Reading Response 1: Mairs “My Life as a Cripple”

From the beginning of her story, Nancy Mairs dives straight into a controversial discussion of the effects of euphemisms to sugar-coat harsh realities. On page one, she notes that “Some realities do not obey the dictates of language.” In saying this, Mairs sets the tone of her narrative while simultaneously, presenting to the audience a common issue faced in today’s society. Often, it is believed that prescribing harsh situations with words that have a more positive connotation allows for an easier integration into society and softens the blow of the hardship. Yet, Mairs makes it clear that while terms such as “handicapped” or “differently abled” may seem less offensive, they inherently suggest a sense of hopelessness and deliberate disadvantage, which is not always the case (Mairs 1). Moreover, the use of such terminology may not always allow for an easier integration into society. In fact, words like “differently abled” creates the sense of a common normality threshold, one that categorizes people such as Mairs as different from the standard norm. As a result, it furthers the divide within communities as people are now being seen as different than their peers.

Intertwined in her scope of unraveling the hidden truths embedded in euphemisms, Mairs touches on a similar argument of Arthur Frank. In chapter 3 of “The Wounded Storyteller”, Frank mentions the idea that many [North Americans] often glaze over instances where their lives have gone wrong (Frank 63). Yet, Frank mentions that what makes a good illness story is the narrator’s ability to explicitly state the true reality of a situation regardless of what people want to hear. Respectively, Mairs represents a good illness story by opting to choose to be described using the term “crippled”. By choosing to embody a word with a negative connotation, Mairs shows that she is actively ignoring the prettifying of her condition, and instead presenting it as it is: a jarring life altering illness that will not define her. Her ability to stand by the word “crippled” in light of her diagnosis not only gives the readers a better understanding of her situation, but also strengthens their respect for her for being honest about the terrifying experiences faced by multiple sclerosis patients. Evidently, Mairs’s way of representing herself and her illness story allows her to reach into the audience and call them to be witnesses to her narrative.

Mairs, Nancy. “On Being a Cripple.” University of Arizona Press, 1986, 1-10.

Frank, Arthur W. “The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics.” University of Chicago Press, 1997