmclyprohtablc, pcrhaps to assurc his control
American Freak Shos e e e e e 77
ovcrhcrcxhibitionVhcnPastranadicdontourin l So0scvcraldaysaltcrgiv-
ing b|rthbclorc acurious crovd to a stillborn inlantboyvho closclyrcscm
blcdhcr, hcrmanagcr/husbandsoldhcrbody,alongviththcirdcadchilds, to
Prclcssor| SokolovolthcAnatcmicallnstitutcclMoscovnivcrsityscthat
Sokolovcoulduschisncvmcthod tocmbalmthcbodics Sosucccsslulvas
Sokolovs cmbalming proccdurc that Pastranas husband/managcr rcpur
chascdhcrcorpsclorthrcchundrcdpoundsmorcthanhchadbccnpaid Hc
continucdtocxhibitPastranasbodyandthcirsonsandtorcntthcmtomusc-
umsuntilhcdicdin l SS+ ThcbodicshavctravclcdacrossLuropc, changing
hands , disappcaringlromandrcappcaringintopublicvicv, bcingstolcnand
rctricvcd Thcy tourcd thc nitcd Statcs vith a circus as rcccntly as l 92
NovPastranas timcravagcdbody, ancmbarrassmcntto thcNorvcgiangov-
crnmcntthatovnsit, |sstorcdinthcbascmcntolOsloslnstitutcol|orcnsic
McdicincAlthough thccntrcprcncurialpurposcsolthcshcvmanmaysccm
to havc prcvailcd in thc tcxtualization ol Pastranas body, thc discoursc ol
pathologyhasinlacthadthclastvordAnacadcmic dcbatcnovpcrsiststhat
rcquircsradiographiccxaminationolPastranasskullandmicrophotographsol
hcrhairsamplcstodctcrmincvhcthcrhcrconditioniscongcnital ,gcncral-
izcd hypcrtrichosistcrminalisorcongcnital, gcncralizcdhypcrtrichosislan-
guinosa, along vith thc qucstion ol vhcthcr hcr dcntition is normal or
abnormal All olthis is documcntcd in thc l 99!volumc olthcAmericcn
]ournu|o]MeJicc|Ceneics Asvasthccascvithlaartman,thcsocialproccss
olcnlrcakmcntmadc Pastranas body into ani conolpathology, vith only a
traccolthc humanrcmaining
Pathologizingculturaland corporcalothcrsbcgan vith thcLnlightcnmcnt
laithinrationalityasamcansolprcdictingandrcgulatinganintractablc uni-
vcrsc Thcsucccssolsuchpositivismdcpcndsuponcstablishingabsolutccat-
cgorics and routing thc troubling paradoxcs ol contingcncy, indctcrminacy,
ambiguity,andimpurity llscicnccjustihcsdominantpovcrrclations, asmany
havcargucd, italsolcgitimatcsthc dominantbody, vhich is boththcmarkcr
olculturalpovcrandthc tickctoladmission into thatpovcr` ` Ninctccnth
ccntury scicntists obscssivcly cstablishcd hicrarchical physical taxonomics,
cvcntuallyrclorgingCodsgrcatchainolbcingintoDarvinsandcrcatingthc
idca ol thc norm, vhat |oucault calls thc ncv lav ol modcrn socicty `
Stcphcn|ay Couldpointsoutthatthcmorc abody dchcdthcclassihcation
systcm, thcmorc itthrcatcncdthcscicntihccntcrprisc, causingscicntiststo
locus on thc most paradoxical bodics Hcncc, thc most vondrous lrcaks
such as conjcincd tvins , onc pcrson or tvo) cr mcntally disablcdAlricans
, humanorapc) orhcrmaphroditcs,mcnorvomcn)prcscntcdthcknotti
78 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
cst scicntihc dilcmmas ` Py thc cnd ol thc ccntury, mcdicalization rathcr
thanlrcakdomlcgitimatcdsuchnotionsasvhitc suprcmacyandsuchpoliti
calpracticcsascolonialism,cugcniclcgislation, andcompulsoryinstitutional
izationorstcrilization Thc cxtraordinarybodyshiltcdlromitscarlicrvisiblc,
publicpositionas strangc, avlul , andluridspcctaclctoitslatcr, privatcposi-
tion as sick, hiddcn, and shamclul , producing hnally thc lully mcdicalizcd
lrcakvho altcr l 9+0vas rcmovcd lrom thc stagc platlorm to thc tcaching
hospitalamphithcatcr,thcmcdicaltcxt, andthcspccialinstitutionThisi sthc
rolcthattodaysdisabilityactivistsarcattcmptingtocastoll``
ThclilctodcathtrajcctoricsolSartj cPaartmansand|uliaPastranasbod
ics shov hovthc consolidatingauthority olVcstcrn scicncc and mcdicinc
transmutcd sidcshov lrcaks into pathological cascs during thc ninctccnth
ccntury Sart]c in hcrcagc and|uliaon hcrstagc havc transmutcdinto dia-
grams and microphotographs in scicntihc tcxts , and challcngcs lor rccon-
structivc or cosmctic surgcry, sugcsting thc totalizing discoursc that nov
mcdicalizcs all cxtraordinary bodics Not only did Cuvicrs prcscntation ol
Paartmans gcnitals and Solokovs cmbalmingolPastranas bodycrcatcvhat
SandcrCilmancallsapathologicalsummaryolthcscvomcn, butthcsclit-
cralsynccdochcsluscthcracial, gcndcrcd, andclasscdaxcsolculturalothcr-
ncss `' This lullbrcastcd and hirsutc body, circulating lor ovcr l !0 ycars
bcncaththccuriousgazc,andthisbitolllcshinaj aronthcmuscumshcllin-
vokcancntirc,complcxcultural, historical, andpoliticalsystcm
The End of the Prodigious Body
Tbclrcakshovcra,thcn, chartsashiltlromprodigioustopathologicalinthc
cultural construction ol thc cxtraordinary body. Rapid social changcs altcr
l S!0allovcd thc ancicntpracticc olrcading monstrous bodics to thrivc in
thcinvigoratcdlormolthcAmcricanlrcakshovAclustcrolculturalcondi-
tions dovctailcdtoproduccthc climatcin vhichthclrcakshow llourishcd
immigration, class rcpositioning, andincrcascd social stratihcation prcsscd
aninsccurcpolitytoinvcntacorporcalothcrvhoscdillcrcnccrclicvcdthcir
apprchcnsionsaboutstatus lndustrialaccidcnts ,varvounds , andincrcascd
conccrn about appcarancc may havc hcightcncd an anxious idcntihcation
vith thc cxtraordinary body, vhilc standardization, mass production, and
mass culturc produccd thc notion ol an unmarkcd, normativc body as thc
dominant subjcct ol dcmocracy Railroads , mass cducation, photography.
popularpublishing,andarcstlcssmobilitymadclrcakshighlyvisiblcandcrc-
atcda tastclornovclty Scicnccasanidcological conccptcncouragcdcxpla
American Freak Shos 79
nationandstimulatcdcuriosity Vagclaborandthcinvcstingolprolcssionals
vithauthoritythrcatcncdthccommoncitizcns scnscolmastcryandauton-
omyThccmcrgingcntrcprcncurcapitalizcdonallolthis Yctthoscvcrycon-
ditionscvcntuallydrovcthcshovmanlromthcstagcandsvcpthislrcaksinto
thc insti tutions , hospi tals, and mcdical tcxtbooks Py l 9+0, lrcaks had bc
comcinappropriatclorthcpubliccyc,castasprivatccascs , surroundcdand
dchncdbyaprolcssionalapparatusoldoctors, counsclors, andrchabilitation
spccialists
Poth thc narrativc olthc spcctaclc and thc narrativc ol thc spccimcnob
]cctihcdthccxtraordinarybody, ultimatclyscrvingthcintcrcstsolthcmcdia
tors Thc social and cconomic succcss ol thc shovman and thc scicntist
dcpcndcdcquallyonhovlrcakishthcbodicsolthcircultural/physicalothcrs
couldbc Ncvcrthclcss, cachbroughtsomcbcnchttothcspccimcn/lrcakthc
shovman ollcrcd cconomic indcpcndcncc at thc cxpcnsc ol cultural nor-
malcy, thc mcdical man ollcrcd normalizingproccdurcs that oltcn rcquircd
submissiontobodilyintrusionandpainlulrcconstruction l nordcrtorcapthc
showmansbcnchts, thcpcrsonwithancxtraordinarybodyhadtoagrcctoto-
talimmcrsioninthclrcakrolc Putthcdoctorsnormalizationrcquircs dcny-
ingaspcctsoloncsindividualbodyasvcllasncgotiatingthcrisksandpsychic
compromiscsolpassing
Thcmcdicalmodclthatgovcrnstodaysintcrprctationoldisabilityassumcs
thatanysomatictraitthatlallsshortolthcidcalizcdnormmustbccorrcctcd
orcliminatcd lndccd, oncolourstrongcstculturaltabooslorbidsthccxtraor-
dinary body as thc gcncrally uncontcstcd advocacy and practicc ol rccon-
structivc surgcry, abortion ol dclcctivc lctuscs , and othcr normalization
proccdurcsattcst Lxtraordinarybodicsarcsccnasdcviationstobcstandard-
izcd, rathcrthanasuniquc, cvcn cnrichingaspccts olindividualsthatmight
bc acccptcd ` lronically, thc mcdical modcls tcchnology actually lacilitatcs
thc survival olmanydi sablcd pcoplc at thc samc timc that it pathologizcs
thcm Vholcgroupsvvhovouldhavcdicdcvcnthirtyycarsagolikcpcoplc
vithspinabihdaorparaplcgiacxistnov, oltcnonlytoavaitbcinghcd '
Yct vhilc morc disablcdpcoplc survivc andarc normalizcd through mcdical
tcchnology dcvcloping proccdurcs to dctcct disablcd lctuscs lor probablc
climinationisahigh mcdicalpriority Thus, thclundamcntalchangcincul-
turalpcrccptionshasbccnncithcrclcarlyprogrcssnorrcgrcssion, butmcrcly
aconvcrsionolvondrous , ominousprcLnlightcnmcntmonstcrstolascinat-
inglrcaksoncircusstagcs and, hnally, tomcdicalcascsthatladcintohospi-
tal s, physicians tcxts ,andspccimcnshclvcs
ln ninctccnth and carlytvcnticth-ccntuqAmcrica, lrcakshovsproduccd
80 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
a gcncralizcd icon ol corporcal and cultural othcrncss that vcrihcd thc so
ciopoliticalstatusquoandthchgurcolthcunmarkcdnormatc,thcidcalsub
jcct oldcmocracy Thc lrcak shov gavc thcAmcrican citizcn a ccrcmonial
culturalloruminvhichtocxamincapprchcnsionsaboutthcgranddcmocra
ticcxpcrimcntandthccitizcnsrclationshiptoit Admissionlccsvcrcgoodin
vcstmcnts lor thosc vho could valk avay lrom thc lrcak shov vith thcir
scllimagcallirmcd, althoughavaguc idcntihcationviththc lrcaks andadc
sirc to vitncss again thcir anachronistic, cxtravagant individuation might
lingcr Thc cxtraordinary human icon in this sociopolitical drama, hovcvcr,
vas dcnicd thc cultural validation such a ritual providcd thc uncxccptional
spcctator lnstcad, cultural ncccs sity translormcd thc lrcaks cxtraordinary
body into an cnvcloping and oncrous mantlc that appcarcd both prodigious
and pathological to captivated onlookers .
i O U n

Benevolent Maternalism and the
Disabled Women in Stowe, Davis,
and Phelps
The Maternal Benefactress and Her Disabled Sisters
Vhcrcas thc lrcakshovs discusscdinchaptcr! displaycxtraordinarybodics
ascntcrtainmcntandvvondcr, scntimcntalismuscsdisablcdhgurcsinaparal
lclspcctaclctogcncratcsympathyAlthoughscntimcntalhctionsccmstoval
idatcdisablcdhgurcsvhilcthclrcakshovscnsationalizcs thcm, inlactboth
modcsolrcprcscntationappropriatcdisablcdhgurcsinthcscrviccolindivid-
ualistidcology Pothconvcntionsconstructthcdisablcdhgurcasburdcncdby
thclimitationsandunccrtainticsolindividual cmbodimcnt, displacingthcsc
burdcns lrom thclibcralindividualontothatdistantothcrmarkcdbyvisiblc
bodilydillcrcncclnothcrvords ,lrcakshovs ,scntimcntalism, andLmcrsons
oppositionalhgurcs olthc blind, thc halt, and thc invalid discusscd in
chaptcr2 vvcrc allclcmcntsolalargcrninctccnth-ccnturyproj cctthatmadc
anabstract, discmbodicdscllthcculturalidcal
lndccd, vccanhnd thc disablcdhgurccntanglcdvithlibcralidcologyina
surprisingcollcction ol tcxts vhosc announccd purposc is advocacylor thc
vcryhgurcsthatLmcrsoncxcludcslromlibcralscllhoodThrccnovclsHar-
rictPccchcrStovcs |nc|e1omsCc|in, l S : 2) , RcbcccaHardingDavissLi]e
in ae Iron Mi||s , l So l ) , and Llizabcth Stuart Phclpss 1ae Si|en Pcrner
, l S l )cmploydisablcdlcmalchgurcsinthcscntimcntaltraditionascsscn
82 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
tial rhctoricalclcmcntsinthcirargumcntslorhumanitariansocialrclorm1 l
villcxplorchcrcthccomplcxintcrconncctionsinthcscvorksbctvccnlibcral
individualismandaprogram,vhichlcallbcncvolcntmatcrnalism, thatboth
rcviscsandrcplicatcslibcralism |urthcr,bytracingthcshiltinthcvaythcsc
novcls prcscnt disablcd hgurcs , l vill suggcst that bcncvolcnt matcrnalism
notonlyrcstatcs thctcrmsollibcralindividualism, butalso, bymovinglrom
sympathctic idcntihcation vith thc disablcd hgurcs to a distancing rcpu
diation ol thcm, ultimatcly dramatizcs individualisms most vcxing intcrnal
contradictions
|nc|e 1oms Cc|in, Li]e in ae IronMi||s, and 1ae Si|enPcrnerall turn
uponrclationshipsbctvccnidcalizcdvhitcmatcrnalbcnclactrcsscsandmar
ginalizcd lcmalc hgurcs vho rcquirc spiritual and matcrial rcdcmption
through thcircllorts Dillcrcntiatingcacholthcscsubordinatcbutmutually
dchninghgurcs is vhatvc vouldtodaycallavisiblcphysicaldisability This
markopcratcs asa badgc olinnoccncc, sullcring, displaccmcnt, andpovcr
lcssncss, rcndcringthcdisablcdvomanasympathcticandalarminghgurcol
vulncrability vvho crics out lrom thcnarrativc lorrcscucAs Stovc dcplorcs
slavcrysinhumancscparationollamilics, asDavis rcvcalsthcironmills cal-
lous victimization ol vorkcrs , and as Phclps ccnsurcs thc tcxtilc industrys
abusc olmill girls , cach vritcr highlights nondisablcd hcroincs or narrators
vhoprcvailorcvcntriumph Thcirdisablcdsistcrs , hovcvcr, stayonthcnar-
rativcmargins ,dcgradcdbyopprcssivcinstitutionsandultimatclysacrihccdto
thcsocialproblcmsthcnovclsas sail OlStovcsslavcmothcrs,onlythchclp-
lcssPrucandHagar,vhoarccripplcdbyabusivcslavcpracticcs ,arcbcatcn
todcathorsoldavay,Daviss Dcbollc,vhoschunchbacksymbolizcs hcr
miscrablclatcasan cxploitcdmillorkcr, rctircsandis carcd lorbyothcrs ,
and Phclpss blind, dcal, and lcral CattyCarthis svcptavayinan apocalyp
tic conclusion Vhilcthcvariousmatcrnalbcnclactrcsscsradiatcatransccn-
dcnt virtuc, agcncy, and povcr, thc disablcd vomcn bccomc incrcasingly
subjugatcd, dcspairing,andimpotcnt
Crushcdbycapitalism`slaisscz-laircmorality, Pruc, Hagar, Dcb, andCatty
arciconsolvulncrabilityvho hclp gcncratcarhctoricolsympathyandscan-
dal mcant to propcl rcadcrs lrom complaccncy to conviction Dcspitc thcir
sccondaryorcvcnminorpartsinthcactualnarrativcs, thcscdisablcdvomcn
lulhllmaj orrhctoricalrolcsbyarousingthcsympathcticindignationthatacti-
vatcs bcncvolcntmatcrnalism Thisimpulscvasthcspringboardlromvhich
vhitc, middlcclassvomcncouldlaunchthcmsclvcsintoaprcstigious , morc
inllucntialpublicrolc thatcapturcdsomcolthcclcmcntsollibcralscluood
Lachnovclcxposcsandsharplycastigatcsthccxploitativcinstitutionsthatla
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 83
vorthcmarkctplacc atthccxpcnscol socialjusticcandhumanconncctions ,
cxtcndingtothcdisablcdvomcnabridgcolsympathy, acccptancc, andidcn-
tihcationacrosssocialandracialboundarics Atthcsamctimc,hovcvcr,thcsc
novclsdiminishtbcvcryhgurcslorvhomthcyplcadbycastingthcmcutsidc
thccxclusivcprogramollcmininclibcralscllboodthcnarrativcsmapAscm
bodimcntsolthccgrcgiousinj usticcsthcnovclscondcmn, thcscdisablcdhg-
urcs constitutc an cscalating callsubtlc in Stovc, plaintivc in Davi s, and
stridcntin Phclpslortbcnarrativcs moral , social, andspiritualprogram ol
lcmininccmpovcrmcntthroughhumanitarianrclorm Thccharactcrslunc
tionasvhatPaulLongmorccallscharismaticdcviants, vhoscvcryprcscncc
cvokcscomplcxissucsandpotcntscntimcnts `
Yctas thcsccomplcx,ambivalcntrclationshipsbctvccnthcmatcrnalbcnc
lactrcss and thcdisablcdrccipicntolhcrbountilul cndcavors dcvclop lrom
Stovc to Davis to Phclps, this program ollcmininc cmpovcrmcnt incrcas-
inglydisavovsthcobjcctsolitsbcncvolcnccasitmorcanxiouslyidcalizcsits
humanitarianhgurcs Ovcrmorcthantvcntyycars andtvogcncrations, thc
dcpictionolthcdisablcdvomcnrcgistcrsgrcvingtcnsionabcutvhitc, mid
dlcclassv omcns placcina changingsocialordcr lrom novcl tonovcl, thc
disablcd womcn bccomc incrcasingly promincnt and rcpugnant, changing
lromminorsympathcticvictimstopathctic, rcpudiatcdoutcasts lnthispro-
grcssion, Stovcinitiatcsasplittingollolthcdisablcdvomanlromhcridcal-
izcdmatcrnalbcnclactrcss, vhilcDaviss Dcb, andcspcciallyPhclpss Catty,
incrcascthisbilurcation Thisdivisioncanbcrcadasanattcmpttorcsolvcap-
prchcnsionsaboutthcplaccolthc lcmalcbodyinancvolvingsociocconomic
sphcrc, thcriscolopprcssivcscicntihcconstructionsolvomcn,andconccrns
aboutthccllcctivcncssolthc discoursc oldomcsticityvhich vas incrcas
ingly unablc to providc a tcnablc lramcvork lor cithcr individual lcmininc
idcntityorsocialrclorms Asarcsult, thcnovclsincrcmcntallyandparadoxi-
callyrcvokc thcinsistcntlocuson thcproblcmsollcmalc cmbodimcnt that
thcy initiatc This progrcssion culminatcs as Phclps scvcrs thc bcncvolcnt,
idcallcminincsclllromthcpcrilouslycorporcallcmalcotbcrinordcrtoccl-
cbratcthcbcncvolcntvomanasindomitablcandtriumphant, salcinhcrdis-
cmbodicd, transccndcntbcauty
So although Lmcrson dismisscs his invalids vhilc Stovvc, Davi s, and
Phclpssympathizcviththcirs , cachcmploys thcbodymarkcdasdillcrcnt
asdisablcdas ancmblcmoldchnitivcothcrncss Vhcrcas Lmcrsonuscs
hisblind, halt, andinvalidhgurcstocstablishthcboundaricsolthclibcralin
dividual , Stovc, Davi s, andPhclpsparadoxicallystigmatizcsomcolthcchar
actcrs thcy scck to aid in thcir discoursc ol protcst and cmpovcrmcnt
84 Constructing Disabled Figures
lccauscrcadcrsmustsimultancouslylcclsympathylorthcvictimsandhorror
atthcircallouscxploitation, thisnarrativcstratcgytcndstoconllatcuncthical
practiccsviththcircllccts,projcctingthclcarolbccomingdisablcdontothc
disablcd pcrson and conlusing thc victim vith thc crimc Thc charactcrs
bodicsthusbccomcscmioticmanilcstationsolsocialill s, cvokingatanglcol
cmpathyanddisgust 4 Suchnarrativcslippagcbctvccnbodyandsituationdc
rivcslromandplays onthclargclyunqucstioncdbcliclolmanynondisablcd
pcoplc that disability is lilcs ultimatc mislortunc and a pcrpctual sourcc ol
sullcring Thc hctional disability bccomcs, thcn, a concisc tropc lor avidc
rangcolhumanmiscryandcorruption `Dctachcdlromcharactcr,disabilityis
alrcclloatingsignihcrlorcvilandvoc thatcnvclops anddiminishcsthchg
urcssothatthcytcndtobccomcgcsturcsolhumanvrctchcdncssrathcrthan
charactcrsvithvhomrcadcrsmightidcnti
The Disabl ed Figure as a Call for J ustice:
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin
To lullyinvcstigatcthccomplcxrclationshipbctvccnbcncvolcntmatcrnalism
and disablcd hgurcs, vc must cxaminc thc critiquc ollibcral individualism
thatStovvc, Davis , andPhclpslaunchThcnovclscallloramorcjustsocicty
invhich human nccds and conncctions , rathcrthan cconomic productivity
andphysicalprovcss, dctcrmincsocialvorth To accomplishthis, cxclusions
and injusticcs surlacc in bold rcliclin sccncs olsullcring andvictimization
ccntcringonhgurcsvhodisplayvisiblcsignsolthcbodysviolationsandlim-
itations Prucs scars , Hagars cripplcdncss , Dcbs hunchback, and Cattys
mutcncssandblindncsssymbolizcphysicalincompctcnccandirrclutablcdil
lcrcncc, producingcharactcrs thatarc sympathcticallyhuman but incapablc
olsucccsslullycnactingthathumanity Suchhgurcschallcngcthcprimacyol
productivityand accumulation olvcalthas mcasurcs olhuman vorth Dis
tinguishcd bythcir disabilitics, thcscvomcn arc icons olvulncrability vho
summon a clash bctvccn rights and rcsponsibiliticsbctvccn vorkbascd
and nccdbascd systcms olcconomic distributionby cxposinglibcralindi-
vidualismsdcnialolthcbodysnccdsandliabilitics
Thc novclscastthcdisablcdhgurcsintothc gapbctvccnlibcralismscon-
Hicting crccds ol laisscz lairc individualism and dcmocratic cquality Thc
vomcns prcdicamcnts rcvcal thc matcrial and idcological disjunction bc
tvccnavalucsystcmportraycdaslcminincthatvouldallocatcrcsourccs
andassign privilcgc cquitably accordingto human nccds , anda markct sys
tcmassociatcd in thc novcls vith masculinitythat vould grant bcnchts
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 8 8 8 8 8 85
bascd on individual advantagcs and cllort Thc disablcd vomcn arc right
couslymarshalcdtocxcmplithoscvhoscnccdslorcarcandsupportsurpass
thcirabilitytopcrlormsociallyvalucdtasks Stovc, Davi s, andPhclpsintcnd
to cxposc thc moral bankruptcy ol libcral individualisms modcl ol an au
tonomous, scllintcrcstcd, ablcbodicdindividual, lrcclrombodilylimitation
andthcnccdlorcarclromothcrs Pointingtolibcralismsparadox,thcnovcls
assailthcinstitutionsthatopprcssthcdisablcdvomcnatthcsamctimcthat
thcyproclaim, andcalllcmininc, libcralisms asscrtionolthccqualvorth ol
allindividuals, rcgardlcssolphysicalconhgurationsorcapabilitics
Asccnclrom |nc'e1ori s Cc|in cxcmplihcshov thc novcls uscdisablcd
lcmalc charactcrs to ccnsurc libcralindividualismsvicvolthcbody T V' ol
Stovcsvillains , thc slavc tradcrs HalcyandMarks , cxchangc storicsostcnsi-
blyprovingthcillogicalandintractablcnaturcollcmalc slavcs Marksollcrs
thc cxamplcolatigbt, likclyvcnchhcboughtonccvvhovas considcrablc
smart as vcll but vhosc youngunvas misablc sickly, it had a crookcd
back To his amazcmcnt thc voman sullcrcd miscrably vhcn hc gavc thc
childavaytosomconcvhovouldtakcitollhishands, |1C l 2+) Marks sur-
priscthatthcmothcrvalucdthcchildmorc causc tvcssicklyandcrossin
dicatcs his inability to comprchcnd thc matcrnal dcvotion that, lor Stovc,
humanizcs thc slavc Halcylollovs vith a similartalcabouta slavc mothcr
vhoscstoncblindchildhcnicclysvappcdolllorakcg

vhiskcy To Ha-
lcys astonishmcnt, thc mothcr dclcndcd thc child j cst likc a tigcr, hnally
pitch ing hcadhrst, youngun andall, intothcrivcr , |1C l 2 )
Vith thcsc tvo childrcn, Stovc initiatcs thc critical stratcgy Davis and
Phclpslollov usingdisablcdhgurcstoportraythc clashbctvccncgalitarian
conccrnviththccqualvalucolallpcoplcandcntrcprcncuriallaissczlaircin
dividualism Thclogicolslavcrysunimpcdcdcconomiclrccdomcquatcshu
manvaluc vith potcntialproductivity, j udgingthcdisablcd childrcn usclcss
anddclcctivc, thcir bodics liabilitics rathcr than asscts in a laborintcnsivc
cconomy According to thc libcral idcalrcprcscntcd and cxaggcratcd by
Marks and Halcyol autonomous, scllintcrcstcd individuals compcting
lrcclyinthcmarkctplacc, thcscphysicallydisablcdchildrcnarcnotlullyhu-
man Suchanassumptionviolatcsthcbcliclininhcrcnthumancqualitythat
undcrpinsStovcsnovclolsocialrclorm
Thcscdisablcdchildrcnlikcthcirmorclullydcvclopcdcountcrparts ,thc
disablcdvomcnintroduccthcdilcmmaolcorporcaldillcrcnccintothcnov-
cls Thcyplcadthccascolthoscvhoscbodicsprcvcntthcmlromactingout
thcrolcolthc scll-madc manvholrcclypursucsvcalth, status, andpovcr
lndccd, Stovc, Davi s, andPhclpspcrsistcntlyinvokc thcphysicallydisablcd
86 r Constructing Disabled Figures
bodytosignisubjcctiontocxtcrnallorccstovhichcmbodimcntinlactscn
tcnccsallpcrsons lmpcrsonalinstitutionsorothcrsscll-dctcrmination con
strainthclatcandcontrolthcbodyolcachdisablcdvoman Slavcryscparatcs
Pruc and Hagar lrom thcir childrcn, thc cconomic hcgcmony ol thc mill
bosscs mocks Dcb s lccblc attcmpt to scizc a chancc at vcalth lor Hugh,
Cattyslilcanddcatharcdictatcdbythcinhuman, mcchanizcdvorkingcon-
ditionsinthctcxtilcmill s Morcovcr, thcdisintcrcstcdlcgalsystcmcnlorccs
cach unjust situation Thc institutions thcsc novcl s castigatc litcrally shapc
thcscvomcns bodics, causinglrucs dcbilitylromhcrmastcrs bcatings and
Cattys blindncss lrom cxposurc to cotton rcsiduc As cmblcms olimposcd
andinnatcinlcriority, thcscvomcnsbodicsarcnotonlythcproductsolthcir
opprcssion, butarcthcvchiclcsolthcirvrctchcdlatcsasvcl l Thcirsubju
gatcdbodics dcmandacknovlcdgmcntthatthclibcralidcalolautonomyand
scll-dctcrmination dcnics physical dillcrcnccs and limitations to crcatc a
myth olthcbodyas anacquicsccntinstrumcntolthc individualvill
llStovvcssccncbctvccnthcslavctradcrsandthcslavcmothcrsisthcpro
toticalrcndcringollibcralisms troublingcontradiction, |nc|e1omsCc|in
also ollcrs a rcsolution matcrnal dcvotionasamcans olpcrsonal cmpovcr
mcnt Stovcs slavc mothcrs rclusc to dcprcciatc thcir Havcd and hclplcss
childrcn, undcrscoringthcprinciplcolunivcrsal ,unconditionalacccptanccol
allhumanbcings thatsupportsthcnovcls condcmnationolslavcry Likc|c
sus, thcmothcrrcgardshcrchildrcnascquallyvorthyrcgardlcssolthcirma
tcrial and physical circumstanccs Rcspcctingnovorldly social hicrarchics,
matcrnal allcctiondistributcs its rcsourccsaccordingto nccd, notmcrit As
typcslorthcundcrvalucdandhclplcss, thcscdisablcdchildrcns nccdlorac-
ccptancc and lovc lar cxcccds thcir ability to inspirc it, in Stovcs sccncs ,
mothcrlovc compcnsatcslor socictys practiccol ratingpcoplc accordingto
notionsolphysicaladcquacyrathcrthaninhcrcntvorthAlcminizcdrcalmol
idcalcquality thus cmcrgcsilonlymomcntarilyandinprinciplcinoppo
sitiontothcdominant, masculincmarkctplacc morality Dismi sscdbylibcral
individualisms cthos olautonomy and productivity, thcsc disablcd childrcn
and thcir dcvotcd mothcrs occupythc highcstrungon thc laddcr olrcgard
thcscnovclsollcrasanaltcrnativcvisionolhumanvalucThcdisablcdbody,
thcn, isabadgc olunvorthincssin thcmarkctcconomyandoncolultimatc
vorth in thc moral onc ` Stovcs namclcss inlants and thcir othcr disablcd
countcrparts scrvc ascxclamationpointsin ambitious argumcnts lor a morc
cquitablc sociocconomicordcr, a morc humanccntcrcdvaluc systcm, and a
lullcracknovlcdgmcntolphysicalnccds
Suchmatcrnalagcncyis thc narrativcvchiclclorvhatPhilip|ishcrcalls
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women e e e e e 87
thc romancc ol thc objcct, vhich cxtcnds lull humanity to hgurcs lrom
vhich it hasprcviouslybccnvithhcld 'Vith thisromancc, Stovcaddsto
hcrrhctoricolprotcstthc suggcstionthatmatcrnaldcvotiononbchallolthc
vulncrablc anddcvalucd othcrproduccs a lcmininc scllrcminisccntolthc
libcralindividualvhosccxccsscsStovc soardcntlycondcmns Halcys mi s
guidcdattcmpttosvapollthcdisablcdinlantclicitsavigorouslyollcnsivc
rcsponsclromthcslavcmothcr,vhoupsonacotton-bal c, likcacat, kctchcs
akilclromoncolthcdcckhands, and makcs]allllyloraminitbclorc
shcrccognizcsthclutilityolrcsistanccanddrovnshcrscllandthcchild, dc
privingHalcyolhis invcstmcntinhcr, |1 l 2 ) lnthisnarrativcminit ,
thcprcsumablydocilcslavcasscrtshcrvill, assaultshcropprcssor,armshcr
scll,andboldlydctcrmincshcrovnlatcjustlikcLlizadocsbycrossingthc
Ohio, rcscuingHarry, andcludinghcrcaptors ,andasCas sydocsbycscaping
lromLcgrcc altcrLmmclincs arrival Thcmothcrtranslormslrom thcslavc
tradcrs passivc pavn into an asscrtivc hgurc chargcd vith an indcpcndcnt
vill , dclyingcxtcrnallorccsloratlcastamomcntinanattcmpttoshapchcr
ovndcstiny ThcmatcrnalcmpovcrmcntStovchintsathcrccrcatcsahgurc
rcscmblingthcidcalizcdlibcralscllvcassociatcvi thLmcrsonscllrcliant,
villlul, unimpcdcdbyphysicallimitation Putthislcminincscllhooddillcrs
lromindividualisticscllhoodin thatitdocsnot claimdctachmcntorscllin
tcrcst, but instcadadmits thcncccssityola dcpcndcntobj cctloritslulhll
mcnt ' lndccd, Stovcs cxtcnsion to slavcs ol this humanc, lcminizcd
vcrsion ol libcral scllhood rcinlorccs hcr abolitionist argumcnt bccausc
slavcsarccapablcolsuchlccling, thcyarcinlactlullyhumanandvorthyol
cmancipation
ll Stovcs abolitionistprojcctaccordslull dignityand agcncyto hcrblack
mothcrs,itsimultancouslyvritcsacomparablcscriptlorvhitcvomcn Asma
tcrnalbcnclactrcsscs, thcyarctothcundcrvalucdandvictimizcdvomcnvhat
thcslavcmothcrsarctothcirthrcatcncdchildrcn Stovercitcratcsthispattcrn
invaryinglcvclsolcomplcxitythroughouthcrnovcl Mrs ShclbydclcndsTom
and Harry, Mrs Pird protccts thc pursucd Lliza, Rachcl Halliday mothcrs
LlizaYctthcprinciplcvhitc, lcmalchgurcsvhogainpcrsonalauthoritythis
vayarcthcangclicLvaandStovcsardcntnarrativcvoicc, vhosccompclling
andcontrollingprcscnccsulluscsthcnovcl Vhcrcasthcslavcvomcndisplay
thcvalucdqualiticsollibcralindividualismthrough thcirhumanizingrolcsas
mothcrs, thc vhitc vomcn accruc dignity, agcncy, and sclldctcrmination by
acting matcrnally tovard mcmbcrs ola dcvalucd group Although both Lva
andStovcsnarratoractonbchallolavidcrangcolimpcrilcdcharactcrs,llo
cushcrconthc rclationbctvccnLvaand Prucand thc oncbctvccnStovcs
88 Constructing Disabled Figures
narratorandHagar,lorhcrcStovvcprcscntsthcmodcllorthcrclationbctvccn
ancmpovcrcdmatcrnalbcnclactrcssandhcrdisablcdcountcrpartthatDavis
andPhclpstakcuplatcr ltisimportant, hovcvcr,tocxaminchrsthovthchg-
urcolthcmatcrnalbcnclactrcssopcratcsinthcscnovcls
Empowering the Maternal Benefactress
Pchind thc cxplicit social rclorm thcscnovcls callloris thc implicittask ol
lramingascmipublic, sociallyandmorallycmpovcrcdrolc lorhcroincs , nar-
rators, andrcadcrs Thisvhitc, bcncvolcnt, matcrnalrclormcrvas ancvso-
cialpositionlormiddlcclassvomcnvho, asthcprivatcandpublicrcalmsin
ninctccnth-ccnturyAmcricabccamcincrcasingly scparatc, vcrc shutout ol
cconomicproductionandstatus '' Lxcludcdbygcndcrlromthcstatusolthc
libcral individual, middlcclass vomcn cultivatcd this rolc partly to launch
thcmsclvcs into public lilc as thcir program ncgotiatcd tcnsions cmcrging
lrom imposingdomcsticity onavorldthatincrcasinglymarginalizcdthcdo-
mcsticsphcrc'Arisinglromvomcnstraditionalcarctakingandallcctivcdu
ticsandappropriatingChristiancthics , bcncvolcntmatcrnali smgaincdvirtuc
andlcgitimacybylocusingonthcnccds andsullcringolothcrs andpublicly
advocatingonthcirbchallThcnarratorsbcspcak,andthcvhitc,middlcclass
hcroincs cnact, a lcmininc libcral idcntity that blcnds traditional noblcssc
obligc,matcrnalallcction, sororalalliliation, millcnnialoptimism, cvangclical
lcrvor,rcsistancctopatriarchy, andpcrsonalsalvationAlicnatcdlromthccco-
nomicandpoliticalsphcrcs, thcscdomcsticvritcrsconsolidatcanddisscmi
natcvhatNancyCottcalls thcrhctoricalmagnihcationolvomcnsdomcstic
occupation ' ` As thcyattcmptcdto rcshapcthcpublicvorld andthcirovn
imagcvithinit,middlc-classvomcnsoughttocxtcndthcirinHucncclromthc
homctothcvorldlyrcalmolhumanitarianvork
Thcrolcolmatcrnalbcnclactrcs s , scparatcdlromitsrccipicntbyraccand
class, couldgcncratclorninctccnthccnturymiddlcclassvomcnalcmininc
scllthatposscsscdmanyqualiticsolthclibcralindividualvhilcstillconlorm-
ingtothcmaintcnctsoldomcsticidcology Matcrnalbcncvolcncclulhllsdo
mcsticitys mandatc that lcmininc idcntity bc loundcd upon sclldcnial
Prccludcd lrom sccking status or povcr on thcir ovn bchall, middlcclass
vomcn couldonly asscrt a lorm ollibcral scllhoodbyidcntiingvith, nur-
turing, andactingon bchallolothcrs llmatcrnal bcncvolcncc conlorms to
domcsticitys dcmandlorlcminincscll-rcnunciation, italsodcpcnds upon a
notionolscllthatapproximatcsthc scll dctcrmining,sclladvancinghgurcol
thccntrcprcncur' Suchastratcgycnablcsthcmatcrnalbcnclactrcsstocnvi-
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 89
sionhcrscllrcsponsiblclorthctroublcsolstrangcrsandcapablcolallcv|ating
thcm, usinganindividualimaginationandvillthatcould rangclarintotimc
and spacc, sculpting and subduingthc vorld Yct vhcrc capitalismposits a
markctcconomybascdon contractualrclations amongindividuals rcgarding
laborandmatcrialrcsourccs, bcncvolcnccpositsamoralcconomyolcontrac-
tual obligat|ons bascd on thcplcdgc olhuman sympathyinhcrcntin Chris-
tianity Matcrnalbcncvolcncc, thcn, amountstoasocialcontractcnactcdbya
voman vho vicvs hcrscll, hcrcovcnants vith Cod and hcrlcllov humans,
and hcrcapacitics lor innovativc action cxtcnding lar bcyond thc rcalm ol
dailynccds andkinship circlcs Thusthc bcncvolcntmatron sccurcsalcmi-
ninc libcral scllhood thatmaintains cmotional conncctions and thc appcar
anccolscllsacrihccsocsscntialtothcidcaloltrucvomanhood
Thcdisablcdvomcnnotonlyactivatcthcirrcscucrs , butthcyalsoautho
rizc thc bcncvolcntvomans passagc lrom thcconhninghomc to thc public
rcalmlltrucvomanhoodgrantcdvomcnthcpotcntialtobcmoralcxcmplars
vhocmanatcdsalvihcChristianlovc,italsocnsconccdthcmincottagcsthat
shcltcrcd thcm lrom thcvcrycorruption lorvhich thcy hcld thc curc Thc
novclsposition cach disablcdvoman, notathomcvhcrc disablcdpcoplc
vcrcusuallyloundinninctccnth-ccnturysocictybutatriskinsidcthcmas-
culincinstitutions thc novcls criticizc ' ` Stovc placcs Hagar on thc auction
blockandPrucundcrthcvhipolacruclmastcr, Davissituatcspoor, naivc,
mothcrlcssDcbaloncatthcironmill ,PhclpsallovsmothcrlcssCattytovan-
dcrthcstrcctsolthcmilltovn Castingthcsccharactcrsascndangcrcdchil-
drcnandgrandmothcrsdcmandsintcrccssioninthcpublicrcalmandinvitcs
vomcnrcadcrstorcspondascithcrmothcrsorgrovndaughtcrstothcimpcr-
ilcd disablcdvomcn Thc disablcd hgurcs thus lcgitimatcdthcmiddlcclass
vomans movc outol thc scqucstcrcdbomcvhilcrcmainingvithinthcma-
tcrnalrolc
l lthc moral social contractolmatcrnal bcncvolcnccdcmandsarccipicnt
vho is dcpcndcnt upon hcr supportcr, thc disablcd hgurc sccn as unhtlor
bothlaborand socictycxactlyhts this script Thcsccharactcrs calllorth thc
rcadcrs compassionandinvitc hcrtohghtjcstlikc atigcronbchallolthc
sullcring,vulncrablcothcr,vorknglorsocialchangcandsccuringlibcralscll
hoodvithinthcdomcsticrol c Rcplicatingthcuncvcnpovcrrclationshipbc
tvccnmothcrandchild, thcconncctionsbctvccndisablcdvomcnandthcir
matcrnal bcnclactrcsscsarcccmcntcdbysharcd gcndcrbutunbalanccdby
racc and class dillcrcnccs lcncvolcnt, vhitc, matcrnal hgurcs such as
StovcsLva, DavissQuakcrvoman, andPhclpssPcrlcyachicvclrccdom, in-
dcpcndcncc, and sclldctcrmination through a rclationship vith an othcr
90 Constructing Disabled Figures
vhoscdcpcndcnccis sccurcdbydisability, blackncss, and/orlovcrclass sta
tus LvahasPruc,PcrlcyhasCatty, thcQuakcrvomanhasDcb,thcnarrators
havcHagar, Pruc, andDcb Andthcrcadcrshavc thcmall
I
This lcmininc libcral scll gains strcngth in part bccausc thc discnlran
chiscd, vulncrablcdisablcdhgurcs arclorccdtooccupythcpositionvvomcn
traditionallyholdinrclationtomcnThcdillcrcncc, olcoursc, isthatthclcm-
ininc libcral sclladmits dcpcndcncc on thc othcr, namingit sympathy and
idcntihcation, vhilc thcmasculinc libcral scllclaims autonomy, dcnyingrc-
liancc on lcmalc support and thc dchning boundarics that it providcs mas
culinity Ncvcrthclcs s, thcprcscnccolthcsympathctic,marginalizcddisablcd
hgurcscrcatcsatrianglcamongthcmasculinclibcralscll,thcvhitcmatcrnal
bcnclactrcss, andthcblackorlovcrclassdisablcdvomanAsathirdtcrmin
thcgcndcroppositionsolundamcntaltothcscnovcls, thcdisablcdhgurcpar
tiallydiscngagcs thc matcrnalbcnclactrcsslrom hcrstatusas subordinatcto
vhitcmcn, providinganothcrsocialrclationaroundvhichshcmightorganizc
a morc cmpovcrcd and prcstigious scluood ' This discursivc rclationship
thussccurcslorthcvhitclcmalcavaytogain somcolthclibcralindividuals
status, vhich patriarchal idcology and industrial capitalism dcnicd vomcn
Lcgitimatcd, likcLmcrsonsidcalman,bythcdchningprcscnccolaninlcrior,
thcbcnclactrcssacquircsagcncy, status , and invincibility, all sccurcdbythc
disablcdvomcnspassivity, marginalization, andvulncrability
Benevolent Maternalism's Flight from the Body:
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin
Thc lcmalc body, vhcthcr dcgradcd or idcal, bccomcs thc sctting lor this
dramaolcmpovcrmcntandagcncyThcvirtucStovcsvhitcmatcrnalbcnc
lactrcsscsdcrivclromthcirrclationsviththcdisablcdvomcnmanilcstsitscll
in an idcalizcd, cthcrcal bcauty and transccndcnt authority that is ncvcrso
lully achicvcd by thc slavc mothcrs Although thc sccming scll- sacrihcc ol
mothcrly dcvotion makcs all olStovcs matcrnal hcroincs bcautilul in thcir
rightcousncss, no bcncvolcnthgurc is morc rcsplcndcntthan Lva ' ` As thc
pcrlcction olchildishbcauty, Lvas dying body is castas strangclyincorpo
rcalinlact, asanangcl Amodcllittlclady, shchasacloud-likctrcad, a
buoyanthgurc, andavisionarygoldcnhcad, thatmakcbcautilulLvainto
thcpicturcolsomcbrigbtangclstoopingtorcclaimasinncr, |TC 2l0-l2,
26l, + l 0) Notonlyi s Lvaalwaysdrcsscdi nvhitc, buthcrassociationvith
thcprivilcgcd, bcautilul, vhitcpurityolbcncvolcnccgrovsstrongcrashcrin
llucnccovcrothcrs cxpands , culminatingwith hcr dcath andtranslormation
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 9 1
|nto an angclic, |dcalizcd hgurc Lva out-mothcrs cvcqonc, bccoming thc
apothcosis olmatcrnaldcvotion, l|tcrally sacrihcing hcrsclltorcl|cvc Prucs
and Tomsphysical sullcring and Topsys hcathcnism, and bccomingcxaltcd
and lrccd lrom thc body in thc proccss Vhcrcas Tom and Topsy inspirc
salvihclovcin Lva, Prucs grucsomctalcolphysicalmiscryandvulncrability
makcs Lvapalc, and adccp, carncstshadovpassc s| ovcr hcr cycs, acccn
tuating hcr bcatihc vhitcncss, vhich |s complctc in hcr dramatic, vhitc-
drapcdc||ecumourcnbcncathanangclhgurc, |1C l2 , +29)
l n dircct opposition to Lvas progrcssivcly idcal|zcd, cthcrcal bcauty is
Prucs incscapablc physical avlulncss A lov crcaturc vhosc grunting,
scovling, andsoursurlyvvaysconhrmhcrovn convictionthatlsugly,
lsvickcd, Prucisapoor,old, cutupcrittcr, anoltcnabuscd, suicidalalco-
holic touchingly gricvinglorhcrlost child , |1C l l 92l ) Prucs body is a
liabil|tylromvhichshccannotcscapc lt is thc mcdiumolhcrvictimization,
producing thc childthatshccannotdclcnd, bccomingthc instrumcntolhcr
drunkcnncss, compromising hcr labor, and hnally provo|ng hcr mastcr to
bcathcrtodcathLvcnthoughthcnondisablcdslavcmothcrssuchasLliza,
Cassy, and Halcys and Markss unnamcd slavcsarc humanizcd and gain
scll dctcrminationthroughmothcrhood, PrucsandHagarsdrcadlullatcsac-
knovlcdgcjusthovpotcntiallyvulncrablcmatcrnitymakcsvomcnundcrthc
patriarchalslavcsystcm
Stovcs discmbodicdnarrativcvoiccolbcncvolcntmatcrnalismollcrs Ha-
gar tothc rcadcrs asthc tragic cpitomc ollcmalc impotcnccin thclaccol
masculincsubjugation Hagarispartiallyblind, andsomcvhatcripplcdvith
rhcumatismsothatshcrcspondsvithshakinghands, |ntcnsctrcpidation,
andsobbingvhcnconlrontcdbythcvillsolothcrs, |1C l 9+-9 , l 9) On
thcauctionblockvhcrcshcistorn lromhcrgrovnsonbccauscshccan no
longcrvork, Hagarisapoorvictim, adcspairingoldmothcr, vhoscagony
is| pitilultoscc, andvhoscdisabilitysummarizcshcrincapacityanddclcat
, |1C l 9) Poth Pruc and Hagar lall prcy to thcir ovn bodily conditions ,
thcirdiscomlortingvarninguncasilyrctractcdbyStovcalcvpagcsaltcrthc
charactcrs introductions
Thcscdisablcdslavcmothcrsbriclbutrhctoricallyvitalappcaranccscom-
priscacountcrnarrativcin |nc|e 1omsCc|inthatundcrcuts Stovcsprocla
mationthathomcandmothcrhoodcanrcdccmavorldcorruptcdbysccular
and cconomic pursuits Mothcrhood docs not lrcc Pruc and Hagar, but in-
stcaditholdsthcmhostagctoitsattachmcntsandcmotions ,cvcnvhilcithu-
manizcsthcmThcsccharactcrs disabiliticss|gnicxactlyvhatthcmatcrnal
hcroincsmanagctocscapc aphysicalvulncrabilitythatundcrmincsthcvill
92 Constructing Disabled Figures
bchindsclldctcrmination VhilcLlizamiraculouslycrosscsthcOhioonthc
i cc, Hagarstrcmbling,crying,andbcggingchangcnothing, andPrucsdrink
ing, though itiscxcuscd, only dcstroys hcr llStowc lcavcs hcr rcadcrs mo
mcntarilyhcartbrokcnandwaryatHagarsandPrucslatcs , shcbriskymovcs
bcyond thcir hclplcssncss to Llizas and Cassys hcartcning hcroism Vhilc
thcindomi tablcwhitc matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsandnondisablcdslavcmoth
crshcrcbccomcmistrcsscsolthcirlatcs, thcdisablcdhgurcslackthcagcncy
and sclldctcrmination that rcgulatc and ncutralizc thc bodys vulncrability
Lnvclopcdbylorccsthcycannotcontrol , HagarandPruclackthcvilltorc
sist and thcabilitytoanticipatcthcprcscnts conscqucnccs on thc luturc
both traits ol thc libcral scluood csscntial to matcrnal bcncvolcncc Thc
disablcd vomcns incapablc, impotcnt bodics opcratc not as ncutral instru
mcnts olsovcrcignvills , butasimpcdimcntssub]ccttoincxorablc latc orir
rcsistiblclorccs, bothcastasmasculinc VcrcPrucandHagarorlatcr, Dcb
andCattytoactinthcirownbchall,thcnarrativclramcolapowcrstrugglc
bctwccn invinciblc matcrnalbcncvolcncc and masculinc markctplacc prac
ticcsvouldcollapscThcirvulncrabilitymarkcdbyadisabilitythatsimulta
ncously ] ustihcs and cnlorccs thcir matcrial and psychological dcstitution
rhctoricallyactivatcsthcbcncvolcntmatcrnalismthcnovclscckstoinspirc
inrcadcrs
The Female Body as Liability
AsthcsharpcontrastbctwccnLvaand Prucsuggcsts, thclcmalcbodyclicits
muchanxictyin thcscnovcls Thc shilt in rcprcscntationlromStowcs sym
pathctic but promptly crascd disablcd slavc mothcrs , to thc rcpulsivc but
touchingDcbandthcbcstialandpathcticCatty, suggcsts agrovinguncasi
ncssaboutthclcmalcbodyandthcscriptolbcncvolcntmatcrnalism Vhilc
thclcmalcbodyhadalwaysbccninsomcscnsccastasaliability, thisbccamc
cspcciallysolormiddlcclasswomcn, whowcrcbythc midninctccnthccn
tury prcsscdintoncwrolcsandculturallyrcstrictcdbythcinstitutions that
crcatcdwhatCcrdaLcrncrtcrmsthcmiddlcclasscultolthclady ' ' Thcrisc
olindustrialcapitalism, thccmcrgcnccolthcmiddlcclass, thcnotionolscp
aratcprivatcandpublicsphcrcs, thcprolcssionalizationolwork,thcincrcas
ing hcgcmony ol thc scicntihcmcdical pcrspcctivc, and thc cscalation ol
consumcrismintcractcdtoproduccanidcologyolwomanhoodthatrcquircd
thcwhitc, middlcclasslcmalcbodytobcidl c, lrail, andbcautilul `Lachol
thcscculturaldcvclopmcntsloundanidcologicalsitcinthcncwlyconhgurcd
middlcclasslcmalcbody |orcxamplc, asthclactory, thcsvcatshop, andthc
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 4 4 4 4 4 93
puttingoutsystcmlorpicccvorkrcplaccdthcindcpcndcnthomcasthcprin-
ciplcsitcolproduction, middlc-classvomcn, novcxcludedlrom thc trans
lormcdmarkctcconomy, bccamcornamcntsandconsumcrs, markcrs olthc
status thcirhusbands andlathcrsvcrc toiling to achicvc Panishmentlrom
the vorkplacc, amandatc to consumc, and alocus onappcaranccthus crc-
atcdthcstandardolthclrailandidlcbcauty Thatstandardvaspoliccdbyan
authoritativc scicntihcmcdicaldiscoursc thatnotonlypathologizcdlcmalc
ncss itscll, but enlorced thc rcstrictions olmiddlc-class domcsticity bydc-
claringcducation, vork, andcrcativityothcrthanrcproductionasphysically
dangcrousanddcstructive olvomanlincss Assuchsociocconomicdcmands
and povcr rclations vcrc litcrally inscribcd on the bodics ol middlcclass
vomcn,thcvomcnmusthavcstrugglcdvithahcightcncdscnseolthcirovn
vulncrabilityasthcidcallcmalcbodyshiltcdlromahcartymothcrandvorkcr
toadclicatc, cxpcnsive, indolcntornamcntbarclyhtlorreproduction '
Manyvomcnrcbcllcd, olcoursc Locatingthcissucsquarclyi nthclcmalc
body, Stovcrcspondcdbydravingasharpcontrastbctv ccnanidcalizcdbut
losthgureoldomcsticproductivityandthccurrcnt, dcnigratedsucccssorvho
vas unhtlorusclulphysical vork Lamcntingin an l -e+cssay thclragilc,
casily latigued, languid girls ola modern agc, shc nostalgically rccalls thc
strong, hardy, chccrlul girls olold timcsvhocould vash, iron, brcv,
bakc, harncssahorscanddrivchim, asvcllasbraidstrav, cmbroidcr, drav,
paint, and rcad innumcrablc books |or Stovc and hcr collcagucs vho
championcda domcsticitybascdin lcmalevork, thcbanishmcntolmiddlc-
classvomcnlromproductivcactivitycrcatcdanoltcndclcnsivcanddcspair
ingvision ollcmalc cmbodimcntAnxictyovcrcconomic changcs rcndcring
thcmiddlcclasslcmalcbodycsscntiallyadccorativcornamcntrathcrthana
productivcimplcmcntmayhavccontributcdtothcpcriodicbrcakdovns, ncr-
vousdisordcrs, andchronicboutsolillhcalththatthcscauthorsandmanyol
thcir contemporarics expcricnccd ` Thc cxamplc ol Phclps illustratcs thc
schizoid rcsponsc thatambition couldproduccinvomcn acculturatcd lor a
limitcd, domcsticrolc Phclpsasscrtsinan l --eHcrjerscssaythatthcno-
tionthatvomcnarcmadctobctakcncarcol, to dcpcnduponsomcbody, to
betoilcdlor, toplayamongthcroscsollilcvhilcthcirhusbandsandlathcrs
arc on its battlc-hclds, is dcgradingto thc lastdcgrcc Yetaltcrvriting1e
Si|enPcrner, shc cndurcdahvc-ycarillncssthatwasprobablyarcactionto
hcrlathcrs disapprovalandanti-lcminism
To bccxcludcdlrom carninga livingi na socicty thatcquatcsvirtucvith
vorkis proloundly diminishing Yct thcimagc olthc lragilcvoman in thc
dcgrading position olnecdingto bctakcncarc ol bccausc shcis outsidc
94 Constructing Disabled Figures
mcaninglul productionis prcciscly that olboththc disablcdhgurcs in thcsc
novclsandmiddlcclassvomcn Sovhilcthcnovclscxtcndanarrativc hand
olsympathyacrossa chasmoldillcrcnccto thc disablcdhgurcs, thc actual
distinctions bctvccn dcpcndcnt and dcgradcd Hagar, Pruc, Dcb, and
Cattyandthcirmiddlc-class sistcrsmaynothavcsccmcdsoclcartothcau-
thors orthcirrcadcrs Rcdundantand displaccdinthctranslormingmarkct
placc, castasdcpcndcntandlrail,sccnasvictimsolthcirutcruscs, vulncrablc
to institutional subjugation, and posscsscd ol bodics that vcrc incrcasingly
dccmcdusclcss, middlcclassvomcnvcrcinapositionparallcltothatolpco-
plcvithphysicaldisabilitics `
Thisculturalclligyolvomanhoodvascxactlyvhatarticulatc,ardcnt, and
ambitiousvomcnlikcStovc, Davi s, andPhclpsvcrctryingtoovcrthrov Pc
ingin a parallcl position to hcrdisablcd countcrpart produccs both a com
pclling compassion and a potcnt thrcat thatgcncratc an cscalating, uncasy
ambivalcncc culminatingin a rcprcscntationalbrcachbctwccnthcmatcrnal
bcnclactrcssandhcrdisablcdbcnchciaq lncrcasinglydivcrgcntinthcirhgu-
ration, thc tvogroupspcrsonithcpolcsin anarrativcollcmininccmbodi-
mcnt in vhich thc disablcd vomcn ollcr a talc ol admonition vhilc thc
nondisablcd vomcn stand as apothcoscs olvomanly physicality Pcginning
vithStowc,andmorclullyvithDavisandPhclps, thcscnovclsoucrtvopos-
siblc scripts lor vomcn, onc disablcdandonc cnablcd, toinstruct rcadcrs
about thc pcrils and potcntial olbcinga voman in midninctccnth ccntury
Amcrica Vhilcthc matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsarccmpovcrcdvithvoicc, scll-
dctcrmination, and agcncy, thc vulncrablc hgurcs languish on thc narrativc
margins ,cnsnarcdbythclimitationsolthcirovnbodics Thcnovclssimulta
ncouslycmbraccincompassionandrcsistindrcadthcscrcmindcrsolbodily
impotcncc and victimization Thc disablcdvomcn bccomc discursivc light-
ningrodsloragrovingscnscollcminincvulncrabilitythatthcauthors darc
not lully conccdc Thcir shadovy, tcrriblclatcsconstitutc amutcdcountcr
narrativcollcmalcsub]ugationandbodilyliabilitythatthcmatcrnalbcnclac
trcsscsllcc
Two Opposing Scripts of Female Embodiment:
Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mils
Asthisrclormnarrativc dcvclops, tbcdisablcdhgurcs bccomcprogrcssivcly
morc promincntandmorc dcgradcd, vhilc thc matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsbc-
comc morc idcalizcd and discmbodicd As Davi s and Phclps cxpand and
complicatc Stovcs rhctorical uscoldisablcdhgurcs tomobilizcbcncvolcnt
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 95
matcrnalism, thcyintcnsithccautionarytalcollcmalcvulncrabilityinthc
storicsolDcbVollcandCattyCarth DcbsandCattysmarkcdbodicslunc-
tionhrstasdcbascdinstrumcntsolincllcctualvillsandsccondasliabilitics
thatcondcmnthcmtodcspcratc situations Thcdisablcdvomcn rcprcscnt
prccisclythcpossibilitythatlibcralindividualismrcluscstoconccdcthatthc
bodymightimpcdc rathcrthan implcmcnt thc dcvclopmcntolscllhood ln
starkcontrast, thc matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsDaviss sccmingly guilt-ri ddcn
narratorandhcrcthcrcalQuakcrvomanasvcllas Phclpss idcalizcd, bcau-
tilul Pcrlcy Kclsoarc lrcc lrom thc vulncrability that cndangcrs thc di s-
ablcdhgurcs
Pyccntcringits rcprcscntationolvomanhoodonthcvulncrablcbody ol
thcsympathcticbutmiscrablcandincpthunchback DcbVollc, Li]e inae
IronMi||srcvcrscsStovcslocuson thchcroincsinordcrtohighlightthcvic-
tims Davis convcrts Stovcs Southcrn racial hicrarchytoa morc Northcrn
conccrnvith classdillcrcntiation, hcrlcsssanguincnarrativcvoiccolbcncv-
olcntmatcrnalismcxposingthclailurcoldomcsticitytoimposcmoralordcr
VhcrcasthchomccndurcsasasitcolsalvationinStovcsvorld,Davispoints
cxplicitlytohovindustrialcapitalismsplitsvhitcsintoaclasshicrarchythat
dccimatcs vorking-class lamilics, squclchcs individual lulhllmcnt, and rcn
dcrshomclilcinconscqucntial AbarrcnrcmnantolStovcs idcalizcdlamily,
thcVollcssubsistinahovclolimpotcntmiscryandvrctchcdncss Thcmoth
crlcss Dcbis onc olStovcs disablcd and dcvalucd childrcn, grovn up and
castoutlikcHagarandPruc,dclcnsclcssbclorchcropprcs sors Althoughshc
scrvcsasacarctakcr,Dcbisdcnicdmothcrhood, thatconduittodignity, idcn
tihcation, andsympathylorStovcsslavcs Strongcronculturalcritiqucthan
domcsticsolution,Li]e inaeIronMi||slocuscsonthcmillandprison, cllac-
ingboththcmiddlc-classhomcandthc Quakcrcommunitylromvhichthc
matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsspring
Vhcrcas Stovvc locuscsonanidcalizcd Lva, Davis obscurcshcrbcnclac-
trcsscs ,althoughshcgrantsthcmthcstorysonlypositivcpovcr Poththcnar-
rator and thc Quakcr voman arc strikingly insubstantial , comparcd to thc
vrctchcdmillvorkcrsvhoscbodilysullcringlloodsusvithvividdctail Likc
Stovcs narrativc voicc bclorc hcr, Daviss narrator is not uncquivocally a
voman,yct thc toncolbothvoiccsis sostronglyaligncdvi thlcmalcbcncvo-
lcnccasto sccmlcminincVhilcthc narratorshapcsrcadcrsrcsponscsvith
provocativc dcscriptions and goadingjudgmcnts , shc rcvcals almostnothing
abouthcrscll, particularlythcdctailsolhcrovnbody Vc lcarnonlythatshc
hasknovnthccommunitysinccchildhoodcvcnthoughshcsccmstobcquitc
apartlromit,narratinglromavindovabovcthcvorkcrsmasscd, vilc, slimy
96 4 4 4 4 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
livcs,LIM l l) Onlyat thc cnd is thc prcscnccthathasguidcdus through
thcpoorVclshpuddlcrs] drcadlulstoryrcvcalcdasthatolavritcrvhosc
librarynovhouscsHughskorlstatucolthcvoman,guiltilyhidbchindacur
tain ,L!M o+) A vast rhctorical disparity looms bctvccnthc middlcclass ,
prcsumablyvhitc,vritcr,vhosccntirccharactcrizationconsistsolactsolvill
h l l d l l k l l h ld d suc as opcn, can ctcct, , vant, c oosc, arc, an
most importantl vritc, and thc mill vorkcrs, vhosc miscrablc matcrial
livcsanddcgradcdbodics, dovninthclog, andmud, andloulclhuvia, shc
solranklydcpicts,LIM l l -l +)
ThcunnamcdbcncvolcntQuakcrvomanvhoappcarsatthccndol Dcbs
prisontcrm is ascllcctualas, and morccmbodicdthan, thc narrator ln total
command ol hcrscll and thc tragic situation, this homcly body coarscly
drcsscdingrayandvhitc, vithastrongarm andastronghcart, appcarsto
rcscuc Dcb andtotransportHughscorpsctoapropcrburialamongthchills
and trccs ,LIM o2-ol ) ln this idcalizcd Quakcr vomanso similar to
Stovcs Rachcl Hallidayno dissonancc cxists bctvccn body andvill , hcr
body lunctions cllicicntly and capably so that shc arrivcs , clcans, lcads,
burics, and bcgins hcr vvork olrcdccming Dcbvithout thcslightcst hin
drancc,LIM o+) Pcrpctuallyin thc scriccolothcrs ,yctmistrcssolhcrscll,
hcrbody, andthcconscqucnccsolhcractions , shcis Dcbsoppositc, thclib
crallcminincsclllrcclromthcliabiliticsollcmalccmbodimcnt
Dcbi s, bycontrast, tcthcrcdtoabodythatlrustratcscvcnpcrcrtsvo
litionasvcllas obstructingthcachicvcmcntolhcrdcsircs A| tc olhcr
class, shcis thcvrctchcdmilllilcmadcHcsh ,LIM2 l ) Adcgradcdvcrsion
olHugh,vhoscartisticcommitmcntrcdccmshisbodilyrcstrictions ,Dcbcm
blcmatizcs thc unrcdccmcd, subj ugatcd bodythat impcdes hcrvill Vhilc
Hughs hncrnaturc rcmains unsullicd bccausc olhis gropingpassion lor
vhatcvcrvas bcautilulandpurc, Dcb,rcduccdtoabodyspoilcdbylatcand
socictysdislavor,is m| iscrablc likcalimp,dirtyragyctnotanunhtting
hgurc to crovn thc sccnc ol hopclcss discomlort ,LIM 2 l -2l) Vhcrcas
cruclmastcrsthvartPrucandHagar, Dcbsbodyitscllishcrprimaqopprcs
sor, hcrdchninglcaturc, summinguplor Hugh andthcnarratorcvcqthing
ugly, rcvolting, and conhning about mill vorkcrs livcs Dcscriptions likc
vatchdogandlaithlulspaniclrclcgatcDcbtothcstatusolananimalatthc
mcrcyoldominatingmastcrs , hcrovncrudcinstincts , andahostilccnviron-
mcnt,LIMo l , 2l)
AlthoughDcbssolcmotivationthroughoutthcstoryi s tolovcandbclovcd
byHugh, hc issickcncdvithdisgustathcrdclormity, andshcispathcticto
cvcqoncclsc,LIM2l) RcjcctcdandpiticdinhcrcllortstogainHughslovc,
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women e e e e e 97
shcrcprcscnts thc ultimatc thrcatt oninctccnthccntury lcmalc scluood a
bodythatprcvcntshcrlromattachmcnttoaman,vomcnsconduittopovcr
andstatus Rcpulsivcto thc malcgazc, Dcbsbclcagucrcdbodyvitncsscsthc
domcstic sclls prccarious dcpcndcncc upon a body that mustbc approvcd
and lulhllcd bymalc sclcction Lvcn morc alarming, Dcbs only momcntol
bold agcncy, thc scll-sacrihcing, quintcsscntially lcmininc act ol stcaling
MitchcllsmoncylorHugh, ironicallyncithcrsavcsnorplcascshimbutlcads
instcadtohisdcathThus , Dcbvarnsolthclcmalcbodysvorstpossiblcbc-
trayal thatitprcvcntsalldcsircsandnccdslrombcingrcalizcd Ahgurclorall
thcvulncrability, abcrration, rcjcction, andimpotcncc attributcdto lcmalcs ,
Dcb, victimizcdby andbccauscolhcrthvartcd vomans lorm, i s at oncc
sympathcticandmonstrous, hnallycontaincd in,rathcrthancmpovcrcdby,
thc Quakcrhavcn ,LIM2 l ) Vith Dcb, thcn, thisnovcllacontinucsStovcs
proccss ol scaling oll thc disablcd hgurc vho signihcs lcmalc vulncrability
intoanarrativcspaccolinsurmountablcbodilydillcrcncc, lrccingthc matcr-
nalbcnclactrcsslrom agrovingvarincssolthclcmalcbodys limitationson
agcncyandvill
Davis and Phclps intcnsi bcauty and uglincss as opposing signihcrs ol
lcminincvirtuc l nStovcthcdichotomylollovsraciallincs , butinDavisand
Phclps dillcrcnccsinphysicalappcaranccrcllcctclass discrcpancics Vhilc
Stovc uscsmatcrnal cxpcricncc to Hattcn outphysiological dillcrcnccsbc-
tvccn Pruc and Hagar and Lliza and Rachcl, Davis and Phclps cxpungc
mothcrhoodanddillcrcntiatcthcirsctsolvomcnbyaligningbcautyvithso-
cial status ln thc gcncration that scparatcs Davis and Phclps lrom Stovc,
classdistinctionsamongvomcncontinucdto solidi, andlcmalcbcautyas
an industq and idcology intcnsihcd ` Py midccntury thc lilc pattcrns ol
middlcclass and lovcrclass vomcn vcrcvcry dissimilar, cxccpt that thcy
vcrc cqually marginalizcd and discnlranchiscd ' That disparity is rcprc
scntcdhcrcbybcauty,acommoditythatvasmuchmorcavailablctomiddlc
class vomcnthantothcirvorking class sistcrs For cxamplc, cvcn though
Daviss matcrnalbcnclactrcsscsarc toophysicallyvaguc tobcthoughtolas
bcautilul , thc novcl doggcdly undcrscorcs thc mill vorkcrs uglincs s dc-
lormcd Dcb is thc apothcosis olvorkingclass grotcsqucncss, cvcn morc
ghastly, hcrlips blucr, hcrcycsmorc vatcry, than thc rcpcllcntdrunk, Old
Vollc ,LI! l o-l ) SovhilcHagarhasonlyshakinghandsandismcrcly
pitilul to scc, Dcb is a vcak, llaccid vrctch, vhoscuglincss clcarly is a
markandproductnotonlyolphysicalinlcrioritybutalsoolclas s distinction
, TC l 9, LIMl )
Daviss|ancyalsohgurcsinthiscconomythatcquatcsphysicalbcautyvith
98 . . . . . Constructing Disabled Figures
lemalevalue, virtue, and power
`
Although subduedbythe milllile thathas
madeDebsougly,|aneysbeautyshowsthroughenoughinherdarkblueeyes
and lithehgurethatHughloves herinsteadoltherepugnantDeb ,LIM2l)
Debs recognitionthatHughloves|aneyslragile andladingbeautyproduces
inDeba] ealousythatthenarratorusestoencouragethereadertoidenti
withDebdespiteclassboundaries Arepainand] ealousylesssavagerealities
downhere inthisplace l amtakingyouto, thebenevolentnarratorcharges,
thaninyourownhouseoryourownheart Thenoteisthesame, llancy,
be theoctavehighorlow` ,LIM, 2l) Thisallusiontoallwomensdependence
on male approval lorlulhllment and status suggests that the threat olthe
uglylemalebodycannotbesalely sequesteredbehindthewallDavis con
structsbetweenmillgirls andmiddle-classwomen Sowiththeintroduction
olphysicalbeautyanditslinkstoclassdillerencesasavaluesystemimposed
onlemalebodies , theleminineliberal sellassertedbybenevolentmaternal
ismbecomes still more vulnerable, and mustbebolsteredrepeatedlybythe
aniousoppositionbetweenthedisabledhgureandherbenelactress
The Triumph of the Beautiful, Disembodied Heroine:
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Sient Parner
Appearing in l 3 l , nearly twentyyears alter |nc|e1omsCc|in, 1e Si|en
Pcrnerseems to acceptas its premise CoJs LcJy' Boo|'s l 3 2assertion
that lt is a womans |usiness to bebeautilul, and to ampli|that assertion
withboththedomesticpropositionthatbeautyequalsvirtueandtheleminist
proposition thatwomencanlive independentlylrom menandmarriage
`
' A
knd ol hybrid ol Stowes Lva and Daviss Quaker woman, Phelpss Perley
Kelsoisalull-blown hgure oltranscendentalbenevolentmaternali smwhose
Hawlessbeautyandunmitigatedcapabilityiscontrastedwiththeuglinessand
ineptnessolthewretchedCattyCarthAswithDavi s, classdistinctionsman
ilestasbeautyanduglinessseparatePhelpssultimateheroine, Perley,andul
timate victim, Catty A sellmade woman in the leminine economy ol
benevolence, the indomitable Perley repudiates marriage, instead usingher
inheritancetoestablishanall-lemalehomecenteredonsororalallection, sup
posedlyuncompromisedbyeitherpatriarchyorclassdivisions
`
Opentothe
millworkers, Perleyshomeservesasastageuponwhichaclassbasedhierar
chyequatingbeautyandvirtueisrepeatedlydisplayed Capableolshapingher
owndestiny,Perleyi sasuperiorwoman, devotedtothelesscapableandless
appealing, a swilt, strong, helplulhgurewitha womanly, wonderlullace,
whosevirtueandphysicallaultlessnessincreasei nproportiont ohergeneros
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 8 8 8 8 8 99
itytovardthcmillworkcrs ,SP l ol , 2 l , l02) Shc isagrown-up, strcngth-
cncdvcrsion olLva whoscbcauty and goodncss makc hcrinvulncrablcand
usclul, ancarthlyrathcrthanahcavcnlyangcl Scvcralc||ecuxvivcns] uxta
poscPcrlcysidcalizcd, capablcbodywith Cattys dcbascd, incptonc Thcy
wcrcastartlingpairtobcstandingsidcbysidc Pcrlcyshnc,hnishcdsmilc
sccmcdtoblotoutthis miscrablchgurc, who ishabitually charactcrizcdas
anuglygirlwitharcpulsivclacc, SP3o-33, l 90) LchoingLva, Pcrlcy
ashcrnamcsuggcstsisassociatcdrcpcatcdlywithwhitc MissKcl sosclc
gantvhitcdrcss ,withoutHaw, orpuckcroltrimmingprcscntcdabroadand
shiningbackgroundtothcpoorcrcaturcspuzzlcdhgurc, SP2l0)
Phclpscomplicatcsthiscontrast, howcvcr,bycrcatingatrianglccomposcd
ol Pcrlcy, thc humanitarian hcircss , Sip Carth, Cattys oldcr sistcr and a
nondisablcdmillgirl , andCatty, thcdisablcdwomanwhoschclplcssncssclic-
itsthcirdcvotionandcmphasizcsthcirpowcrSipisaligncdwithCattybylow
socialclassand its attcndantlackolbcauty, andwith Pcrlcybythcsclldctcr-
minationwithwhichshcovcrcomcsthcliabiliticsolthcbodytowhichCatty
succumbs Asiltosuggcstboththclimitsand thcpossibiliticslorupwardso-
cial mobility, Sip stands midway bctwccn Pcrlcys capabilitycmbodicd as
bcautyandCattysincptitudccmbodicdasdi sability Dcspitcthissuggcs-
tionolcl asspcrmcability, classdistinctionsappcarmainlyasbiologicaldillcr
cnccs akn to racial catcgorics Sip is justa littlc rough, brown girl with a
pinchcd lacc, whilc thc prccious Pcrlcy has a radiantly whitc, hnc, rarc
lacc, SP29+, 3 , l02) Ncvcrthclcss , Sipswilllulncssand scll controlallow
hcr to bccomc Pcrlcys undcrstudy in thcir scllcrcatcd, ambitious world ol
Christian bcncvolcncc indcpcndcntolmalc inHucncc ln contrast, Catty is
blindcdanddcalcncdbymillworkandhnallyswcpt awaybyanapocalyptic
Hoodollogs, thcmillshnaldcstructivccllcctonhcrbody Viththistriangu-
lation, thcn, Phclps shapcs Stowcsmodclolrclations bctwccnthcdisablcd
hgurc andthc matcrnalbcnclactrcssintoa class-bascdhicrarchythatcorrc-
latcswiththcbchavioralvalucsystcmollibcralindividualismandislinkcdto
physicalcharactcristics
Pcrlcys bcautyi snotonly thcvisiblcmanilcstationolhcrvirtuc, i tlunc
tionsaswcllasasynonymlorthcscllcontrolthatCattylacks |ustasPcrlcys
bodyis thc hnishcdandHawlcss productollcmininc moral usclulncss,
Cattys body is illcontrollcd and uncontrollablc , SP 3 ) Pcrlcys asccti-
cismcontrasts vithCattysviccs thcdcalandmutcgirldrinks, runswildin
thcstrccts, andworscisprobablyscxuallypromiscuous , SP 3+) Lntircly
physical, withnorcstrainingwill, shcconstantlyriskscxploitationandscxual
appropriation Likc Davi ss Dcb, Cattyis a miscrablccrcaturc, a t ypcol
1 00 Constructing Disabled Figures
thc vorldlromvhichshc sprang, SP2S) Ashcrnamcimplics, Cattyis
also bcstial , covcringandvhining likcahurtbrutcandsnarl ing| likc
anannoycdanimal,SPl SS, l 0) SuggcstingasocialDarvinistvicvolclass
anddisability, Cattys laccappcarssimian nothavingmanagcdthatdillicult
cvolutionolbrainlrombcast, shcisagirlvithalovlorchcad, vithvandcr
ingcycs, vithadullstoop to thchcad, and| a thickdroopingundcrlip
, SPSo)
``
Cattyis thcbodyincarnatcthatlrustratcsandoblitcratcs thclibcralindi
vidualsnarrativcolprogrcsstovardphysicalmastcry Rathcrthanlunctioning
as,lorcxamplc,thccompliantimplcmcntthatlrccsThorcaulromarcstrictivc
socialordcr, Cattys bodyis aliability, impcrilinghcr and provokingthc lcral
bchaviorimplicdbyhcrnamc Hcrvandcringandappctitcssuggcstprototyp
ical malcbchaviorthatis sclldcstructivclor avomanvithoutmalccntitlc
mcnt Cattyis thcvomanPcrlcymustsavc, butalsomustncvcrbccomc Py
dcpictingPcrlcyasthc sovcrcignvillinthccompliantbodyvhilcCattyisthc
sovcrcign body thatobviatcs thc autonomousindividualvill, Phclps lastcns
allphysicalrcstrictionsandpcrilstoCattysbody, lcavingPcrlcyaspurc soul
andvoiccattachcdtoa transccndcnt, tractablc implcmcntollcmininc scll
dctcrmination
`

1e Si|enPcrner, hovcvcr, docs notlocus on thcsc ncgativc aspccts ol


Cattysportrayal Thc rcpcatcdlitanyolcmotioncncrustcdsympathylorthc
poordisaLlcdvomanblurs Cattys implicitmcnacc, obscuringthcphysical
dangcrs shcrcprcscnts Thc dclcnsivc, almostmanic, quality olPcrlcys up
liltingportraitalsolurthcrmutcs, cvcn trivializcs, thcncvcrthclcssinsis tcnt
thtcatthatCattysvulncrablcbodyposcstoPhclpssbcncvolcntlcminincscll
Thcnarrativcstratcgyolsplittingthclcmalccharactcrsintocarnalandincor
porcalhgurcsbccomcsclcaronlyilthcspotlightisshiltcdlromthcnarrativc
olclass solidaritybctvccn Pcrlcyand Sip to thcj uxtaposition olCattys av
lulncssvithPcrlcysidcalization,botholvhicharcvcilcdbyconstantclaims
ollovc lndccd, thcirobscssionvithCattysvulncrabilitysccurcs thcbond
bctvccnSipandPcrlcy,hcrapocalypticdcathlrccingandinspiringthcmas
vcllasthcrcadcrsloruncncumbcrcdbcncvolcntvorkanditsconcomitant
lcmalcscllmakng.
Viththisshiltinhgurationolthcdisablcdvomcnandthcirmatcrnalbcnc
lactrcsscs, Davis and Phclps bcarvitncss to an cscalating anxicty, hrst cx
prcsscdbyStovc, aboutthcplaccolthclcmalcbodyinasocictyundcrgoing
changcsinvork,gcndcrarrangcmcnts , classrclations , consumption, andcn
lranchiscmcnt VhilcAmcricas progrcssnarrativc mayhavc incrcascdmid
Benevolent Maternalism and Disabled Women 8 8 8 8 1 01
dlcclassyoungvomcnscxpcctations, thcdcvclopingrolcolthcvhitc, lrail ,
idlcbcautycncloscdinthcmiddlcclasshomcandscvcrcdlromhcrvorking
sistcrs rcprcscntcd a paradoxical thrcat rcgistcrcd bythcsc vomcn vritcrs
Thc samc lrustrations and scnsc olrcstrictions amongmiddlcclassvomcn
thatignitcdthcirvomcns rights movcmcnt, ollicially launchcdin l S+S, in-
sinuatcthcmsclvcsintothcportrayalsvchavccxamincdhcrc ` ` nclcToms
Cabins idcalizationolmatcrnityasphysicallycmpovcringccrtainlylibcratcs
somcolthcslavcmothcrs ,butitalsocrcatcsinbcncvolcntmatcrnalismapat-
tcrn invhichthc tcrms olcclcbration tcndto undcrminc thc pro]cctitscll
Thc matcrnalbcnclactrcsstranslorms throughLi]e inaeronMi||sand1ae
Si|enPcrnerintoadclcnsivcbiologizingolbcautyas thcphysicallocationol
lcmalcpovcrandprcstigcandoluglincssasitsabscncc Dcspitcthcdcsircto
constructarhctorical modclolsociallyvalucdlcminincscluood, thcscnov
clscouldonlymodithcavailablc, dominantscriptolthcmasculinclibcral
scll,bcndingittovardthcothcrdircctcdncssandscll- dcnialmandatcdbythc
lcmalcdomcsticrolc lnspitcolthcirlaudatoryaims, thcscvorksrcHcctthc
limitations ollibcral individualisms dcnial ol bodily limitation and dcpcn-
dcncy lnambitiouslyrcmakngthcvorldandthcmsclvcs, thcscvritcrsrcvcal
a suspicionthatmiddlc-classlcmalccmbodimcntvas an incrcasingimpcdi-
mcntYctthatsuspicioninadvcrtcntly sctsinmotionanarrativc thatbctrays
tbcvcrysistcrsitintcndstosupport Thcnovclsbanisbonto tbcdisablcdhg-
urcs suchtroublingissucsaslcmalcscxualcxploitation, thclailurcoldomcs-
ticity, thc pathologizing olvomcn, lcmalc cconomic dcpcndcncc, and thc
cquationollcmininityvithchildhood Pypro]cctingthcliabiliticsollcmalc
ncssontothcdisablcdvomcn, thcnovcls opcnanarrativc salc spaccvhcrc
thc matcrnal bcnclactrcss can crcatc a moral socicty and a lcmininc libcral
scllunconstraincdbythclimitsolcmbodimcnt
Rcnunciationtriumphsovcridcntihcationinthcscnovclsbccauscthcdi s
ablcdbodysignihcsaphysicalvulncrability sotroublingthat itsccmstoun-
dcrmincthcvritcrsambitionslormiddlcclassvhitcvomcn Pydccliningto
bcrc-lormcd, bystubbornlyrcsistingrchabilitation, thcdisablcdbodics dc
notions such as scllimprovcmcnt, scllrcliancc, scll-dctcrmination, cvcn
progrcssitscllallvalucd, ilillusory, tcnctsollibcralindividualism Lvcntu-
allytoogrcatathrcatto thcpro]cctolbcncvolcntmatcrnalism, thcdisablcd
vomcn arc sympathctically but dchnitivcly cast out ol thc cmpovcring
schcmcthcnovclspromotclorvomcn llprcscntingavisionolsocial]usticc
thatrccognizcs physical limitations is thcscnovcls achicvcmcnt, thcirdisa
pointmcntis thatthc critiquc laltcrs in applyingthisvisionto thc hgurc ol
lcminincscllhoodtbcyadvancc Toconlrontthcproblcmsolthcbodythatarc
1 02 Constructing Disabled Figures
cmbcddcd in bcncvolcnt matcrnalism and raiscd by thc disablcd vomcn
vouldrcquircconlrontingthcdisparitybctvccnthcidcalandthcactualthat
thcscnovclscschcv. Though shciscmbraccd, thcdisablcdhgurcisabovcall
vhatthcmatcrnalbcnclactrcssrcluscstobccomc.Thcscnovclsatonccclaim
andrcpudiatc thc idcntihcationbctvccnthc tvo groups olvomcn, ollcring
compassionasanambivalcntcompromisc
i I vt

Disabled Women as Poweiul
Women in Petr Morrison,
and Lorde
Revising Bl ack Femal e Subjectivity
As vc sav in chaptcr+, scntimcntalisms discoursc ol sympathyncccssarily
lramcs disability as a lack that middlcclass lcmalc bcncvolcncc rcdrcsscs
Vhilcbcncvolcntmatcrnalisms locusonracc, gcndcr, bcauty, anddisability
sccms to insist on thc body as thc ground olidcntity, thc novcls ol Stovc,
Davis ,andlhclpsultimatclyHcclromthcirovncmphasisonthcbodytocon
structalcminincpcrsonathatconlormstothcabstractnotionsolthclibcral
individual and thc constraints ol truc vomanhood ll thc cultural vork ol
ninctccnthccntury bcncvolcnt matcrnalism is introducing thc body into
politicizcdlitcrarydiscoursc, thatvorkiscontinucdbyscvcraltvcnt|cth-ccn-
turyAlrican-Amcricanvomcnvritcrsvhoalsouscdisablcdhgurcsinstratc-
gicsolcmpovcrmcntthatrccastbcncvolcntmatcrnalismspositivcvcrsionol
vomanhood
lcrhaps thclundamcntalaimolAlricanAmcricanvcmcnsvritingis to
construct ablacklcmalcsubjcctthatdisplaccsthcncgativcculturalimagcs
gcncratcdbyAmcricas aggrcgatchistory olraci smandscxism Sucha col
lcctivcpro]cctolcul turalrcvision challcngcsthcAlri canAmcricanvoman
vritcr to producc a narrativc olscllthat authcnticatcs blackvomcn s op
prcs sivchistoryyctollcrsamodcllortransccndingthathistoryslimitations
1 04 e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
lnothcrvords, thcvritcrmustrccastthcdominantrcprcscntationsolblack
vomanhood vithout bctraying thc historical cxpcricncc olbcing a black
vomaninAmcri ca Hcrtaskisthustorcndcropprcssionvithoutrcinscrib
ing i t to build a ligurc ol blacklcmalc scllhood on thc narrow spacc bc
twccn victimization and assimilation, so that shc ncithcr rcpudiatcs hcr
historynorcmbraccs thc convcntionalscriptsolvomanhoodthathavccx-
cludcdhcr
ln Audrc Lordcs cxplicitly rcvisionist narrativc ol scll, Zcmi A Net
Sje||ingo]MyNcme, thc narratorAudrc/Zamiatonccposcsthisproblcmand
implicsasolution
My mother was a very powerful woman. This was so in a time when that word
combination of VUH0H and pegu| was almost unexpressible in the vhite
american [sic] common tongue, except or unless it was accompanied by some
aberrant explaining adj ective like blind, or hunchback, or crazy, or Black. There
fore when I was growing up, pegu|1UH0H equaled something else quite dif
ferent from ordinary woman, from simply "woman. " It certainly did not, on the
other hand equal "man. " What then? What was the third designation?
Acknowlcdging that thc dominant dchnition olvoman cxcludcs pcrsonal
povcr, Lordcscarchcshcrclorlanguagctocxprcsshcrcxpcricnccolthcoxy-
moronic povcrlulwoman ' Rc]cctingbothvoman and man, shc imag
incsthisiconoclasticblacklcmalcasoccupyingathirddcsignationdistinct
lromthconlytvo availablcnormativcoptions Thiswcmanthuslallsoutsidc
standardcatcgoricsandncccssarilyintothcrcalmolthcabcrrant, intclligi-
blconlyilinHcctcdbycxplainingad]cctivc s| invokingthatvhichisoutsidc
vhat counts as normal lor Lordc, thc dcsignations blind, hunchback,
crazy, andPlackbccomcthc onlyavailablcscmanticvchiclcsintothcon-
tological salc spaccolthccxtraordinary, vhcrc altcrnativcvays olbcingcan
bcarticulatcdandvalidatcd singthcscad] cctivcs , Lordccquatcsthcbodys
lormwithsub]cctivcidcntity lndccd, Lordcuscsthc dcvalucdbodilycharac
tcristics associatcdvith racc and disability to rcprcscnt any statc orlccling
thatdillcrslromthcprivilcgcdnormThcmatcrialcxpcricnccolalvaysbcing
cxtraordinary, olncvcrcoincidingviththcnormativcrcquircmcntsolvoman-
hoodormanhood is thc|actolcxistcnccthatshapcsthcidcntityLordccrc
atcsinhcrbiomythography Thcbodyisthcsourccolboththclrccdomand
thc condcmnation lrom vhicb Lordcs mytbic scll, hcrown third dcsigna-
tion, cmcrgcs
Vhatis clcari nthispassagcandthroughoutLordcs biomythographyis
thatdillcrcncc, notsamcncss, ishcrprinciplcolidcntity Pcingoutsidcthcor
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women 1 05
dinaz is bothcsscntial and cmancipatoryin hcrsclldchnition shcis a lcs-
bianasvcllaslat, Plack,ncarlyblind, andambidcxtrous, aclustcrolattri
butions at oncc cxcludingand allirminglorhcr,Zcmi2+0) Pyclaiminghcr
cxtra ordinaq body as thc ground olidcntity, shc rcpudiatcs thc norms ol
vomanandman Assimilationtothcnormvouldbclorhcranactolscll-
cllaccmcntthatvouldmakc hcr a dcviantprctcndcr lnstcad, Lordc hgurcs
hcrscllas inassimilablc, so uniquc in body, birth, history, and bchavior that
distinctionbccomcsthcprinciplcolhcridcntityandhcrpovcr
Lordcs third dcsignation is onc manilcstation ol a hgurc sprinklcd
throughAlrican-Amcrican vomcns vritings , a hgurc vhoscbody bcars thc
marksvcthinkolasdisabilitics Thishgurcscxtraordinarybodydisqualihcs
hcrlromthcrcstrictionsandbcnchtsolconvcntionalvomanhood, lrccinghcr
tocrcatcanidcntitythatincorporatcsabodydistinguishcdbythcmarkings
somcpainlullyinllictcd, somccongcnitalolhcrindividualandculturalhis-
tory Thcscdi sablcdhgurcsprcscntavcrsionolblacklcmalcsub]cctivitythat
insists upon andcclcbratcs physical dillcrcncc Pyllauntingrathcrthanob-
scuringthcschgurcs physi caldillcrcnccs, thcauthorscstablishthccxtraordi-
narybodyasasitcolhistoricalinscriptionrathcrthanphysicaldcviancc, and
thcy simultancously rcpudiatc such cultural mastcr narrativcs as normalcy,
vholcncss, and thc lcminincidcal
l tracc hcrc a gcncalogyolthis disablcdhgurcvho mightbc morc prc-
cisclycallcdcxtraordinarylromitsinccptionaslrs HcdgcsinAnnPctrys
l 9+onovcl1ae Sree. through morc lullydcvclopcdmanilcstations in Toni
Morrisons hrst hvc novcls, 1ae B|ues Lye , l 90) , Su|c , l 9) , Song o]
So|oon , l 9) , 1crBc|y , l 9S l ) , andBe|oveJ , l 9S) , andhnallytoAudrc/
Zami inAudrc Lordcs l 9S2 biomythography, ZcmiANewSje||ing o]My
NcmeTogcthcr,thcscdisablcdlcmalchgurcsgcsturctovvardanantiassimila-
tionist, politicizcdrhctoricoldillcrcnccbornolthccivilrightsandthcPlack
Artsmovcmcntsolthc l 9o0s CharactcrssuchashIorrisonsLvaPcacc, Paby
Suggs , and Pilatc Dcad, and Lordcs Zami ol|cranAlrican-Amcricanlcmalc
scl|groundcdinthcsingularbodythatbcarsthcctchingsolhistoryandvhosc
validation, povcr, andidcntitydcrivclromphysicaldillcrcnccandrcsistancc
to culturalnorms Thcscvomcncnablcthcirauthorstorcprcscntaparticu-
larizcdscllvhobothcmbodicsandtransccndsculturalsub] ugation, claiming
physicaldi|lcrcnccascxccptionalrathcrthaninlcrior PcginningvithPctrys
Mrs Hcdgcs, anambiguousprccursorinthcmodcrnistgrotcsquctradition, l
cxaminchcrcclcvcnhgurcsandthcirrhctoricalrolcs |ollovingMrs Hcdgcs
arc XIorrisons disablcd vomcn, Lva Pcacc, Maric Thrcsc |oucault, Paby
Suggs , Nan, and Paulinc Prccdlovc, thc physically markcdhgurcs olPilatc
1 06 4 Constructing Disabled Figures
Dcad, Sula, Scthc, andhcrmcthcr, and, hnally thc multiplydistinctivcccn
tralhgurcclAudrcinLcrdcsZmi lnvaryingdcgrccs, thcschgurcscachcc
cupythcradicalsubjcctpcsiticnLcrdctcrmsthcthirddcsignaticn lnthcsc
rcvisicnist narrativcs clblackvcmanhccd, thcbcdy as a sitc clhistcqand
idcntityi satcnccburdcnandmcansclrcdcmpticn`
Physicallydisablcdcharactcrsappcarvithscmclrcqucncy,butusuallypc
riphcrally, inAlricanAmcrican litcraturc l lccus hcrc cnthchgurcs crcatcd
byPctry, Mcrriscn, andLcrdctcrcvcalthcshiltinAlricanAmcrican litcrary
rcprcscntaticnlrcmamcdcrnisttcapcstmcdcrnistmcdc, achangcthatpar
allclsthci dcclcgicalmcvcclmincritygrcupslrcmassimilaticntcallirmaticn
clcultural and cthnic dillcrcnccs ' Pctrys ncvcl, 1e Sree , cllcrs a mcd
crnistrcprcscntaticncldisabilitythatscrvcsasatransiticnbctvccnthcninc
tccnthccntutyscntimcntalncvclsl cxamincinthcprcvicuschaptcrandthc
pcstmcdcrn, pcstcivil rights rcprcscntaticn cldisablcd hgurcs in Mcrriscn
and Lcrdc Whilc thc scntimcntalhcticndcplcysarhctcric clsympathy, thc
mcdcrnistmcdcinvckcsarhctcriccldcspair, andthcpcstmcdcrnhcticncn
lists a rhctcric clcclcbraticn inrcprcscntingdisability. ` All thrccarcncvcr-
thclcss rhctcrics c|prctcst in thc sharcd pclitical missicns cl cxpcsing cp
prcssicn,arguinglcrsccialjusticc, andsuppcrtinggrcupstcvhcmithasbccn
dcnicd
ThccarlicrandmcrctraditicnaluscsclthcdisablcdhgurcLmcrscnsin
valid, Mclvillcs Ahab, thc rccipicnts cl bcncvclcnt matcrnalismcxplcit
physicaldillcrcnccasadisqualiingtrait, signiingvulncrabilityandsubjcc
ticntccxtcrnallcrccs Asl suggcsti nchaptcr2, disabilityischaractcrizcdas
lack, lcss, cr cxclusicnary dillcrcncc lcr vhich ccmpcnsaticn is nccdcd tc
achicvc thc cqualityjusticc ptcmiscs Within this lramcvcrk, cquality dc
mandsasamcncssthatcasts disabilitynctasvariaticnbutasdcviancc, ccm
pcnsaticnthcrclcrc rcquircs advccacybythcscvhchavc ncrmatcstatus lcr
thcscvhcdc nct Thcsympathcticcxchangcthatprcduccsmatcrnalbcncvc
lcncccancnlycxist, thcn, ildisabilityisrcadasaccnditicnthatmustbcccm
pcnsatcdlcr
l nccntrast, thcrcprcscntaticncldisabilityl hndinMcrriscnandLcrdc
andtcadcgrccinPcttyrcllcctsashiltinthcmcaningattachcdtcbcdilydil
lcrcnccthatis ccnscnantvith thcpcsitivc idcntitypclitics charactcristic cl
thcpcstcivilrightscra,invhichracialandgcndcrvariaticnsarcrcintcrprctcd
asdillcrcnccstcbcacccmmcdatcdcrcclcbratcdrathcrthancrascdcrccm
pcnsatcdlcr Thi s changc in pcrspcctivc cnbcdilydillcrcncccan bc traccd
histcricallylrcmcarlylcgislaticnthatccmpcnsatcdlcrdisabilityinthcvcrk
placcand thc military, tcthclatcrlcgislaticncxcmplihcdbythc l 990Amcri
Disabled Women as Powerul Won'en t 1 07
cansvvithDisabiliticsActrcquiringthatdisabiliticsbcaccommodatcd Vith
thcir disablcdhgurcs , lctry bcgins and Morrison and Lordc dcvclop a post
modcrn pcrspcctivc ol particularity in vhich physical dillcrcnccsracial ,
cndcr, cultural, or scxualarc sccn as politicizcd marks ol variation that
must bc rccognizcd and accommodatcd vithin a dcmocratic socicty Thc
rhctoricallraming olbodily dillcrcnccthus movcs lrom apolitics olsympa
thcticadvocacytoapoliticsolallirmativcidcntity
The Extraordinary Woman as Powerful Woman: Ann Petry's The Street
Thcconvcntionsolnaturalismstructurc1aeSree sprimarynarrativc,crcat
ingamodcrnistrcndcringolalicnationanddcspcration lctrys strcctisa
ncutralcvcn hostilcvorld, bcrclt ol transccndcntal signihcds , vithout
thc tradi tionalidcologics olunity and mcaningthatcouldprovidc adcquatc
toolslorl iving lootcdinracismand scxism, thc novcls rhctoric oldcspair
rcndcrsallcharactcrscxccptthchcroinc, Lutic, asmodcrnistgrotcsqucs, ol
vhichMrs Hcdgcsi sthcparadigm |ocusingonLuticsunsvcrvingj ourncy
tovarddisastcr,1aeSreetraccsthclailurcolthcdominantvcrsionsolTruc
orNcvVomanhoodtocomctotcrmsvithmodcrn,institutionalizcdracism
andscxi sm `
Asubducdcountcrnarrativccanbccxtractcdlrom thisnovcl, hovcvcr, by
imaginativcly rcading lctrys physically disablcd antihcroinc, Mrs Hcdgcs
ThischaractcranticipatcsthcpositivcidcntitypoliticsthatAlrican-Amcrican
vomcns vritingarticulatcs altcrthc l 9o0s and tcntativclybcgins lorging a
ncv, spccihcallyblack,hgurcolvomanhood Thc modclolblacklcmalcsub
jcctivitythatMrs Hcdgcsinauguratcsrcluscsthcdcrivativcculturalscriptol
thc patriarchal vcman and instcad acknovlcdgcs thc violations and cxclu
sions ol thc opprcsscd body Dchning hcrscll apart lrom thc convcntional
modcl olhitc lcmininity lrom vhich shc has lorcvcr bccn cxcludcd, \lrs
Hcdgcs and hcr hcircsscscxtravagantlyclaim thc authorityolthcirbodicsas
vcllasthcirindividualandcollcctivchistoricsasthcbasisolthciridcntitics
Thi svcrsionolblackomanhoodis lullydcvclopcdin thcphysicallydisablcd
hgurcs crcatcd lorty ycars latcr by Morrison and Lordc As thcirprototc,
Mrs Hcdgcs cmbodics not thc rulc, but thc cxccption, tcstiing to thc di
alccticalrclationshipbctvccnthcsubj ugationandthcrcalizationolthcblack
lcmalcscllinmodcrn\mcricanculturc
Mrs Hcdgcs lunctions as alorcboding and lorbiddingclcmcntolthc dc
tcrministiccnvironmcntthatdclcats lctrys spunkyandcarncstprotagonist,
Lutic|ohnsonAvcryblackvomanolcnormousbulk, Mrs Hcdgcsi s so
1 08 + Constructing Disabled Figures
hugc thatthc pcoplc inhcrhomctovn| ncvcrrcallygot uscdto thc sightol
hcr, Sree , 2+2) AlrightcningprccursortoLordcspovcrlulvoman, shc
isamountainolavomanvithpovcrlulhands , vhoscstrcngthandsizcvi-
olatcthc diminutivc and dclicatcstcrcotypcolvomanhoodanddc|catcgo
rization Mrs Hcdgcs is anincxplicablcmonstcrvho sccmsto Luticlikc a
crcaturc that had straycd lrom anothcr planct , See 2l, 2lo) ll Mrs
Hcdgcsshugcncssprccludcsthc lcmininityolvhichLuticis thc blacktypc,
it is hcr physical disability that dchnitcly rcndcrs Mrs Hcdgcs Lutics
rotcsqucoppositc Thc rcadcrknovs lrom thc outsctthatMrs Hcdgcs has
somc mystcrious, avlul bodily condition that shc hidcs by vcaring a ban
dannaandstayingathomc, sittingathcrvindovabovcthcrcstolhumanity
in thc strcct Shc opcratcs as an ominous quasimonstcr vho cvokcs thc
Cothicandcmbodicsthcgrotcsquc, convcntionsthatcrcatcthcscnscolim
pcnding,mcnacing, impcrsonallatccharactcristicolbothnaturalistandmod-
crnistnarrativc
Notuntilhallwaythrough thc novcldocs lctryhumanizc Mrs Hcdgcsby
rcvcalingthcstoryolhcr disability, thcmass olscarstcrriblc scarscovcr
ingmostolhcrbodyaltcrshccscapcdlromatcncmcnthrcbysqucczinghcr-
scllthrough a tinybascmcntvvindov , Sree 2l) Vhcn lctrybriclly shilts
tbcomniscicntnarrationtypicalolnaturalismtoMrs Hcdgcsspcrspcctivcto
cxplainhcrdisability, thc novcl allovs thc rcadcrsomc cmpathyandundcr-
standing, butrcluscsMrs Hcdgcsanypity Rccountingthcincidcntthathas
dctcrmincd Mrs Hcdgcss lilc and idcntity, thc novcl conccal shcrintcrior,
]ustasMrs HcdgcshidcshcrscarslrompublicvicvVc lcarnvhatshcdocs
tosurvivc, butnothovshclcclsaboutit Shc appcarschicHythrough anor-
mativcpcrspcctivc
When she vvalked into [employment agencies] , there was an uncontrollable re
vulsion in the faces of the white people who looked at her. They stared in amaze
ment at her enormous size, at the blackess of her ski n. They glanced at each
other, tried in vain to control their faces or didn't bother to try at all , simply let
her see what a monstrosity they thought she was , Street2+ l ) .
Mrs Hcdgcsrcmainsthroughoutthcnovclrcsolutclyothcr,apparcntlyun-
movcd, andhnallyinscrutablcAs thc grotcsquc, toughcncdcmbodimcntol
thcbrutall ilc dictatcdbythcstrcct, shcinspircsmainlydismayorhorror,
lcadingLutictoconcludcthat i| tvouldncvcrbcpossiblctodcvclopanyrcal
liknglorhcr, Sree2+, 2l9)
Ncvcrthclcss, a strikngambiguity in Mrs Hcdgcss hguration suggcsts a
possiblc oppositional subtcxt in vhich shc is thc litcrary lorcmothcrolthc
Disabled Women as Pmverul Women 1 09
postmodcrnblackhcroincs Narrativccommcntssuchas allthoscycars Lu
tichad bccnhcadingstraightasanarrovlorthatstrcct, indicatcthat1ae
Sreeis primarilyintcndcdas anarrativc olsocialdctcrminismin vhichthc
vallcdcnclosurcolracismanditsinstitutionshnallysurroundsthchcroinc
, Sree/+2o, +30) Suchgcncricconstraints dcmand thatMrs Hcdgcs lunc-
tionasthcdisturbinglygrotcsqucproductolracismandpovcrty Rcprcscnting
thcunacccptabl clatcthatthchaplcsshcroincmustcndurcilshcisto thrivc
onthcstrcct, Mrs HcdgcsvhoollcrsLuticthcaltcrnativcolprostitution
ispartolLuticsopprcssivcsocialcnvironmcntAsboththcstrcctsvictimand
itsthrcat, \lrs Hcdgcsrccalls DcbinDavi ss scntimcntalprcnaturalistvork,
li]e inaeIronMi||s, vhoalsocmbodicsthcconditionthatnovclcriticizcs '
Hovcvcr, unlikc thc incllcctual Dcb, Mrs Hcdgcs notonly rcmains unrcs-
cucdandsurvivcsthcstrcct, shcbccomcsitsquccnprccisclybccauscshcis
thcantithcsisolthcconvcntionalLutic ' `|uxtaposingLuticandMrs Hcdgcs
makcs 1ae Sreenot simply a latalisticvision olracist, scxistsocicty, buta
lcministcritiqucolconvcntionalvomanhoodinHcctcdbyraccissucs Morc
ovcr, vicvcdlrom thispcrspcctivc, Mrs Hcdgcs allovs us to cxplorc hcrpo
tcntialasaradicallyrcviscdhcroinc
Mrs HcdgcsisprccisclyvhatLuticisnot thcpcrlcctlady,avcrsionolthc
ninctccnth-ccntury domcstic hcroinc, cast out ol thc patriarchal homc lor
vhich shc vas lashioncd and abandoncd in Harlcm duringVorld Var l l
Mothcrlcssandlortunclcss, Luticmustmakchcrvayi nthcvorld, inthctra
dition olthc hcroincs olninctccnthccnturyvomcns hction '' Armcd vith
bcauty, morality, aspunkyindustriousncss, scll-rcliancc, laithinthcAmcrican
succcssnarrativc, andvhatNancyCotthascallcdpassionlcssncss, Luticis
a granddaughtcrolthcTrucVoman, thc traditionallcminincvcrsionolthc
scllmadc man ' Hcr only availabl ccultural modcl lor lilc is lcn Franklin,
vhomshcundauntcdlyinvokcsinaparadoxicalmantraolscllblamcandscll
cncouragcmcnt ' ` Rcadyto sacrihcchcrsclllor thcmanhood olhcrson and
hcrhusband, Luticisrcpublicanmothcrhoodincarnatc lnthisscnsc, shcisa
modcrn vcrsion ol Stovcs Lliza and kin to Phclpss cxultant Pcrlcy Kclso
Vriting in l S :2 and l S l , an ardcnt Stovc and Phclps suggcst that thcir
modclolvomanhoodvillcquipLlizaandPcrlcyviththcindividualrcsourccs
to triumph ovcr all obstaclcs Lutic, hovcvcr, can ncvcr triumph in Pctrys
rcalmolimplacablcracismandscxi sm Pctrysvisionncarlyonchundrcdycars
latcr, in l 9+o, ismuchlcss sanguinc, rcllcctingthcunivcrsalizcdimpotcncc
andalicnationsocharactcristicolthcmodcrnistacsthctic
LacholLuticsconvcntionallcminincassctsturnsouttobcadisastrousli-
abilityin thctvcnticthccntury contcxtolthcStrcct Rathcrthan cvoking
1 1 0 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
rcspcct and admiration, Lutics bcauty compcls thc lust ol cvcry man shc
mccts ,incitingmcntohghtlorovncrshipolhcrasilshcvcrcapicccolmcat
Hcr idcalizcd passionlcssncss makcs thcir dcsirc lor and povcr ovcr hcr a
grcatcr thrcat than ncccssary For cxamplc, Peots , vhem shc bludgcons to
dcathina sclldcstructivcmomcntolrclcascdragc, mighthavc madc asuit
ablclovcrilLutichadbccnablctosomchovacccpthisscxualityandavoidhis
cocrcion Hcr Lmcrsonian scll-rcliancc and lcar olmoral contamination ol
hcrscll and hcr son prcvcnt hcr lrom bonding vith vomcn such as Mrs
Hcdgcssglrlsoranyoncclscvhomighthclphcrncgotiatclilcenthcstrcct
Lutics adoptcd modc ol lcmininity i s so incllcctivc in a vorld shapcd by
racismand scxismthat shc litcrallyandmctaphoricallycannotcvcnrcadthc
signsinPctrysvindvhippcdopcningsccnc Lvcryact, cvcrydccisioncomcs
lromthcindividualistscnsibilitythatsccmstoLuticthconlycohcrcntnarra
tivcolscll, butthatlcadshcrincxorablytovardruin
VhcrcasthcstrcctanditsdangcrsarcillcgiblctoLutic, Mrs Hcdgcsisal
mostomni scicnt lnstcad olrctrcatingbccauscolhcrdisability, shc activcly
cngagcsthcvorldonhcrovntcrmslromhcrvindov,rclusingtocxposchcr
sclltothccurious, pryingcycsolthcvorld, Sree2+) Thc oppositcolscx
ually objcctihcd Lutic, XIrs Hcdgcs has thc gazc, avoicc, and agcncythc
pcrsonallycmpovcringclcmcntsthatculturchaspcrsistcntlydcnicdvomcn
Vithhcrri chandsvcct, voicc, shcgcntlybutauthoritativclyadviscs, man
agcs , andconncctsviththclolksonthcstrcct,Sree , S) Hcrunvinking,
cagcrcycd starc clcarly apprchcnds and comprchcnds both thc strccts
squalor and its potcntial , Sree 2+ , oS) Displaying no cmotion butmuch
gcncrosity, shcisthcpcwcrlulladyviththcsnakcscycsthatsccmtopcnc-
tr+tc pcoplc, rcadlngthcirthoughts , Sree S) Pothmalcvolcntandbcncvo
lcnt, Mrs Hcdgcs uscs hcr povcrlul body to rcscuc thc dclcnsclcss Lutic
lromhcrprcdatorylandlordandtorcgul atchisscxualaggrcssionthcrcaltcr
Sccingvithoutbcingsccn, knovingvithoutbcingknovn, stagingwlthout
bcingstagcd, actingvithoutbcingactcdupon, thchgurcolMrs Hcdgcs in
vcrts thc cultural chorcography ol gcndcr so conciscly dcscribcd by |ohn
Pcrgcr mcnactandvomcnappcar ' l ncontrast, thcguilclcssandcxposcd
Luticisccasclcsslythcvi ctimolbothhcrinadvcrtcntanddclibcratcattcmpts
tocapturcthcmalcgazclorcxamplc, vhcnshchcadsto|untosbarlorrc
laxationorauditionslorsinging] obs Mrs Hcdgcssbodymaybcviolatcdand
shapcdbyhcrhistoryolcndurlngracl stand scxistinstitutions, butitis also
thcinstrumcntvithvhichshcisablctodchnchcrscllapartlromthccultural
scriptolvomanhood that dcstroys Lutic Pyjuxtaposingthcsctvovomcn,
1eSreecllcctivclydislodgcsthcgcndcrsystcmsmyth olthcpovcrandad
Disabled Women as Pmverul Women e e e 4 4 1 1 1
vantagcollcminincbcautyandthcrcvards olmalc dcvotion, suggcstingal
tcrnativclormsollcmalccmpovcrmcnt
AnticipatingLordcscalllorathirddcsignation, Mrs Hcdgcsrcpudiatcs
thc dominant script ollcmininity vithoutlallingintoa masculinizcd modc
lnstcad, shccstablishcsavomanccntcrcdlilc and maintainsatruccolsorts
vith thc cocrcivc malc povcrthat controls thc strcct ln thc brutalcnviron
mcnt ol racism, scxism, and povcrty, Mrs Hcdgcs lorgcs a community ol
vomcnthathgurativclyandlitcrallynourishcsitsmcmbcrscvcnvhilcitiscir
cumscribcdbyanincscapablcpovcrhicrarchythatvouldgranthcrnothing
butscorn Outsidc olthc scxualcconomyhcrscll, Mrs Hcdgcshas sct upa
houschold ol girls vho manipulatc thc scxual cxchangc sys tcm to satis
thcirevnmatcrialnccds Abovcall,thchgurcolMrs Hcdgcsinsistsuponthc
dcmands , rcstrictions , and obligations ol thc body lccausc, as shc notcs
vryly, Mary andmc dont livc hcrc on air, shc bcgins to chargc thc young
mcnvhocomcaroundlorscx, Sree2 0) Ncvcrthclcss, hcrrclationstothis
prostitutionandto|unto, thcomnipotcntvhitcmalcvhocontrolsthcstrcct,
arc vcryambiguous Mrs Hcdgcs is inoncscnscuttcrlycomplicitvith thc
dominant ordcr that opprcsscs thcm all and is thc ultimatc thrcat to Lutics
lrccdemYcthcractions arcanadaptationtobrutaladvcrsitythatallovs hcr
andthcgirlstomakcalilclorthcmsclvcs mostlyon thcirovntcrms choos
ingthcircustomcrs , tcndingthc sick, vatching|dsaltcrschool, andlooking
out lor onc anothcr Dcspitc bcinglrom Lutics pcrspcctivcpcrvcrscly
compromising,thrcatcning, andrcpcllcnt, Mrs Hcdgcsncvcrthclcsstcstihcs
vith hcr indomitablc corporcality to thc grandcur and authority ol an ab
solutclyincrcdiblcvilltolivc, Sree2+ ) VhilcLuticsattcmptcdinviolablc
scllprovcsbrittlcandvulncrablc, Mrs Hcdgcsrcluscsvicti mization, vitncss
ingvithhcrcxtraordinarybodythcabidingpovcrolthcviolatcd sclltocn
durcinjusticcandyctprcvail
From the Grotesque to the Cyborg
Lvcnthough PctrysportrayalolMrs Hcdgcsis onc olqualihcdpositivccm
povcrmcnt, 1eSreestrcatmcntolthischaractcrsccmsncvcrthclcsstobc
dictatcdprcdominantlybythcconvcntionsolthcmodcrnistgrotcsquc Such
arcadingimplicsthcgrotcsqucmightbcvorthcxploringasaproblcmaticyct
potcntiallysuggcstivcvayolrcprcscntingphysicaldi sability Thcproblcmoc
cursvhcnvvccmployanacsthcticcatcgorysuchasthcgrotcsqucinaninhcr
cntly politicizcd critical projcct \\hcn thc intcrprctativc lramcvork ol thc
grotcsqucsvisuallantasicsandcxtravaganccsistranslatcdintothcprcdomi
1 1 2 Constructing Disabled Figures
nantly rcalistic convcntions ol litcrary rcprcscntation and criticism, thc
grotcsquc bccomcs cquatcd vith physically disablcd charactcrs . Thcrclorc,
using thc grotcsquc as an analytic stratcgyinvitcsbothcritics and rcadcrs to
vicvrcprcscntationsoldisabilitythrough an acsthcticrathcr than apolitical
lramcvorkAcsthcticizingdisabilityasthcgrotcsquctcndstoprccludcanaly
sis olhovthoscrcprcscntations support orchallcngc thc sociopolitical rcla
tionsthatmakcdisabilityalormolculturalothcrncss.
A lull considcrationolthis rcprcscntationaldilcmmarcquircs cxamining
thc convcntion olthc grotcsquc, an acsthctic catcgory appcaringas carlyas
thchltccnth ccnturyandrclcrringtoornamcntaldcsignsmodclcdonRoman
lrcscocsloundinundcrgroundcavcs, orgroe Opposingprinciplcs , suchas
human and bcast, mcrgc to producc supcrnatural lorms that conlusc catc-
goricsandviolatcboundarics Cothicmanilcstationsolthcgrotcsqucarclan-
tasticlusionssuchasgargoylcs, chimcras

ormcrmaids . Hicronymus Posch,


olcoursc, isthcmastcro|thcdcmonic,marvclousgrotcsquc. Putthcspccihc
acsthcticcatcgoryolthcsupcrnaturalgrotcsquccvcntuallybccamcsogcncr
alizcd thatVollgang Kayscrcharactcrizcd it in l 9 as anythingcapablcol
cvoking human cstrangcmcnt, radical alicnncss, or thc vorlds csscntial
absurdity. ' ` Migrating lrom architccturc and thc visual arts, thc grotcsquc
has bccn appropriatcdas a lundamcntal conccptin modcrni stcriticism and
litcraturc, vhcrc itisahttingtropclorthcalicnationanddisoricntationthat
dchnc modcrnism. ln lact, so takcn vas modcrnist criticismvith thc gro
tcsqucasahgurclorthccxistcntialcstrangcmcntandrupturcolmcaningad
vanccdrclcntlcsslybyitscanon thatVilliamVan O Connorargucdin l 9o2
thatitvasthccsscnccolAmcricanlitcraturc.' Thcrcstrictions olmimctic
hguration thus translorm thc lantastic grotcsquc into thc abnormal gro
tcsquc Thc modcrni st gargoylc is thc physicallydisablcd hgurc, a mctaphor
lordcpravity, dcspair, andpcrvcrsion. Dcpoliticizcdandacsthcticizcdbythc
authoritativccriticallramc olthcgrotcsquc, thcdisablcdbodyispcrpctually
rcadasasignloradcgcncratc soulorabankruptunivcrsc ' Thcnotionolthc
grotcsqucthusdiscouragcslitcrarycriticsandauthorslromapoliticallycon
sciouspcrspcctivcthatmightcxamincdisablcdcharactcrsintcrmsolminor-
ityculturcissucs.
Thcgrotcsqucasamodcolliminalitythatblursacccptcdcatcgoricsi sncv
crthclcss suggcstivc lor mypurposcs , as l indicatcd vith thc discussion ol
MaryDouglassconccptolanomalyinchaptcr2 CcollrcyCaltHarphamJc
hncs thc grotcsquchgurc as stand ing at thcmargin ol consciousncss bc-
tvccn thc knovn and thc unkovn, thc pcrccivcd and thc unpcrccivcd,
callingintoqucstionthcadcquacyolourvays olorganizingthcvorld, oldi
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women 1 1 3
vidingthccontinuumolcxpcricnccintoknovablcparts Suchascnscolthc
grotcsqucas somcthingillcgitimatclyn somcthing clsc tcnds to ncutralizc
alicnation and rcpugnanccand tohighlight thc potcntial loran iconoclastic
liminalitythatcanaccommodatcncvlormsolidcntityprccisclythcpro]cct
olthcAlricanAmcricanvomcnvritcrslconsidcrhcrcAnthropologistVictor
Turncr contcnds that liminal hgurcs occupy a rcalm ol purc possibility
vhcnccnovclconhgurations olidcas and rclationsmayarisc ' ` Anthropolo
gist lobcrt Murphys cthnographyolhis ovn disability, 1e BoJy S |en cx-
plicitly rccognizcs thc disablcd catcgory as a liminal social statc lut vhilc
Murphyssocial l|minalityrobshimolstatusandtcnablcrolcs, Turncrsnotion
olliminalityaspurcpossibilitycanyicldallirmativcrcprcscntationallorms,
suchas Lordcs povcrlul voman, that arc unconstraincdbyconvcntional
catcgorics Vhcrcas Murphysidcaolliminalityisrcstrictivc, Harphamsand
Turncrscxpansivcliminalityprcdictshgurcssuchasthclakhtiniandisordcrly
bodyolthcCarnivalcsquctraditionandthc disablcdvomcnldiscusshcrc
lyrclusingviththcirvcrybcingstoconlormtosocialrulcsandcatcgorics,
thcd|sablcdvomcnopcratcascmbodicdaltcrnativcstothcstatusquoThcir
oppositiontothcdominantordcrisnot|ntcllcctual ,rathcr,itisanimmutablc
ontological statc Thc pcrccptionolbodilylack, dillcrcncc, andmarginaliza
tionisrccasthcrcasaradical , allirmativc statcolaltcrnativcphysicalconhg-
urationparticularizcdbyhistoq''Vhcnahgurctbatmightordinarilyappcar
mcrcly asgrotcsquclikc Mrs Hcdgcsis thus rclormulatcd throughlimi
nality, asociopol|ticalpcrspcctivcbcginstocmcrgc
Mrs Hcdgcss hgurationas an ambiguousmodcrnistgrotcsqucopcnsthc
vaylor a postmodcrn rcprcscntation oldisablcd hgurcs thatmorc lully cx-
ploitsthcpotcnt|alolthirddcsignationsandliminalidcntitics Thcmostlun-
damcntalaspcctolpostmodcrnthoughtlorthcpurposcsolth|s analysisisits
villingncsspcrhaps its dcmandto rclinquish thc principlcs olunity and
samcncssinintcrprctingscllandvorld Vhat l amcall|ngpostmodcrnhcrc
arcaltcrnativc,allirmativcnarrativcsthatdonotdcpcndonalaithinoncncss
or a rangc ol valucd conccpts such as vholcncss, puri ty, autonomy, and
boundcdncsscharactcristicsolthcidcologyolunitythatboth sanctionthc
normatcscllandgcncratcitsoppositc, thccorporcalothcr Thcdisablcdhg-
urcsinthcscnovcl scxplorcnarrativcsolthcbodyinapostnormalvorld, sim-
ilartothcpostgcndcrvorldsomctimcsinvokcdbylcminists ,vhichupscts
thctraditionalnormal/abnormaldichotomy
Thcprinciplcolunityundcrgirdsthcdominantdiscourscolnormal/abnor-
mal , cxprcsscdinidcas suchas social Darvinismand thc statisticalconccp-
tionolthcnorm,botholvhicharoscinthcninctccnthccntury Thcnotionol
1 1 4 9 9 9 9 9 Constructing Disabled Figures
abumannormQuctclcts| |ommemoyen,discusscdincbaptcrtbatpo
liccsbumanphysicalvariationbothgcncratcsaunihcdcommunityvhoscdil-
lcrcnccs arc cllaccd and dchncs an outsidc and insidc Thc conccpt olthc
norm thatFoucaulthndscmcrginginthccightccnth ccnturythuscharactcr-
izcsbodicsviththcdillcrcnccsvccalldisabiliticsasdcviantrathcrthandis
tinctivc Sovhilcprodigiousormonstrousbodicshavcalvaysbccnalocus
olhumanintcrcst, thc normal/abnormald|chotomyolthcmodcrnmindlim-
itsthccxplanationoldillcrcnccstopathologyAlthoughthcidcaolabnormal-
ityasanintcrprctivclramclorpbysicaldisabilitydisplaccdsuchrationalcsas
divinc punisbmcnt or moral corruption, tbc dicbotomy olnormal/abnormal
ncvcrthclcss dcvalucsdisabilityrathcrthandchningitonitsovntcrms Likc
povcrlul voman, thc tcrm disablcd pcrson is oxymoronic bccausc dis
ablcdnullihcstbcdominantvcrsionolpcrsonboodcxprcsscdi n, lorcxamplc,
thc Lmcrsonianscllposscsscdindividual '
DonnaHaravayspopularnotionolthccyborgmightscrvcas athcorctical
prototypc lor constructing a scll that can ncgotiatc thc incompatibility bc-
tvccndisablcdasphysicallactandsocialidcntityandpcrsonasmcmbcr
olthchumancommunity Similartothcgrotcsqucasliminalbutlrccdlrom
itsncgativc connotations , thccyborgisabybrid olmachinc and organism, a
crcaturcolsocialrcalityasvcllasacrcaturcolhctiontbatHaraayollcrsas
amodcl|orscllinapostmodcrnvorl d Asahybrid, thc cyborgbrcaksdovna
prolusion ol distinctions lundamcntal to thc modcrn scll, transgrcssing tbc
boundarics bctvccn animal and machinc, organic and mcchanical, mc and
notmcThc cyborgmakcsitpossiblctoimagincacobcrcntcntitycharactcr-
izcdbypcrmancntpartiality, shiltingmultiplcidcntiticsthatHaravaycalls
alhnitics , andthckindolillcgitimatclusionssuggcstcdbyLordcspovcr-
lulvomanortbcscllcancclingcatcgorydisablcdpcrson
Vhcrcas thc notion ola hybrid scllmight act as a guidingmctaphorlor
thoscvboconsidcrthcmsclvcsnondisablcd, lorpcoplcvith disabiliticssuch
bybridizationisoltcnconsonantvitbactualcxpcricncc Thcdisablcdpcrson
alvays luscsthcphysicallytypicalviththcphysicallyatypical Thcdisablcd
bodyisalsooltcnmcrgcdvithprosthcticssuchasvhcclchairs, hcaringaids,
orvhitccancs `Disabilityi salsosomctimcscxpcricnccdasatranslormation,
oraviolation, olscll, crcating classihcation dilcmmas, ambiguous status, or
qucstioningassumptionsaboutvholcncss Allpcrsonsvithphysicaldisabili-
ticstbuscmbodythcillcgitimatclusionolthcculturalcatcgoricsnormal,
vh|chqualihcspcoplclorhuman status, and abnormal , hichdisqualihcs
thcm Vithin tbis liminal spacc thc disablcdpcrson must constitutc somc-
tbingakintoidcntity Accordingtotbcprinciplcolunity, thcdisablcdpcrson
Disabled Women as Powerul Women e e e e e 1 1 5
bccomcsgrotcsquccithcrinthc scnscolagargoylc, brcachingboundarics, or
inthcscnscolacunuch, oncvhoisincomplctc,notvholc Putilunityisno
longcrthcorganizingprinciplcolvvorldandscllasthcmodcrnistslamcntcd
andthcpostmodcrni sts cclcbratcthcnthc grotcsqucshcds its tvistcd, rc
pugnant, anddcspairladcnimplicationsandbccomcsacybor, thcallirmcd
survivor olcultural othcrncss, rcady to cngagc thc postmodcrn vorld on its
ovntcrms Thc paradoxcs olbody, scll, andvorld thatpositivismsoughtto
untanglc with taxonomics and that modcrnism bcmoancd vith grotcsqucs
havc bccomc thc stull vith vhich a postmodcrn scnsibility cxplains itscll
andparadoxicallyconstructsitsmcaning
The Extraord i nary Body as the Hi storicized Body:
Ton i Morri son's Di sabled Women
SuchhybridhgurcsrcpcatcdlyappcarinToniMorrisonshrsthvcnovcls, pub
lishcdbctccnl 9/0and l 9S/ Amongothcrthings,cachnovclclaboratcsal
tcrnatlvc modcsolsclllor thcAlricanAmcricanvoman Thc succcssors ol
Pctrys Mrs Hcdgcs, Morrisons disablcdandmarkcdvomcnhavc changcd,
vcmightsay,lromgrotcsqucstocyborgs Lachcharactcrdiscusscdhcrclunc
tionsasvhatMorrisonhascallcdthcpariahhgurc
There are several levels of the pariah fgure working in my writing. The black
community is a pariah community. Black people are pariahs . The civilization of
black people that lives apart from but in juxtaposition to other civilizations is a
pariah relationship . . . . But a community contains pariahs within it that are very
useful for the conscience of that community.
2
4
Marginalizcdbythc cxclusionaryhicrarchyolappcarancc commonlyknovn
as bcauty ornormalcy, Lva Pcacc, MaricThrcsc|oucault, Paby Su,gs,
Nan, Pilatc Dcad, Sula Pcacc, Scthc, and hcrmothcrarc all pariah hgurcs
vhoscplaccinthcconscicnccolth c community is toprobcthcintcrrcla
tionsolidcntity, history, andthcbody Lachvomaniscxcludcdlromthccul
turalccntcrbccauscolhcrdcviantbodilymarksorconhgurations, asvcllas
bybcingblack, poor, lcmalc, andin somccascsold Vhilcsomcolthcsc
vomcnarcccntralandothcrspcriphcralcharactcrs,allolthcmposscssanar
rativc povcr, oltcn associatcd vith thc supcrnatural , that lar outstrips thc
marginalsocialstatus accordcdthcmbythcdominantordcr Thcirdclormi
tics, disabilitics, andabnormaliticsarcthcbodilyimprintsandthcjudg
mcnts ol social stigmatizationrcj cction, isolation, lovcrcd cxpcctations ,
povcrty, cxploitation, cnslavcmcnt, murdcr, rapc Lxcludcd bccausc olthcir
1 1 6 Constructing Disabled Figures
bodicslrom allprivilcgcdcatcgorics , Morrisonspariahhgurcscxplorcthcpo
tcntiallorbcingandagcncyoutsidcculturallysanctioncdspaccs `
Thcsccharactcrs cnablc Morrisons novclstorcprcscnta narrativc olscll
that simultancously cmbraccs and transccnds thc individual and collcctivc
history ol opprcssion Although Morrisons novcls ccrtainly cclcbratc black
Amcricanculturc, thcyalsoinsistthatitsvcryshapcandspirithavcbccnin
lormcd by thc institutions, injusticcs , and rcsonating, dcvast+ting consc
qucnccsolracism Ncvcrthclcss , Morrisons charactcrsarcnotvictimizcdor
dcmoralizcd, nor do thcy lcad diminishcdlivcs A sccnc lrom Be|oveJ suc
cinctlyillustratcshovMorrisonrcprcscntsthctcnsionbctvccnthcnccdboth
to incorporatc thc cxpcricncc ol opprcssion and to surmount i t Thc young
hcroinc,Scthc,justcscapcdlromslavcry, isablctoloo|vithlullhorroratthc
young blackmcn banging dcad in tbc sycamore trccs and, at prcciscly tbc
samc momcnt, to rccognizc thc arrcsting bcauty ol thosc trccs Rclraining
lromrcconcilingthoscimagcs, andthusattcnuatingthccontradictionslorcc,
Scthccmbcdsthcdisharmonyinhcrmcmoryloralilctimc Scthcsrclusalto
allov cithcr spcctaclctocanccloutthcothcr, hcrsharpcningolthisparadox
thatpotcntiallythrcatcnsallmcaningandcohcrcncc, cxcmplihcsthcmodcol
bcing andknoving that Morrisonrcprcscnts as lundamcntal to thcAlrican-
AmcricanscllThisscllalhrmsthchumanabilitytosurvivcpain, loss, andthc
dcnial o| both scll and culturc vithout abridging cxpcricnccs ol passion,
bcauty, attachmcnt, andjoy As physicalvitncsscs toviolationsandopprcs-
sion, thccxtraordinarybodics olthcscvomcnact as a collcctivcconscicncc
by tcstiing to thc povcr and dignity inhcrcnt in this spccihcallyAlrican
Amcricannarrativcolscll
Thc prototypc lor all cight vomcn is Lva Pcacc, thc matriarchal grand-
mothcrvhopcrvadcsMorrisons l 9lnovcl, Su|c Lvaslcghasbccnampu-
tatcd, pcrhaps onhcrovninitiativcsothatshccan collcctinsuranccmoncy
that vill lccd hcr childrcn Likc Mrs Hcdgcss lorcing hcr imposingbody
through thc bascmcntvindovtocscapcthc hrc, Lvasactoltough dcspcra-
tionbothrcshapcshcrbodyandguarantccshcrsurvival AllolMorrisonspro-
tagonistsarcin similarsituations thcylitcrally constitutcthcmsclvcs vvith a
lrcc-rangingagcncyvhosctcrmsarctragicallycircumscribcdbyanadvcrsar-
ial socialordcr Scllviolation, hovcvcr, is no conccssion lor Lva orlorMrs
Hcdgcs, rathcr, i t i s an actolscllproductionth+tatonccrcsists domination
and vitncsscs opprcssion`s virulcncc Lva dillcrs lrom hcrlcllov amputcc,
MclvillcsCaptainAhab, inthatAhabsamputationcnslavcshi mi nanobscs
sivc pursuit ol Moby Dic|, vhilc Lvas amputation lrccs hcr lrom povcrty
Ahabs translormation is vrought by vholly uncontrollablc cxtcrnal lorccs,
Disabled Women as Powerul W01nen I 1 7
vhilc Lvas is cnactcdas alimitcdchoicc l ndccd, physicaldisabilityncithcr
diminishcsnorcorruptsMorrisonscxtraordinaryvomcn.rathcr,itallirmsthc
scllincontcxt Lvasdisabilityaugmcntshcrpovcranddignity, inspiringavc
andbccomingamarkolsupcriority, arcsiducolcnnoblinghistory
Morrisonrcprcscnts Lvaas a goddcss/quccn/crcatrix charactcr, richvith
mythicallusions andproportions, cvcnthough shcisbydominantstandards
]ust an old, black, onc-lcggcd voman vho runs a boardinghousc Lva is a
rcvrittcn, blackLvc, stridingthcrcalmsolthcordinaryand thc cxtraordinary,
a lcmalcvcrsion olthcAlrican-Amcrican trickstcrvhosc asymmctrical lcgs
suggcstprcscnccinboththcmatcrialandthcsupcrnaturalvorldsandsignal
cmpovcrmcntrathcrthaninadcquacy Thctrickstcrisambivalcnccpcrsoni-
hcd,violatingbchavioralnormsvithoutragcousanticsandrcvcrsingcultural
catcgorics that makc scnsc ol thc social ordcr As a trickstcr hgurc, Lva
transgrcsscsthccxistingsocial ordcr, opcningup thc possibilitylora tcnablc
narrativc ol thc cmbodicd scll as uniquc rathcr than normatc Rcvising as
vcllthc PiblicalmytholLvcsoriginal sin, Lvacrcatcsamythicn+rrativcol
thcmatcrnalgroundcd inphysical cxistcncccating, dclccating, dying, and
thcmatcrial, mundancdcmandsolcarthlysurvival Hcrpovcrcncompasscs
birthandnurturingasvcllasdcath shcscvcrshcrlcgtosustainhcrbclovcd
babyboy, Plum, vhomshclatcrimmolatcsvvhcnhishcroinaddictionblunts
thc lilc shc oncc gavc him ,Su|c l+) . Morrison rcvritcs Lvcs applc as thc
mcagcrthrccrcdbcctsthatrcmainlorLvatolccdhcrchildrcnaltcrhcrhus
bandabandonshcrtopovcrty lnshort, Lvaisagoddcss, notolthcVcstcrn
spiritual ordcr, but olthc llcshllcshmadccxtraordinarynotbyidcalization
but byhistory Hcr cnduring body is both hcridcntity and hcrultimatc rc-
sourcc
Lvas lcgacytohcrvorldi ssustcnancc Notalvays bcncvolcntandncvcr
scntimcntalizcd, Lvaprovidcslood and shcltcr, thc matcrialnccdsollilc Lva
is thc crcator and sovcrcign ola pcculiar, rambling, incohcrcnt boarding-
housc, hllcdvithliving, singing,addiction, andcasuallovcmaking, Su|c 29)
Thisvoolly houscis rcplctc vith trccsbcaringvvomblikc pcars in thc yard
andapotolsomcthingalwayscookingon thc stovc,Su|c29-l0) Dirccting
hcrchildrcn, asvcllasacontinuousstrcamollricnds ,boardcrs ,andadoptcd
strays , LvarcignsmuchlikcMrs Hcdgcsovcranunorthodoxcommunal
houschold lromhcrincongruousthronc, avagoninhcrthirdHoorbcdroom
vhcrc shcrcadsdrcamsanddistributcsgoobcrs lromdccpinsidchcrpock
ctstogagglcsolchildrcn, Su|c29) Naminghcrovnchildrcnandrcnaming
othcrsvithamysticalanddctcrminingvi sion, Lvaposscsscs, likcAdam, thc
povcr dcnicd Lvc to namc, and thus to dchnc |or cxamplc, shc rcnamcs
1 1 8 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
thrccvcrydillcrcntabandoncdboys shcadoptsDcwcyKing, apparcntlyrcc
ognizingthatthcbondola sharcdnamcwouldcnablcthcmtocmcrgc lrom
rcjcctionandisolationandto survivc , Su|c l9) Thus, inthcl iminalspaccol
whatMlchcllcFlncandAdricnncAschhavccallcdthcsocialrolclcssncssol
disablcdwomcn, \|orrison crccts a rich narrativc countcrmythology around
thcpariahhgurcLva,invcstinghcrwiththcpowcrandauthoritythatthcdom
inantordcrwouldvithhold
Thc quasisupcrnatural charactcr Maric Thrcsc Foucault, lrom Morri
sons l 93 l novcl1crBc(, rcscmblcsLvaPcacc Thrcscsnarrativcrolc iscs
scntial ,althoughshcoccupicslittlcspacci nthcnovcl KnovvnonDominiquc
lorhcrmagicbrcasts , thcblindThrcscisalormcrwctnursclorwhitcba
bicsandawashcrwomanlorthcwcalthywhitcswhocontrol a ncarbyisland
,1B 92) LikcLva, Thrcschasmystcriouspowcrs , shcisacarctakcr, atrick
stcr,andanLvchgurcwhomthcnarratorcallsalyingcroncwithacravinglor
applcs, 1B 9l) Likc thc blindsccrTircsias, Thrcschas thc knowlcdgcas
sociatcdwiththcgazc,butwithoutthcscnscolsight Vithomniscicnccrcm
inisccntolMrs Hcdgcss , Thrcsc scnscsthc stalkngprcscnccolSon, thc
novclsprotagonist, wccksbclorcanyolthcsightcdcharactcrsbccomcawarc
olhim Likcboth Lvaand Mrs Hcdgcs, Thrcscunobtrusivclymanagcsthc
maincharactcrslromhcrpositiononthccdgcolsocicty ShclcavcsSonlood,
cnablcs him topillcr thc whitc pcoplcs provisions, andhnally cscorts him
throughthcdarktohisambiguousdcstinyAspiritualmcntoraswcll ,Thrcsc
coaxcsbothSonandhcrncphcwtorcconncctwiththcirblackculturc, thcir
ancicnt propcrtics , altcr thcyhavc bccn lurcd awayby whitc culturc ,1B
2ol) Pcrsoniingthcmythical .supcrnaturalclcmcntinthcnovcl, Thrcscis
suspcctcdolbcingoncolthc blindraccwho cscapcdslavcryand currcntly
roam thc islandlrcclyon borscback, sccingwith thc cyc olthc mind , 1B
l l0l l )
Thrcscviv1dly illustratcs an csscntialaspcctol all thc mythicaldisablcd
womcninthcscnovcls hcrnarrativcprcstigc andpowcrbothmagicaland
matcrialarccxactlythcoppositcolthcpositionthcrcalworldaccordssuch
hgurcs Thrcscs cxtraordinary knowlcdgc and authority vithin thc mythic
blackculturc contraststarklyvvith hcrpowcrlcss, inconscqucntial , andcvcn
invisiblcposition within thc dominant culturc To thc whitcs , shc is an in
tractablc scrvant, poor, old, blind, uncducatcd, haughty, supcrstitious, un
gratclulandbadatLnglish lcpcatcdly hrcd, shcis simply rchircdbyhcr
cmploycrs ,whodonotcvcnrccognizchcr Howcvcr,bcingrcsolutclyoutsidc
thcdominantordcrgivcsThrcscauthority Shcvvillnctspcaktotbcdclcrcn
tialblackscrvants , oracknowlcdgc thcprcscncc olthcwhitcAmcricans in
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women e e e e e 1 1 9
hcrvorl d, orincludcthcmin hcrimaginativc storics, orcvcn simplylookat
thcm, 1B 9+) Suchdcnialslrcchcrlromthcculturalpcrspcctivcthatvould
oblitcratc hcr Plind and invisiblc to thc privilcgcd, Thrcsc ncvcrthclcss
scnscsthcpulscandsctsthcstridc lor thcblackcommunitythatMorrison
cclcbratcs Py clcvating thc lovcst hgurc on thc dominant scalc ol human
valuctopovcrandstatus, thcnovclinvcrtsthathicrarchy
Be|oveJ,thc l 9Shctionalcxplorationolthclcmalcscllundcrslavcqlca
turcs tvo disablcd hgurcs , limping Paby Suggs and oncarmcd Nan, vhosc
bodics bcar vitncss to racisms violations and to thcirovnsurvival ` Paby
Suggs and NanlollovingLva,Thrcsc, and Mrs Hcdgcsnurturc, guidc,
and tcndtothcmatcrialnccdsolthcblackcommunitylromancllaccdposi-
tionolauthority Altcrhcrsonbuys hcroutolslavcry, PabySuggs , holy cs
tablishcsakindolmatcrnalministryandcommunityvcllarcccntcr,similarto
Lvas , in hcrintcrgcncrational , lcmalc homc, vhcrc tvo pots simmcrcd on
thcstovc, thclampburncdallnight, andshclovcd, cautioncd, lcd, chas-
tiscdand soothcd cvcryblackman, voman, andchildvhopasscd through
,Be|oveJS) ntilshcisvornoutbylilc,PabySuggsisalsoapricstcssolthc
llcsh, lcading thc community in ncopagan, outdoor ccrcmonics, rich vith
dancing, crying, and singing, in vhich shc dclivcrs potcnt, moving scrmons
imploringthcpcoplcto dccplylovc thcircvnllcsh, thcirstrongandvorthy
bodics that arc brokcn, tormcntcd, and dcspiscd by othcrs Altcrvard, shc
dancc s vithhcrtvistcdhipthcrcstolvhathcrhcartha s tosay ,Be|oveJ
S9) PabySuggsknovsthcsignihcanccolthcbodylorblackvomcn hcrllcsh
has bccnovncdbysomconcclsc, hcrcightchildrcn havc bccn stolcn lrom
hcr,andhcrdisablcdhiphasquitclitcrallyrcduccdhcrvalucinthcpcrvcrsc
cconomyolslavcry
LcssdcvclopcdthanPabySuggs , Nan, Scthcscarlycarctakcr,alsohasthc
povcrtosurvivc,nurturc,andconncct LikcThrcsc, Nanisavctnursc,likc
Lva, shcis anamputcc Nan isalsoaprcscrvcrolculturc andhistory, tclling
thcyounggirl SetbeBe|oveJ's protagonistin thcirvanishingAlrican lan
guagcthcstoryolScthcsbirth,rcvcalingthatshcvasthcsolcchildvhomhcr
cnslavcdmothcrvalucd, thconlyoncnotbornolarapcandthrovnovcrboard
AlthoughScthcncvcracknovlcdgcsitcxplicitly, partolhcrmothcrslcgacyis
thc ccrtainlyambiguous moral capacity to commitinlanticidc, a paradoxical
povcrsharcdvithLvaPcacc
`Icrrisoncrcatcsanothcrgroupolvomcnvhoscbodics arccxtraordinary,
notbccauscollunctionallimitationbutbccauscollormalparticularity, dis
abilitysothcrmanilcstation 'ThchrstisPilatcDcad, bornvithoutanavcl,
vhoisapricstcssandthcmavcrickauntolMilkmanDcad, Songo]So|omon's
1 20 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
protagonist LikcMrs Hcdgcs, Lva, andlabySuggs ,Pilatcisthcmatriarchol
anunorthodoxhouschold, acollcctionollunatics, hcrcmystcriousarts ol
thc llcshsuchasvincmaking,potionmaking, and lovcmakingarcpracticcd
ln Pilatcs housc, thrccgcncrations olvomcn rcign likc thcthrcc graccs or
Lumcnidcs , blackgoddcsscsvhosoughtvcngcancclorcrimcsagainstlamily
mcmbcrs , SS20) Scll-namcd, lilatc ccrcmoniouslyhangs through hcr car
lobchcrliblicalnamccnsconccdinatinybrassbox |ustasThrcsclurcsSon
backtohisblackroots ,PilatcandhcrhouscvomcncnticcMilkmanviththcir
Sircnsongs , butinstcadoldcstructionhchndsarcvitalizingconncctionvith
hishistoryandanccstors
Pilatcs cxtraordinary body dillcrcntiatcs hcr lrom thc othcr charactcrs ,
markinghcrollin aliminal, oltcnmagical , spaccolpossibility hIorrisondc
scribcsthiscllcctinanintcrvicv
I was trying t o draw the character of a sister t o a man, a sister who was different,
and part of my visualization of her included that she had no navel . Then it be
came an enormous thing for her. I t also had to come at the beginning of the book
so the reader would KOWto expect anything of her. I t had to be a thing that was
very powerful in its absence but of no consequence in its presence. It couldn't
be anything grotesque, but something to set her apart, to make her literally in
vent herself.
30
Morrisonsuggcstshcrcthatacharactcrs cmbodicddillcrcncccnablcshcr
to invcnt hcrscll, to rcalizca distinctivc idcntity apart lrom thc canonical
bodythatactsoutconvcntional, vhitcscripts All thcscvomcnlitcrallycm-
bodyaprinciplcolidcntitylormationprcdicatcdonthccxtraordinaryrathcr
thanthcordinaryAssumingmuchnarrativcsignihcancc, thcscvomcnsbod-
icsrcsistassimilationintoa narrovcatcgoryolhumanncssandchallcngc all
cxclusionaryphysicalstandardsinracialandgcndcrsystcms lysccingallol
lcrsolcithcrassimilationortolcranccascondcsccnsion, thcyinsistthatthcrc
is nothinginto vhichthcyvish to assimilatc, andthcrc isnothingin thcm
sclvcsthatmustbctolcratcd
SimilartoPilatc Dcad, Lva Pcaccs granddaughtcr, Sula, i ssctapartbya
darklacialbirthmarkthatgivcs hcrothcrviscplainlacc abrokcncxcitcmcnt
andblucbladcthrcat,Su|c 2) Sula`sphysicalmarkingisboththccauscand
thcmanilcstationolhcrothcrncss Suggcstinghcrambiguouspositionvithin
thccommunity, Sulasbirthmarkisintcrprctcdbyothcrsasasnakc,atadpolc,
hcrmothcrs ashcs , or a rosc, dcpcnding on cach charactcrs position As a
rosc, thc birthmarkalludcsto thc blossoms on thc skinthatcarlyChristians
intcrprctcdasstigmaticmarksolgracc, andalludcstothcAlricangoddcssol
Disabled Women as Poweiu.z Women 1 2 1
lovc, Lrzulic, vhosc sign is a rosc ` ' Thc scrpcnt, olcoursc, associatcs Sula
viththcbiblicalLvc andvithhcrgrandmothcr, thcrcviscd, blackLvc Thc
vay that Sula s birthmark bccomcs thc anchorlor somconc clscs narrativc
mcaningcapturcs thc csscnccolhov cultural othcrncss is produccd Vhat
thc dominant ordcr pcrccivcs as bodily dillcrcnccs act as dcpositorics ol
mcaningthatscrvc thcpsychologicalandpoliticalpcrspcctivcsolthatgroup
Likc thc monstrousbodicsolancicntandmcdicvaltimcs, Sulasbodyisahy-
pcrlcgiblc tcxt lrom vhich hcr community rcads its ovn prcoccupations,
lcars , andhopcs Thccxtraordinaryaspcctolhcrbodymakcshcraspcctaclc
amongspcctators, thcpointolrclcrcncclorsocialboundarics Thcbodythat
violatcsthcnormbccomcsamarkcdpariahanddisruptcrolthcsocialordcr
ln sucharolc, Sulacnablcsothcrs to| dchncthcmsclvcsbyollcringuphcr
dillcrcnccssothatthcgroupcanclariitscll, Su|c9 ) Likcthcothcrcxtra-
ordinaryvomcn, hcrbodyscrvcsasthcconscicnccolth c community `
Poth Scthc and hcr unnamcd, cnslavcd, rcbcllious , hangcd mothcr havc
markings thatmapthcirhistoricsuponthcirbodics, atonccimposingidcntity
and dillcrcntiatingthcmlrom thc unmarkcd Scthcs mothcrs slavcstatus is
litcrallyintcgratcdintohcrllcsh,brandcdonhcrasonastccroraCrcckslavc
Hcrmouth hasalsobccnpcrmancntlyhxcdinaghastly, ironicsmilc, lash
ioncdbythc mastcrs punitivc bit rathcr than byhcrovn lcclings ,Be|oveJ
20l) Vith thc dignihcd, tough pridc ola survivor, Scthcs mothcr, in hcr
onlydircctcncountcrvvithhcrdaughtcr,brandishcshcrstigmatabclorcScthc
asamcansolidcntihcation, promptingthcinnoccntchildtoplcad, Markthc
markonmctooasabondvithhcrmothcr,Be|oveJo l ) Ansvcrcdvithaslap
lromhcroutragcd mothcr, Scthchnds cvcntually thatthc lcgacyolcnslavc
mcntprovidcs hcr vith hcrovninscription, adccpintricatcscaronhcrback
lromthcbrutalbcatingthatvasthcpriccolhcrlrccdom RccallingSul asdil-
lcrcntiatingbirthmark, Scthcs scar is intcrprctcdby othcrs , altcrnatcly as a
chokcchcrry trcc andavroughtiron mazc Scthcbcrscllmustdcciphcrthis
mcmory chargcd inscription, bornc on hcr backand hiddcn lrom hcr ovn
vicv, in ordcr to lathom hcr history and quict hcr ghosts This ambiguous
badgc,atonccacurscandagiltlromhcrmothcr,rcprcscntsthcirbondasvvcll
as Scthcs rcdcmption lrom hcr mothcrs latc As vith cach markcd lcmalc
charactcr, Scthcsbodilyrcconhgurationisparadoxical ,cmbodyingsimultanc
ously thctcrriblcpriccdcmandcdandthc cxtraordinarycharactcrproduccd
byhcrhistoqandidcntity Thcrolcolthccxtraordinaryvomcni stoprcscrvc
othcrncssanditsmcaningsviththcvcryshapcsolthcirbodicsandtosustain
thccommunalbodybynurturingandcarc Thcirmarkcdbodicsvitncssthc
sharcdbondcrcatcdbyslavcryandthcdillcrcntiationcachindividualhistory
1 22 Constructing Disabled Figures
has vrought. Thcscvomcns bodics remem|er thcyrccall and rcconstitutc
historyandcommunity
Morrisonscxtraordinaryvomcncmcrgcmostclcarlyvhcncontrastcdvith
a hnal physically disablcd lcmalc charactcr vho scrvcs quitc a dillcrcnt
rhctoricallunctionlromthcothcrs laulincPrccdlovc,mothcrandvilcolthc
brutalizcd and brutal Prccdlovc lamilyin Morrisons hrst novcl, 1e B|ues
Lye,bcarsthclabclolbodilydcvianccandthcmarkingsolhistory,]ustlikchcr
succcssors Putlaulincdocsnotdisplaythcauthority. dignity, orquasisupcr
natural povcrs olhgurcs likc Lva, Thrcsc, or lilatc Although laulinc is a
vashcrvoman and carctakcr olvhitc childrcn likc Thrcsc, has a disablcd
lootandalimplikcPabySuggs ,andhassurvivcdpovcrty,abusc, dcprivation,
andanimosity, shcisncvcrapricstcssormythicalgoddcsshgurc lnstcadol
cnabling othcr mcmbcrs ol hcr community, shc dcvastatcs thcm lndccd,
Morrison strips laulinc ol prcciscly vhat shc cndovs thc othcr disablcd
vomcnvithVhilcthcyarccmpovcrcd, laulinc is diminishcd, lorshchas
dcsccratcd hcrscll by hcr complicity vith opprcssion Py intcrnalizing thc
]udgmcntolinlcriorityhandcddovntohcr,laulincbctrayshcrovnllcshand
conscqucntlythatolhcrchildrcn, husband, andracialcommunity Thc stig
mataolbcingblackinavhitcculturc,bcingaomaninamansvorld, bcing
poorinarichsocicty, orcvcnlimpingthrough avorldthatidcalizcsphysical
abilitydonotdiminishlaulinc and dcstroyhcrdaughtcr, lccola Rathcr, thc
convcrgcnccolcircumstanccs, charactcr, and choicc thatmakc laulinccm-
braccuglyandhcrrolcolthcidcalscrvantvithncithcrqucstionnordch-
ancc rob hcr ol thc dignity, gracc, bcauty, and lovc accordcd thc othcr
cxtraordinaryvomcn,BLl+, l 00)
laulinc is Morrisons sympathctic studyolviolations olthc soul and pcr
vcrsionsolpotcntialpcrpctratcdbyracismand scxism Hcrmisplaccdprior
itics cstrangc hcrlrom thc sustaining community olothcr blackvomcn so
thatlaulincncvcrhcarsscrmonsbythc likcsolPabySuggs ,catsinkitchcns
likc Lvas , orcvcn lccls thc validating solidarity olthc vhorcs vholivc up-
stairs Pcrcltolsuchsustcnancc, shcistragicallyscduccdintoscllloathing,
squandcringhcrpotcntialbyhndinghcrpraiscandsatislactionkccpingarich
vhitc lamilys housc andlovingthcirbluccycd, blond-haircd girlinstcad ol
hcrovn daughtcr Vithnosourccsolrcsistancc, laulincacccdcstothc dc
structivc idcologicsollcmalc martyrdom, bourgcois rcspcctability, Christian
dcnialolthc llcsh, andromanticlovc Suchbcliclslcadhcrtoacccptdisabil
ityasimpcrlcction, toidcalizcvvhitcphysicalbcautyascqualtovirtuc, andto
cmbraccthcrolcolthcidcalpraisclullcdblackscrvantina luxuriousvhitc
houschold MuchlikclctrysLutic,laulinchascmbraccdthcculturalscripts
allthcothcrmarkcdvomcnhavcrc]cctcd Hcrlaithinthcscidcologicalsins
Disabled Women as Powerul Women + + + + + 1 23
againstblackncss, lcmalcncss , and sclllunctionsin thc novclasanapostasy
thatnullihcshcrdaughtcr, Pccola Forthisviolation, Morrisondcnics Paulinc
oncolhcrchiclrhctoricalcmblcmsolcmpovvcrmcnt thcinclusivc,voman-
ccntcrcd, blackhomcvvhcrcshcmighthavcrcigncdasapricstcssolthcllcsh
Through rcsistancc, Morrisons markcd and disablcd vomcn dcny thc
dominantstandards thatvouldinvalidatc thcirbcingsvhilcthcy simultanc-
ouslycrcatcthcirovnaltcrnativcpsychologicalandphysicalordcrolscllau-
thorization Thcsc charactcrs suggcst a translormcd social ordcr, onc that
rcconhgurcsvaluchicrarchics, norms, andauthoritystructurcs Thisaltcrna-
tivcdomaincmcrgcslromarhctoricaljuxtapositionolrcalismandmyth Su
san Stcvart maintains that rcalism dcpcnds on thc rulcs ol cvcryday
cxpcricnccandasharcdintcrprctivclramcvork,bcsidcsphysicallavs , itrcc
ognizcs , andtoa ccrtain cxtcntagrccsvith, thcdominant social norms, cx
pcctations , and bchaviors ` For cxampl c, thc opcning sccnc ol Song o]
So|oron, in vhich Mr Robcrt Smith attcmpts to lly, rclcrs to and is intcr
prctcd by a sharcd cultural imagc ol disturbcd suicidal pcoplc pcrchcd on
lcdgcs abovc absorbcd crovds Sucha prcscntation, alongvith Mr Smiths
splatonthcpavcmcnt, conhrmscommoncvcrydaycxpcricncc, thcstatusquo
Hovcvcr, thcrcalismolthissccncis undcrcutbyPilatc,burstingintosongas
shcvatchcslrombclov Violatingthcsocialrulcsolthcsituation, Pilatcdis
ruptsthcllovolthccxpcctcd Pilatcisahgurcoldoublcncsshcrcabaglady
hgurc vhosccrazyaction clicits thc rcalistic snickcrs lromthc crovd, and
thcpovcrlulcontraltovhoscvordsarcitalicizcdandsctolllromthcrcstol
thctcxt, suggcstingthcirauthorityandoracularstatus , SS )
Although rcalism dominatcs this sccnc, dillcrcnt social rulcs achicvc a
loothold Thc novcl ollcrs an altcrnativc rcalitypcoplcdby thc oddballs and
throavaysolthcdominantsocialordcr, thosccallcdPilatcandCuitarrathcr
than cvcryday namcslikc Robcrt Smith Myth, accordingto Stcvarts narra-
tivc thcory, isahctional stratcgythatisonc stcprcmovcdlromrcalismin its
rclcrcntialrclationshipvithcvcrydaycxpcricncc Hovcvcr, itisclosccnough
torcalisticrcprcscntationtosustainouridcntihcationvith, andvillingbclicl
in, thc hctional rcalm in avaythatironyand mctahction, lor cxamplc, do
not `` Stigmatizcdvithinthcprcvailingsocialsystcmtovhichrcalismrclcrs ,
Pilatcncvcrthclcs srcignsinthccontrapuntalmythicalordcrSongo]So|omon
prollcrs and validatcs lndccd, thc novcls protagonist is progrcssing tovard
this domainvhcrc, posscsscdolhis blackhcritagc, hc dchcs thc socialand
thcphysicalordcrbylcarningtollyThcmythiccontcxtbcgunbyPilatcssong
rcndcrs Milkmanshnal gcsturcolllightarcvisionolMr Smiths splatanda
rclcasclromthcsocialrulcsthatgovcrncdthcopcningsccncandvouldcrasc
blackculturcThcconvcntionsolmythicrcprcscntationin Morrisonsnovcls
1 24 e e e e e Constructing Disabled Figures
distanccrcadcrsJustcnough torccognizc and qucstion thc asccndantsocial
ordcras only onc systcmlorintcrprcting, dchning, and ordcringcxpcricncc
Mythallowsthcnovclstoputasidcthc dominantpcrspcctivcandtocstablish
a spacclikc Evas, lilatcs, or Paby Suggss houscswhcrc things arc run
dillcrcntly Morrison casts thc disablcd and markcd womcn doubly, as thc
quccnsolthc mythic rcalmthatthc novcl sprivilcgc andas outsidcrsin thc
dominantordcr `LikcLvaastrickstcr,cachwomanisamcdiatingliminalhg-
urcwithalootincachdomain,aspiritualandphysicalcyborgcquippcdtonc-
gotiatcalragmcntcdworl d
lnvcrsions

Stcwart asscrts , convcrt into nonscnsc thc commonscnsc,


cvcrydayworld ` Forcxamplc, scvcral invcrtcdnamcs in Morrison snovcls
suggcstapcrccptualincohcrcncc in Su|c, thchillswhcrc thcblackpcoplc
livc abovc thc whitcowncdvallcy arc callcdthc lottom, in Be|oveJ, thc
larmwhcrcthcccntralcharactcrsarcslavcsiscallcdSwcctHomc, inSong
o] So|omon, Not Doctor Strcct and No Mcrcy Hospital arc nonscnsical
namcsthatalsoparodythc dominantliccnsctonamcandthcrcbydchnc, SS
l , l l ,+) Sinccthcprcsumcdcvcrydayworldolcommonscnscishllcdwith
thcdominant, cxclusionarypcrspcctivcs, valucs

hicrarchics , andnorms ,nar-


rativc invcrsions undcrminc thc status quo by rcndcring it unintclligibl c
That this mythic countcrdomain i srulcdbypoor, black, manlcss, disablcd
womcni s, olcoursc, a lundamcntalinvcrsionolthcpowcrstructurc bascd
on normatc privilcgc and status Eva lcacc pcrhaps bcst illustratcs thc
rhctoricalcllcctolsuchrcvcrsal s Lvashumblcthroncisawhcclchairhttcd
intoachildswagon, solowthatadultsactuallymustlookdownonhcr, ncv-
crthclcss , thc narrativc rcvcrscs that pcrspcctivc, giving hcr audicnccs thc
imprcssionthatthcywcrclookingupathcr,upintothcopcndistanccsolhcr
cycs, up into thc solt blackolhcrnostrils and up atthc crcstolhcr chin
, Su|c l l ) ln this mythicalrcal m, thcrcliablccoordinatcs olup and down,
highandlowdonotapply lnstcad, thc cxtraordinaryis cntitlcdand thc ordi-
naryisimpotcnt
Thismythical domaininvcrts dominanthicrarchicsaswcll Forinstancc,
thcscwomcnsworldallirms cvcryaspcct olthcllcsh, asiltoundoV'cstcrn
culturcs dcnial ol thc body and abstraction ola discrctc soul laby Suggss
scrmon on loving oncs own llcsh is thc sacrcd discoursc, carctakcrs olthc
bodyarcpowcrlul ,scxualityisnatural ,nourishmcntissanctihcd, andcvcnthc
ghostinBe|oveJhasabody Morcovcr, slavcry, povcrty, andrapcappcarnotas
cconomic or cvcn moral issucs, butabovc allas violations ol thc body,
ncvcr mitigatcd by idcologics ol martyrdom, asccticism, or scll-dcnial This
domain also ovcrturnstraditionalidcasolthc scllas anautonomousindivid
Disabled Women as Powerul Women e e e e e 1 2 5
ual Pcrsonalpovcrtcndsnottolollovthcmastcrslavc modclolovvncrship
orcontrolovcrothcrs , butopcratcslorthcmostparttocnablc, lccd, shcltcr,
nurturc, andministcrtomcmbcrsolthcgroupCoopcration,community, and
conncction rcplacc thc cmphasis on individual achicvcmcnt, compctition,
and posscssion linally, a matrilocal , intcrgcncrational kinship systcm rc
placcsthcnuclcar, patriarchalhouscholdstructurc
Putthisaltcrnativcmythicdomainis noutopia Lvcnvhilcthc novclsau
thorizcandvalidatcthisvorld, thcy surroundthcvomcns livcs byarcalist,
advcrsarial social ordcrthatcircumscribcsboththciractionsandthcirrcla-
tionships Althoughlcvvcharactcrsactuallyoccupythcnormatcsubjcctposi-
tion, itisncvcrthclcsspcrvasivc, aubiquitouslorcc thatrclcntlcsslydisrupts
andlimitsthcblackcharactcrs Thcslavcovncr, Schooltcachcr,lorcxamplc,
appcars onlybricllyinBe|oveJ,yctthcdrcadlulconscqucnccsolhisactsrc-
vcrbcratcthroughout thc novcl, rupturingand distortingrclationshipscvcry-
vhcrcvithinthcblackcommunity Lvcn thcarguablybencvolcntvhitcmcn
suchasValcrianin1crBc(, MrCarncrinBe|oveJ,andPaulincsapprcciativc
cmploycrin1eB|uesLyeunvittinglyinllictdamagcbccauscthcirnormatc
pcrspcctivcandvalucsarcincompatibleviththccllbcingolblackpcoplc
ThccruclparadoxlundamcntaltoMorrisonsnovclsisthatthcdcstructivcin-
tcrlockngolracism, scxism, ablcism, andclassismgovcrnhcrcharactcrscvcn
vhilcthccharactcrshavcpovcrtoactvithinthoscsystcms \\c scc this dc-
limitationolagcncy,lorcxamplc,inSu|cvhcnLvascvcrshcrlcgtosavcPlum
lrom hungcrandlatcrburnshimtosavchimlromspiritualstarvation,and
cvcn morc stronglyin Be|oveJ vhcn Scthc turns backthc slavc mastcrby
slashinghcrbabysthroat
Pyinsisting that thc historicizcd body inlorms idcntity, Morri son rccalls
Lconard lricgcls SurvlvorCripplc, vhoscprinciplcis thatscllcrcationis
limitedbythcvcryaccidcntsthatgivci tshapcandthatagcncylicsinthcvvill
tomanipulatc thatvhich has manipulatcd him sic Thc vomcns disabili
ticsandmarksarccithcrmatcrialtraccsolracismandscxismorthccongcni
talvariationsuponvhichculturalothcrncssisbuiltThcscphysicaltraccsarc
adiscourscinscribcdbyhistoryupon thc llcsholhumanbcings , vhat Paulc
Marshallcallslilc-sorcs ``Thcdisabiliti cs, thcn, arcnotmctaphorslorlivcs
tvistcd by opprcssion, but thc idcntiing, alhrming, and valucd manilcsta-
tions olbodily uniqucncss and pcrsonal history Thc body is a tcxtthat thc
vomcn insistuponintcrprctingthcmsclvcs, cvcnasthcyrcsistlantasicsand
lcarsothcrsprojcctonthcm RccallingMrs Hcdgcs, thcscvomcnsindivid-
ualandcommunalhistoricsarccmblazoncduponthcirllcsh,cvidcnccoldig-
nihcdcnduranccandproloundvitality
1 26 + + + + + Constructing Disabled Figures
The Extraordinary Subj ect: Audre Lorde's lami: New Speling of MyName
VhcrcasPctrysandMorrisonsdisablcdwomcntcndtooccupythcmarginsol
thcirhction,Audrc lordcs l 932biomythography, Zcmi ANcv Sje||ingo)
MyNcme,placcsthcmarkcdwomanandthcclaimsolhcrbodyatitsvcryccn-
tcr,makinghcrthcnarratorDcscribingZcmias rcallyhctionthathasthccl-
cmcntsolbiographyandthchistoryolmyth, Lordcconsciouslyconstructsa
narrativc scll,purposclullycvadingthcnaivc rclcrcntialitybchind thc idcaol
objcctivclychroniclingalilc `'Hcrhybridgcnrc, biomythography, luscsthc
opposingdi scursivccatcgoricsolmythandbiographysignalingZcmisthc
matic projcct olcrcating an cmbodicdidcntity that transgrcsscs all bound-
arics Thc Prologuc dcscribcs thc works lundamcntal conccrnvithbridging
dichotomous, narrowlyrcstrictingclassihcationsolscll
I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest
and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me-to share valleys and
mountains upon my body the way the earth does in hills and peaks ,Zami) .
Zami thusbcginswiththc prcmiscthatAudrcslivcdand lclt cxpcricnccis at
oddswithnormativccatcgoricsolidcntity Shcspcaksolhcrscllasgrowing
up lat, llack, ncarly blind, and ambidcxtrous in a Vcst lndian houschold
,Zcmi 2+0) Although this dcscription thwarts valucd scll-rcprcscntations,
Lordcdchantlyclaimsitncvcrthclcss |romthcpagcsolL|ony, tothcwast
ingcxprcssionolvhitcs, tothclavoringollightskini nhcrlamily, tothcspc-
cialclassroomlorchildrcnwithvariousscriousdchcicncicsolsight, Audrc
lcarnslromcarlyonthathcrbodyisnotonlydillcrcntbutwrong,Zcmi, 2+)
Zcmi's mission is to rcconstruct thc narrativc ol dcviancc carricd by lat,
blind, lcsbian, andllacktocrcatcadiscursivcscllthatincorporatcsthc
bodily traits and cxpcricnccs uponwhich thcsc tcrms arc bascd, yctinluscs
thcwordswithvaluc,povvcr,andlrcshmcaning
|or Lordc, rigid oppositional catcgorics such as man/woman, scll/othcr,
normal/abnormal, and supcrior/inlcriorstraitjackcthcrlivcd, physicalcxpcri-
cncc Zcmivigorouslyrcsists suchimposcddchnitionsolthcscll,rclusingto
capitulatc to scllcrasurc as Pccola lrccdlovc docs in Morrisons 1eB|ues
LyeThcautobiographicallormcliminatcsthcdynamicsolsympathyandthc
potcntial lor objcctihcation that oltcn cmcrgc whcn a narratormcdiatcs bc-
tvccnthcrcadcranda marginalizcd charactcrlikcAudrc lycstablishing a
subjcctivcpcrspcctivcccntcrcdonlcsbianscxualityand cultivatingoutsidcr-
ncss , Zcmidcnaturalizcsthcnormatcvicwpointandprotcsts its dominancc
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women e + e e e 1 27
lothinvokingand rctoolingautobiographicallorm and contcnt, Zcmi shapcs
a multilacctcd cultural andcorporcal othcrncssinto a cohcrcnt subJcctivity,
groundinghcrnarrativc ol scllin thckind olthirddcsignationdiscusscdat
thcbcginnlngolthischaptcr,Zcmi l ) To dothls , Lordcintcnsihcshcrsub-
jccts dillcrcnccs lrom thc dominant norm, rathcr than muting thcm, and
highlights thoscdillcrcnccsinthctcxt Hcncc, vhatvc mighttcrmthcin
tcnsclyothcrbccomcsthc scllinAudrcs narrativc, challcngingthccultural
norms that vould shunt hcr to thc margins Lxplicitly rcprcscnting lcsbian
scxuality ina cultural contcxt vhcrc hctcroscxuality is thc norm bccomcs a
mcthodlorcontcstingnormalcyitscllZcmicxtcndsPctrysandMorrisonscx-
plorationsolncvlormsolblacklcmalcidcntitybycvcnmorcintcnsclylound-
ingits dchnitionolscllonthccxtraordinaryrathcrthan thc ordinary, onthc
cxccptionrathcrthanthcrulc llhcrphysicaldillcrcnccis thcsourccolhcr
socialalicnation, shcalsomakcsitthcsourccolhcrpocticandcroticallirma
tion Such scllauthorization, Lordc insists , is apolitical andpcrsonal actol
survival , atranslormationolsilcncc into languagc and action thatachicvcs
signihcantculturalvork ThusZcmiillustratcsthatidcntitylorthcsccxtra
ordinaryvomcn lollovs thcpostmodcrnimpulscolrcpudiatingthcnormatc
mastcrnarrativcs, conJ oiningsubJ cctivityvithcmbodicddillcrcnccs
Audrc/Zami dravsonthc convcntionallorms olthcBi|Jungsromcn, Kun
s|erromcn, picarcsquc, and autobiographyto buildapositivc scllrcprcscnta
tionas ablack, lcsbianpoct Hcrdcvclopmcntprogrcsscsthrough ascricsol
rclationships vith vomcn, bcginningvith hcr lorcmothcrs and culminating
vithAlrckctc, thc blacklovcgoddcsshgurcvithvhomAudrcallirmshcrscll
asaCarriacouan,voman-lovingpoct lyrcprcscntingthcscrclationshipsvith
vomcn,includinghcrmothcr,asbothcroticandconstitutivcolhcrscllaspoct,
Lordcconncctsvordandbody ' Thcbiomythographyisasurprisinglylincar,
tclcological, picarcsquc, sclcctcdaccountolrclationshipsvithvomcnthatto-
gcthcrlormarcsponsctothcvorksinitial,structuringqucstions Tovvhomdo
l ovcthcpovcrbchindmyvoicc, vhatstrcngthl havcbccomc andTo
vhomdolovcthcsymbolsolmysurvival,Zcmil) Zcmi'sclosingstatcmcnt
rcvcals thatAudrcs compositc scllincludcs aspccts olhcrscllrccognizcd in
othcrvomcn Thc biomythography lashions thcsc cncountcrs into a patch
vork idcntitydravn lrom livcd cxpcricncc andopcnto altcration bysubsc-
qucntrclationships
Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some
invaluable piece of myself apart from me-so different that I had to stretch and
1 28 Constructing Disabled Figures
grow in order to recognize her. And in that growing, we came to separation, that
place where work begins. Another meeting ,Zami2 ) .
Lordcimagincsthisscll-crcationasarcnamingvhatClaudincRaynaud
hasaptlycallcdahcrcclyactivcdcnomination `Shcbcginsthctranslorma
tion lromAudrcyto Zamivith hcrinsistcncc, atagclour, on scvcringthcy
lromhcrgivcnnamc,Audrcy, andcomplctcsitbyinvokingthcbiologicallact
thatthcbodyrcgcncratcsitscllcvcryscvcnycars Thisrclormulationiscastas
asomaticrcshaping lcttcrsarcamputatcdandlovcrslcavcimprintsonAudrc
Thc bodythatshiltslromAudrcyto Zami hassupplcboundarics , it transhg
urcs andistranshgurcdbyitshistoryinadialccticbctvccnbodyandcxpcri
cnccthatrccallsMorrisonsdisablcdvomcn, vhoscbodicslitcrallyarc thcir
historics
Morcovcr, Lordcs narrativc dcparts lrom thcmastcrnarrativc olthc scll
dctcrmining,autonomousindividual Audrcsscll,produccdbyalliliationvith
ascricsolvomcn, contrastsstarklyviththcculturalscllarticulatcdinLmcr
sons Scll RclianccorThorcaus\c|Jen, lorcxamplc, vhichrcpudiatcs all
lorclathcrs and inllucnccs , sccking to dcvclop idcntity through dillcrcntia
tion Audrcs prolound physical dcparturc lrom thc dominant typc pcrhaps
makcsthisalliliationbothncccssaryandsalcinavaythatitmightnotbclor
somconc closcr to thc norm ln othcrvords , samcncss vith thc lovcd oncs
could bccomc an allirmation rathcr than thc thrcat olundillcrcntiating cl
laccmcnt Pcrhaps thcalmostobscssivcdcnialolconlormityinLmcrsonand
Thorcauisalcarolbcingoblitcratcdbyordinarincss
Lordccmploysastructuringschcmcsimilarto Morrisons , intcrvcavinga
mythicnarrativcolscllvitharcalisticnarrativcolsclcctcdlilccvcnts Forcx
amplc, thcitalicizcdvoiccolthcpoctspcaksthctcxtsmythicaccountinsuch
lyricalpassagcsas ,Snc|sjeJcnuj-a||Jc|uevenngcomes,IJrecmo]you
1assaejaerJsc|ejer|ecrnngomc|e|ove|yangswa|ewcngoumyme
o]Jesjcr Thispoctryintcrtvincsvithprosaicchroniclcsolcducation, vork,
lamily tcnsion, torturcd adolcsccncc, and scxual initiation, such as l had
sixtythrccdollarsinmypockct larrivcdinStamlordonthcNcvHavcnlocal
onThursdayaltcrnoon lvcnttothcllackCommunityCcntcrvhoscaddrcss
l hadgottcnlromaprcviousvisitthcvcckbclorc ,Zcm l 90, l 22) Audrcs
lastand mostallirmingscxualcncountcrconsciouslyvcavcs thcmythicand
rcalisticpcrspcctivcs, portrayinghcrlovcraltcrnatclyasthcpocticAlrckctc
andthcprosaicKitty Kitty,stilltrimandlastlincd, butvithancasicrloosc
ncss about hcr smilc and a let lcss makcupis ol thc rcal vorld, vhilc
Alrckctc comcs ouo]cJrecmomebcaring|veangs]romae|usa,cnJ
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women e r e e e 1 29
]rom |er]crm se ouincocoycmscnJccsscvc, conjuringthc goddcssincach
olthcvomcn,Zcmi2++, 2+9) Solromthcdcvalucdgirl,Audrcy,cmcrgcsthc
mythical, ZcmiACcrriccouncme]orwomenv|ovor|oge|ercs]rienJscnJ
'overs ,Zcri 2 ) |uxtaposing rcalism and myth blcnds robust social criti
cismvvithautopianimpulsc,accomplishinginZcmiprccisclythcsamccndas
inMorrisonsvorkthcmythicpcrspcctivcdislodgcsthcdominantvicvpoint,
opcningadiscursivcspacclorimaginingncvvaysolbcing
LordcsbiomythographylullyrcalizcsPctrystcntativcuscolphysicaldil
lcrcncc as a mcans to a positivc-idcntity politics Vhilc 1|e Srees Mrs
Hcdgcsposscsscsbothvisionandvoi cc, ZcmisvicvpointconlcrsuponAudrc
agazcandvoiccproduccdthroughthcautobiographicallorm,notsimplyasan
cllcct ol contcnt lccauscAudrcs consciousncss dctcrmincs thc narrativc
pcrspcctivc,Zcminotonlygcncratcsadiscursivcscll, butalsocrcatcsancn
tirc vorld apprchcndcd, spokcn, andlcgitimatcdbythatscll VhcrcasMrs
Hcdgcsmustprotccthcrsclllromthcintrusivcstarcsolothcrs ,includingthc
rcadcr, tovhomhcrbodysccmsdcviant,Audrccannotbccomcaspcctaclcol
othcrncssbccauschcrvoiccandpcrspcctivcconstitutc thctcxt Thus anar
ratingAudrccanrcsistbccomingagrotcsqucspcctaclcvhil cstillparadingbcr
dillcrcncc as a markoldistinction, olidcntity l vaslatandblackandvcry
hncVc vcrcvithoutpccrorcatcgoryandonthatdaylvasconsciousolbc
i ngvcry proud olit ,Zcmi 22l) ln Siser OusiJer, Lordc vritcs movingly
aboutthcproblcmolcxposurc, thcriskolbccomingaspcctaclcvhcnoncin
tcnsihcsdillcrcncc Discussingscll-rcvclation,shcmcntionslcarolcontcmpt
orccnsurc, but asscrts thatvclcar thcvisibilityvithoutvhichvc cannot
trulylivc, thcvisibilityvhichmakcsusmostvulncrablcisthatvhichalsois
thcsourccolourgrcatcststrcngth Caughtbctvccnragcatbcingunsccn
andtbcscllprotcctivcimpulsclorconccalmcnt,Lordcuscsthcbiomythogra
phy to discursivclydisplaythccxtraordinarybody and to simultancouslydi s
cngagc lrom thc cxploitativc dynamics ol spcctaclc Thus , Audrc/Zamis
scll-displaycxaltsthccxtraordinarybodyandbanisbcsallmcdiators ,insisting
uponadircct, intimatcrclationvithhcrrcadcrs
The Poetics of Particularity
Pctrys Mrs Hcdgcs, X1crrisonsmarkcdvomcnpariahs , andZcmisAudrccx
plorcapoliticizcdmodclolcmbodicdscluoodinllcctcdbycollcctivc andin
dividualhistory Thissclldchncdbydistinctivcncssrcvi scsthcmodclolthc
unilorm scllprcdictcdbydcmocracys prcmisc olcquality Asl discusscd in
chaptcr2, inapost- Lnlightcnmcntsocictythcidcologicalpovcrolthcnorm
1 30 Constructing Disabled Figures
paradcs thc markcd body as dcviant, subordinatc, and particular and grants
thcunmarkcdbodystatus ,privilcgc,andunivcrsality llthcprinciplcolcqual
itycncouragcs unilormityvhilc thcprinciplc ollrccdom invitcs distinction,
Amcrican scllhoodisbalanccd on thc tcnsionbctvccn thc dcsirc lor samc
ncss and thc longing lor uniqucncss Conscqucntly, in modcrn socicty thc
tyrannyolthc norm makcs cxtraordinarybodics intolrcakishbodics, vhich
bothcompclandrcpclthcnormatcscnsibility
lvantto suggcsthcrcthatsomcvritcrsinllucnccdbythcblackcivilrights
movcmcntandthcvomcns movcmcntloundin thccxtraordinarybodyprc
cisclythcrhctoricalstratcgyvithvhichtocxprcssanotionolscllthatlitcrally
incorporatcdintothcbodythccsscntialdistinctionsimplicdbyracialandgcn
dcridcntity. ` Thc problcm olrcprcscntation in a postblackpovcrcravas
thatilblackvastobcbcautilul , ithadtobcdistinguishcdlromstandardizcd
vhitcncss Thchgurcolthcmarkcdvomanollcrs avchiclclorrcprcscnting
thc cxtraordinary body that contradicts , cvcn insults thc privilcgcdnormatc
body that claims ncutralityyctcn] oys highcrstatus and constitutcs thc cul
tural ccntcr Thus, post l 9o0s blackvomcn vritcrs such as Morrison and
Lordcuscthccxtraordinarybodyinthcdiscourscolpositivcdillcrcnccsoin
tcgraltothcirhctionalpcrspcctivc, vhilcPctrys muchmorcambivalcntpor
trayalolMrs Hcdgcs, vrittcnin l 9+o, vascrcatcdbclorcapositivcidcntity
politicsvascommonplacc Forthcscvritcrs , thccxtraordinarybodyisaphys
icaltcstimonytoindividualandcollcctivccxpcricnccAtthcsamctimc, thcsc
hgurcs arcdillcrcntiatcd absolutclylrom charactcrs vhosc undistingui shcd
bodicsgrantthcmthccovcrolbanal ,oltcnlraudulcnt, normatcstatus lnpo
litical tcrms, thcsc cxtraordinary bodics dcmand accommodation, rcsist as
similation, andchallcngcthcdominantnormsthatvouldcllaccdistinctions
suchasracial, gcndcr, andscxualdillcrcnccsandthcmarksolcxpcricncc
Thcscblackvomcnvritcrsnotonlyappropriatcmarkcdhgurcslornation
alistculturalvork,thcyalsorcscuc thccxtraordinarybodylromitsmodcrn,
dcviantincarnationThcdisablcdvomcnarcnotonlythcracializcdbodicsol
positivcidcntitypolitics, butalsononconlormityincarnatc,thcqualitylaudcd
inLmcrsons andThorcausvisionsolanindcpcndcntscllThcschgurcs rc
gainthcpovcrsubducdbycqualitysassumptionolsamcncssinstandardizcd,
massculturc lnothcrvords, Pctry, hIcrrison,andLordcrccovcrthchgurcol
thclrcak, vhichhas lascinatcdVcstcrnculturcingcncralandAmcricansin
particular Putvhcrcas thclrcakshov colonizcdcxtraordinarybodics to cs
tablishthcboundaricsolthcspcctatorsnormalcy, thcscblackvomcnvritcrs
translormthcmarkcdvomcnhgurcsintoprodigics ,vhoscbodicsholdthcsc-
Disabled Women as Powerul W01len . . . . 1 3 1
crctsolancmpovcringidcntityAspoliticizcdprodigics ,thcschgurcsarccast
inthcmoldolthcvondrousprc Lnlightcnmcntmons tcrsvhoscbodicsvcrc
notsccnasllavcdbutasdistinguishcdandavcinspiring
ltisnotsurpri singthatthcculturalvorkundcrtakcnbyAlricanAmcrican
vomcn vritcrs i srclormulatingthc dominantmodclolscll, particularly thc
|cmalc scll ln hcr history ol AlricanAmcrican vomcn, Paula Ciddings
strcsscs blackvomcns uncasyrclationship vith dominantvcrsions ollcmi-
ninity, lromthcidcologyolTruc\\omanhoodin thc ninctccnthccntury, thc
NcvVoman imagc atthc ccnturys turn, thchltics middlc-class houscvilc,
and thc contcmporarymainstrcam lcmini st llackvomcn havc alvays , as a
group, bccncxcludcdbyidcologyandcconomicslromthcscrolcs , yct simul-
tancouslyjudgcdaccordingtothcmAscarlyas l So l , lorcxamplc, Harrict|a
cobspointcdtothisdoublcstandardinhcrnarrativcolslavcvomcns scxual
cxploitation thcslavcvomanoughtnottobcjudgcdbythcsamcstandards
as othcrs Similarly, thcstandardsol|cminincbcauty, bascdonCaucasian
charactcristics, havc madc blackvomcns assigncdphysical inlcrioritysccm
an inhcrcntcharactcristic Castprimarily as slavcs, scxualizcd prcy, and do
mcstic vorkcrs , black vomcns bodics havc traditionally bccn opposcd to
vhitcvomcns, cvcnvhilcthcyarcpraiscdorcondcmncdbythcsamcstan
dards Asilinrccognitionolthisparadoxicalsnarc,allthrccvritcrsdcploythc
cxtraordinaryvomcnhgurcsinrcsponsctothc] udgmcntoldcviancctbathas
bccnimposcdonthcblacklcmalcbody
|or cxamplc, Morrisons novclsthc most cxtcnsivc body ol vork cxam
incd hcrcboth continuc and signihcantly rcvisc thc tradition el social
protcstandadvocacytovhichthcninctccnthccnturyhctionolStcvc, Davi s,
andPhclpsbclongs Spccihcally, Morrisonsnovcl srcviscStovcs |nc|eToms
Cc|in loth vritcrs rhctorical aim is to grant sociocconomic and political
cquality, asvcllasstatus, toagroupcxcludcdbythcdominantculturc Mor
risonbothcxtcndsandamcnds thistradition, substitutingsubjcctivitylorad
vocacy, thusncutralizingthcproblcmolbcncvolcntmatcrnalismthatshapcs
Stovcs black charactcrs in controvcrsial vays Morrisons novcls actually
rcvri tcmanyolStovcsblackvomcnhgurcs , bringingthcmlromtbccdgcsol
thcabolitionistnarrativc to thc hcartolthcAlrican-Amcricanccntcrcdpcr
spcctivc at thc political and acsthctic corc olhcr hction Topsy, thc unruly
lcral childaccuscdin |nc|e 1oms Cc|in oldrollcry and vitchcralt, vho
claimstohavcavickcdhcartandbcabadgirl, |1C20) ,bccomcsinSu|c,
thc pariah protagonist vho introduccs cvil not as an alicn lorcc, but sim
plyas Morrisonsaysa dillcrcntlorcc ` Stovcs disablcd slavc mothcr,
1 32 Constructing Disabled Figures
Hagar,vvhoissoldolllromhcrbclovcdsonanddisappcarslromthcnarrativc,
rcappcars as Be|oveJ's PabySuggs , thcdisablcdslavcmothcrvhoscsonpur
chascs hcr lrccdom and vho cstablishcs a ministry and a voman-ccntcrcd
houschold OncolStovcs blackhcroincs, Cassy, vhoconlcsscstoTomthat
shcgavchcrbabylaudanumbccauscshccouldncvcragainlctachildlivcto
grovup, , |1C 2 l ) rcappcarsasScthc, vhoscactolinlanticidcisthcinci
dcnt around vhich Morrison constructs Be|oveJ Aunt Chloc, thc dcvotcd
vilc andscrvantvhomStovccclcbratcsasahgurcolChristiandomcsticity,
bccomcsPaulincPrccdlovc,vhoin1eB|uesLyercvcalsthc conscqucnccs
olthcgoodscrvantrolc Stovcs bad scrvant, thchumanizcdbutvictimizcd
Pruc, appcarsmythicallycmpovcrcdas1crBc('sThrcsc|inally, thcharsh
cst ol Morrisons transhgurations rccasts Stovcs ccntral rcdcmptivc child
hcroinc, Lva, as 1e B|ues L}es intcrchangcablc hgurcs olcu-utc Shirlcy
TcmplcandLovclyMary|anc, viththcSmilingvhitclacc Plondhairin
gcntlcdisarray, bluccycslooking outolavorldolclcancomlort ,BL l 9,
+l) Lovablc Lvas dcstructivc potcntial bccomcs clcar vhcn thc Lva hgurc
appcars as vcll in 1e B|uesLye as thc littlc pink-and-ycllov girl ol thc
|isherlamily, tovhomPaulincPrccdlovcdcvotcshcrscllvhilclorsaknghcr
ovndaughtcr, Pccola,BL S) Thcidcalizcdvhitcgirlchildundcrmincsand
obscsscsthc docilc Pccola Prccdlovc, vhocomcsto idcntivith thc sccm
inglyinnoccntimagcthatdoomshcr Suchtranslormationsconstitutcapoint
cdcultural critiqucthatcmcrgcsvhcnsub]cctivityandccntralityarcshiltcd
lromvhitctoblackconsciousncss Thus , Morrisonatoncccontinucsandin
tcrrogatcsthcculturalvorkolthcninctccnth-ccntuqsocialrclormnovcls
|ustasMorrisonscharactcrsalludctoandradicallyrccontcxtualizcStovcs,
thccxtraordinaryvomcninvokc thc imagc olthcvondrouslrcakvhilclunda
mcntallyrclashioning it Poth thc lrcakand thc markcd vomcn inspirc avc
vith thcprolusionoldillcrcnccthcirbodicsllauntPothastonishordinaryand
pcrhaps complaccntonlookcrs , challcngingthcirvicvcrssupposcdlysupcrior
statusbyrcndcringitbanal Putvhilcthclrcakshovstagcdccontcxtualizcsthc
atypicalbodytointcnsithcspcctaclcolothcrncss, thcsclitcraryrcprcscnta
tions acccntuatc thc markcd bodys historical contcxt, inlusing thc matcrial
body vith social mcaningrathcrthan mctaphorical signihcancc, surrounding
thcmvithlilcrathcrthanprops Pyconncctingphysicalbcingvithindividual
historyandculturc,thccxtraordinaryvomcnhgurcsdchncthcscllintcrmsol
itsuniqucncssrathcrthanitsconlormitytothcnorm
Putcvcnvhilc thc cxtraordinaryvvomcnappropriatc thc marvclousdillcr
cncc ollrcakdom, thcy rcpudiatc thc visual ob]cctihcation that makcs thc
lrcakagrotcsqucspcctaclc PctrysambiguousrcndcringolMrs Hcdgcssug-
Disabled Women as Poweiul Women 1 33
gcststhatthc spcctaclcis prcduccdbypcrspcctivcandccntcxt Pythcmatiz
ingbothMrs Hcdgcss rclusal tobca spcctaclcasvcll ashcrinsistcncccn
spcctatcrshipandagcncy, Pctrybcginstcmcvcthcdisablcdbodylrcmcbjcct
tc subjcct Mcrriscn ccntinucs thc proccss byusing mythlc rcprcscntaticn
chargcdvithsupcrnaturalpovcrandgcndcrtoshovvbodilydillcrcnccsasthc
traccsclhistoryandthcmarksolracialcxpcricncc Lcrdcs autobiographical
lcrm,hcwcvcr,mcstlullydiscngagcsthcdynami csolthcgrotcsqucspcctaclc
Hcrbicmythcgraphyisakindcltcxtualscll-cxhibiticnthatcmphasizcsthc
sourcccl hcr|grcatcststrcngth, thcphysicaltraitsthatthcdcminantculturc
mcst dcvalucs lat, blind, lcsbian, andblack ' Lcrdc apprcpriatcs thc
lrcakshovscxaggcrationcldcviancctorclramc itasdistinction Yctvvhilcthc
lrcaks distinction scparatcs i tlrcmthcrcstclhumanity, Audrcs distincticn
opcratcsascmincncccnccuragcdbythcidcntihcaticninhcrcntinthcautobi-
cgraphical |orm Vc might saythat Lordc invitcs thc lrcak shov vicvcr to
lcavcthcaudicnccandstandbcsidcthclreakonthcplatlormscthatthcycan
gazc togcthcrat thc ncrmatcs bclovvithamuscd supcricrity and laint con
tcmpt Pctry, Morrison, andLordcthusinluscthctraditicnallymutcd, static
spcctaclc clothcrncss vithvcicc, gazc, and pcvcr tc actall vithcut ncr-
malizingthccxtracrdinarybcdy
ln SiserOus:Jer, hcrmanilcstc cllcministand pcctic radicalism, Lordc
claimsthatthcmastcrstoolsvillncvcrdismantlcthcmastcrshcusc ``Vc
havcsinccloundthatovncrshipolpcvcri smuchmcrcccmplcxthanLcrdcs
statcmcntsuggcsts l vouldollcrthatPctry, Mcrriscn, andLordc imprcvisc,
rclashioningvhatisathandlcrthcirovn uscsbyalludingtcthctraditicnal
monstcr, thcprcdigicuslycmbodicdhgurcthathasbccncclipscdandtrivial
izcdbythcmodcrn, standardizcdhgurccl| aommemoyen Pcrhapsbccausc
raci stdiscoursc has so closcly aligncdblackvcmcns bodicsviththc mon-
strcus and thc lrcakish, such cxtracrdinaryhgurcs arc tc thcsc vritcrs thc
loundmatcriallrcmvhichtclcrgcthcpolitic|zcdprodigicsthcycmpcvcrAs
prctctypcslorpostmcdcrnhcroincs , thccxtraordinaryvcmcnthcycrcatcarc
ncithcrgocd girls ncrladics ncr bcautics, but cyborgian hgurcsvhcsclcrc-
mcthcrs arc thc vcndrcuslrcaks , asyct undiminishcdbythcccntainingdis-
courscs olmodcrnity Alludingtcthc unmitigatcd, csscntial physical dillcr-
cncc cl thc lrcak, thc hgurcs cl thc markcd vomcn rcsist assimilation and
ccmpcnsationthatvouldcrascthcirhistorical spccihcity Rctainingthcavc
cl dillcrcncc but rcjccting thc cbjcctihcation cl staging, Pctry rcvritcs thc
lrcakshovshcrccAmazonCiantcssasMrs Hcdgcsturncduponthcprcda-
tcrs cl Harlcm Mcrriscn continucs by rchguring Thc Lcglcs s Vcndcr as
Lva Pcaccrcgal , commanding, and lully scxualizcd cn hcr vagcnthrcnc
1 34 + Constructing Disabled Figures
larnumsArmlcssVcndcrbcccmcsBe|veJ'sNan, vhcimpartssacrcdstc
ricsanddispcnscsncurishmcnt McrriscnalsctranslcrmsThcAmazingTat
tcccd\\cman intc Scthc and Sula, thcir llcsh inscribcd vith mystcricus,
inscrutablcsignsclthciruniqucncss AndthccxcticCircassiancautyi sin
Mcrriscns ncvclsthc alluringPilatc Dcad, guidingmcn tc a naticnalist dcs
tiny |ulia Pastrana, dancing Pcpitas bclcrc hcr gavking audicncc in a grc
tcsquc parcdy cl lcmininity, bcccmcs Mcrriscns Paby Suggs, lcading hcr
rcncgadc ccngrcgaticnina sacrcddancccclcbratinghcrcxtracrdinaryllcsh
|inally, Lcrdc rcndcrs Thc HcttcntctVcnusasAudrc/Zami lat, black,
lcsbian, andhumanizcdbyvci cc, subjcctivity, ccmmunity. agcncy, andscxu
alityyctstilllullyccrpcrcalandcxtracrdinaryincvcryscnsc
CO!C i U S l O !

From Pathology to Identity
This book aspircs to broadcn and shilt our currcnt acadcmic convcrsation
aboutidcntityproductionandphysicaldillcrcnccs Whilcitsprimaryaimhas
bccn to cxplorc thc ways culturc rcprcscnts and social practiccs construct
disability, arclatcdgoalhasbccntohighlightthcrolcolthcbodyinthcscrcp-
rcscntationsandconstructions lntroducingthc idcaoldisabilityintodiscus-
sions about constructions ol thc body dcmands conlronting thc rclation
bctwccnvisiblcbodilyparticularityandidcntity Thisrcquircsncithcrascrib
ingcatcgoricsolphysicaldillcrcncctoanaivccsscntialismnorallovingcon-
structionismtocrascthcmatcrialityolthcbody lnstcad, locusingoncultural
rcprcscntations ol disability rcvcals a politics olappcarancc in which somc
traits, conhgurations, andlunctionsbccomcthcstigmataolavividlycmbod
icd inlcri ority or dcviancc, whilc othcrs ladc into a ncutral , discmbodicd,
univcrsalizcdnorm Suchrcadingsolthc body arc thc coordinatcsolataxo
nomicalsystcmthatdistributcsstatus ,privilcgc,andmatcrialgoodsaccording
toahicrarchyanchorcdbyvi siblchumanphysicalvariation
Disability, olcoursc, is not thc solc somatic markcr in this cconomy ln-
cluding disability in thc discourscs that constitutc racc, gcndcr, cthnicity,
scxuality,andclasscomplica|csthcbodysculturalconstructionandacknowl
cdgcsthatallphysicalcxi stcnccisinllcctcdbymultiplcnarrativcsolidcntity,
lcltorattributcd, dcnigratcdorprivilcgcd. lylocusingon thcintcrscctionsol
thcvarioussystcmsthatordcranddcmarcatcvisiblcphysicaldillcrcnccs , ldo
notwishtosuggcstthatidcntiticsarcintcrchangcablcthatgcndcranddis
1 36 4 4 e 4 4 Conclusion
ability arc synonymous constructs, or that disability is a lorm ol cthnicity
Rathcr, l proposc that gcndcr, cthnicity, scxuality, and disability arc rclatcd
productsolthcsamcsocialproccsscsandpracticcsthatshapcbodicsaccord
ingtoidcologicalstructurcs Vhatlhavctricdtouncovcrhcrcarcsomcoltbc
complcxitics olthcsc proccsscs as thcy simultancously makc and intcrprct
disability
As l havc suggcstcdthroughoutthisbook, thcdisablcdhgurcopcratcs asa
codclor insulhcicncy, contingcncy, and abjcctionlor dcviantparticularity
thuscstablishingthccontoursolacanonicalbodythatgarncrsthcprcrogativcs
andprivlcgcs olasupposcdlystablc, univcrsalizcdnormalcy Thchgurcolthc
culturalscll,thcn, initsrclusaltobcllcshcdout,isthctvinsubj cctolthisstudy
Morcovcr,vithinthisculturalchorcographythcdisablcdbodyisaspcctaclc
sypathctic, grotcsquc, vondrous, orpathologicalin a complcxrclation bc
tvccn sccrand sccn, bctvccnthc opposingsubjcctpositions olthc intcnscly
cmbodicd,rcihcd, andsilcnccdobj cctandthcabstract, unmarkcd, discmbodicd
normatc lhavcattcmptcdasvclltohistoricizcthisdynamicbctvccnspcctator
andspcctaclcbycxaminingthcdisablcdhgurcinthccontcxtolAmcricanlibcral
individualism, thcvorkcthic,andspccihcrcprcscntationalgcnrc
ln analyzingthrccgcncricsitcsoldisablcdidcntityproductionthclrcak
shov, scntimcntalhction,andblackvomcnslibcratorynovclslhopctoac
complishthrcc things |irst, l havc tricdto rcvcal hov thc intcrconncctions
amongvariouslorms olphysicalothcrncssopcratcinactualrcprcscntations
Myaim hcrc is ultimatclytodcmonstratc thc lundamcntalcomplcxityolso
ciallormationsbyhistoricizingandcontcxtualizingthoscrcprcscntations ln
particular, l vanttocomplicatcanysimplcdichotomyoldominantandmar
ginal socialcatcgorics |orcxampl c, byconsidcringthc intcrnaldynamics ol
othcrncssintcxts thatalrcadyclaimapositionoutsidcdominantdiscoursc, l
hopctoprcssouranalyscsbcyonddualisticconccptionsolidcntityandtodis
couragc thccurrcntpracticcolbalkanizinganalytical catcgoricsin a kindol
culturalandcriticalscparatisminordcrtocnsurclcgitimacy
Sccond, thclrcakshov, scntimcntalhction, and blackvomcnslibcratory
novclsarcgcnrcsinvhichthc rcprcscntationoldi sablcdbodicsis cspccially
ambivalcntand unstablc lt is casycnoughtochroniclcthc stcrcotypicaluscs
oldisability Yctbylocusingon thclrcakshovs lramingolthccxtraordinary
bodyasatonccvondrousandrcpcllant, andonscntimcntalismscombination
oladvocacyandrcpudiation, lintcndtohighlightlurthcrcomplcxiticsinthc
rclationsbctvccnthoscvhoassumcthcnormatc subjcctpositionandthosc
vhosc bodics arc cnlistcd to dchnc thc bordcrs olthat idcntity Vith this
study, thcn, lnotonlycxposcthcmastcrnarrativcolphysicaldisabilityasthc
From Pathology to Identity 1 37
markolcmbodicdothcrncss, butlalsounravclacountcrnarrativcolphysical
dillcrcnccasthcmarkoldistinctivcindividualorcollcctivchistorythatintcr
rogatcsthcvcrydchnitionolthcidcalAmcricanscll
Finally, myasscrtion thatblackwomcns libcratorynovclsrcviscboth thc
lrcaksbows andscntimcntalhctions ambivalcntrcprcscntationsoldisablcd
hgurcs suggcsts abiasthatl wishtoacknowlcdgc Vhilc l bavchistoricizcd
myanalysisolMorrisons andLordcs uscs oldisablcdhgurcsbyrccognizing
thcpostciv1lrigbtsimpulsctowardpositivcidcntitypolitics inthcircclcbra
toryportrayalsoldillcrcncc, lmustconlcssthatmyownpoliticsparallclthcsc
blackwomcns attcmpts torcndcrphysicaldillcrcnccas distinction, uncou
plcdlrommodcrnitysdcvaluationolthcatypical Thisbookimagincssccing
disablcd bodics in lrcsh ways as cxtraordinary rathcr than abnormal Thc
rbctorical thrustolthis book, thcn, is to critiquc thc politicsolappcarancc
thatgovcrnsourintcrprctationolphysicaldillcrcncc, tosuggcstthatdisabil-
ityrcquircsaccommodationrathcrthancompcnsation, andtoshiltourcon
ccptionoldisabilitylrompathologytoidcntity
` O 1 L S

! . Disability, Identity and Representation: An Introduction
l . For exampl e, two recent books that analyze "race" and "gender, " respectively, as
historical, ideological constructions legitimated by physical differences are Thomas
Laqueur, Ma|ingSex8cayanaCenaer]rcmt|eCree|stcIreua( Cambri dge: Harvard
University Press, l 990) ,and Kvvame Anthony Appiah, InMyIat|ersHcuse(New York:
Oxford University Press, l 992) , an exploration of "the idea of the Negro, the idea of an
African race" (p. x) . Disability has been acknowledged in American studies by Douglas
C. Baynton's study of the metaphorical construction of deafness in the nineteenth cen
tury, "A Silent Exile on This Earth: The Metaphorical Construction of Deafness in the
Nineteenth Century" in ^merican_uarter|y++, 2) 2 l +! , by Davi d A. Gerber, "He
roes and Mi sfts : The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in T|e 8est
\earsc]OurLivesin American_uarter|y+, l 99+) ++, and by Martin Norden in
T|eCinemac]Isc|aticn/ Histcqc]I|ysica|Disabi|ityint|eMcvies(New Bruns\ick,
N. J . : Rutgers University Press, l 99+) .Di sability studies is a recognized and articulated
subfeld of sociology that tends to emphasize medical anthropology, social policy, and
rehabilitative medicine, although the voices of cultural critics are emerging here as
well . Several important studies of the social, pol itical , and legal history of disabled peo
ple treat disability as a social construction; for example, see Deborah Stone, T|e Dis-
ab|eaState ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press, l 9S+ , Richard Scotch, IrcmCcca
i||tc Civi|Iig|ts Trans]crmingIeaera|Disabi|ityIc|icy( Philadelphia: Temple Uni
versity Press, l 9S+) , Nora Groce, Lveqcne Here Spc|e Sign Language Hereaitaq
Dea]nesscnMart|as\ineyara (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, l 9S , Stephen
Ainlay et aI . , eds . , T|eDi|emmac]Di_erenceAMu|tiaiscip|inaq\iec]Stigma (New
York: Plenum Press, l 9S) ,Robert Bogdan, Irea|S|cIresentingHumanOaaities]cr
AmusementanaIrc]t( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l 9SS) ,David Hevey, T|e
Creatures T|at TimeIcrgct I|ctcgrap|yanaDisabi|itylnageq( New York: Routledge,
l 992) , Claire Liachowitz, Disa|i|ityas a Sccia| Ccnstruct Legis|ative Iccts ( Philadel
phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, l 9SS) , Iris Marion Young, ]usticeanat|eIc|i-
tics c] Di_erence ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, l 990) , Martha Minow,
1 40 . . . . . ! . Disability Identity, and Representation
Ma|ing A|| t|e Di_erence Inc|usicn, Lxc|usicn, anaAmerican La ( Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1 990) ; Robert Murphy, T|e 8cay Si|ent ( New York: Holt, 1 987) ;
Lennard J. Davis's LncrcingNcrma|cy Disabi|it,, Dea]ness, ana t|e 8cay ( New York:
Verso, 1 995 ) ; and Joseph Shapiro, NcIityIecp|eit|Disabi|itieslcrgingaNevCivi|
Iig|tsMcvement( New York: Times Books/Random House, 1 993) . Many theorists and
hi storians come close to confronting disability as a cultural product, but they do not
question the category, perhaps because disability is so widely naturalized in Western
culture. This omission has motivated my own study. See, for example, Michel Fou
cault, 8irt|c]t|eC|inicAnArc|aec|cgyc]Meaica|Iercepticn, trans. A. M. Sheridan
Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1 973) ; Mary Douglas, IurityanaDangerAnAna|ysis c]
Ccnceptsc]Ic||uticnanaTabcc ( New York: Praeger, 1 966) ; Geoffrey Galt Harpham,
Ont|eCrctesque Strategiesc]CcntraaicticninArtanaLiterature ( Princeton: Prince
ton University Press, 1 982) ; and Davd Rothman, TeDisccveqc]t|eAsy|um Sccia|
OrderandDiscrderint|eNeBepub|ic( Boston: Little, Brown, 1 97 1 ) .
2. U. S. Congress, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1 989, 1 0 1 st Cong. , 1 st
sess . , S. Res. 933 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1 989) , p. 6.
3 . See Nora Groce's study of the prevalence of hereditary deafness on Martha's
Vineyard ,LveqcneHereSpc|eSignLanguage,.
+. Marcia Pearce Burgdorf and Robert Burgdorf Jr. , "A History of Unequal Treat
ment : The Qualifcations of Handicapped Persons as a ' Suspect Class' Under the
Equal Protection Clause, " SantaC|araLayer 1 5 ( 1 975 ) : 863.
5. My repeated use of the term "fgure"is meant t o indicate an important distinction
between actual people with disabilities and the subject positions "di sabled" and "able
bodied" that culture assigns and that must be negotiated in lives and relationships. As
products of cultural representation, fgures reveal attitudes and assumptions about dis
ability that make up the ideological environment. As I suggest later, there is always a
gap between the subjective experience and the cultural identity of having a disability,
between any actual life and any imposed social category. From this gap arises the alien
ation and sense of oppression with which people labeled as different must contend. It
should be clear that this study focuses on the representations of disability that yield
stigmatized collective identities, not the histories of actual people who have physical
disabilities .
6. This term was suggested i n jest by my colleague, the sociologi st Daryl Evans, in
an informal talk given at the 1 989 Society for Disability Studies Annual Conference in
Denver.
7. Erving Goffman, Stigma Nctes cn t|e Management c] Spci|ea Iaentig ( Engle
wood Cliffs , N. J . : Prentice- Hall , 1 963) , p. 1 28.
8. Paul Robinson, "Responses to Leslie Fiedler, " Sa|magunai5 7 ( Fall 1 982) : 78. For
an example of disability analyzed as an apolitical metaphor, see Peter Hays , T|eLimp-
ing Herc CrctesquesinLiterature ( New York: New York University Press, 1 97 1 ) .
9. Schutz is quoted in Ainlay et al . , eds . , TeDi|emmac]Di_erence,p. 20.
1 0. Ainlay et al . , eds . , T|eDi|emmac]Di_erence,p. 20; Sander Gilman, Di_erence
! . Disability Identity, and Representation . . . . . 1 4 1
anaIat|c|cgy Sterectypes c] Sexua|ity Iace, anaAIaaness ( Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1 985 ) , p. 1 6.
1 1 . Marianna Torgovnick's discussion of Homer's Polyphemus as one of the earliest
Western tropes of primitivist discourse is suggestive here , CcneIrimitive SavageIn-
te||ects,McaernLives [ Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1 990] , p. 8) . According to
Torgovnick, Odysseus becomes a kind of founding father of ethnography by reading the
Cyclops's otherness as uncivilized and savage. Grounded in physiognomy, Polyphe
mus's otherness is fgured as the monstrous state of being cycloptic (cycloptic fetuses
are ahvays stillborn) . Torgovnick does not note that Polyphemus's aberrant physical
form, not simply his foreignness, determines his otherness . In fact, this vi sible physi
cal stigma is perhaps the most salient feature of the story. Moreover, Polyphemus's
treatment by Odysseus seems to be justifed because the Cyclops is inhuman, and he
is inhuman because he is physically different from Odysseus . I would add to Torgov
nick's obseration, then, that the representation of Polyphemus can also be read as an
early and defnitive instance of physical disability as a sign of inhumanness.
1 2. Because most disabilities in literature are necessarily manifest, I discuss here
visible disabilities. However, hidden disabilities present somewhat different and in
some \vays more stressful social encounters . The person \ith the disability controls the
exposure of the disability in order to avoid undue surpri se. Furthermore, a nondisabled
person may reveal prej udices or expectations before he or she is aware of the disability,
making both people feel uncomfortable later. A hidden disability simply introduces
more unpredictability into an encounter. Sometimes a person will actually announce a
hidden disability to avoid this uncertainty. For a discussion of interactions between the
disabled and nondisabled, see Fred Davis , "Deviance Disavowal : The Management of
Strained Interaction by the Visibly Handicapped, " Sccia|lrcb|ems9 ( 1 96 1 ) : 1 20-32.
1 3 . Murphy, Te8caySi|ent, chapters 4 and 5.
1 4. A term that has much currency i n the disability rights movement brings this
point home nicely: people who consider themselves to be nondisabled are often called
J^HS, an acronym that stands for the label "temporarily able-bodied. "
1 5 . Elaine Scarry, T|e8cayinIainTeMa|ingana lnma|ingc]t|e cr|a( 1 ew
York: Oxford University Press, 1 985) , pp. 3-1 0.
1 6. The cultural propensity t o further mark and bound such classifcations testifes
to their fluidity and socially constructed character. Miscegenation laws, legal defni
tions of slaves, la\vs that defned disability for economic assistance, gendered dress
codes, and customs such as branding slaves, criminals, and paupers erect boundaries
around social categories in order to maintain and enforce distinctions purported to in
here in the body. The yellow star and the scarlet letter are familiar socially mandated
marks of deviance that witness the need to absolutely mark what is in fact biologically
unstable.
1 7. The important exceptions to this generalized portrayal of disabled people's situ
ations are the communities that arise from institutionalization. Like ethnic ghettoes,
these communities are often sites of both solidarity and exclusion. Deaf schools and
1 42 . . . . . ! . Disability, Identity and Representation
their surrounding communities, based on common language, seem to function more
like ethnic communities in building positive identities and self-concepts. Perhaps this
i s due to the difference between the profound isolation deaf signers experience in a
speaking population and the contrasting opportunities available in a community of
signers . For discussions of disability communities, see Irving Kenneth Zola, Missing
IiecesA C|rcnic|ec]Livingvit|aDisa|i|ity ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
1 982) ; Oliver Sacks, Seeing\cicesA]curneyintct|ecr|ac]t|eDea]( Berkeley: Uni-
versity of California Press, 1 989) ; Tom Humphreys and Carol Paden, Dea]inAmerica
\cices]cmaCu|ture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1 988) .
1 8. Martin Norden's T|e Cinemac]Isc|aticnexplores images of disability i n flm;
cultural studies essays on disability are also collected in Lennard J . Davi s, ed. , T|eDis
a|i|ity Stuaies Ieaaer ( New York: Routledge, 1 996) . Davis's Ln]crcing Ncrma|cy lays
out a humanities-based theory of disability.
1 9. Hevey, T|eCreaturesTatTimeFcrgct ,p. 5 3 .
Z. Teorizing Disability
1 . See Patricia Vertinsk, "Exercise, Physical Capability, and the Eternally Wounded
Woman in Late Nineteenth-Century North America, " ]curna|c]SpcrtHistcq 1 4 ( 1 ) : 7;
Thorstein Veblen, T|e Tecq c] t|e Leisure C|ass ( 1 899; reprint, Boston: Houghton
Miffin, 1 973) ; Jane Flax, Tin|ingIragmentsIsyc|cana|ysis,Feminism,anaIcstmca-
ernism in t|e Ccntempcra est ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1 990) ,
p. 1 36.
2 . Aristotle, Ceneraticnc]Aninta|s, trans . A. L. Peck ( Cambri dge: Harvard Univer
sity Press, 1 944) , Book I I , p. 1 7 5 and Book IV p. 40 1 . For discussions of Ari stotle's
conflation of femaleness with monstrosity and deformity see Maryanne Cline
Horowitz, "Aristotle and Women, " ]curna|c]t|eHistcqc]8ic|cgy9 ( 1 976) : 1 83-2 1 3 ;
Nancy Tuana, T|eLessNc||e Sex Scienti]c, Ie|igicus,anaI|i|cscp|ica|Ccncepticns
c]cmansNature( Bloomington: I ndiana University Press, 1 993) ; and Marie-Helene
Huet, Mcnstrcus Imaginaticn ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1 993) . Edwin
Schur examines the assignment of deviance in La|e|ing cmen Deviant Cenae
Stigma,anaSccia|Ccntrc|(Philadelphia: Temple University Press , 1 983) .
3 . For discussions of the notion of woman as an inferior version of man, see Thomas
Laquer, Ma|ingSex, and Nancy Tuana, T|eLessNc||eSex. For a discussion of white
ness, see David Roediger, T|eagesc]\|iteness(New York: Verso, 1 99 1 ) and Richard
Dyer, TeMatterc]ImagesLssayscnIepresentaticn(New York: Routledge, 1 993) . For
a seminal discussion of the normal-pathological dichotomy, see Georges Canguilhem,
Te Ncrma| ana t|e Iat|c|cgica| , trans. Carolyn R. Fawcett with Robert S. Cohen
(New York: Zone Books, 1 989) .
4. Examples are Diane Price Herndl and Robyn Warhol, Ieminisms ( New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1 99 1 ) ; Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller,
eds . , Ccn]icts in Feminism ( New York: Routledge, 1 990) . ((Hyphenated feminism" is
Z. Teorizing Disability e e e e e 1 43
used by Judith Grant, Iunaamenta|Ieminism Ccntestingt|e Ccre Ccnceptsc]Ierni-
nist Tecq ( New Yrk: Routledge, 1 993) , p. 3 ; Brigitta Boucht et aI . , Icst]eminism
( Esbo, Finland: Draken, 1 99 1 ) .
5 . A good overiew of the history of academic feminist theory is Elizabeth Weed,
"Introduction: Terms of Reference, " in Elizabeth Weed, ed. , Ccming tc Tens Ierni-
nism,T|ecpIc|itics( New York: Routledge, 1 989) , pp. ix-xxi . For discussion of these
debates and bifurcations in feminism, see Linda Alcoff, "Cultural Feminism Versus
Post-Structuralist Femini sm: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory, " Signs 1 3 ( 3) :
405-36; Hester Eisenstein, Ccntempcraq Ieminist Tcug|t ( Boston: G. K. Hall,
1 983) ; and Josephine Donovan, IeministT|ecq( New York: Continuum, 1 992) . Early
analyses of gender identity include Elizabeth \ Spelman, Inessentia|\oman Ircb|ems
c] Lxc|usicn inIeminist T|cug|t ( Boston: Beacon, 1 988) and Monique Wittig, "The
Straight Mind, " IerrtinistIssues 1 ( 1 ) : 1 0 1 -1 0. Diana Fuss, Lssentia||ySpea|ing Ierai-
nism,Nature,anaDi_erence( New York: Routledge, 1 989) deconstructs the opposition
of essentialism, often associated with cultural feminism, and constructionism, often
associated with radical feminism. Judith Butler's Cenaer Trcub|e Ieninism ana t|e
Subversicnc]Iaentity(N e\v York: Routledge, 1 990) and 8caiesT|atMatterOnt|eDis-
cursive Limits c] Sex (New York: Routledge, 1 993) most fully articulates the con
structionist approach to gender.
6. Feminist texts that announce themselves as postmodernist and materialist often
take the positions I am outlining here; some examples are Susan Bordo, lnbearab|e
eig|t Ieminism, estern Cu|ture, ana t|e 8cay ( Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1 993 ) ; Rosemary Hennessy, Materia|ist Ieminismanat|e Ic|itics c] Disccurse
( New York: Routledge, 1 993) ; Jennifer Wicke, "Celebrity Material : Materiali st Femi
nism and the Culture of Celebrity, " Scut|At|antic _uarier|y 93 ( 4) : 75 1 -78; Judith
Grant, Iunaamenta|Ieminism, Linda Nicholson, ed. , Ieminism/Icstmcaernism ( New
York: Routledge, 1 990) .
7. l1ost theorists of disability either naturalize it while protesting exclusion and op
pression of disabled people, or adopt a strict social constructionist perspective to claim
equality while asserting difference in order to establish identity. For an example of the
former, see the collection of essays by Harold E. Yuker, ed. , Attituaes Tcara Ierscns
it|Disabi|ities ( New York: Springer, 1 988) ; an example of the latter can be found in
Harlan Hahn, "Can Disability Be Beautiful?" Sccia|Ic|icy( Fall 1 988) : 26-3 1 .
8. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lpistemc|cgyc]t|eC|cset(Berkeley: University of Cali
fornia Press, 1 990) , p. 1 .
9. For discussions of this problem, see Susan Bordo, "Feminism, Postmodernism,
and Gender Skepticism, " in lnbearab|eeig|t, pp. 2 1 5-43 ; Judith Butler, 8caiesT|at
Matter,and Betsy Erkkla, "Ethnicity, Literary Theory, and the Grounds of Resistance, "
American_uarter|y4 7 (4) : 563-94.
1 U. For an example, see Monique Wi ttig, "The Straight Mind. "
1 1 . For histories of civil rights legislation for people vvith disabilities , see Joseph
Shapiro, Nc Iity, Claire Liachowitz, Disabi|ity as a Sccia| Ccnstruct , and Richard
1 44 . . . . . Z. Teorizing Disability
Scotch, Ircm Ccca i|| tc Civi| Iig|ts An anecdote illustrates that disabled people
are only now gaining physical access: On September 6, 1 995 , the Modern Language
Association headquarters in New York completed the building of a wheelchair ramp
minutes before the arrival of a delegation of members who had been invited to discuss
disability issues with the l1LNs executive director. Although the MLA is a very pro
gressive institution willing to recognize disability issues, apparently the fundamental
problem of accessibility had never been addressed before. For more discussions of dis
ability as a civil rights rather than as a pity issue, see Paul Longmore, "Conspicuous
Contribution and American Cultural Dilemmas : Telethons, Virtue, and Community, "
forthcoming in David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, eds . , Stcq|inesanaLi]e|inesNar-
rativesc]Disabi|ityint|eHumanities. The problem of how to accommodate difference
is addressed in many areas of feminist theory. Most often it appears as a critique of
liberalism like the one later in this chapter. For a concise discussion of this problem,
see the introduction and conclusion to Carole Pateman and Elizabeth Gross, eds. ,
Ieminist C|a||enges Sccia| ana Ic|itica| T|ecq ( Boston: Northeastern University
Press, 1 986) ; also see, for example, Carole Pateman, T|e Sexua| Ccntract ( Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1 988) ; Jean Bethke Elsthain, Iub|icMan, Iivate cman
\umennSccia|anaIc|itica|Tcug|t( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1 98 1 ) ;
Iris Marion Young, ]usticeanat|eIc|iticsc]Di]erence, and Martha Minow, Ma|ingA||
t|eDi]erence
1 2. Diana Fuss in Lssentia||y Spea|ing examines this tension bet\een construc
tionist and essentialist concepts of identity, concluding that to deconstruct identity is
not to deny categories, but rather to expose their fctionality while using them to es
tablish community. Benedict Anderson suggests the strategic aspect of such commu
nities for political and psychological purposes in ImagineaCcmmunitiesIe]ecticnscn
t|eOriginanaSpreaac]Naticna|ism ( New York: Verso, 1 99 1 ) . I support here as well
Judith Butler's subtle but signifcant point in 8caies TatMatter that the social con
struction of the body does not simply overlay meaning on physical entities, but that cul
ture actually creates bodies. Also see Susan Bordo, lnbearab|e eig|t, quotation at
p. 229.
1 3 . This questioning of identity and focusing on difference has been analyzed using
the femini st epistemological modes called perspectivism in Ellen Messer-Davidow,
"The Philosophical Bases of Feminist Literary Criticism, " NeLiteraqHistcqA]cur-
na| c] Tecq ana Interpretaticn 1 9 ( 1 ) : 6 5-1 03 ; standpoint theory in Patricia Hill
Collins, 8|ac|IeministT|cug|t Kncv|eage, Ccnscicusness,anat|eIc|iticsc]Lmpcv-
erment ( Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1 990) and Bettina Aptheker, Tapestries c] Li]e
menscr|, cmensCcnscicusness,anat|eMeaningc]Dai|yLxperience(Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1 989) ; and positionality in Linda Alcoff, "Cultural
Feminism Versus Post-Structuralist Feminism. " However, standpoint theory has re
cently been criticized by Judith Grant in Iunaamenta| Ieminisn as fragmenting the
feminist communal project and risking a degeneration of feminism into individualism.
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese also assails the tendency in recent feminist thought to sacri-
Z. Teorizing Disability e . . e . 1 45
fce the benefts of community and shared culture for the sake of individuality in Iem-
inismit|cutI||usicns (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1 99 1 ) .
1 4. See Collins , 8|ac|Ieminist T|cug|t, and Rosemarie Garland Thomson, "Re
drawing the Boundaries of Feminist Disability Studies, " Ieminist Stuaies 20 ( Fall
1 994) : 5 83-95 .
1 5 . Nancy Mairs, "On Being a Cripple, " in I|aintextLssays (Tucson: University of
Arizona Press, 1 986) , quotation at p. 90. For a discussion of my own concerns about
focusing on pain and dysfunction in disability discourse, see Thomson, "Redrawing the
Boundaries of Feminist Disability Studies, " in which I reflect on Mairs's elaboration of
the critical subgenre she calls "The Literature of Catastrophe. "
1 6. Hahn's comment is quoted from a personal conversation. The anecdote about
the \heelchair user is from Fred Davis , "Deviance Disavowal, " p. 1 24. Michelle Fine
and Adrienne Asch, "Disabled Women: Sexism without the Pedestal, " in Mary }o Dee
gan and Nancy A. Brooks, eds . , cmenanaDisabi|ity T|eDcub|e Hanaicap ( New
Brunswick, N .} . : Transaction Books, 1 985 ) , pp. 6-22, quotation at p. 1 2. Cheryl llarie
Wade, "I Am Not One of the, " MS. 1 1 ( 3) : 57.
1 7. Anita Silvers, "Reconciling Equality t o Difference: Caring (f) or Justice for Peo
ple with Disabilities, " Hypatia 1 0 ( 1 ) . For a critique of the feminization of caring for the
disabled, see Barbara Hillyer, IeminismanaDisabi|ity ( Norman: University of Okla
homa Press, 1 993) ; for discussions of the ethic of care, see Nel Noddings, CaringA
IeminineApprcac|tc Lt|icsanaMcra| Laucaticn ( Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1 984) and Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers , cmenanaMcra|Tecq(To
towa, N.} . : Rowman and Littlefeld, 1 987) . Although cultural feminism tends to view
motherhood as less oppressive than do early liberal feminists such as Shulamith Fire
stone ,T|e Dia|ectic c] Sex T|e Case ]cr Ieminist Ievc|uticn [ New York: Morrow,
1 970] ) , motherhood nevertheless is most often cast as a choice, but this choice is de
nied to some women on the basis of cultural prejudices ; see Michelle Fine and Adri
enne Asch, eds . , cmenvit|Disabi|ities Lssays in Isyc|c|cgy Cu|ture, ana Ic|itics
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1 988) , pp. 1 2-23 .
1 8. Regarding the femini st position on "defective" fetuses, a recent example that
supports my point is the new Maryland abortion legislation, hailed in the March 4,
1 99 1 , issue of Timemagazine as a "feminist victory, " in which unconditional abortion
is permitted until fetal viability, but after that point, only if a woman's health is endan
gered or i f the fetus is "deformed" (p. 5 3) . I am not suggesting abortion restrictions
here; rather, I am questioning the myth of "free choice" regarding bearing congenitally
disabled infants in a society in which attitudes about the disabled tend to be negative,
oppressive, and unexamined. Disabled people simply need advocates who will examine
the cultural ideology inherent in these rationales and policies. For discussions of the is
sue of disability in relation to abortion and reproductive rights, see Ruth Hubbard,
"Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the \'rld, " in Ruth Hubbard, ed. , T|eIc|itics
c] cmens 8ic|cgy ( New Brunswick, N. }. : Butgers University Press, 1 990) ; Marsha
Saxton, "Born and Unborn: The I mplications of Reproductive Technologies for People
1 46 . . . . . Z. Teorizing Disability
with Disabilities, " in Rita Arditti , Renate Duell Klein, and Shelley Minden, eds . , Test-
Tube cnten at Iuture]crMci|er|cca ( Boston: Pandora, 1 984) , pp. 298-3 1 2;
and Anne Finger, "Claiming All of Our Bodies : Reproductive Rights and Disability, " in
Arditti et aI . , eds . , Test-Tube cmen, pp. 28 1 -96; Fine and Asch, eds . , cmenvit|
Disabi|ities, esp. chapters 1 2 and 1 3 ; and Deborah Kaplan, "Disability Rights Perspec
tives on Reproductive Technologies and Public Policy," in Sherrill Cohen and Nadine
Taub, eds . , IeprcauctiveLavs]crt|e | 990s (Totowa, N.] . : Humana Press, 1 989) , pp.
24 1-47. For discussions of ageism in feminism, see Shulamit Reinharz, "Friends or
Foes : Gerontological and Feminist Theory, " cmensStuaiesInternaticna|lcrum9 ( 5 ) :
503-1 4; and Barbara McDonald and Cynthia Rich, Lcc|Meint|eLye O|acmen,
Aging,anaAgeism ( San Francisco: Spinsters , I nk. , 1 983) .
1 9. Susan Bordo argues i n a similar vein that the feminist search for equality has
caused a flight from gender, and hence from the body, that often masquerades as "pro
fessionalism. " Disabled women's inability to ft the standardized image of the "rofes
sional" often alienates them from feminists who enter the workplace on such terms.
See Bordo, lnbearab|eeig|t, pp. 229-3 3 ; for a discussion of this point, also see Fine
and Asch, eds . , cmenvit|Disabi|ities,pp. 26-3 1 .
20. Personal conversation, Society for Disability Studies Annual Meeting, June
1 99 1 , Denver, Colorado.
2 1 . The philosopher Iris Marion Young argues for the construction of femininity as
disability by asserting that cultural objectifcation inhibits women from using their
bodies. "Women in a sexist society are physically handicapped, " concludes Young in the
essay "Throwing Like a Girl" ,T|rcving Li|ea Cir|anaOt|erLssays inIeministI|i
|cscp|y anaSccia|T|ecq [ Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1 990] , p. 1 5 3) . For
discussions of foot binding, scarifcation, clitoridectomy, and corseting, see Mary Daly,
Cyn/ecc|cgy T|e Metaet|icsc]Iaaica|Ieminism ( Boston: Beacon, 1 978) and Barbara
Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, IcrHerOvnCcca | 0\earsc]t|eLxperisAavicetc
cnen ( Garden City, NY: Anchor Books , 1 979) . For di scussions of anorexia, hysteria,
and agoraphobia, see Susan Bordo, lnbearab|e eig|t , Kim Chernin, T|e Hungq
Se|]. cmen, Lating, anaIaentity (New York: Times Books , 1 985 ) and T|e Obsessicn
Ie]ecticnscnt|eTyrannyc] S|enaerness (New York: Harper o Ro\, 1 98 1 ) ; and Susie
Orbach, latIsaIeminist Issue T|eAnti-Diet Cuiae tc Iermanent eig|tLcss ( New
York: Paddington Press, 1 978) and Hunger Stri|e T|e Ancrectics Strugg|e as a
Metap|cr]crOurAge (New York: Norton, 1 986) .
22. Susan Sontag, I||nessasMetap|cr(New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1 977) .
For cultural critiques of beauty standards, see Lois W. Banner, American8eauty( New
York: Knopf, 1 983) ; Robin Tolmach Lakoff and Raquel L. Scherr, Iace\a|ueT|eIc|-
iticsc]8eauty ( Boston: Routledge, 1 984) ; Naomi Wolf, T|e8eautyMyt| HcvImages
c] 8eautyAre lsea Against \Icmen ( Ne\ York: Morrow, 1 99 1 ) ; Sharon Romm, Te
C|anging Iacec] 8eauty ( St. Louis : Mosby-Year Book, 1 992) ; Rita Jackaway Freed
man, 8eauty 8cuna ( Lexington, Mass . : Lexington Books, 1 986) ; Susan Bordo, ln-
Z. Teorizing Disability e . e . e 1 4 7
bearab|e eig|t , esp. Part I I ; and Susan Faludi, 8ac||as| T|e lnaec|area\arAgainst
American\omen ( New York: Crown, 1 99 1 ) .
23. This language comes from advertising for cosmetic surgery in Nevsuee|maga
zine, although i t can be found in almost any of the many ads or articles in women's
magazines. One is reminded here of Foucault's "docile bodies" described in Discip|ine
anaIanis| T|e8irt| c] t|eIriscn, trans . Alan Sheridan ( New York: Vintage, 1 979) ,
pp. 1 3 5-69. For discussions of cosmetic surgery, see Kathryn Pauly l1organ, "Women
and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women's Bodies, " Hypatia6
( 3) : 25-5 3 ; Anne Balsamo, "On the Cutting Edge: Cosmetic Surgery and the Techno
logical Production of the Gendered Body, " Camera Obscura 28 (Jan. 1 992) : 207-36;
and Kathy Davi s, Ies|apingt|eIema|e8cay T|eDi|emmac] CcsmeiicSurgeq(New
York: Routledge: 1 995 ) .
24. Mary Russo's Te Iema|e Crctesque Iis|, Lxcess, ana Mcaernity ( ;ew Yrk:
Routledge, 1 994) observes what she calls "the normalization of feminism, " which in
volves "strategies of reassurance" that encourage feminists to focus on standard forms of
femininity and avoid what she calls "the grotesque, ' ) which I might term the "abnormaL"
25 . Gilman, DqerenceanaIat|c|cgy, p. 90.
26. On reevaluating and expanding stigma theory, see Ainlay et aI . , eds . , Te
Di|emma c]Di_erence , Robert Bogdan and Steven Taylor, "Toward a Sociology of Ac
ceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance, " Sccia|Ic|icy 1 8 ( 2) : 34-39; also
Adrienne Asch and Mi chelle Fine, eds . "Moving Beyond Stigma, " ]curna|c]Sccia|Is-
sues,44 ( 1 ) ; Simone de Beauvoir, TeSeccnaSex, trans . H. M. Parshley ( 1 95 2; reprint,
New York: VTintage, 1 974) , p. xix.
27. Edward E. Jones et aI . , Sccia|Stigma T|e Isyc|c|cgyc] Mar|eaIe|aticns|ips
( New York: Freeman, 1 984) , pp. 8-9.
28. See Ainlay et aI . , eds . , T|eDi|emmac]Di_erence, p. 2 1 2.
29. Schutz i s quoted i n Ainlay et aI . , eds . , T|eDi|emmac]Di_erence, p. 20; Goff
man, Stigma,p. 4.
30. Goffman, Stigma, quotation at p. 1 28. Because perception rather than actual
physical characteristics governs stigmatization and distribution of power, many people
seek to normalize their social status, either by disavowing potentially stigmatizing con
ditions by "passing" or by compensating for them in some way. Nevertheless, the psy
chological costs of passing are often isolation and a self-loathing denial , as Audre Lorde
shows in SisterOutsiaer(Trumansburg, N. Y: The Crossing Press, 1 984) . The familiar
script of racial passing translates to disabili ty; for example, Franklin Roosevelt escaped
the marginalized status disability usually confers , because he had the resources to min
imize his disability in public and also because he possessed virtually every other nor
mate characteristic . See Hugh Gallagher, IDIsSp|enaiaDecepticn( New York: Dodd
Mead, 1 985 ) .
3 1 . Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytical theory of abjection i s conceptually similar to
stigma theory and to this concept of dirt, but where Goffman and Douglas deal with
1 48 Z. Teorizing Disability
group dynamics and the construction of communal identity, Kristeva discusses the in
dividual psyche. See Julia Kristeva, Icers c] Hcrrcr An Lssay cnAbecticn, trans .
Leon S. Roudiez ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1 982) . Also see Ainlay et al . ,
eds . , T|eDi|emmac]Di_erence,pp. 1 8-20, 1 0 1 -1 03, and Jones, Sccia|Stigma,p. 93 ;
Douglas , IurityanaDangerAnAna|ysisc]Ccnceptsc]Ic||uticnanaTabcc, quotation
at p. 3 5 .
3 2 . vhereas dirt is an anomaly, something that ,viII not ft into established tax
onomies, treacle, for example, is an ambiguity, ftting into two categories . Neither liq
uid nor solid, yet both at once, treacle is "an aberrant fluid, " according to Douglas, who
muses over Sartre's essay on stickiness (p. 38) .
33. Immanuel Kant, "Critique of Judgement, " i n Hazard Adams, ed. , Critica|T|e-
cqSinceI|atc( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1 97 1 ) , p. 3 5 8. For an example
of how this principle of impurity operates in encounters among ethnic groups, see
Leonard Cassuto's discussion of llary Rowland's captivity narrative in TeIn|uman
Iace( New York: Columbia University Press, 1 996) .
34. Douglas, IurityanaDanger, p. 40. Also see Jones, Sccia|Stigma, p. 89.
3 5 . Jones, Sccia|Stigma,p. 302.
36. For discussions of the roles of institutions i n enforcing dichotomous identities,
see Deborah Stone, TteDisab|eaState,and Paula Giddings, \|enana\TereILnter
T|eImpactc]8|ac|cmencnIaceanaSexinAmerica( Ne\ York: Bantam, 1 984) . For
an incisive literary treatment of the hybrid fgure, consider the mulatto Joe Christmas
in William Faulkner's Lig|tinAugust .
37. Douglas, IurityanaDanger, quotation at p. 39. For a discussion of eugenics in
the United States, see Hubbard, "vVho Should and Should Not Inhabit the World, " in
T|eIc|iticsc]cmens8ic|cgy, p. 1 8 1 . Ronald Walters's views on eugenics are drawn
from TeAnti-S|aveq Appea| American Abc|iticnisnt A]er | S30 ( Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1 976) , pp. 85-86. Historians of science and medicine have
recently shown that the Nazi "racial hygiene" program was not a historical exception.
Legitimated by eugenic ideology, the program to eliminate "lives not worth living" was
approved and enacted by many highly regarded members of a scientifc and intellectual
community that extended well beyond the Nazi doctors and even German borders (see
Robert Proctor, Iacia|Hygieae Meaicine lnaert|eNazis [Cambridge: Harvard Uni
versity Press, 1 988] , p. 1 77) . Extensive forced sterilization of "undesirables" began in
1 933, and in 1 939 the government i ssued a secret plan for killing physically and men
tally disabled children, beginning with registration and "selection" of congenitally
disabled newborns and the most "severely" or "incurably" disabled children and esca
lating to teenagers and nondisabled Jewish children by 1 943, according to Proctor. The
very gas chambers designed for killing disabled people were dismantled and shipped
east to be used for the Jews and other ethnic groups in the notorious camps. For dis
cussions of eugenics and racial hygiene, see also Hugh Gallagher, 8yTrust8erayea
Iatients, I|ysicians, anat|e License tcKi||int|eT|iraIeic| ( NeVT York: Holt, 1 989) ;
Daniel J. Kevles, In t|eName c] Lugenics Ceneticsanat|e lses c] Human Hereaity
Z. Teorizing Disability 4 4 4 4 . 1 49
( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1 985 ) ; and Mark H. Haller, LugenicsHerea-
itarianAttituaesinAmericanTcug|t( New Bruns\vick, N. J . : Rutgers University Press,
1 984 ) o
38. Douglas, Iurity ana Danger, quotation at p. 39. For Foucault's discussion of
marginalization, see MaaaessanaCivi|izaticnAHistcqc]Insanityint|eAgec]Ieascn,
trans . Richard Howard ( New York: Pantheon, 1 965 ) and T|e8irt| c] t|e C|inicAn
Arc|ec|cgyc]Meaica| Iercepticn, trans . A. M. Sheridan- Smith ( New York: Pantheon,
1 973) . Regarding ' I ugly laws, " see Burgdorf, "A History of Unequal Treatment, " p. 863 .
39. For discussion of asylums and almshouses, see Rothman, Disccveqc]i|eAs
|um, and Tom Compton, "A Brief History of Disability" ( Berkeley: unpublished manu
script, 1 989) , p. 42. For histories of disability legislation, see Scotch, lrcm Cccai||
tcCivi|Iig|ts ,Shapiro, NcIity,Marvin Lazerson, "The Origins of Special Education, "
i n J. G. Chambers and \lliam T. Hartman, eds . , Specia|LaucaticnIc|iticsT|eirHis
tcq, Imp|ementaticn, ana linance ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1 983) , pp.
1 5-47; Wolf Wolfensberger, T|e OriginanaNaturec] OurInstituticna|Mcae|s ( Syra
cuse: Human Policy Press, 1 975 ) ; and Liachowitz, Disabi|ityasaSccia|Ccnstruct
40. See Fine and Asch, eds . , cntenvit|Disabi|ities, pp. 9-1 2, for discussion of
poverty and lack of education among the disabled. For accounts of deaf culture, see
Harlan L. Lane, \1|en t|e Mina Hears A Histcq c] t|e Dea] ( New York: Random
House, 1 984) ; Carol Paden and Tom Humphreys, Dea]inAmerica \cices]rcmaCu|-
ture, and John Van Cleve and Barry Crouch, A I|acec]TeirOvn Creatingt|eDea]
CcmmunityinAmerica(Washington, D. C. : Gallaudet University Press, 1 989) . For the
effects of segregated education and institutionalization on the independent living
movement, see Zola, MissingIieces
4 1 . See the following discussions of disability in literature and flm: Shari Thurer,
"Disability and Monstrosity: A Look at Literary Distortions of Handicapping Condi
tions, " Ie|abi|itaticnLiterature 4 1 ( 1 -2) : 1 2-1 5 ; Douglas Biklin and Robert Bogdan,
"Media Portrayals of Disabled People: A Study in Stereotypes, " Interracia| 8cc|]cr
C|i |aen8u| |etin8 ( 6) and ( 7) : 4-9; Leonard Kriegel , "The Wolf in the Pit in the Zoo, "
Sccia| Ic|icy ( Fall 1 982) : 1 6-23 ; Paul Longmore, "Screening Stereotypes : Images of
Disabled People, " Sccia|Ic|icy 1 6 ( Summer 1 985 ) : 3 1-38; and Deborah Kent, "Dis
abled Women: Portraits in Fiction and Drama, " in Alan Gartner and Tom Joe, eds . , Im
agesc]t|eDisab|ea,Disab|ingImages (New York: Praeger, 1 987) ; and Martin Norden,
T|e Cinemac]Isc|aticnFor discussions of the monster in culture, see Jeffrey Cohen,
ed. , A!cnster T|ecq Ieaaing Cu|ture ( Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press,
1 996) and Marie Helene Huet, McnstrcusImaginaticn
42. Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark" can be read as an exploration of
culture's intolerance of anomaly and the danger that surrounds it. For discussions of
Hawthorne's story in the context of bodily difference, see Diane Price Herndl, Inva|ia
cmenliguringleminineI||nessinAmericanlicticnanaCu|ture, | S+0| 9-0(Chapel
Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1 993) and Frances E. Mascia-Lees and Patri
cia Sharpe, 'IThe Marked and the Un(re)marked: Tattoo and Gender in Theory and Nar-
1 50 . . . . . Z. Teorizing Disability
rative, " in Frances E. Mascia- Lees and Patricia Sharpe, eds . , Tattcc,Tcrture,Mut||aticn,
anaAacrnment(Albany: SUY Press, 1 992) , pp. 1 45-70.
43. For di scussions of social Darwinism and Lamarckian thought, see Richard Hof
stadter, Sccia| DaruinisminAmerican Tcug|t ( Boston: Beacon, 1 944) and Stephen
Jay Gould, Te:\ismeasurec]Man( New York: Norton, 1 98 1 ) . Regarding "just world" as
sumptions about disability, see Ainlay et al . , eds . , TeDi|emmac]Di_erence,pp. 33-34.
44. See Davi s, "Deviance Disavowal , " p. 1 24.
45 . For Freud's delineation of "deformities of character, " see "Some Character
Types Met with in Psychoanalytic Work, " in Cc||ecteaIapers, vol. IV, trans . Joan Riv
iere ( London: Hogarth, 1 9 5 7) , pp. 3 1 9-22. There are many studies about pathologiz
ing difference, for example, Sander Gilman, Di_erenceanaIat|c|cgy. For a discussion
of pathologizing disability, see Deborah Stone, T|eDisab|eaState.
46. Douglas, IurityanaDanger, p. 40.
47. Thomas S. Kuhn, T|eStructurec]Scienti]cIevc|uticns(Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1 992) , p. 5 .
48. Although M. M. Bakhtin does not explicitly associate the carnivalesque with
disability in his privileging of the exceptional body ,T|e Dia|cgic Imaginaticn, trans .
Caryl Emerson and l1ichael Holquist [Austin: Texas University Press, 1 98 1 ] , quota
tion at p. 1 59) , it is worth noting that Bakhtin himself was disabled by a bone disease
at the age of tvventy-eight, leading to the amputation of his leg in 1 938, at age forty
three, precisely when he was writing on Rabelais and the Middle Ages.
49. See, for example, Harpham, On t|e Crctesque, Peter Stallybrass and Allon
White, T|e Icetics ana Ic|itics c] Transgressicn ( I thaca: Cornell University Press,
1 986) ; Mary Russo, T|eIenta|eCrctesque, and Leonard Cassuto, !eIn|umanIace
50. Michel Foucault, Discip|ine ana Iunis| T|e 8irt| c] t|e Iriscn, trans. Alan
Sheridan ( New York: Vintage, 1 979) , pp. 1 93, 1 3 5 .
5 1 . Foucault, Maaness ana Civi|izaticn, pp. 38 and 48; Michel Foucault, Icer/
Kncv|eage Se|ectea Inteies ana Ot|erritings, | 92| 9 , ed. and trans. Colin
Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1 980) , p. 1 66 . Echoing Foucault's analysis of Europe,
both David Rothman in T|e Disccveqc] t|eAsy|umand Deborah Stone in Te Dis-
ab|eaStatelay out this process in the history of the United States.
52. Foucault, Discip|ineanaIunis|, p. 1 84.
5 3. Both Foucault and his American counterpart, David Rothman (in T|eDisccveq
c] t|eAsy|um) , occasionally imply that disability is a natural state j ustifing indolence
and confnement. Only chroniclers of the disabled category, like Deborah Stone , Te
Disab|eaState) and Tom Compton ("A Brief History of Disability") question thi s.
54. Goffman, Stigma, p. 1 28. For a di scussion of the costuming of power, see
Richard Sennett, T|e Ia|| c] Iub|ic Man (New York: Knopf, 1 977) , pp. 65-72 and
1 6 1 -74.
5 5 . Foucault supports this hypothesis by noting that the writing of lives i n premod
ern regimes involved a "heroization" that delineated the "individuality of the memo
rable man, " while the modern marked individual is objectifed ,Discip|ineanaIunis|,
Z. Teorizing Disability . e . . . 1 5 1
pp. 1 92-93) . The phenomena of religious stigmata, an occurrence of functional dis
abilities and wounds like those of the crucifed Christ, usually on the bodies of subse
quently canonized saints, certainly testifes to a positive interpretation of bodily
damage. St. Francis of Assisi displayed stigmatic wounds , which were always associ
ated with ecstasy; and some Chri stians during the thirteenth century evidently actually
maimed themselves in an effort to identif with Christ's sufferings, according to the
Ne Cat|c|icLncyc|cpeaia (New York: McGraw- Hill, 1 967, vol . 1 3 , p. 7 1 1 ) . Harlan
Hahn draws from prehistorical archeological evidence through studies of the Middle
Ages, concluding that in these premodern times, "the appearance of physical differ
ences seemed to be associated with festiveness, sensuality, and entertainment rather
than loss, repugnance, or personal tragedy" ("Can Disability Be Beautiful?" p. 3 1 ) .
56. Murphy, Te8cay Si|ent, pp. 4, 1 1 6-1 7.
57. My understanding of the ideology of individualism i s informed by Yehoshua
Arieli , Inaiviaua|ismanaNaticna|isminAmericanIaec|cgy(Cambridge, Mass. : Center
for Study of History of Liberty in America, 1 964) ; Robert N. Bellah et aI . , Habitsc]t|e
Hear| Inaiviaua|ismanaCcmrnitmentinAmericanLi]e ( Berkeley: University of Cali
fornia Press, 1 985 ) ; Gillian Brown, Dcmestic Inaiviaua|ism Imagining Se|]in Nine-
teent| CentuqArnerica ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1 990) ; Wai Chee
Dimock, Empire for Liberty: Melville and the Poetics of Individualism ( Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1 989) ; Jean Bethke Elsthain, Iub|icMan, Irivatecrnan
cmenin Sccia|anaIc|itica|T|cug|i( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1 98 1 ) ;
Myra Jehlen, American Incarnaticn Te Inaiviaua|, t|e Naticn, ana t|e Ccntinent
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1 986) ; C. B. MacPherson, T|eIc|itica|T|ecq
c] Icssessive Inaiviaua|ism Hcbbes tc Lcc|e (Oxford: Clarendon, 1 962) ; John W.
Meyer, "Myths of Socialization and of Personality, " in Thomas C. Heller et aI . , eds . , Ie-
ccnstuctingInaiviaua|ismAutcncm,, Inaiviaua|ityanaSe|]inesternT|cug|t( Stan
ford: Stanford University Press, 1 986) ; and Marvin Meyers , T|e]ac|scnianIersuasicn
Ic|iticsana8e|ie](New York: Vintage Press, 1 95 7) .
58. Ralph Waldo Emerson, i i Self-Reliance, " and "Fate, " i n Ttecr|sc]Ia|p|c|ac
Lmerscn ( 1 847; reprint, New York: Tudor, 1 938) , vol. 1 , p. 32; vol , 3, p. 8; David Lev
erenz, "The Politics of Emerson's Man-Making Words, " IMLA 1 0 1 ( 1 ) : 49.
59. Richard Selzer, Alcrta|LesscnsNctescnt|eArtc]Surgeq( New York: Simon o
Schuster, 1 987) .
60. For a discussion of antinominianism, see Amy Schrager Lang, Ircp|eiiccrnan
AnneHutc|inscnanat|eIrcb|em c]Dissentin t|eLiteraturec]NeLng|ana( Berke
ley: University of California Press, 1 987) .
6 1 . For a discussion of conformity and intolerance, see G. J . Barker- Benfeld, T|e
Hcrrcrs c] t|e Ha|]-KncnLi]e Ma|eAttituaesTcara \Vcmenana Sexua|ityin Nine-
teent|-CentuqAmerica ( New York: Harper o Row, 1 976) . Alexis de Tocqueville's re
marks come from Demccracy inAmerica, vol. 1 ( 1 840: reprint , New York: Vintage
Books, 1 990) , . 267.
62 . Barker Benfeld, TeHcrrcrsc]t|eHa|j-KncnLi]e,p. 1 78; Siegfried Kracauer,
1 52 Z. Teorizing Disability
T|eMassOrnament eimarLssays, trans. and ed. Thomas ` Levin ( Cambridge: Har
vard University Press, 1 995 ) .
63. I t i s interesting t o note that one of Ahab's literary descendants, Captain Falcon
of Charles Johnson's Miaa|eIassage( New York: Macmillan, 1 990) is also a disabled fg
ure who invites interpretation. In Falcon, Ahab's missing leg is transformed into fore
shortened legs that render this embodiment of evil a demasculinized dwarf.
64. See MacPherson, Te Ic|itica| T|ecqc] Icssessive Inaiviaua|ism. Susan Son
tag's I||nessasMetap|orexamines this assignment of blame, analyzing cultural mean
ings attributed to tuberculosis and cancer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries .
The concept of "fghting" cancer or other diseases i s just one example of our tendency
to imagine ourselves as bounded, autonomous individuals .
65 . Wai Chee Dimock explores the personifcation of the nation in this sense,
showing Melville's commitment to "the institution of the discrete, a faith in the self
contained and the self-sufficient" ,Lmjire]crLiberty, quotation at p. ! , also see es
pecially pp. 26-30) .
66. The alternative, less dramatic, and less compelling response of simply leaving
the whale alone is suggested by the English captain of the Samue|Lnaerby, who has
lost his arm in an encounter with Moby Dick.
67. F. O. Matthiessen suggested as early as 1 94 1 that Ahab stood for a critique of
indivi dualism, but he links Ahab's behavior, not his body, to this assessment , T|e ^mer-
icanIenaissance [ New York: Oxford, 1 94 1 ] , p. 459) .
68. For a discussion of Emerson's denial of care and dependence, see Joyce W. War
ren, American Narcissus Inaiviaua|ism ana cmen inNineteent|CentuqAmerican
Iicticn(New Brunswick, N. }. : Rutgers University Press, 1 984) .
69. Tocqueville, DemccracyinAmerica,vol . 2, p. 34.
70. An interesting counternarrative of spiritual perfectibility in which the disabled
fgure is privileged appears in the case of Stowe's Eva and Dickens's Tiny Tim, where
the physically vulnerable fgure can attain spiritual perfection.
7 1 . The problem of poverty in a society that equates work with virtue is explored by
David Rothman in T|eDisccveqc]t|eAsy|um,as well as by Frank Bowe in Hanaicap
pingAmerica 8arrierstcDisab|eaIecp|e (New York: Harper o Row, 1 978) , by Daniel
Rodgers in T|ecr|Lt|icinInaustria|America, | S0| 920( Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1 978) , and by Deborah Stone in TeDisab|eaState,all of which inform
this discussion.
72. The concept of "disabled" was used as early as 1 644 to designate soldiers com
pensated by law for war wounds. Legislation has always been clear about disabled sol
diers , whose labor as warriors earned their compensation. The debate about who can
legitimately be excused from the workforce still rages as questioning of the \velfare
system.
73. For discussions of the fellow-servant ruling see La\vrence M. Friedman and
Jack Ladinsky, "Social Change and the Law of Industrial Accidents , " Cc|umbia Lav
Z. Teorizing Disability e . . . e 1 53
Ieviev 67, no. 1 (January 1 967) : 5 5-65 , and Brook Thomas , Crcss-Lxaminaticns c]
Lavanaliterature Cccper Havt|crne, Stcve, anaMe|vi||e (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1 987) , pp. 1 64-82. It is interesting to note that Lemuel Shaw was
Melville's brother-in-law.
74. By the latter part of the century the fellow-servant rule was legally weakened as
industrial accidents increased dramatically and society began to recognize that the
precedent was untenable and inequitable. Between 1 9 1 0 and 1 920, workmen's com
pensation statutes were becoming the rule, though according to Friedman and Ladin
sky ("Social Change, " pp. 60-70) , the last state to institute such a law was l1ississippi
in 1 948.
75. The history of public policy toward disability and its development as a political
category is found in Deborah Stone, TeDisab|eaState(pp. 1 -1 1 7) ; Claire Liachowitz,
Disabi|ity as a Sccia| Ccnstruct, Tom Compton, "A Brief History of Disability" ; and
Richard Scotch, Ircm Cccai||tcCivi|Iig|ts Stone's linking of the disability cate
gory to a need-based rather than a work-based system is essential to my analysis. How
ever, I question the concepts of ability and will, analyze the place of the ideolog of
work, and accept disability more fully as a social construction.
76. The poor-law precedence, which basically advocated institutionalization rather
than direct aid as a form of public relief, was brought to colonial America and was the
guiding principle of public welfare until the emergence of the ''elfare state around the
turn of the century Al though poor-law policy effectively incarcerated and punished
both disabled and nondisabled poor, it prevailed throughout the nineteenth century be
cause of apprehensions that direct economic public aid would encourage idleness and
compromise the motivation to work. The Jacksonian tendency to limit federal inter
vention and champion individual autonomy further discouraged revision of inherited
poor-law policy. Only the glut of disabled Civil War veterans , the rise of private hu
manitarian efforts, and the movement into the Progressive Era fnally rendered dis
ability and other social problems issues appropriately addressed by the state rather
than by families and locally. See J. Lenihan, "Disabled Americans : A History, " Ie]cr-
mances ( Nov. !Dec. 1 976-Jan. 1 977) : 1-69, for an overview of American disability pol
icy. For a discussion of the institutions that managed poverty, see David Rothman, T|e
Disccveqc]t|eAsy|um, and Michael B. Katz, In t|e S|aacvc]t|eIccr|cuseA Sccia|
Histct,c]e|]areinAmerica (New York: Basic Books, 1 986) .
77. Stone, TeDisab|eaState, pp. 9 1 -99.
78. The modern welfare state's quantifcation of disability i n order t o administer
economic aid uses formulas and charts to transform bodily conditions into percentages
of ability that determine a person's eligibility for aid. These various public policy dis
ability schedules locate disability exclusively in the body and presume an abstract no
tion of physical wholeness and ideal performance levels to which the "disabled" are
compared. Certain physical states are then clinically evaluated as decreasing absolute
able-bodiedness by a particular percentage. On one scale, for example, limb amputa-
1 54 . . . . . Z. Theorizing Disability
tion translates as 70% reduction in ability to work, while amputation of the little fnger
at the distal j oint reduces the capacity for labor by a single percentage point. What
seems absurd here is the insistence that a precise mathematical relation can be posited
between such complex, dynamic situations as bodily condition and ability to perform
wage labor (see Stone, T|eDisab|eaState,pp. 1 07-1 7) .
79. Rodgers, T|e\\cr|Lt|icinInaustria|America,p. xi .
3. The Cultural Work ofAmerican Freak Shows, 1 83 5-1 940
1 . Richard D. Altick, T|e S|cs c] Lcnacn (Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, 1 978) , pp. 272-73.
2. Bogdan, Irea|S|c
3. The discussion here of monsters and the history of teratology draws from Dudley
Wilson, SignsanaIcrtentsMcnstrcus8irt|s]rcmt|eMiaa|eAgestct|eLn|ig|tenment
( London: Routledge, 1 993) ; Josef Warkany, "Congenital Malformations in the Past, " in
T. \ N. Persaud, ed. , Ircb|ems c] 8irt| De]ects, ( Baltimore: University Park Press,
1 977) ; Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston, "Unnatural Conceptions : The Study of
Monsters i n Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England ,IastanaIre
sent92 [August 1 98 1 ] : 20-54) ; John Block Friedman, T|eMcnstrcusIacesinMeaieva|
ArtanaT|cug|t(Cambridge, Mass . : Harvard University Press, 1 98 1 ) ; Mark \ Barrow,
"A Brief History of Teratology, " in Persaud, ed. , Ircb|ems c] 8irt| De]ects, Howard
Martin, \ictcrian Crctesque ( London: Jupiter Books, 1 977) ; and Huet, Mcnstrcus
Imaginaticn
4. Aristotle, Niccn:ac|eanLt|ics, trans . Terence Irwin (Indianapolis : Hackett Pub
lishing, 1 985 ) , pp. 36-44 and 49-52.
5 . Friedman, T|eMcnstrcusIaces, quotations at pp. 1 09 and 1 1 8.
6. Hevey, T|e Creatures TimeIcrgct, p. 5 3 ; on Robert \Tadlow and Julia Pastrana,
see Frederick Drimmer, 8crn Di_erent .^mazing Stcries c] \eq Specia| Iecp|e (Ne\N
York: Atheneum, 1 988) , p. 7 1 .
7. Perhaps the fascination with freakishness has been redirected since contempo
rary culture proscribes the display of disabled people in the kinds of freak sho\vs that
took place prior to about 1 940. Contemporary versions of the freak show might be anti
establishment entertainment, daytime talk shows, tabloid stories, disability telethons,
televi sed surgical theater, geek shows, the popular writings of Oliver Sacks and
Stephen Jay Gould, as well as recent academic inquiries into popular culture. See
Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed. , Irea|eq Cu|tura| Spectac|es c] t|e Lxtracrainaq
8cay ( New York: New York University Press , 1 996) and Cohen, ed. , McnsterT|ecq
8. The discussion here draws from Neil Harris, Humbug T|e\rtc] 1 8arnum
( Boston: Little, Brown, 1 973) ; Gould, TeMisneasurec]Man, Patricia Cline Cohen,
ACa|cu|atingIecp|eT|eSpreaac]NumeracyinLar|yAmerica(Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1 982) ; Veblen, T|eT|ecqc]t|eLeisureC|ass ,John Tagg, T|e8uraen
3. American Freak Shos e . . . . 1 5 5
of Representation-Evidence, Truth, and Order: Essays on Photographies and Histories
( London: Macmillan, 1 988) ; and Bogdan, Freak Show.
9. For accounts of Joice Heth, see T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs ( 1 869;
reprint, Nevv York: Arno Press, 1 970) ; A. H. Saxton, 1 Barnum: The Legend and the
Man ( New York: New York University Press, 1 989) ; Harri s, Humbug, pp. 20-26; and
Bernth Lindfors, T. Barnum and Africa, " Studies in Popular Culture 7 ( 1 984) .
1 0. Thomas V. Laqueur notes a similar accumulation of physical details i n Lynn
Hunt, ed. , "Bodies, Details , and the Humani tarian Narrative, "The New Cultural His
tor ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1 989) , pp. 1 76-204.
1 1 . Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, p. 82.
1 2. My analysis of freak shows as cultural performances is influenced by l1ary
Ryan's reading of American parades as cultural texts in her essay "The American
Parade: Representations of the Nineteenth-Century Social Order, " in Hunt, ed. , The
New Cultural Histor, pp. 1 3 1 -5 3.
1 3 . John J. MacAloon, "Olympic Games and the Theory of Spectacle i n Modern
Times, " in John J. MacAloon, ed. , Rite, Dra1na, Festival, Spectacle: Rehearsals Toward a
Theor ofCultural Perormance ( Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human I ssues,
1 984) , p. 243 .
1 4. Bernth Lindfors, " Circus Africans , " Journal ofAmerican Culture 6 ( 2) : 1 2 .
1 5 . I am elaborating here upon the central argument of Robert Bogdan's seminal
study of the freak show: that the freak was created from disabled and nonwhite people.
While I have highlighted the choreography between spectator and spectacle, Bogdan
emphasizes the freak show as a form of entertainment in which the performers exer
cised autonomy and made choices. Bogdan's interpretation of consent is criticized by
David Gerber, "Volition and Valorization: The 'Careers' of People Exhibited in Freak
Shows, " in Thomson, ed. , Freaker.
1 6. Tagg, "A Means of Surveillance, " i n The Burden ofRepresentation, p. 85 ; for dis
cussion of photography as a disciplinary technology that constructed the worthy and
the unworthy, see Allan Sekula, "The Body and the Archive, " October 39 (Winter
1 986) : 3-64.
1 7. For a discussion and examples of freak portraits , see Michael Mitchell, Monsters
oft he Gilded Age: 'The Photographs of Charles Eisenmann (Toronto: Gage, 1 979) ; freak
photographs also appear in Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. , Philip B. Kunhardt I I I , and Peter W.
Kunhardt, 1 Barnum: Americas Greatest Show11zan ( New York: Knopf, 1 995 ) .
1 8. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Sou
venir, the Collection ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1 984) , p. 1 09. In
Freak Show, Robert Bogdan stresses the show's construction of the freak by pointing
out that many of the spectacles were counterfeited or created-like fake conj oined
twins, wild men, or tattooed freaks . In fact, part of the attraction for the spectator was
in determining whether or not the freaks were "authentic" (p. 8) .
1 9. Lindfors, "Circus Africans, " p. 1 0.
1 56 e e e + e 3 . American Freak Shos
20. Massachusetts Historical Society, "The 'Aztec' Children, " M. H. S. Miscellany
50 ( Spring 1 992) : 1 -3 .
2 1 . I t i s interesting to note that the science of eugenics, inaugurated by Darwin's
cousin, Sir Francis Galton, developed during the second half of the nineteenth century
and was based on Quetelet's work. The aim of eugenics, which was later implemented
politically by the Nazis, was to scientifcally "improve" or purif the race-in other
words, to realize the ideal of the statistical, standardized Average Man. For a study of
eugenics, see Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, and Hubbard, Te
Politics of Womens Biology. For a discussion of the concept of the average man, see
Stephen Stigler, Te Histor of Statistics: Te Measurement of Uncertainty Before | 900
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1 986) , pp. 1 69-72, and
Theodore M. Porter, Te Rise ofStatistical Thinking, | S20| 900( Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1 986) , especially chapters 4 and 5 . For a cultural critique of "statisti
cal persons , " see Mark Selzer, Bodies and Machines (New York: Routledge, 1 992) .
22. Henry Ward Beecher, Lectures to Young Men, on Various Important Subjects,
(New York: J . B. Ford , 1 873) p. 1 8 1 . Although respectability was a problem for dime
museums and later for circuses, Barnum almost surmounted the issue by appealing to
the desire for education and middle-class values such as sentimentality and temper
ance. Barnum's American Museum was visited by all classes; his Tom Thumb was pre
sented to Queen Victoria; and he was even supported by Henry Ward Beecher. See
Bruce A. McConachie, "Museum, Theater and the Problem of Respectability for Mid
Century Urban lmericans, " in Ron Engle and Tice L. Miller, eds . , The American Stage:
Social and Economic Issues from the Colonial Period to the Present ( New York: Cam
bridge University Press, 1 993) , pp. 65-80; Brooks McNamara, " 'A Congress of Won
ders : ' The Rise and Fall of the Dime Museum, " ESQ 20 ( 3) : 2 1 6-32; Marcello Truzzi ,
"Circus and Side Shows, " in Myron Matlaw, ed. , American Popular Entertainment
(Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1 979) , pp. 1 7 5-8 5 ; and James B. Twitchell , Car
nival Culture: The Trashing ofTaste in America (New York: Columbia University Press,
1 992) , pp. 5 7-65 .
23. For discussions of the construction of racial others from this perspective, see
Eric Lott, Love and Tef: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class ( New
York: Oxford University Press, 1 993) ; and Roediger, Te Wages of vVhiteness.
24. In support of this point, Joan Burbick has suggested that the concept of the
healthy body as a national responsibility acted out at the individual level was a response
to the chaos and disruption of the nineteenth century's changing social order. See Joan
Burbick, Healing the Republic: The Language ofHealth and the Culture ofNationalism
in Nineteenth- Centur America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1 994) .
2 5 . For a similar argument about blacks, see Lott, Love and Thef.
26. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 1 9 1-99; and Stephen Greenblatt, "Fiction
and Friction, " in Thomas C. Heller et al . , eds . , Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy,
Individuality and the Self in Western Thought ( Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1 986) , pp. 30-52.
3. American Freak Shows e + . . . 1 5 7
27. Howard M. Solomon, "Stigma and Western Culture: A Historical Approach, " in
Stephen Ainlay et al . , eds . , T Dilemma of Diference: A Multidisciplina1) View of
Stigma ( New York: Plenum Press, 1 986) , pp. 59-76; for a discussion of the costuming
of power, also see Richard Sennett, TILe Fall ofPublic Man, pp. 65-72 and 1 6 1 -74.
28. Harris, Humbug, p. 2 1 8.
29. See especially Martin, Victorian Grotesque, and George 11 . Gould and Walter L.
Pyle, Anomalies and Curiosities ofMedicine ( Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1 897) for
discussions of the Victorian concern with curiosities .
30. Bogdan, Freak Show, pp. 1 08, 1 6 1 -66.
3 1 . Meyer, "Myths of Socialization and of Personality, " p. 2 1 1 .
32. On the nineteenth-century American identity crisis , see Barker- Benfeld, The
Horrors ofthe Hal-Known Life.
33. An early American example of the interpretation of monsters for political pur
poses can be found in John Winthrop's 1 638 journal entry, which notes that the ban
ished Anne Hutchinson "was delivered of a monstrous birth" that he and the
Massachusetts Bay Colony interpreted as a message from God signifing Hutchinson's
"error in denying inherent righteousness" (in Nina Baym et al . , eds . , Norton_Anthology
ofAmerican Literature, 4th ed. [ New York: Norton, 1 994] , p. 1 8 5 ) ; on the conflict be
tween prodigies and science, see Michael Winship, "Prodigies, Puritanism, and the
Perils of Natural Philosophy: The Example of Cotton Mather, " William and Mar
Quarterly (Jan. 1 994) : 92-1 05 .
34. My argument here elaborates on the explanation for Barnum's popularity given
by Neil Harris in Humbug.
3 5 . Saxon, 1 Barnum, illustration following p. 82. , no. 1 2 of Currier and Ives se
ries on Barnum's Gallery of Wonders, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont .
36. Victor Turner, The Forest ofSymbols: Aspects ofNdembu Ritual ( I thaca: Cornell
University Press, 1 967) .
37. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, For Her On Good: | 0Years of the
Experts' Advice to Women, p. 3 1 ; for a discussion of resistance to these experts' claim to
authority over the body, see Burbick, Healing the Republic, esp. chapter 1 .
38. Paul Starr, Te Social Transformation ofAmerican Medicine ( New York: Basic
Books , 1 982) .
39. Accounts of Sartje Baartman's display appear i n Altick, The Shows of London;
Stephen Jay Gould, "The Hottentot Venus, " Natural Histor 9 1 ( 1 0) : 20-27; Stephen
Jay Gould, The Flamingos Smile: Refections in Natural Histor ( New York: Norton,
1 98 5) , pp. 302-05 ; Bernth Lindfors , " 'The Hottentot \Tenus' and Other African At
tractions in Nineteenth-Century England" (Australasian Dran'la Studies 1 [ 2] ) ; and
Gilman, Diference and Pathology. Julia Pastrana's history of exhibition is found in Fred
erick Drimmer, Ver Special People (New York: Amjon Press, 1 983) and Born Diferent ;
Otto Hermann, Fahrend Volk ( Signor Salterino, Leipez: J. J . Weber, 1 895 ) ; A. E. W.
Miles, "Julia Pastrana, the Bearded Lady" (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine
67 [ 1 974] : 1 60-64) ; J . Z. Laurence, " A Short Account of the Bearded and Hairy Fe-
1 5 8 . . . . . 3. American Freak Shos
male" (Lancet 2 [ 1 85 7] : 48) ; Jan Bondeson and A. E. W. Miles, "Julia Pastrana, the
Nondescript: An Example of Congenital, Generalized Hypertrichosis \vith Gingival
Hyperplasia" (American Journal of Medical Genetics 47 [ 1 993] : 1 98-2 1 2) ; Francis T.
Buckland, "The Female Nondescript Julia Pastrana, and Exhibitions of Human Mum
mies, etc. , " in Curiosities ofNatural Histor, vol . 4 ( London: Richard Bentley and Son,
1 888) ; and J. Sokolov, 'Julia Pastrana and Her Child" (Lancet 1 [ 1 862] : 467-69) .
40. Gould, "The Hottentot Venus, " p. 20.
4 1 . Lindfors, "Circus Africans, " p. 9. Lindfors also reports that the most recent case
he discovered of an African displayed in a cage was in 1 906 in the monkey house of the
Bronx Zoo, but as recently as 1 938 an African described as "near like the ape as he is
like the human" was still being shown in an American circus (p. 1 0) . For another ac
count of an African displayed at a zoo, see Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume,
Ota Benga: Te Pygmy in the Zoo (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1 992) .
42. Baartman's case illustrates that history i s always too complex for simple judg
ments or even unambiguous narration. Altick recounts that alongside this exploitative
fascination arose an indignant protest against her display, which closed the show tem
porarily. After she was officially interrogated for several hours regarding her under
standing of the situation, however, it seemed clear that she willingly participated-as
do most freaks-in order to receive half of the profts , and the case for banning the
show had to be dropped (The Shaws ofLondon, p. 270) . For an examination of the role
of consent in such displays , see Gerber, iiVolition and Valorization. "
43. "Curious History of the Baboon Lady, Mi ss Julia Pastrana, " pamphlet, Harvard
Theater Collection, pp. 5-7 .
44. Laurence, "A Short Account of the Bearded and Hairy Femal e, " p. 48.
45. Ibi d.
46. Buckand, Curiosities ofthe Natural World, pp. 46 and 42.
47. Both Robert Bogdan in Freak Shaw as well as Kathryn Park and Lorraine Das
ton in "Unnatural Conceptions" link the demise of the freak show to the medicaliza
tion of disability.
48. Leslie Fiedler, Freaks: Myths and Images ofthe Secret Self ( New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1 978) , p. 250.
49. Bogdan, Freak Show, p. 8 l .
50. "Hybrid Indian! , " broadside no. 6 1 6 1 5 6A, New York Public Library.
5 1 . For an extended discussion of this i ssue, see Cassuto, Te Inhuman Race.
5 2. Altick, The Shaws of London, p. 272. In his essay on "The Hottentot Venus, "
Stephen Jay Gould reports actually bei ng shown thi s specimen on a special tour he re
ceived in 1 982. Along with Baartman's genitals were two other sets in jars labeled "une
negresse" and "une peruvienne" as well as a specimen of the bound foot, severed at the
knee, of a Chinese 'rOman, and the preserved brain of scientist Paul Broca. Gould
notes pointedly, "I found no brains of women, and neither Broca's penis nor any male
genitalia grace the collection" (The Flamingos Smile, p. 2 1 ) .
5 3 . For example, Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, \vrites in 1 85 3 in Narrative
4. Benevolent Maternalism e e . e e 1 59
ofan Explorer in Tropical South Africa about an African \oman who had what he dis
creetly and euphemistically describes as "that gift of bounteous nature to this favored
race" \vhich, being "a scientifc man, " he proceeded enthusiastically to measure from a
distance with his sextant and record. Galton terms the object of his interest "not only
a Hottentot in fgure, but in that respect a Venus among Hottentots . " That Galton
never directly states what "that respect" is, but only alludes to the Hottentot Venus,
testifes t o her enduring notoriety within scientifc discourse as an icon of physical
aberration (qtd. in Gould, The Flamingo's Smile, p. 303) .
54. Gilman, Diference and Pathology, p. 89. Gilman goes on t o show how medical
discourse i dentifed the \hite prostitute through a catalog of bodily stigmata ranging
from foot and ear shape to a hearty appetite and accompanying fatness that both indi
cated and made inevitable her deviant sexuality (pp. 94-1 0 1 ) .
5 5 . For critiques of science's complicity in dominant power relations, see, for ex
ample, Evelyn Fox Keller, "Gender and Science" in Evelyn Fox Keller, ed. , Refections
on Gender and Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1 985 ) , pp. 7 5-94; Hub
bard, Te Politics ofWomens Biology; Foucault, The Birth ofthe Clinic; and Gould, The
Mismeasure ofMan.
56. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 1 84.
5 7. Gould, Te Flamingos Smile, pp. 6 5-77.
58. I do not mean to suggest freak and specimen are the only roles for people with
disabilities ; my point is that medical and freak discourses informed the attribution of
physical aberration. Physical disability has always been privatized and read as unfortu
nate or shameful, while disabled people in public have traditionally been beggars .
59. Gilman, Diference and Pathology, p. 2 1 6.
60. Elizabeth Grosz's, "Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit, " in Thomson,
ed. , Freaker, discusses the intolerance of such situations as conj oined twins and her
maphroditism, which are universally surgically "corrected" today.
6 1 . After moving from the public role of Superman to that of a "courageous" dis
abled person, the actor Chri stopher Reeve now advocates that his supporters petition
Congress to appropriate money to "fx people like me" (Good Housekeeping [June
1 996] , p. 88) .
62. Hubbard, The Politics of Womens Biology, pp. 1 79-1 98.
4. Benevolent Maternalism and the Disabled Women
in Stowe, Davis, and Phelps
. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Toms Cabin or Life Among the Lowly ( 1 85 2;
reprint, New York: Penguin, 1 98 1 ) ; Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills
( 1 86 1 ; reprint, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York,
1 972) ; Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Te Silent Partner ( 1 87 1 ; reprint, New York: The Fem
inist Press, 1 983) . All future references are to these editions and will be cited paren
thetically as UTC, LIM, and SP respectively.
1 60 e e e e e 4. Benevolent Maternalism
Several critics have offered generic categorizations of this large and diverse body of
fction in order to reevaluate what had been grouped together as "sentimental , " a term
that until recently was dismissive and denigrating. See Nina Baym, Wom.ans Fiction: A
Guide to Novels By and About Women in America, | S20| S 0 ( I thaca: Cornell Univer
sity Press, 1 978) ; Mary Kelley " The Sentimentalists: Promise and Betrayal in the
Home, " Signs: Journal ofWomen in Culture and Society 4 ( 3 1 ) : 434-46; Jane Tomp
kins , Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, | 90| Se0 ( New
York: Oxford University Press, 1 985 ) ; Shirley Samuel s, ed. , The Culture of Sentiment:
Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth- Centur America ( Nev York: Oxford
University Press, 1 992) ; Karen Sanchez- Eppler, "Bodily Bonds : The I ntersecting
Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolition, " Representations 24 ( Fall 1 988) : 28-59; and
Philip Fisher, Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel ( New York: Oxford
University Press, 1 985 ) . Other generic analyses of the novels discussed in this chapter
include Robyn Warhol's argument for Uncle Tom's Cabin as realism, "Poetics and Per
suasion: Uncle Tom1s Cabin as a Realist Novel , " Essays in Literature 1 3 ( 2) : 283-98;
Sharon Harris's delineation of Life i n the Iron Mills as a forerunner of naturalism, "Re
becca Harding Davi s: From Romance to Reali sm, " American Literar Realism 2 1 ( 2) :
4-20; and Frances Malpezzi's placement of The Silent Partner i n the social gospel tra
dition (The Silent Partner: A Feminist Sermon on the Social Gospel , " Studies in the
Humanities 1 3 ( 2) : 1 03-1 0.
2. The disabled fgure is a convention i n sentimental and domestic fction, particu
larly in Davs and Phelps. For example, Lois in Davis's Margret Howth: A Stor of To
Day ( 1 862; reprint, New York: The Feminist Press, 1 990) ; Asenath in Phelps's "The
Tenth of Januar" (in The Si lent Partner) ; and the mother in Phelps's Doctor Zay ( 1 882;
reprint, New York: The Feminist Press, 1 987) are disabled fgures . Maria Cummins'
The Lamplighter ( Boston: Jewett, 1 854) also has a disabled heroine. In the English tra
dition, of course, Dickens's numerous disabled characters play signifcant roles.
3. Paul Longmore, conversation with the author, San Francisco, 28 June 1 994.
4. This coincidence of pity and repugnance is particularly clear with Davis's Deb
\lfe, whose disability has no apparent historical explanation. Like her literary pre
cursor, Roger Chillingworth, the "misshapen scholar" whose marked body i s the "un
mistakable token" of his t\isted soul, Deb's "deformed" body signifes her economic
and social degradation ( Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter: A Romance [ 1 850;
reprint, New York: Bobbs-l1erriII , 1 963] , pp. 59, 60) .
5 . For di scussions of institutional oppression of and individual attitudes toward
people with disabilities, see Yuker, ed. , Attitudes Toward Persons with Disabilities; Fine
and Asch, eds . , Women with Disabilities; Goffman, Stigma; Burgdorf, "A History of Un
equal Treatment ; " and Fred Davis, "Deviance Disavowal . "
6. For my purposes, it is important to distinguish between visible and invisible dis
abilities . The exterior of the body tends to be read as a trope for the interior or soul. For
example, Stowe's Eva and l1arie St. Clare gain much of their signifing power from the
disparity between their perfect exteriors and their "disabled" interiors, although they
4. Benevolent Maternalism 4 4 4 4 1 6 1
have very different meanings in the two characters . I examine only visible disabilities
here because external marks and invisible disabilities affect readings differently. For a
discussion of how invisible disabilities in nineteenth-century American women func
tion in discourse, see Herndl, Invalid Women.
7. In this sense these authors practice a cultural feminism that anticipates feminist
theorists such as Gilligan, In a Diferent Voice; Elsthain, Public Man, Private Woman;
Sara Ruddick, "Maternal Thinkng, " Feminist Studies 6 ( 2) : 342-67; and Fox-Gen
ovese, Feminism Without Illusions. These theorists associate feminine socialization
more with an ethic of responsibility and care than with individual rights and autonomy.
8. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Te Key to Uncle Toms Cabin ( London: 1 85 3) , sug
gests that the best mothering is elicited by disabled children: "I f a mother has among
her children, " she writes, "one whom sickness has made blind, or deaf, or dumb, inca
pable of acquiring knowledge through the usual channels of communication, does she
not seek to reach its darkened mind by modes of communication tenderer and more in
timate than those which she uses with the stronger and more favored ones?" (p. 38) .
\ithin the domestic ideology that John L. Thomas ( "Romantic Reform i n America,
1 8 1 5-1 865 , "American Quarterly 1 7 [Winter 1 965] : 656-8 1 ) shows to be inseparable
from evangelical Christianity, human suffering meant more than human sinning, and
consolation was more important than condemnation. The lowly sufferer sustained by
the venerated caretaker parallels the relation between humanity and a sympatheti c,
nurturing, feminized Christ fgure, the opposite of the earlier Calvinist patriarchal God
in whose angry hands all sinners writhed. Because, as Kathryn Sklar shows, the con
cept of salvation through good works was replacing the doctrine of predestination
within Christian theology, having an object toward whom to direct Christian love was
essential (Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity [ New York: Norton,
1 973] , p. 1 3) . The perfect benefciary is this innocent, suffering disabled fgure; the
more repugnant the sufferer, the nobler the Christian who loves him. Moreover, the
disabled women suggest the blind, lame, and leprous characters who are the chosen of
Jesus. Charles Kokaska, et aI . , "Disabled People in the Bible, " Rehabilitation Literature
45 ( 1 -2) : 20-2 1 fnds 1 80 incidents of disability in the Bible, most of which occur in
the New Testament in association with Jesus . Uncle Tonts Cabin alludes to the Bible's
use of disabled fgures as obj ects to be redeemed (like Stowe's slaves) when we hear
that St. Clare's saintly mother says "if we want to give sight to the blind, we must be
willing to do as Christ did, -call them to us and put our hands on them" ( UTC 4 1 0) .
Thus, Stowe appropriates the New Testament's reversal of the social power structure
by elevating the lowest to the highest position, echoing the Christian injunction that
"the least of these" is the equal of Jesus.
9. Fisher, Hard Facts, p. 99.
1 0. Gillian Brown's exploration of "domestic individualism" also asserts that femi
nine domesticity and masculine individualism were not discrete ideologies, but were
intertwined and mutually reinforcing cultural developments . vVhile Brown shows that
domesticity provided the site and legitimation for individualism, I suggest that the pub-
1 62 4 4. Benevolent Maternalism
lie role of benevolent maternalism as it appears in these texts was a feminine persona
for middle-class women that granted them the prestige of the liberal individual .
! ! . For discussions of middle-class women's economic production in the nine
teenth century, see Nancy F. Cott, Te Bonds ofWomanhood: ((Woman sSphere" in New
England, | S0| S 3 ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1 977) ; Mary Ryan, Empire
of the Mother: American Writing About Domesticity, | S30| Se0 (New York: I nstitute
for Research in Histor and The Hawthorne Press, 1 982) ; Rodgers, The vVork Ethic in
Industrial America | S0| 920, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Wonten and Economics:
A Study of the Economic Relation Between Women and Men ( 1 898; reprint, Buffalo,
N.Y: Prometheus Books, 1 994) . Sara M. Evans, in Bornfor Liberty: A Histor ofWomen
in America ( Ne\v York: The Free Press, 1 989) , points out that most American women
in the nineteenth century did not have the economic means or the motivation to main
tain the identity of a woman reformer. In spite of the small proportion of women for
whom this ideal was within reach, the fgure of maternal benevolence nevertheless ex
erted considerable social power and status because it ,,,as one of the dominant group's
versions of womanhood.
1 2. See Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victo
rianAmerica ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1 985 ) .
1 3 . Cott, Te Bonds of Womanhood, p. 7.
1 4. Thomas L. Haskell , "Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibil
ity, Part 1 , " American Histor Review 90 ( 2) : 339-6 1 ; Thomas L. Haskell , "Capitalism
and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility, Part 2, " American Histor Review 90
( 3) : 547-66.
1 5 . With this move, the authors evoke the continuously controversial problem of
what responsibility government has to those unable to "earn a living. " See Rothman,
Discover ofthe Asylum; see also Stone, Te Disabled State. Stone studies disability his
tory for an examination of the ambivalence with which the public sector treats indi
gence and disability in its attempt to differentiate between "deserving" and "undeserv
ing" poor.
1 6. Silvers , in Reconciling Equality to Diference: Caring (F)or Justice for People with
Disabilities , points out that in asymmetrical relationships between caregivers and care
receivers, the risk of caregiving becoming oppressive is ahvays present because the
caregiver is an autonomous agent while the receiver of care is often unable to defne
the terms of the relationship.
1 7. The pattern of attempted rescue set up by these social reform novels somewhat
replicates the earlier American tradition of the captivity narratives of the late seven
teenth and early eighteenth centuries, in which white women were captured by Indi
ans and rescued by heroic white men. This social myth, so necessary to authorize and
legitimate Euro-American expansion, is revised interestingly in the fction examined
here. The gender roles are reversed so that the previous victims-white women-now
become the rescuing hero(in) es, saving the new victims-the disabled women-from
the threatening villains-dominant males. The effect of both kinds of narrative is to es-
4. Benevolent Maternalism 1 63
tablish group identity and entitlement. For a gender-based discussion of captivity nar
ratives, see Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her ( Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1 984) .
1 8. It is interesting to note that the closer to white, Christian, and maternal the
heroines are, the more beautiful their bodies become. The quadroon, Eliza, has a
"fnely moulded shape" and the "beauty" that is " so fatal an inheritance to a slave"
( UTC 45 , 54) . The Quaker, Rachel Halliday, has "the beauty of old women, " which is
akn to "a ripe peach" and she is like a Venus who, instead of turning heads , keeps all
going about their work "harmoniously" ( UTC 2 1 5 , 2 1 6, 223) . The exception is the hyp
ocritically Christian slaveholder, Marie St. Clare, who becomes "unlovely, " "a yellow,
faded sickly woman, " and a bad mother as her early beauty is perverted by the selfsh
ness of being waited upon by slaves ( UTC 243) . In contrast to the heroines' effortle

s
and unadorned beauty, the vain and self-indulgent Marie is "gorgeously dressed" and
wears "diamond bracelets" while all around her suffer ( UTC, 275 ) .
1 9. See Laqueur, Making Sex; Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood:
1 820-60, " American Quarterly 1 8 ( 2) : 1 5 1 -74; Gerda Lerner, "The Lady and t he Mill
Girl : Changes in the Status of \Vomen in the Age of Jackson, " Midcontinent American
Studies Journal 1 0 ( 1 969) : 5-1 5, quotation at p. 1 1 .
I want to make a distinction here between Barbara Welter's often cited "Cult of
True Womanhood" and what I mean by using Lerner's term, "the cult of the lady. "
While Welter emphasizes behavior and attitudes, I stress the class-bound effects of be
ing a "lady" on the body itself, even as I acknowledge that these views of womanhood
are not discrete. Thus, I focus upon physical restrictions to work and on the discourses
that name the female body pathological as well as ugly.
20. For discussions of this process's socioeconomic effect on women see Lerner,
"The Lady and the Mill Girl"; Richard D. Brown, llodernization: The Transformation of
American Life | e00-| Se( New York: Hill and Wang, 1 976) , especially chapters 6 and
7; Rodgers, The 10rk Ethic in Industrial America | S 0| 920, especially chapter 7;
Stuart Blumin, Te Emergence ofthe Middle Class: Social Experience in the American
Cit | e0| 900(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1 989) , especially pp. 1 79-
9 1 ; and Veblen, The Theor ofthe Leisure Class, especially pp. 1 25-3 1 .
For discussions on the impact of scientifc and medical discourses on women, see
Ehrenreich and English, For Her On Good, especially chapters 3 and 4; Smith
Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct, especially the chapters on hysterical women and on
abortion; Judith Walzer Leavitt, ed. , Women and Health in America (l1 adison: Univer
sity of Wisconsin Press, 1 984) , especially part 1 ; Herndl, Invalid Women, especially
chapter 1 ; Tuana, Te Less Noble Sex; and Gould, Te Mismeasure of lIan, pp. 1 03-07.
Martha Verbrugge, in Able-Bodied Womanhood: Personal Health and Social Change in
Nineteenth- Centur Boston ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1 988) , examines the
paradox created by the cult of invalidism and the demand that women be ft enough to
manage domestic duties .
For discussions of the institution of female beauty and its relation to consumerism
1 64 . . . . . 4. Benevolent Maternalism
and leisure, see Banner, An'erican Beauty, especially chapters 1-4; Wolf, The Beauty
Myth; and Veblen, Teor of the Leisure Class.
2 1 . Testimonies to this sense of bodily restriction and vulnerability abound; two of
the most powerful are, of course, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper, "
The Net England Magazine (January 1 892) ; and Florence Nightingale's "Cassandra"
( 1 928; reprinted in Ray Strachey, ed. , The Cause: A Short Histor ofthe v0men(s Move
ment in Great Britain ( London: Virago, 1 978) , pp. 395-4 1 8.
22. Gail Parker, The Oven Birds: American Women on Womanhood) | S20| 920
(Garden City, N.J . : Anchor Books , 1 972) , p. 1 97.
23. Tillie Olsen, Silences ( Nevv York: Dell Publishing, 1 965 ) , pp. 1 1 7-1 8; Susan
Coultrap- McQuin, Doing Literar Business: American Women Writers in the Nine
teenth Centur (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1 990) , p. 1 75 .
24. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, "Why Shall They Do I t?" Harpers 36 ( 1 886) : 2 1 9;
Carol Farley Kessler, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (Boston: Twayne, 1 982) , p. 1 5 .
2 5 . By 1 899, Thorstein Veblen had asserted that the market economy's demand
that women display "conspicuous waste and conspicuous leisure" enforced female
habits and dress that amounted to "voluntarily induced physical disability" (Theor of
the Leisure Class, p. 1 27) . Cultural discourse described the female body as inferior,
frail, and limited-precisely the same way that it framed the physical characteristics of
disabled people.
26. See Amy Schrager Lang, "Class and the Strategies of Sympathy," in Samuel s,
ed. , The Culture of Sentiment . Lang argues that the dilemma of representing class i n
both Life in the Iron NIills and Uncle Tom' Cabin is solved by substituting gender, leav
ing art as the fnal subject of Davis's novel .
27. Sharon Harris ("Rebecca Harding Davis") suggests that the Korl woman is a revi
sion of Deb. If one accepts that reading, it is interesting that the statue appears to cor
rect Deb's disability, releasing the idealized version of Deb from the physical limi
tations of the real, disabled woman (LIM 1 9) . I fnd evidence in the text to suggest
that the Korl woman is a self-portrait of the feminized Hugh, who is described as a living
version of the statue, "mad with hunger; stretching out his hands to the world" (LIM 45 ) .
28. Gerda Lerner ("The Lady and the Mill Girl") shows that by 1 840-shortly be
fore Phelps's birth, when Davis was a small child, and when Stowe was 30-class strat
ifcation among women was frmly in place. This division is what Stowe apparently
resists in both her attempt to unite women through maternal experience for social
change and to nostalgically portray the classless home. In their novels, Davis and
Phelps both accept a more hierarchical arrangement between the workers and their
middle-class supporters, although the guilty defensiveness and hopelessness that per
meate Life in the Iron Mills may reflect Davis's suspicion that the gap was unbridge
able. Lois Banner (American Beauty) and Naomi Wolf ( Te Beauty 1yth) assert that by
1 840 the maj or features and institutions of American beauty culture were also in plaCe
and were fueled by the growth of consumerism, the mass production of images, and
the continuing emergence of the middle-class lady.
5. Disabled Women as Poweiul Women . . . . 1 65
29. Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl , " p. 1 1 .
30. See Banner, American8eauty,for a discussion of this economy.
3 1 . CcaeysLaays8cc|, 1 852, quoted in Banner, American8eauty, p. 1 0.
32. Phelps's repudiation of marriage in Te Si|ent Iartner contrasts with Stowe,
who seemed to assume marriage as a natural element of benevolent maternalism. At
the beginning of Phelps's novel, the indulged, frivolous Perley (reminiscent of the early
Marie St. Clare) is engaged to her father's rich partner, Maverick Hayle, whom she re
jects in order to set up something akin to a settlement house after meeting the spunky
but oppressed mill girl , Sip Garth. Although Perley refuses marriage to devote herself
to the mill \orkers, she is validated as a woman by the adoration of the Christian
Stephen Garrick, a man "she might have loved" , SI260) . Her response to the implor
ing and awestruck suitor is "I have no time to think of love and marriage . . . That is a
business, a trade, . . . I have too much else to do . . . I cannot spare the time for it" , SI
260) . Both hi s love and her self-sacrifce constitute part of the beatifcation that ren
ders her more like Eva than Marie in the end.
33. Burgdorf relates disability to social Darwinism CA History of Unequal Treat
ment, " p. 887) ; for a discussion of social Darwinism, see Richard Hofstadter, Sccia|
DarinisminAmericanTcug|t.
34. The strategy of disembodiment suggested by splitting off the physically disabled
fgures is similar to the self-imposed female "passionlessness" Nancy Cott identifes
among nineteenth-century middle-class women as a response to their vulnerability and
an alternative to being an obj ect of male desire , Te8cnasc]\cman|cca,p. 239) . The
ideology of passionlessness offered women empowerment through self-control rather
than sexual attractiveness. It also promised to release them from some distinctly femi
nine liabilities, such as unwanted pregnancy, sexual and physical subj ection, and asso
ciation with the carnaL Although Cott sees an ethic of self-control primarily in sexual
terms, the disabled women illustrate female liabilities including slavery, wage labor,
motherhood, marriage, and the role of the decorative woman.
3 5 . Lerner, "The Lady and the Mill Girl , " p. 1 4.
5. Disabled Women as Powerul Women in Petr Morrison, and Lorde
1 . Audre Lorde, Zami A Nev Sje| |ing c] My Name ( Freedom, Calif. : Crossing
Press, 1 982) , p. 1 5 . All future references are to this edition and will be given paren
thetically in the text.
In \ritinga \cmansLi]e (New York: Norton, 1 988) , Carolyn Heilbrun discusses
the lack of language and narrative forms with which to analyze the lives of nontradi
tional women. Like Lorde's "third designation, " Heilbrun's term, "ambiguous woman, "
allows one to appropriate the strengths of gender identity and reject the liabilities . Both
terms attempt to affirm and amend the concept of womanhood.
2. Ann Petry, T|eStreet ( 1 946; reprint, Boston: Beacon, 1 974) ; Toni Morrison, Te
8|uest Fye ( New York: \shington Square Press, 1 970) ; Toni Morrison, Su|a ( New
1 66 . . . . . 5. Disabled Women as Poweiul Women
York: New American Library, 1 973) ; Toni Morrison, Scngc]Sc|cmcn (New York: New
American Library, 1 977) ; Toni Morrison, Tar8aby (New York: New American Library,
1 98 1 ) ; Toni Morrison, 8e|cvea (New York: New American Library, 1 987) . All future
references are to these editions and will be cited parenthetically as Street, 8F, Su|a,
SS, T8, and 8e|cvea,respectively.
3. In her essay "When vVe Dead Awaken: Writing as Revision" (in OnLies, Secrets,
ana Si|ence [ New York: Norton, 1 979] ) , Adrienne Rich defnes "re-vision" as reading,
writing, and interpreting \omen's lives "with fresh eyes. " More than simply cultural
history, literary criticism, or autobiographical writing, Rich's well-known feminist con
cept is "an act of survival" that enables women to refute the "self-destructiveness" in
herent in conventional womanhood (p. 3 5 ) . The African-American novels discussed
here revise black female identity in precisely Rich's sense. However, this study compli
cates the notion of simple racial or gender identity, "re-visioning" it by highlighting the
sociohistorical categor "physically disabled. "Each of these novels approaches the dis
ability category only obliquely, unselfconsciously; none confronts the disabled identity
directly. The relationships among the stigmatized identities of blackness, femaleness,
and physical disability are never explicitly enunciated.
4. Some examples of physically disabled characters in other African-American
women's writing are the protagonists in Harriet Wilson's OurNig, crS|etc|es]rcmt|e
Li]e c] a Iree 8|ac| ( 1 859; reprint, New York: Vintage Books, 1 983) and Harriet Ja
cobs's Inciaentsint|eLi]e c]A S|ave Cir|( 1 86 1 ; reprint, Cambridge: Harvard Univer
sity Press, 1 987) ; Miss Thompson in Paule Marshall's 8nvn Cir|,8rcvnstcnes( 1 959;
reprint, Old 'Testbury, N. Y. : Feminist Press, 1 98 1 ) ; Uncle Willie i n Maya Angelou's I
Kncv |y T|e Cagea 8ira Sings (Toronto: Bantam, 1 969) ; the protagonist of Alice
'Talker's Meriaian (New York: Pocket Books, 1 976) ; and llilkman Dead-Morrison's
only disabled male-from Scngc]Sc|cmcn. The prevalence of such fgures is perhaps
due more to historical accuracy-disability occurs more frequently under conditions of
poverty and oppression-than to metaphorical intent.
5. These rhetorical fgurations of disability roughly correspond to a broad historical
shift in cultural sensibility that can be briefly characterized as follows: the rhetoric of
sympathy assumes unity (e:ressed, for example, in millennialism) , a cultural and cos
mic principle that dominated nineteenth-century American thinking but was questioned
by the secularized and naturalist aesthetic of the century's end. The modernist rhetoric
of despair that displaced and mourned the loss of such faith yielded the grotesque, the
antihero, and existential thinking. The postmodern rhetoric of difference no longer
mourns unity even though it grapples with multiplicity; it is the most congenial cultural
mode in which disability is represented. The terms modern and postmodern are used
here in Fredric Jameson's sense, as "cultural dominants" that can be resisted but not
transcended ("Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, " NevLe]Ie-
view 1 46 [July-Aug. 1 984] : 53-92) . The transition from one cultural dominant to the
next would necessarily be perceptible not only in literature but also in politics.
6. This historical shift i n interpretation of disability is suggested i n several studies of
5. Disabled Women as Poweiul Women 1 67
the history of disability legislation; see Scotch, Ircm Ccca \i||tc Civi|Iig|ts, Stone,
T|eDisab|eaState, Liachowitz, Disabi|ityasaSccia|Ccnstruct, and Shapiro, NcIity.
7. For example, Robert Bone in TeNegrcNcve|inAmerica( New Haven: Yale Uni
versity Press, 1 958) sees Petry's novel as a successor to NativeScn.Addison Gayle, Jr. ,
analyzes T|eStreetas a naturalist novel in T|e \ayc]t|e.` e \cr|a T|e8|ac|Ncve|
inAmerica (New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1 97 5 , pp. 1 92-97) .
8. Defnitions of True Womanhood and New Womanhood can be found i n Barbara
Welter's essay "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1 820-1 860, " and in Smith-Rosenberg's
Discraer|yCcnauct , pp. 245-96.
9. Sharon Harris explicates Li]e int|eIrcnMi||sas the forerunner of the naturalist
novel in "Rebecca Harding Davis: From Romance to Realism, " AmericanLiteraqIea|-
ism2 1 ( 2) : 4-20.
1 0. Deb and Lutie are parallel i n this respect: their actions accomplish exactly the
opposite of what was intended, defeating both women. For Mrs. Hedges there is no
disparity bet\veen intention and effect.
1 1 . Baym, \cmensIicticn,pp. 1 1 -1 2.
1 2. In T|e8cndsc] \cman|cca, Nancy Cott analyzes the nineteenth-century ide
ology of feminine "passionlessness" as a functional cultural reformulation of the belief
in female carnality as weakness and moral turpitude. passionlessness placed nine
teenth-century women on a higher moral plane and increased their status and inde
pendence, it has now outlived its usefulness, tending to alienate women from their
own sexuality.
1 3 . Marj orie Pryse, in " ' Pattern Against the Sky' : Deism and Motherhood in Ann
Petry's T|e Street, in Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers , eds . , Ccnuring 8|ac|
\cmen,Iicticn,anaLiteraqTraaiticn( Bloomington: I ndiana University Press, 1 98 5) ,
pp. 1 1 6-3 1 , explores the implications of Lutie's identifcation with the Ben Franklin
script, analyzing the novel and 11rs . Hedges in terms of deism. Pryse also suggests that
Lutie's actions and attitudes are self-defeating and notes how she might have used
Mrs . Hedges and others as models of survival, but Pryse does not go on to elaborate
Mrs. Hedges's potential for becoming the new heroine.
1 4. John Berger, \aysc]Seeing( London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1 972) ,
p. 47.
1 5 . Wolfgang Kayser i s quoted i n Michael Steig, "Defning the Grotesque: An At
tempt at Synthesis, " ]curna|c]Aest|eticsanaArtCriticism29 ( 2) : 2 5 3.
1 6. William Van O' Connor traces the grotesque as "an American genre" from the
gothic Poe, through the naturalists Crane and Norri s, to Faulkner and the southern
writers who are read through his work, and fnally to the absurdist moderni sts such as
Nathanael \st and Nelson Algren ,T|eCrctesqueAnAmericanCenre,anaOt|erFs-
says [ Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1 962] ) . I would argue that the
canon of modernist alienation is to some extent self-perpetuating; it promotes the trope
of the grotesque by-like any other canon-selecting and reinforcing representations
that support its theses .
1 68 . . . . . 5. Disabled Hbmen as Poeiul Women
1 7. One typical example is Gilbert H. Muller's analysis of Flannery O' Connor's
"grotesque" disabled characters : "the protagonist, possessing a physiognomy that paral
lels her distorted spirit, is completely alienated from the world" ,Nig|tmaresana Vi
sicns I|anneq OCcnncrana t|e Cat|c|ic Crctesque [Athens : University of Georgia
Press, 1 972] , p. 27) . O' Connor's critics seem unable to go beyond this type of reading;
the term "grotesque" prevents their seeing her work as perhaps an exploration of phys
ical disability. An exception is Kathleen Patterson's perceptive exploration of O'Con
nor's work in terms of a politicized disability awareness ("Disability and I dentity in
Flannery O' Connor's Short Fiction" [ unpublished manuscript, 1 99 1 ] ) . Ann Carlton
also goes "Beyond Gothic and Grotesque" in her feminist analysis of Carson Mc
Cullers, although she does not treat disability directly ("Beyond Gothic and Grotesque:
A Feminist View of Three Female Characters of Carson McCullers, " Iembrc|e 20
[ I 988] : 54-68) .
1 8. For like-minded discussions of the grotesque, see Philip Thomson, Te
Crctesque ( London: Methuen, 1 972) ; Frances K. Barasch, "Introduction, " in Thomas
Wright, /Histcqc]CaricatureanaCrctesqueinLiteratureanaAn( 1 865 ; reprint, New
York: Frederi ck Ungar, 1 968) ; Harpham, On t|e Crctesque (quotations at pp. 30 and
1 1 ) ; Stallybrass and \Vhite, T|eIceticsanaIc|iticsc]Transgressicn, Bahktin, T|eDia-
|cgicImaginaticn, and Cassuto, T|:eIn|umanIace Like every other theorist I cite ex
cept Goffman, these theorists of the grotesque never make an explicit connection
between their theories and actual disabled people. Although Harpham, for example,
mentions "the various cripples and amputees" in Flannery O'Connor's fction, he never
explores the distinctions between fantastic and human grotesques. Considerations of
disability as a social category are limited almost exclusively to scholarly works that an
nounce themselves as disability studies. Also see Turner, T|eIcrestc]Symbc|s, quota
tion at p. 97.
1 9. I want t o stress that this refguration i s different from the us e of disability as a
trope. These disabled fgures are not metaphors ; rather, their representation mediates
both the life experience and the social identity of disability, potentially recasting its cul
tural meaning. Murphy's ethnography of disability as liminality , Te 8cay Si|ent ) fo
cuses primarily on loss of role and status because this vvas his own experience of
becoming disabled. However, Fine and Asch suggest that disabled women's roleless
ness can be freeing ,\cmenvit|Disabi|ities,pp. 1 -3 1 ) . I n any case, women, particu
larly black women, often have less cultural capital to lose by becoming disabled than
do previously normate white men such as Murphy.
20. Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs : Science, Technolog, and Socialist
Feminism i n the 1 980s, " Sccia|istIeviev80: 67.
2 1 . Identifcations such as "powerful woman" and "disabled person, " which I am
calling oxymoronic here, function similarly to the hyhenated ethnic i dentities, such as
African-American, that W. E. B. Du Bois famously notes express the "double-con
sciousness" of their bearers . See T|e Scu|s c] 8|ac|Ic||s ( 1 903; reprint, New York:
New American Library, 1 982) , p. 45 .
5. Disabled Women as Poweiul Women . . 1 69
22. Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs , " quotations at pp. 65 , 9 1 , 73, and 95 . Al
though Haraway does not develop a connection between cyborgs and disabled people,
she notes in passing when discussing computers that "paraplegics and other severely
handicapped people can . . . have the most intense experiences of complex hybridiza
tion with other communication devices" (p. 97) . Although she refers to prosthetic de
vices as "friendly selves, " she does not go on to acknowledge that a wheelchair is a part
of the self, or that disability brings together two ostensibly mutually exclusive states.
23. For a discussion of prosthesis as a cultural concept, see David Wills, Ircst|esis
( Stanford: Stanford University Press , 1 995 ) .
24. Claudia Tate, ed. , 8|ac|\\cmenritersat\or|( New York: Continuum, 1 988) ,
p. 1 29.
25 . Susan Willis's essay historicizing Morrison's frst four novels cursorily discusses
"lack, deformity, and self-mutilation as fgures for liberation" CEruptions of Funk: His
toricizing Toni Morrison, " in Sjeci]ing 8|ac| cmen riting t|eAmerican Lxjeri-
ence [ Madison: University of Wisconsin Press , 1 987] , p. 1 04) . Although Willis's main
argument concerns the novels' resistance to bourgeois culture, she recognizes a rela
tion between disability and social otherness in Morrison's fction, suggesting that self
mutilation redefnes the individual as a "new and whole person, occupying a radically
different social space" (p. 1 03 ) . While my reading of disabled fgures agrees with her
brief explication, this study extends and focuses the analysis much further, treating dis
ability as a socially constructed identity that complicates racial and gender categories,
not simply as a physical condition.
26. Henry Louis Gates Jr. , "The Blackness of Blackness: A Critique of the Sign and
the Signi(ing Monkey, " in Henry Louis Gates Jr. , ed. , 8|ac|Literature anaLiteraq
T|ecq( New York: Methuen, 1 984) , p. 287.
27. Asch and Fine, eds . , "Disabled Women: Sexism without the Pedestal , " ]cua|
c]Sccic|cgyana Sccia|e|]are 8 ( 2) : 233-48.
28. Denver, Baby Suggs's granddaughter and Beloved's sister, also is physically dis
abled, having become deaf for two years in a psychological refusal to hear the truth
about her sister's death. I have chosen, however, not to include her in this analysis, al
though she conforms fairly well to the pattern, because her disability is temporary.
Sethe, Denver's mother, whom I do include because of the scar on her back, also has a
temporary disability that should be noted: she stutters from the time that her mother is
hanged until she frst sees Halle, her husband-to-be.
29. By encompassing formal aspects such as birthmarks and functional conditions
such as mobility impairments in the single category of "disability, " I do not mean to pro
pose an equivalence among all physically stigmatized conditions, but to suggest instead
the interrelated sociopolitical interpretations of these marks. I am asserting as well that
Morrison's narratives frame femaleness, nonwhiteness, and disability not as natural,
inherently limiting biological conditions, but as identities shaped by the physical, in
stitutional, and social aspects of an unaccommodating environment.
30. Tate, 8|ac|cmenritersatcr|,p. 1 28 .
1 70 . . . . 5. Disabled Women as Powerul Women
3 1 . Goffman, Stigma,p. 1 ; Gates Jr. , "The Blackness of Blackness, " p. 300.
32. Tate, 8|ac|cmenritersat cr|,p. 1 29.
33. I am grateful to Mae Henderson for having pointed out this detail about Sethe's
mother to me.
34. Susan Stewart, Ncnsense Asjects c] Intertextua|ity in Ic|||cre ana Literature
( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1 978) , p. 2 1 .
3 5 . Ibid.
36. Pauline, like the other ideal servant and the respectable lady characters such as
Ondine and Jadine Childs in Tar8aby, Helene Wright in Su|a,and Ruth Dead in Scng
c] Sc|cmcn, is excluded from mythic representation to the same degree that she ac
cepts her values and defnitions from the dominant order.
3 7. Stewart, Ncnsense, p. 62.
38. Kriegel, "The Wolf i n the Pit i n the Zoo, " p. 22; Marshall, 8rcwn Cir|, 8rcwn
stcnes,p. 28.
39. Tate, 8|ac|\omenritersat cr|,p. 1 1 5 .
40. Biddy Martin's essay "Lesbian I dentity and Autobiographical Difference[ s] " in
Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck, eds . , Li]e/LinesTecrizingcmensAutcbicgraj|y
( I thaca: Cornell University Press, 1 988) , pp. 77-1 03, makes similar claims for the
iconoclastic potential of the lesbian perspective in autobiography, asserting that " [l] es
bian autobiographical narratives are about remembering differently, outside the con
tours and narrative constraints of conventional models" (p. 85 ) . Audre Lorde is quoted
from SisterOutsiaer,p. 40.
4 1 . This poststructuralist/feminist effort i s, of course, similar to |LcritureIeminine
produced by Helene Cixous (see, for example, "The Laugh of the Medusa, " Sqrts]cur-
na|c]cmeninCu|tureanaScciety 1 [ 1 976] : 875-93) . Lorde's attempt here, however,
seems grounded more in material experience and less in linguistic theory than Cixous's
writing the body. For an elaboration of Lorde's poetic theory see Lses of the Erotic: the
Erotic as Power" in SisterOutsiaer(pp. 53-59) .
42. This articulation of self is remarkably consonant with the theories of psycholo
gist Jean Baker Miller and her associates at Wellesley College's Stone Center, who as
sert that women tend to develop a sense of self through relation rather than differentia
tion ( see Miller's TcwarasaNewIsyc|c|cgyc]cmen [ Boston: Beacon Press, 1 976] ) .
For discussions see also Judith Jordan et aI . , cmensCrcwt|inCcnnecticn \\ritings
]rcm t|e Stcne Center (New York: Guilford, 1 99 1 ) and Nancy Chodorow, Te Iejrc-
aucticnc]Mct|ering Isyc|cana|ysisanat|eSccic|cgyc]Cenaer( Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1 978) .
43. Claudine Raynaud, " 'A Nutmeg Nestled Inside Its Covering of Mace' : Audre
Lorde's Zami , in Brodzki and Schenck, eds . , Li]e/Lines,p. 226.
44. Lorde, SisterOutsiaer,p. 42.
45. Although gender and racial essentialism are now being questioned vigorously by
theorists of both subjects, the occasional emphasis on difference to ground a positive
identity politics or nationalism is important politically for both movements . See my ear-
5. Disabled Women as Poweiul Women . . 1 7 1
lier discussion of feminism in chapter 2 for an examination of the role of physical dif
ferences in political movements.
46. Jacobs, Inciaentsint|eLi]e c]aS|ave Cir|, p. 56.
47. Stowe's advocacy i s fervently contested by such critics as James Baldwin in
Nctes c] a Native Scn (Boston: Beacon Press, 1 95 3) , QQ. 1 3-23; and Hortense J.
Spillers, "Changing the Letter: The Yokes , the Jokes of Discourse, or, Mrs. Stow, Mr.
Reed, " in Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, eds . , S|aveqanat|eLiteraq
Imaginaticn Se|ectea Iajers]rcm t|eLng|is| Institute, 9S ( Baltimore: Johns Hop
kins University Press, 1 989) , who claim that her portrayals of black people are nega
tive, condescending, and self-serving.
48. Tate, 8|ac|cmenri|ersatcr|, p. 1 29.
49. Lorde, SisterOuts|aer,p. 42.
5 0. Ibid. , p. 1 1 2.
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I N D t x

Jbortion, feminist rationale of and dis
abled women, 26
.cademie des Sciences, 57
.ccommodation model for disability,
49-5 1 , 1 37
African-American identity, ideology of, 22
Afican-American \Omen's novels, 6, 1 8,
1 36-1 37; and appropriation of extra
ordinary body, 1 8; and celebration of
difference, 1 8; and disabled fgure, 9,
1 03, 1 05 ; and discourse of race, 29
.gency 62, 90, 97; female, 1 1 0, 1 1 6,
1 2 5 ; lack of by disabled fgure, 1 1 ,
50; limits of, 59
iging, and disability, 1 4; feminists' disin
terest in, 26
imericans with Disabilities Act, 6, 23,
49, 1 06-1 07
inomaly, 1 1 2; cultural intolerance of,
3 3 ; cultural solutions to, 34-3 7, 4 1 ;
elimination of, 36; and grotesque, 38;
role of i n scientifc thinking, 3 7-38;
as synonymous with evil, 36
Appearance, and freak show, 78; hierar
chies of; 39, 1 1 5 ; as index of female
value, 28; politics of, 22, 1 3 5 , 1 37
Aristotle, Ceneraticnc]^nima|s, 1 9-20,
27, 28, 72; Niccmac|eanLt|ics, 57;
Icetics,
Asch, Adrienne, 2 5, 1 1 8
Augustine, 56
Autonomy, fear of loss of, 4 1 ; feminist
ideologies of, 26; ideologies of, 1 6,
42, 44, 46, 50; value of for liberal
individualism, 3 5 , 3 7, 86; and work
ethic, 47, 48
Average man, 63-64; and American ide
ology of self, 66; and Emerson's
Representative Man, 64
Baartman, Sartj e, 70-78, 1 34
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 1 7; and grotesque
body as carnivalesque, 38, 1 1 3
Barker- Benfeld, G. J . , 44
Barnum, P. T. , 67, 73 ; and American
entrepreneurship, 58; and freak
1 92 Index
shows, 5 5 , 56, 59, 69; Strugg|esana
Triumj|s, 60
Barrie, J . M. , IeterIan, 1 0
Beauty, advantage of, ! , conception of
purity as, 3 3 ; equated with virtue,
97-98, 1 00; Havelock Ellis's descrip
tion of, 28; and sentimental fction,
1 03 ; standards of, 7, 7 1 , 93, 1 1 5 , 1 3 1
Beauvoir, Simone de, 30
Beecher, Henry Ward, Lecturestc\cung
Men, 65
Benevolent maternalism, 1 7, 82, 92, 98,
1 00-1 0 1 , 1 02, 1 03 , 1 3 1 ; and dis
abled fgures, 84, 1 06; and empower
ment, 86; transcendent beauty of, 83
Berger, John, 1 1 0
Black Arts Movement, 1 05
Body, 1 3 5 ; aristocracy of, 64; and cul
tural meaning, 5 ; as cultural text, 22,
1 2 1 , 1 2 5 ; feudal control of, 39; his
toricized, 1 1 5 , 1 2 1 , 1 2 5 ; as impedi
ment to selfhood, 9 5 ; inability to uni
versalize, 24; as machine, 39; norma
tive, 78; politics of, 2 1 ; and
self-determination, 44; and social
categories , 2 1 ; variety of and disabil
ity, 24; violations of, 1 24
Bordo, Susan, 23
Bosch, Hieronymous, 1 1 2
Brady, Matthe\v, 62
Brainerd, Professor, 75-76
Buckand, Francis , 74
Care, disabled women as receivers of,
26, 8 5 ; women as givers of, 26
Carnivalesque fgure, 38, 1 1 3
Cartesdvisite, 62
Celebration, rhetoric of, 1 06
Cicero, 5 6
Civil rights , and disability, 23
Civil rights movement, 1 05 ; and African
American \Omen writers , 1 30
Civil War, 6 5
Class, 99, 1 3 5
Collins, Patricia Hill, 24
Compensation model of disability,
49-5 1 , 1 3 7
Competence, standards of, 7
Compton, Tom, 3 5
Cott, Nancy, 88, 1 09
Crevecoeur, J . Hector St . John de, 69
Crockett, Davy, 65
Culture, a s mediator of all experience,
34; and representation, 5 , 2 1
Cuvier, Georges, 76, 78
Cyborg, 1 24; and cultural otherness,
1 1 5 ; as model for self, 1 1 4; as post
modernist grotesque, 1 1 5 , 1 3 3
Darwin, Charles, 77
Davi s, Rebecca Harding, Li]e i nt|eIrcn
Mi||s, 1 7, 8 1-86, 88-90, 94-98, 1 0 1 ,
1 03, 1 3 1
Democracy, and belief in perfectibility,
46; and leveling of individual charac
teristics, 26, 64, 66, 67, 68; paradox
of, 43, 68; as sameness, 1 8
Despair, rhetoric of, 1 06, 1 07
Deviance, challenges to interpretations
of, 22, 40; and compensation model
of disability, 49; and concept of "aver
age man, " 64; of female sexuality, 5 6;
historical conceptions of, 40; as
marked, 40, 1 30; narrative of, 7, 1 26;
a s product of stigmatization, 3 1
Dickens, Charles, 36; A C|ristmas
Carc| , 1 0, 1 2
Difference, 1 20; accommodation for,
1 07; and American political egalitari
anism, 1 7; antipathy toward in Kant,
3 3 ; celebration of, 1 8, 1 05 ; and
deviance, 9, 49; economy of, 8;
female and feminist theory, 2 1 ; ideol
ogy of, 8; minoritizing of, 22; narra-
tives of, S, 1 6; as pathology, 1 1 4; peril
of, 66; as principle of identity, 1 04,
1 3 5 ; representation of, 1 1 , 44;
rhetoric of, 1 05 ; and social identity,
8; universalizing of, 22; vulnerability
of, 1 06
Disability, 1 36; accommodation to, 49,
1 3 7; aestheticizing of, 1 1 2; and
Afri can-American women's writings ,
9, 1 04, 1 1 7; and bodily variety 24;
category of, 1 3 , 2 1 ; and community
formation, 1 4-1 5 ; compensation
model of, 1 7, 49, 1 37; and construc
tionism, 23, 1 3 5 ; as contaminating,
36; as contingency, 48; cultural solu
tions to, 34-3 7; as dangerous , 3 7;
denaturalization of, 22; as deviance,
6, 23, 1 06; as difference, 22; dis
courses of, 6, 1 6; and essentialism,
23, 1 35 ; and ethnicity, 6, 9; as evil,
84; as exceptionality, 1 8; and femi
ninity, 1 6, 2 1-22, 27; feminization
of, 9; and freak show, 9, 62; func
tional , 1 4; historicizing of, 38; and
identity, 5 , 1 3 , 27, 1 37 ; and industri
alizati on, 48; and ((just world" theory,
3 7; as lack, 1 7, 22, 1 03 , 1 06; legal
classifications of, 34, 3 5 , 48-49;
l egal definition of, 6, 7 ; and links to
gender, 9; as mark of personal his
tory, 1 2 5 ; marks of, 40; and medical
discourse, 6, 22; medical model of,
37, 49-50, 79; modern context of,
39; modernist representation of,
1 06; and motherhood, 26; narratives
of, 38; and pathology 6, 1 3 7; post
modernist representation of, 1 06;
and power relations , 2 1 ; and race, 9;
representation of, 9, 1 6, 1 8, 30;
rhetori cal value of, 1 2, 1 5 ; and senti
mental fi ction, 9, 90, 1 03, 1 06; as
social category, 47; as social and cul-
Index e + e e e 1 93
tural construction, S, 1 8, 4 1 , 1 3 5 ;
and social relations, 1 4, 22, 4 1 ; and
sociological stigma theory, 30; in
sociopolitical context, 72, 1 1 2;
sociopolitical meaning of, 7; stigma
of, 1 3, 1 22 ; symbolic uses of, 36;
theorizing of, 22
Disability l aw, 6, 7, 34, 3 5 , 48-49, 50,
1 06
Disability studies, and feminism, 2 1 ,
24-25 , 30; manifesto for, 1 5-1 9, 23,
30; and social sciences, 30; and uni
versalizing discourse, 22
Disabled body as anomaly, 3 3 ; and con
trol, 6; and corporeal insufficiency, 6;
and deviance, 6; discourse of, 29;
and discourse of exclusion, 6; and
female body, 1 9, 28; and freak show,
59, 64, 68; and grotesque, 1 0,
1 1 4-1 1 5 ; as hybrid, 1 1 4; and iden
tity, 6; objectifcation of, 26; as
prodigy, 5 7; and rolelessness, 2 5 ;
social construction of, 3 2 ; social
meaning of, 1 9; stigmatization of, 48,
49, 50, 62; as text, 59; and "ugly
laws, " 7, 3 5 ; and vulnerability, 6
Disabled fgure, aestheticizing of, 9, 1 5 ;
and deviancy, 6; discourse of, 9; elim
ination of, 34, 3 5 ; empowerment of,
1 03 ; and fantasy of autonomy, 44, 45 ,
46; and fantasy of self-determination,
46; and fantasy of self-government,
46; as freak, 1 1 , 5 6, 58, 8 1 ; and
grotesque, 1 5 ; historicizing of, 1 37;
as icon of vulnerability, 82; as lacking
access to liberal selfood, 83; literary
interpretation of, 9-1 0; and monster,
36; narratives of, 82; and national
identity, 42, 43; nonmimetic function
of, 1 0, 1 1 ; objectifcation of, 1 1 ; and
otherness , 1 0; politicization of, 1 5 ;
postmodern representation of, 1 1 3;
1 94 4 4 4 4 4 Index
representation of, 7, 38, 4 1 , 44; as
rhetorical element in fction, 82, 95 ;
and sentimental fction, 8 1 ; stigmati
zation of, 7; as text, 84; versus dis
abled person, 1 2-1 3 , 23; and \ork,
46
Disabled fgure: African-American
female, 1 05 , 1 1 3, 1 1 8, 1 22, 1 23,
1 25 , 1 26; construction of, 1 03 ; and
Gothic , 1 08; as grotesque, 1 08
Disabled fgure: female, 9, 1 8; cultural
representation of, 1 8; as embodiment
of social injustice, 83; and freak
shows , 29; negative portrayals of, 1 8;
as symbol of otherness , 29; in senti
mental fction, 89, 1 02
Domesticity, discourse of, 83 ; and femi
nine self-denial, 88; marginalization
of, 88; restrictions of, 93; and work,
93
Douglas, Mary, concept of dirt, 1 6, 30,
33; IurityanaDangerAnAna|ysisc]
Ccncejtsc]Ic| |uticnanaTabcc,
33-36, 38, 39, 4 1 , 1 1 2
Ehrenreich, Barbara, 70
Eisenmann, Charles, 62
Ellis, Havelock, and description of
absolute beauty, 28
Emancipation, 65
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 43, 44, 64, 68,
8 1 , 83, 90, 1 06, 1 30; " Fate, " 42;
"Self-Reliance, " 4 1-42, 65 , 1 28
Empowerment, and benevolent mater
nali sm, 86; dependence on differ
ence, 8; female, 26, ! , strategies
of, 1 03, 1 30
Enfreakment, 1 7, 58, 59, 70, 73, 77
English, Deirdre, 70
English Poor Laws, 48-49
Enlightenment , 24, 66, 77; and concept
of body, 39
Equality, and fantasy of sameness, 43,
1 06; feminine ideal of, 86; ideology
of, 68; and uniformity, 1 30
Ethnicity, 1 3 5-1 36; and discourse of
freak shows, 29; and narrative links
to disability, 9
Eugenics , 34, 3 5
Extraordinary body, and African
American Vromen writers, 1 1 6, 1 1 9,
1 20, 1 29, 1 30, 1 32; cultural inferior
ity of, 7, 50; cultural and social mean
ing of, 7, 70; denaturalization of, S ;
discourse of, 75, 76; and disruption of
social order, 38; and feak show, 56,
6 1 62, 67, 69, 74, 78, 8 1 ; as ground
for identity 1 05 ; historicizing of, 1 1 7 ;
and literary representation, 1 5 ; and
modern medicine, 78; narratives of,
5 7; and nationalist postmodern poli
tics , 1 8; objectifcation of, 79; and
pathology, 58, 80; as portent, 58, 80;
public display of, 58, 60; and social
identity 9; and socially engineered
environment, 7; as text, 76-77
Female body, and cultural forms of dis
abling, 27; as deformed male body,
20, 28, 72; and deviance, 1 9, 27, 7 1 ;
and disabled body, 1 9, 27-28; and
freak show, 56, 7 1 -72; ideal of, 28;
inferiority of, 1 9; liability of, 92, 96,
99, 1 00; as monstrosity, 20; narra
tives of, 94; objectifcation of, 28;
public exclusion of, 1 9; scientifc
construction of, 83; and sentimental
fction, 90; and sexuality, 56, 72, 1 0 1 ;
social meanings of, 1 9; socioeco
nomic exclusion of, 1 9, 83 ; vulnera
bility of, 93, 97
Female suffrage, 65
Femininity, and disability, 27; the West's
version of, 7 1
Feminism, and disability studies , 2 1 ; and
politics , 2 1
Feminist theory, 20; and disability stud
ies, 24-25 ; as discourse of otherness,
1 6; and sexual objectifcation, 2 5 ;
and stereotypes of disability 2 7 ; vari
eties of, 2 1
Fine, lchelle, 25 , 1 1 8
Fisher, Philip, 86-87
Fitness, standards of, 7
Flax, Jane, 1 9
Foucault, Michel, and delineation of
modern norm, 4 1 , 77, 1 1 4; Discij|ine
anaIunis|, 39; Maanessana
Civi|izaticn, 39; and modern subj ect,
3 5 , 38-40; Icver/Kncv|eage, 39; and
theories of body, 1 7, 30; and theories
of identity, 1 6
Frankin, Benj amin, 1 09
Freak show pamphlets , and medical dis
course, 7 5-76
Freaks and freak shows, 6, 9, 1 0, 1 1 , 1 2,
1 6, 44, 5 5 , 8 1 , 1 30, 1 32, 1 36; con
struction of, 70; and construction of
American selfhood, 64, 67; cultural
signifcance of, 63-66, 67-70; and
deviance, 1 33 ; and difference, 60;
and disabled fgures, 8 1 ; and disabled
women, 29; discourse of, 29, 74, 75 ;
and discourse of medicine, 70, 78;
domestication of, 66; and effects of
photography, 6 1-62; and ethnicity,
29; equal to circus's "Nig shows, " 63 ;
and extraordinary bodies, 1 8, 5 5 ,
60-6 1 , 69; and gender, 29, 7 1 ; and
grotesque, 7 1 ; history of, 56-63,
78-80; as monsters, 29, 56, 70; nar
ratives of, 60, 6 1 ; as parody of feudal
prestige, 67; and popular culture, 75 ;
popularity of, 65 , 66, 68, 69; and
race, 1 4, 29; as represented like
women, 70-7 1 ; and resistance to
Index e e e e e 1 95
classifcation, 34; as social and cul
tural ritual, 1 6-1 7, 59, 63, 67-68.
Exhibitions : Ape Woman, 73; Mrs .
"B, " 70; Sartje Baartman, 70-78;
Baboon \Toman, 73; Bear Woman,
73; The Camel Girl, 69; Chang, the
Chinese Giant, 63 ; Eng and Chang,
59; Fij i Cannibal, 63 ; The Frog Man,
69; Joice Heth, 59-60, 73, 76;
Hybrid Indian, 73; William Henry
Johnson, 69; Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced
Boy, 69; Bobby Kirk, 69; Laloo, 70;
The Last of the incient Aztecs, 63;
The Leopard Child, 69; Legless
Wonder, 63; Tono Maria, 5 5-56;
"missing links, " 69, 7 1 ; " N on
descript, " 73; Julia Pastrana, 5 6, 57,
70-78, 1 34; Piramal and Sami , 63;
Charles Stratton, 6 1 ; Tocci Brothers,
70; Robert Wadlow, 58; "What I s
I t? , " 69
Freedom, ideology of, 68
Freud, Sigmund, 30; "The Exceptions, "
37; and theory of female castration,
1 9, 72
Friedman, John Block, 5 7
Gaze, female, 1 1 0; and female sexuality,
26; and freak show, 60, 74; and
woman's access to power, 97
Gender, 62, 1 25 , 1 35 -1 36; construction
of, 2 1 , 70; and difference, 22, 1 06;
and discourse of freak show, 29; dis
courses of, 6; and identity, 1 30; and
links to disability, 9; and sentimental
fction, 1 03 ; stigmata of, 1 22; theoriz
ing of by feminists, 22, 24; violations
of, 73
Geoffroy Saint- Hilaire, I sidore, 75
Giddings, Paula, 1 3 1
Gilman, Sander, 76, 78
CcaeysLaay s8cc|, 98
1 96 Index
Goffman, Erving, 8, 1 6; StigmaNctescn
t|eManagementc]Sjci |eaIaentity,
30-33, 38, 39, 40, 4 1
Gould, Stephen Jay, 77
Grotesque, as aesthetic category, 38,
1 1 2; and African-American female
writing, 1 05; and disabled body, 1 0;
and disabled fgure, 1 5 ; fascination
with, 67; and female body, 72; and
freak shows, 7 1 ; as mode of liminal
ity, 1 1 2; modernist, 1 07, ! , 1 1 2,
1 1 3 ; as spectacle, 1 32
Hahn, Harlan, 25 , 40
Haraway, Donna, 1 1 4
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, 1 1 2-1 1 3
Harris, Neil , 58
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, TeScar|et
Lette, 1 2, 36, 7 5
Health, concern with, 44; ideology of,
39
Heth, Joice, 59-60, 73, 76
Heumann, Judy, 26
Hevey, Davi d, 1 7, 5 8
Homosexuality, ideology of, 22
Hottentot Venus, 70-78, 1 34. Seea|sc
Baartman, Sartje
Hugo, Victor, TteHunc|bac|c]Nctre
Dame, 1 0
Hybrid fgures, 1 1 5
Identity, African-American women's,
1 27, 1 28; and body, 5, 20, 1 04; as
construction, 2 1 , 34; and culture, 5 ;
as difference, 1 8; difference as
principle of, 1 05 ; and disability, 5 ,
1 3, 1 5 , 1 3 7; and feminist theories,
2 1 ; historization of, 24, 1 1 5 , 1 2 1 -
1 22, 1 25 ; ideology of, 22; normative
categories of, 1 26; production of, 5,
1 3 5 ; social , 7, 40; and standpoint
theory, 24
Identity politics, 1 06; and African
American women's writing, 1 07, 1 20,
1 30; and feminism, 2 1
Immigration, 65 , 78
Immigration Restriction Act, 3 5
Independence, standards of, 7 ; and work
ethic, 47, 48
Indian removal, 65
Industrialization, and disability, 48, 6 5 ,
7 8
Jacobs, Harriet, 1 3 1
Jefferson, Thomas, 69
Kant, Immanuel, "Critique of
Judgment, " 3 3
Kayser, Wolfgang, 1 1 2
Kneeland, Samuel, 76
Kriegel, Leonard, "Survivor Cripple, "
1 25
Kubrick, Stanley, 36
Kuhn, Thomas S. , Tie Structurec]
Scienti]cIevc|uticns, 3 7-38
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine
de Monet de, 3 6
Laurence, J. Z. , 7 3
Lawrence, D. H. , LaayC|atter|eys
Lcver, 1 0
Lerner, Gerda, 92
Lerner, Melvin, and "j ust world" theory,
36, 3 7
Leverenz, David, 42
Liberal individualism, 87; and American
selfood, 68, 8 5 ; and disability 47;
and disabled fgure, 83; and distinc
tion, 1 30; Emerson's elaboration of,
42, 83, 87; ideology of, 1 6, 1 7, 22,
29, 3 5 , 4 1 , 8 1 , 86; and narrative of
progress, 1 00; and problem of body,
44, 95, 1 00, 1 0 1 ; rhetoric of, 68; and
sentimental fction, 82, 84, 99, 1 03
Liminality and liminal space, 1 20, 1 24;
and di sabled female fgure, 1 1 8; of
freak show, 1 7, 69, 73; and identity,
1 1 3; and sociopolitical perspective,
1 1 3
Longmore, Paul, 83
Lorde, Audre, 1 30, 1 37; and biomythog
raphy, 1 8, 1 04, 1 26, 1 27, 1 28, 1 29,
1 33; SisterOutsiaer, 1 29, 1 33; Zami
ANevSje||ingc]MyName, 1 1 , 1 8,
1 04-1 08, 1 1 3-1 1 4, 1 26-1 29, 1 34
MacPherson, C. , 45
Mairs, Nancy, 25
Mark, a s deviance, 40; of dis empower
ment, 40; as stigmatizable trait, 3 1
Marshall, Paule, 1 25
Maternal benefactress, 1 7, 83; distance
from recipients, 88, 94; and sentimen
t fction, 82, 89, 90, 92, 95, 97, 99,
1 0 1 . Seea|scBenevolent maternalism
Maternal benevolence, 1 8 ; moral-social
contract of, 89, 9 1 ; and social
activi sm, 92. Seea|scBenevolent
maternalism
McCullers, Carson, "The Ballad of the
Sad Cafe, " 36
Melville, Herman, 3 6, Mcb-Dic|, cr
T|e\|a|e, 1 1 -1 2, 36, 44-45, 1 06,
1 1 6
Mexican War, 65
Meyer, John W. , 68
Monster, and female body, 20; and freak
shows, 29, 56, 59, 70; as icon of dis
abled fgure, 36; study of, 75 ; as won
ders, 1 3 1
Morrison, Toni, 1 8, 1 1 5 , 1 27, 1 28, 1 29,
1 30, 1 3 3, 1 37; 8e|cvea, 1 05 , 1 1 6,
1 1 9, 1 20, 1 2 1 , 1 24, 1 25 , 1 32, 1 34;
Te8|uestLye, 1 05 , 1 22-1 23, 1 24,
1 26, 1 32; and revision of Harriet
Beecher Stowe's fction, 1 3 1 -1 32;
Indx e e e e e 1 97
Scngc]Sc|cmcn, 1 05 , 1 1 9-1 20,
1 23-1 24, 1 34; Su|a, 1 05 , 1 1 6-1 1 8,
1 20-1 2 1 , 1 24, 1 2 5 , 1 3 1 , 1 33; Tar
8aby,29, 1 1 8-1 1 9, 1 20, 1 24
Motherhood, and disabled women, 26
Mott, Alex, 75
Murphy, Robert F. , Ie8cay Si|ent , 4 1 ,
1 1 3
Narrative pamphlet, for freak show, 6 1 .
Titles : "History and Description of
Abomah the African Amazon
Giantess, " 6 1 ; "Biography, Medical
Description, and Songs of Miss
Millie/Chri stine, the Two-Headed
Nightingale, " 6 1 ; "Beast of Borneo,'
6 1
Narratives, cultural, 1 05 ; of exclusion, 7;
modernist, 1 08; naturalist, 1 08
National ideologies, 22
Naturali sm, 1 07
New Woman, 1 3 1
Normate, 8 , 9, 1 4, 59, 80, 1 06, 1 1 7,
1 24, 1 2 5 ; ideological nature of, 32;
ideological principles of, 42; as posi
tion of reader, 1 0, 1 1 , 1 2; and
responses to actual disabled people,
1 2-1 3 ; and role of disabled fgure in
defning, 4 1 ; and stigma theory, 32;
and unity, 1 1 3 ; as unmarked, 40
Norm, 1 30; and ideal of autonomous
self, 42; as law of modern society, 39,
77; statistical conception of, 1 1 3 ; as
unmarked, 40, 4 1
Objectifcation, 1 1 , 1 2, 62 ; of asexual
and disabled body, 25-26; and auto
biography, 1 26; of female body, 28;
and freak show, 79, 1 32 ; sexual , 25
O' Connor, Flannery, "Good Country
People, " 1 2; "The Life You Save May
Be Your Own, " 36
1 98 Inex
Otherness, 1 20; concept of grounded in
norm, 20; construction of, 60, 1 2 1 ;
cultural , 78; and disabled fgure, 1 0,
29; discourses of, 8; inscrutability of,
1 08; narratives of, 1 6; representation
of, 6; as spectacle, 8, 43, 1 29, 1 32;
visibility of, 8
Paradox, as mode of being, 1 1 6
Pariah fgures, 1 1 5 , 1 1 6, 1 1 8, 1 29
Pastrana, Julia, 5 6, 5 7, 70-78, 1 34
Pathology, and disability, 37; discourse
of, 74, 76, 77; and extraordinary
body, 58, 80; and femininity, 27; and
freak show, 78; and identity, 1 37; nar
ratives of, 5 7
Petry, Ann, 1 27; TeStreet , 1 8,
1 05-1 1 1 , 1 1 5 , 1 22, 1 26, 1 29, 1 30,
1 32-1 3 3
Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, TeSi|ent
Iartner, 1 7 , 1 8, 29, 8 1-86, 88-90,
93-94, 97-1 0 1 , 1 03 , 1 3 1
Photography, and freak shows , 6 1-62,
78
Pliny, 56
Poe, Edgar Allan, 36
Politics, and femini sm, 2 1
Poverty, I l l ; and grotesque, 1 09; as sign
of moral inferiority, 47; stigmata of,
1 22
Power, difference as principle of, 1 05 ;
and rhetoric of neutrality, 40
Prodigy, and disabled body, 5 7, 1 1 4; and
extraordinary body, 80; and freak
show, 69, 70, 78; and representations
of the African-American female fg
ure, 1 30, 1 33
Productivity, value of for liberal individu
alism, 3 5 , 86
Progress, ideologies of, 1 6, 42, 46; indi
vidual , 47-48; and liberal individual
ism, 1 00, 1 0 1
Quetelet, Adolphe, and theory of "aver
age man, " 63-64, 1 1 4
Race, 1 2 5 , 1 3 5 ; construction of, 70; and
difference, 22, 1 06; discourses of, 6;
and female body, 97, 1 04; and freak
show, 1 4, 62; and narrative links to
disability, 9; and sentimental fction,
90, 1 03; stigmata of, 1 22
Racism, 1 03, 1 07, 1 1 0, I l l , 1 1 6, 1 22;
and grotesque, 1 09
Racial purity, ideology of, 33
Raynaud, Claudine, 1 28
Reformation, 70
Representation, of African-American
female fgure, 1 04, 1 06, 1 30; of
American selfood, 1 6; cultural con
ventions of, S ; and cultural meaning,
20-2 1 , 30; of disability versus experi
ence of disabled, 1 0, 1 2, 1 6; of dis
abled fgure, 7, 9, 1 0, 1 5 , 1 6, 1 8, 38,
1 06; and exaggeration of difference,
1 1 ; and freak shows, 1 7, 60, 62-63,
70-7 1 , 72, 76, 8 1 ; of grotesque, 1 1 2;
literary, 4 1 ; and narratives of exclu
sion, 7; of otherness, 6, 1 0, 1 7; and
politics, 2 1 ; and reality, 28; of self by
disabled people, 1 3 ; sentimental
modes of, 8 1
Robinson, Paul, 9
Rodgers, Daniel, 5 1
Rogers, David L. , 60
Royal Society, 57
Sacks, Oliver, 5 6
Scarry, Elaine, 1 4
Schutz, Alfred, 1 0, 3 1
Science, discourse of and female beauty,
28; as ideological concept, 78-79;
and taxonomy of bodies, 77
Sedgwick, Eve, 22
Segregation, 35; self-imposed, 3 5 -36, 39
Self, 59; African-American female,
1 04-1 05 , 1 1 6, 1 3 1 ; alternative
modes of, 1 1 5 ; classifcations of, 1 26;
and concept of average man, 66, 67;
and disabled fgure, 83 ; Emersonian
vievvs of, 8 1 , 87; feminine, 83, 89,
90, 95 , 1 0 1 ; feminized version of, 87;
historicized, 1 29; idealized American
fgure of, 7, 44, 46, 59, 63, 64, 66,
68, 8 1 , 1 30; narrative of, 1 03, 1 1 0,
1 1 6, 1 27, 1 28; national principles of,
42; politicized model of, 1 29; vulner
abilities of, 7
Self-determination, 42, 43, 44, 46, 48,
50, 89, 1 01
Self-government, 42, 44, 46, 47, 50
Selfood, representations of i n American
culture, 1 6
Self-reliance, Emersonian, 1 1 0; ideolo
gies of, 1 6, 3 5 , 44, 1 0 1
Selzer, Richard, 42
Sentimental fction, 6, 1 3 6; and disabled
fgure, 9, 1 7, 1 8, 8 1 , 95 , 1 06; and
female identity, 1 8; and feminine
empowerment, 83, 88; narratives of,
84; and social reform, 1 7, 29, 82, 85 ,
88; stigmatization of disabled fgures
in, 83
Sentimentalism, and disabled fgure, 8 1 ,
1 03; ideology of, 22
Sexism, 1 03, 1 07, 1 09, 1 1 0, l
Sexuality, 1 3 5-1 36; discourses of, 6; les-
bian, 1 27
Shakespeare, William, 36
Shaw, Lemuel, 48
Silvers, Anita, 26
Slave, humanization of through mater
nalism, 85 , 87
Slavery, 65; economy of, 1 1 9; and equa
tion of value with productivity, 85 ;
and female self, 1 1 9; stigmata of, 1 2 1 ;
and vulnerability of motherhood, 9 1
Index e e + e e 1 99
Social Darwinism, 36, 1 1 3
Social determinism, 1 09
Social relations , and disability, 22
Sokolo\; Professor J. , 77, 78
Spectacle, conventions of, 1 2 ; narrative
of, 79
Spenser, Herbert, 36
Standpoint theory, and structure of sub-
jectivity 24
Stare, and female grotesque, 26
Stereotypes, and literary tropes, 1 1
Stewart, Susan, 62, 1 23-1 24
Stigma, Ering Coffman's theory of, 1 6,
30-32, 39, 40
Stigmata, 1 3 5 ; as dirt, 33; display of, 59,
62, 63; female genitalia as , 72; as
feudal mark of status, 66, 67; as
modern mark of disempowerment,
40, 67; of race, 1 22 ; oslave
r
, 1 2 1 ;
as socially determined, 8 ; three char
acteristics from which constructed,
3 1 -32; rhetorical value of, 1 2
Stigmatization, and African-American
female fgure, 1 1 5 , 1 20; and deviance,
3 1 ; of disabled, 7, 1 0, 1 1 , 48, 49, 5 1 ,
62; as historical process, 39; motiva
tion for, 3 1 , 32; of particularity, 1 8;
processes of, 1 6, 30, 32; in sentimen
tal fction, 83 ; as social process,
30-3 1 ; as universal process, 3 1
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, lnc|eTcms
Canin, 1 7, 1 8, 83, 8 1 -99, 1 0 1 , 1 03,
1 3 1 -1 32
Sympathy, discourse of, 1 03 ; pledge of
and benevolent maternalism, 89; pol
itics of, 1 07; rhetoric of, 1 7, 82, 1 06
Tagg, John, 6 1-62
Teratology 75
Thoreau, Henry David, 43, 65 , 1 00, 1 30;
and rhetoric of nonconformity, 68;
a|aen, 1 28
200 4 4 4 4 4 Index
Tocqueville, Alexis de, 43, 46, on confor
mity in America, 68
Torgovnick, Marianna, 1 1
Trickster fgure, African-American, 1 1 7,
1 1 8, 1 24
Turner, Victor, 70, 1 1 3
Twain, Mark, 9
Van O' Connor, William, 1 1 2
Veblen, Thorstein, 1 9, 5 8
Villains, disabled fgures : literary and flm
examples: Captain Ahab, Richard
Chillingworth, Peter Doyle, Hop Frog,
Quilp, Richard I I I , Tom Shiflet, Dr.
Strangelove, Cousin Lyman Willis, 36
vde, Cheryl Marie, "The Woman With
Juice, 2 5-26
Talters, Ronald, 3 5
Washington, George, 5 9
West, Nathanael , MissLcne|y|earts, 36
Whitman, Walt, 69
Wholeness, myth of, 4 5
Williams, Tennessee, T|eC|ass
Menagerie, 1 0
Womanhood, African-American revision
ist narratives of, 1 06, 1 07, 1 09
Womanhood, True, and African
American women, 1 3 1 ; failure of,
1 07; feminist critique of, 1 09
Woolf, Virginia, 28
Work, as defnitive creed of America,
46-47; and disabled fgure, 46; dis
placement of women from, 1 8, 93 ;
ideology of, 1 6; and links to social
success , 48; moral imperative of, 4 1 ,
5 1 ; value of for liberal individualism,
37; virtue of, 93