Reading response 1: “On Being a Cripple,” Nancy Mairs, section starting from “First the matter of semantics” and ending in “It is the word I use to name only myself.”

In this portion of her personal essay, Nancy Mairs contrasts the semantics between “crippled”, “disabled”, “handicapped” and “differently abled”. She is intent on explaining her choice of “crippled” and more so on emphasizing that it had been her choice in coming to this conclusion. By doing so, Mairs indicates a successful quest narrative in which she has been able to redefine herself through the exploration of semantics—as a woman who has been able to “face the brutal truth of her existence squarely.”

At the same time, Mairs explores how society’s use of semantics regarding people diverging from the norm tends to hide/deny the true experiences of illness/poverty rather than treat them as equal. She makes a pointed criticism when she says that some realities don’t “obey the dictates of language”—that the shift for more inclusive terms has also been to create a societal hegemony, a way to escape the uncomfortableness of encountering those perceived to be as less fortunate. Her denial using such words, then, takes on the larger responsibility of raising a voice for a better understanding of people with similar disabilities.

This portion is also unique in that the level of self-confidence and determination is unmatched throughout her essay. She takes her stand as a “cripple,” and dominates this three paragraph portion with phrases like “I choose,” “I made the choice,” “I want”. Through the “I _______”
format, Mairs puts forth her most confident self as if to establish it as her most dominant identity, the self she would like her readers to remember. At times, her over-justification of “cripple” and her almost forceful positivism reveals the underlying chaos narrative: despite her success in creating a new self, she is constantly struggling to keep her other uncertain, hateful, and hurting selves at bay.

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