Reading Response 1: Examining “Illness Narratives”- Ch. 1

Brittany Swink

Professor Rivkin-Fish

Professor Thrailkill

ENGL 264-001

26 January 2020

Examining Chapter One of “Illness Narratives”

Upon reading the first passage, Arthur Kleinman immediately challenges our definition of what an illness is, and what defines a disease. Kleinman states how these terms are often used interchangeably, however, viewing the two through an anthropological lens allows one to realize the terms are quite different. Illness is described as an “innately human experience of symptoms and suffering” (Kleinman 3). The illness experience not only negatively or positively affects the patient, but it affects the family and loved ones of those who are suffering, as well. Kleinman’s definition emphasizes the importance of embracing the experience of illness by giving patients a voice via storytelling. The cultural and societal factors regarding illness shape how a patient experiences their suffering, and how the illness is an interruption within their story. Kleinmman further addresses disease as a pathological condition, which is diagnosed by a medical professional. This term focuses on what the underlying biological initiations of illness, or lack thereof. Disease does not incorporate the suffering of the patient via storytelling; the focus lies on the science behind the pathological condition causing the illness experience. Kleinman contrasts illness and disease with the term sickness, which is a social construct of the disease that has infested the patient’s body. These social constructs limit the ability of a patient to tell their story when living with stereotyped diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, which are automatically viewed in a different light- the disease overcomes the story of the patient.


Kleinman, Arthur. The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.