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Archive for the ‘disability and 19th-c lit’ Category

Meg’s Formal Blog Post on the Sound and The Fury

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“She didn’t mean that that’s the way women do things it’s because she loves Caddy
The street lamps would go down the hill then rise toward town I walked upon the belly of my shadow. I could extend my hand beyond it.feeling Father behind me beyond the rasping darkness of summer and August the street lampsFather and I protect women from one another from themselves our women Women are like that they dont acquire knowledge of people we are for that they are just born with a practical fertility of suspicion that makes a crop every so often and usually right they have an affinity for evil for supplying whatever the evil lacks in itself for drawing it about them instinctively as you do bed-clothing in slumber fertilising the mind for it until the evil has served its purpose whether it ever existed or no”

In The Sound and the Fury, Quentin Compson acts as ‘other.’ Stuck in the old, formal ways of the South, he is unable to cope with the changing social views and moral decay around him. He is further complicated by his sister, Caddy, who, because her sexual promiscuity, is also unable to fit into the antiquated Southern world that he would like to keep. In this section of text, Quentin derisively splits the genders, forcing Caddy and women into an ‘other’ role by making the masculine dominant and the feminine submissive (and therefore, victimized). By identifying himself with men and alienating Caddy, Quentin is able to assume roles for both himself and Caddy that identify with an antiquated Southern viewpoint—he becomes martyr, and she victim of her own nature.

In this section, Quentin immediately begins placing himself above Caddy. He first begins separating the genders. The mother and Caddy have their own sentences, and are purely emotional. They deal with love. Furthermore, the sentence is an allowance; he and his Father are simply shrugging off the emotions of women. After these sentences come, “Father behind me” and “Father and I.” Both sentences are fairly physical. They designate their gendered roles—the men to “protect” and the women to be protected. Quentin further separates the genders by intellect. Men “acquire knowledge” and learn. Women, however, “are just born,” which implies animalization. Women merely react; they can’t help themselves. The several mentions of “fertility” also imply a naturalness that gives way to instinct. This allows Quentin to place Caddy in his world; women are weak and can be manipulated. They act on instinct and so if they have an “affinity for evil,” it makes sense that Caddy would be promiscuous, despite the fact that she should be an upstanding, moral, Southern Belle.

The dominance of the masculine is also stressed in this section because it is the masculine voice that the reader hears. Theirs are the opinions that are bestowed; Caddy and the other women are never allowed to speak for themselves, and so they seem further subjugated by their silence.

By making Caddy the ‘other’ in the section—making her a victim of her own evils, Quentin is able to give her a place within his world. All women are immoral. They are instinctual and it is up to the Southern gentleman to protect them from that. Furthermore, because Quentin is the other, stronger gender, that which is physical but intelligent, Quentin is also able to place himself within the old Southern world. He takes on the role of chivalric martyr. By accusing himself of incest, he protects Caddy from herself.

Written by Meg

October 15th, 2010 at 10:28 am

A (Rather Late) Look at The Wound-Dresser

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I know it’s kind of late (like two classes behind), but I wanted to go back to Whitman’s “Wound-Dresser” for a little bit.  Although Whitman isn’t necessarily placing himself as the speaker here, I’ve always read this poem as semi-autobiographical. Whitman was more or less a volunteer nurse in Washington, DC, during a larger part of the Civil War, and the soldiers there affected him for the rest of his life. With disability studies as a viewpoint, then, I’ve been looking at the poem not so much as that the speaker is mentally disabled, but that the disabilities that he’s seen and encountered have so impacted his life that they are his life; he thinks of little else (although now that I’m writing it, this is its own disability).

The beginning of “Wound-Dresser” flip-flops between speakers; the old man, nostalgic and “bending,” and the children of the new age, who, unlike the speaker, are able-bodied. They are a stark contrast to the speaker in that they do not experience the disability of old age, nor are they cowed by the disability of experience. Whitman draws this distinction to show the effect of the war on his person; he is originally ready “to beat the alarum,” but experiencing disability through “sit(ting) by the wounded” has changed him. This distinction also has a profound effect on the initial power of the speaker. The speaker does not control the initial stanzas; he is constantly interrupted. Furthermore, it lacks Whitman’s traditionally powerful and repetitive “I.” These display the degenerating effect that disability has on the Wound Dresser; the younger, less, experienced individuals are ordering him to “paint the mightiest armies of the earth” (rather than the speaker giving orders).

However, he subverts them. The Wound Dresser takes on the prophet persona (utilizing dream imagery), and describes the darker side of the soldiers that the children long to hear about—those that have faced gangrene and amputation. By juxtaposing them against “those armies so rapid so wondrous,” Whitman empowers the disabled soldiers by making them the heroes. They are the heroes to both Whitman and the Wound-Dresser (they are what stay with him “latest and deepest”), and because they lead by example of experience, so too should they be heroes to the younger generation.

Later in stanza 4, Whitman sets apart each healing destination, slowing the ready down with repetitive “to”s. Following this, he litters the rest of his stanzas dealing with wounds with commas and other punctuation. Each action is also set apart on its own line. The reader becomes bogged down with each action; he/she is forced to dwell on each one, just as the speaker does. As a reader, we literally slog through it; this is not unlike what the speaker does in reality. He is constantly living in dreams while “the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on.” The sedated pace is a stark contrast to the earlier stanzas, whose actions are mixed within the stanzas rather than set apart. They are unmemorable; instead of the “successful charge,” the reader dwells on and takes away the pain of disability.

Whitman’s wounded also become “my wounded;” he takes a certain responsibility for the pain and suffering that they have. The authoritative “I” also returns in later stanzas. Through disability, he becomes empowered again. He has a purpose—to restore health to the wounded. This is a stark contrast to the earlier world, one without disabled soldiers, where the Wound Dresser is displaced and perpetually looking to the past. The final stanza is also indicative of the lasting effects of disability upon Whitman’s persona. It should be noted that by the end of the poem, he doesn’t leave; he remains trapped within his memories. He is forever “returning” and “resuming;” it lasts “all the dark night.” For the speaker, the life of Wound Dressing and the impact of disability is cyclical. He will never leave it.

I could probably go on about this poem for pages. What I find interesting too, is that I’ve never necessarily looked at it through the disability lens; I’ve always seen it more as a memoir of sorts, and a testament to how deeply the Civil War impacted Whitman. When I look at it through disability, however, it’s—heartbreaking, really. Anyway, I was curious what you all thought about this poem, especially since we barely touched on it in class. Where are other places where you see disability touching? Is the speaker disabled, or does disability lie only in the realm of the soldiers?

Written by Meg

October 6th, 2010 at 10:39 am

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Travis May

Formal Blog Post


By: John Clare

“ I am: yet what I am none cares or knows”. This is something that I can definitely relate to because at this moment Clare is putting it all out there from the beginning to set the tone of the poem. It gives you a sense that Clare sees the world in a differently light than others and the he perceives his situation as something that nobody cares about. You also get a sense that he is lonely because people around him can not relate to him. “ My friends forsake me like a memory lost.” When I think of a friend, I think of somebody who is there for you no matter what. Somebody you can depend on no matter the how good or bad the situation is and that they are your friends because of who you are and not what you do for them. That is the other reason why I feel Clare is going through this lonely process because if the people who are supposed to be the closest to you “forsake you like a memory lost”, it sheds light on the seriousness. “And yet I am! and live like shadows tossed”. I think Clare is expressing that even though he feels this loneliness and feels rejection that he is still here trying to stand strong. When he says shadows tossed I thought that even though he is still trying to stand firm but he is overlooked and pushed to the side. Clare pours out his strongest feelings in the first part of his poem and he wants the reader to understand what he is dealing with.

Written by mayallday

October 1st, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Sarah’s Formal Blog Post on Dickinson’s Poems

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“Assent, and you are sane” –435

“Ourself behind ourself, concealed —/Should startle most —” –690

Emily Dickinson wrote hundreds of poem throughout her lifetime, so it stands to reason that a few would address disability. The three poems we read for today, 327, 435, and 690 all deal with disability from different viewpoints–327 even deals with a physical disability. For space purposes, I’ll focus on representations of mental disability in 435 (“Much Madness is divinest Sense–“) and 690 (“One need not be a Chamber–to be Haunted–“). In these poems, she argues that although mental disability can be a real and threatening thing, it is largely a social construct.

“One need not be a Chamber–to be Haunted–“, number 690 in her life’s work of poems, deals intimately with mental disability, using metaphor heavily to characterize madness and make the threat of it real. As the title suggests, there can be danger in metaphysical places, that is, the mind can be a battlefield even more so than any “Material Place” could. She lists the things that we fear more than a disease of the mind:  “…a Midnight Meeting/ External Ghost,” “an Abbey gallop,/ The Stones a’chase —,” and “Assassin hid in our Apartment.” In juxtaposition to these scenarios, she describes scenes of attack from one’s own mind, saying that outside attacks are safer by far “Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter —/ In lonesome Place —.” To Dickinson, mental disability is a real and very threatening reality, although we do not know if or to what extent she personally encountered it. To me, the fear in this poem in particular makes me think that if she did not fight it herself, she was at least afraid of madness, possibly for the perceived loss of intellect. It’s important to remember that hardly a handful of her poems were published in her lifetime, and most likely the majority of her poems were not written for any audience outside of Dickinson herself, which make them unusually reliable and unfettered by commercial intent.

435, or “Much Madness is divinest Sense–“, is one of Dickinson’s more well-known poems, and is often quoted. This short gem is all about how we normalize sanity and measure insanity against it. When she writes:  “‘T is the majority/In this, as all, prevails,” she refers to popular opinion being the ruler on which mental disability is measured, and then lays out a clear line between sane and insane. She says that if you agree with the majority and act as society dictates then you are considered mentally healthy (“Assent, and you are sane”). If you do not concur with this strict ideal, you are considered crazy and “handled with a chain.” This has interesting implications on Dickinson’s life–though we do not have evidence that she was certifiably insane, we do know that she lived an abnormal lifestyle and had characteristics that were not as readily accepted by society (i.e. lived alone most of her life, kept to herself, etc.). Whether or not her mental chamber is haunted, she was most likely marginalized and forced into a very small social construct.

These two poems support each other and together make a wider definition of mental disability in Dickinson’s sphere. When we consider possible personal applications to her poems, the experience is a unique one of her honest and un-influenced ideas and fears about disability, particuarly mental disability–that it was real and scary, but still largely socially constructed.

Link for Dorothy Wordsworth poem in print

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While the link that is in our syllabus for the Dorothy Wordsworth poem does not work, here is another link to try. This is the same site Professor Foss found for the audio version, but it is the printed transcript.

Written by kfabie

September 30th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Andrew’s Formal Blog Post on the Similarities between Oscar Wilde’s “Birthday of the Infanta” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

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While reading Oscar Wilde’s Birthday of the Infanta, I could not help but see similarities between the Dwarf and Frankenstein’s monster and how they perceive themselves. Both characters are raised with the constructs of beauty and normality in society, so when they see themselves for the first time, both are horrified. Neither is able to find the acceptance that they seek, nor charity or pity from fellow man.

When the dwarf first sees his reflection in a mirror, he does not realize that he is seeing himself. Instead, he sees “a monster, the most grotesque monster he had ever beheld. Not properly shaped, as all other.”(Wilde 261). When the Dwarf finally realizes he is viewing his own reflection, he falls to the ground and says that “…it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster.”(262). His appearance dashes his hopes of the Infanta loving him, and he dies.

In Frankenstein, the Monster states “when I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Shelley, Ch 13). Notice that the Monster and the Dwarf both instantly realize their bodies are formed differently than “normal” and both instantly call themselves monsters and see that they are Other. Frankenstein’s Monster, when realizing his reflection was true, he felt the “…bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (Shelley, Ch 13). Both the Monster and the Dwarf realize the gravity that their appearance has had and will have on their lives, but while the Monster enacts bloody vengeance against his creator, the Dwarf dies of a broken heart.

What I found interesting was that though both were “monsters,” but because the dwarf was infantilized, but not so cute as Tiny Tim, he was seen as an object of play and laughter, dancing for the Infanta’s party, while Frankenstein’s Monster, because he was so tall and threatening, was instantly demonized. The characters are symbols of disability and their own reactions to themselves, because they have been raised with the societal construct of “normality,” show the reactions society has towards them. Though the birds and lizards do not mind the Dwarf, both of the “monsters” are unable to find real acceptance in society and their authors provide little hope for them to adapt. The characters are unable to even have compassion for themselves.  There is no charity, no pity, nor turkey dinner.

Written by aallingh

September 29th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Kathleen Fabie’s (revised) Formal Blog Post on Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta”

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“When the truth dawned upon him, he gave a wild cry of despair and fell sobbing to the ground. So it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster, and it was at him that all the children had been laughing, and the little Princess who he had thought loved him — she too had been merely mocking at his ugliness and making merry over his twisted limbs” (261-262).

If — as Francis Bacon has suggested — knowledge is power, then the character known only as the “little dwarf” should be a powerful person indeed, for he has knowledge of the forest’s wonders. Yet knowledge also brings the power to destroy. In pursuit of his heart’s passion, the dwarf encounters knowledge he cannot bear. This passage reveals that it is not the knowledge that he is ugly that shatters him, but the realization that he is not loved.

To fully understand his heartbreak, it is necessary to understand the dwarf’s shock at his own reflection. He has led a happy existence. He has lived in the woods, delighting in the companionship of the birds and animals. In spite of apparent human contact, he has “complete unconsciousness of his own grotesque appearance” (252). He has a father, who thinks him “ugly and useless,” and is despicable enough to sell his son, yet this has not brought the dwarf unhappiness (252). He encounters the nobles who have purchased him for the court. Yet none of these human interactions have caused him to be unhappy. Perhaps the dwarf has seen these humans as the deviant bodies. They are giants, not like him. He is small, close to the earth and near the lizards and the flowers that he loves. Imagine the dwarf’s delight when he finally sees people that are just his size, just the right size, someone his own size at last. Imagine his happiness when he hears laughter and sees the children’s smiles and realizes that these are because of him; it is his walk, his bows and his laughter that are making the children laugh.

The dwarf has not been a miserable soul – he has been happy. Now he experiences kindred spirits, friendship, he falls in love. What a glorious place the world must be as he begins to search the castle for his princess. He has pictured them together in the forest, playing and dancing. In his imagination, he has already brought her “tiny glow-worms to be stars in the pale gold of her hair” (257). He will protect her. He loves her.

It is in the headiness of this passion that the dwarf makes his awful discovery, that he is not like the other little people he has seen. The figure he discovers “in the invisible wall of clear water,” is a “grotesque monster” (260, 261). Yet the realization of this hideous creature’s identity takes some time to come to light in the dwarf’s mind. He does not understand why it mimics him. The dwarf mocks it and is frightened by it. It confuses and disturbs him. He comes to loathe it.

At the instant the knowledge comes to the dwarf that he is the monster in the mirror, he also realizes that “it was at him that all the children had been laughing” (262). It is his knowledge of love and his awareness that he cannot be loved that is more than his heart can bear.

Written by kfabie

September 29th, 2010 at 2:18 am

Robert’s (In)formal Blog Post on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Gilman’s imagery of the threatening yellow wallpaper reminded me of producer Guillermo del Torro’s latest film, El Orfanato (The Orphanage.)

(Guillermo del Torro produced the horror film, Pan’s Labyrinth.)

The first connection between the short story and the film was, of course, wallpaper. In the opening credits of the El Orphanato, the hands of very creepy children reach across the screen to rip chunks of blood red wall paper away to reveal darkness. At the end of the opening credits, the children’s arms reach out toward the audience. (Scary, no?)

More relevant to this course and this blog are the topics of disability, disfigurement, infantilization, and institutionalization. In El Orfanato, del Torro presents a horror story full of the ghosts of murdered orphans, one of whom was disfigured. The disfigured boy, Tomás, is hidden from the world. Even indoors and among his peers, he must wear a sack cloth painted with a clown’s face over his head. His ghost returns decades later when Laura, a former resident, buys the orphanage and moves in with her husband and son.

The orphanage itself is located by the sea in a very isolated and lonely area, much like the house in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It is here that Laura’s son disappears, taken by the ghost children. The film plays off of the mysterious horror of Tomás’s disfigurement to shock and engage the audience. When his face is finally revealed in grainy home-video footage, the music and editing and initial shock make you jump.

Disability also comes into play after Laura breaks her leg and is confined to a wheelchair for several frightening nighttime haunting scenes. The film uses her relative immobility to heighten tension during these scenes: can Laura escape?!

Both Tomás’s disfigurement and Laura’s disability (after she recovers and leaves the wheelchair, she still has pain and limps slightly) are associated with the infantilized orphanage setting, the paternalistic indifference of Laura’s husband and local police force, and the otherwordly realm of ghosts and hauntings.

What implications result? Can you think of other instances in which disfigurement/disability are used/exploited by horror films/novels?

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/oXfHOY3CC0g" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Written by Robert

September 29th, 2010 at 12:31 am

Robert’s Formal Blog Post on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. John is a physician, and — perhaps (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?  My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?

In this passage, our unnamed female narrator confides to us the mute isolation of her suffering. That the narrator is nameless fits well with this dehumanizing theme; just as her husband does not validate her claims that she is sick, her existence and value as a human is not validated with a name. John, her husband and her doctor, fails to comprehend the true experience of her “nervous troubles.” He prescribes “phosphates or phosphites…and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise” and she is “absolutely forbidden to do work” (Section 1). Here is quite a good representation of the paternalistic medical model of disability; disability is something to be controlled and to be cured and John’s wife is someone to be controlled and treated. Her opinions are ignored because she both a patient and a woman.

The medical and paternalistic models of disability are outdated, ineffective, and dehumanizing. John, who has “no patience with faith” and who “scoffs openly at things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures,” reduces his wife to a concept and a set of technical symptoms and treatments. These broken models end up worsening her illness and failing outright; she admits herself that “John is a physician and perhapsperhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.” In many instances, doctors simply treat a patient’s symptoms and not the cause of their distress. The medical model, after all, is fueled by materialism and money.

John’s medicinal paternalism also prevents his wife from expressing her solution to her illness. She says that she believes “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (Section 1). She tries to express what she knows will help her; because she is both a patient and a woman, though, her ideas are immediately dismissed. Disability has isolated her, subjected her to her husband’s control, and stripped her of her power and autonomy. She is, in a way, the madwoman in the attic.

She is disempowered by John’s medicinal and cure-oriented mindset and his unyielding paternalism. Ironically, if not appropriately, John’s power fails to prevent his wife’s complete progression into her disability/madness. Here is the oppressive failure of the medical and paternalistic models of disability perfectly personified.

What is one to do?

Written by Robert

September 28th, 2010 at 11:39 pm


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Hello! I have a question for everyone concerning Frankenstein, and I’m curious to see what you guys think. We know Victor’s mother, Caroline liked to visit the poor and help them, no matter how bad a situation they might be in. My question is, if Caroline was alive, do you think she would help the Monster by giving him what he wants (love and affection), or do you think she would be like everyone else (disgusted and run away)?

Written by library1288

September 27th, 2010 at 10:50 am