Frank’s frameworks in My Degneration

Dunlap-Shohl’s account has elements of Frank’s quest narrative, but is an example of the failure of the restitution narrative and contrasts the chaos narrative. 

Frank’s quest narrative is closely tied to the notion of a journey. He writes “the idea that illness has been a journey emerges…the journey is taken in order to find out what sort of journey one has been taking” (117). Dunlap-Shohl’s use of metaphors closely compares with this notion of a journey. For example, on page 67 he traces a journey from the “mountains of denial” to the “sea of acceptance”, stating that “I’ve come further than I thought possible in adapting to Parkinson’s disease” (67). Furthermore, he illustrates himself in a boat on the sea, washed up on the shore, and then climbing a mountain. These illustrations conform to Frank’s quest narrative, which depicts illness as a journey. The final page of My Degeneration depicts Dunlap-Shohl riding a bike victoriously along a path with crashed cars and scary monsters. The narration in these final pages is addressed to the readers (“you”) which conforms with Frank’s notion that “Quest stories of illness imply that the teller has been given something by the experience, usually some insight that must be passed on to others.” (118) By illustrating a literal journey, Dunlap-Shohl aligns his account with the characteristics of Frank’s quest narrative. 

According to Frank, “restitution stories no longer work when…impairment will remain chronic” (94). Parkinson’s disease is disabling, progressive, and incurable, automatically causing the restitution narrative to fail. However, this does not dishearten Dunlap-Shohl, as he listens to the Spandex angel to “move it or lose it” (13). Thus, the failure of the restitution narrative causes Dunlap-Shohl to turn to the quest narrative and share his journey of learning to live with Parkinson’s. 

For Frank, “the person living the chaos story has no distance from her life and no reflective grasp on it” (98). Dunlap-Shohl is writing this book several years after he got diagnosed and is able to reflect upon it and even share his experiences with humor. He has a reflective grasp and the very act of telling his story contrasts the conditions of a chaos narrative.

Frank, Arthur. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

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