Reading Response 2: My Degeneration

In the beginning of the semester, we focused a lot on Arthur Frank’s classification of narratives: the restitution, chaos, and quest narratives. Throughout previous classes, we have seen repetitive examples of this division of narratives, most of which fall into more than one category. However, when it came to the quest narrative, it seems to be more difficult to envision a narrative that is completely focused on the accepting the illness and being completely honest to the situation, besides Nancy Mair’s story.  Yet, interestingly enough, Dunlap-Shohl, in his graphic memoir provides us with a thorough and holistic overview of what the quest novel should look like.

Throughout his graphic memoir, Dunlap-Shohl provides detailed images of his experience with Parkinson’s disease. His encounter appears to be what Frank would refer to as a quest narrative, mainly because he is gifted a voice to be the teller of his own story, a critical aspect of what the quest narrative is[1]. Yet rather than be a typical quest narrative that describes one’s illness, Dunlap-Shohl uses his own interpretation and skillsets to showcase his narrative through the use of images. The images offer the readers the opportunity to better understand Dunlap-Shohl’s views of his condition. For instance, Dunlap-Shohl creates a personified version of Parkinson’s and gives the disease its own character[2]. This decision allows the readers to insight as to what Parkinson’s means to Dunlap-Shohl and the way he views the disease. Moreover, by the end of the story, we see that the same image of Parkinson’s is used again. However, rather than in a form to intimidate, the manifested image symbolizes Dunlap-Shohl’s growth in acceptance of the disease and his willingness to fight back. This switch in mentality corresponds with Frank’s belief that in the quest narrative, the ill person surrenders control of health yield, which is precisely what Dunlap-Shohl does.

One major action that differs from Frank’s description of the quest narrative is Dunlap-Shohl’s use of the word memoir. In Frank’s definition, he recalls that a memoir is very gentle and is told stoically without any “special insight”. And while this may hold true to some aspects of Dunlap-Shohl’s graphic memoir, like how he chooses to not linger on the moments of anger, it is not the complete truth. Rather, Dunlap-Shohl offers a memoir that is not entirely stoic. He mentions his battling thoughts with suicide, his annoyance with the disease as it tears at his ability to work, and even the tears shed between him and his wife among hearing about his diagnosis. This is not to say that Frank is wrong in his definition of a memoir, however, it does serve to act as an alternative opinion on the appearance of a quest narrative in a differing form of memoir.

[1] “The Quest Narrative,” 75-136.Frank wounded storyteller ch 6

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

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

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