How titles and snow create a narrative

Before the book even begins the reader is presented the table of contents: here lies the road map of the graphic memoir that equips the reader with what to expect in the pages to come. The organized list of titles is contrasted by the sporadic background of what appears to be snow. Upon a closer examination we can see circles and even letters. The author can be found in the corner: cold and alone. The difference between the uniform types words and the hand drawn letter and circles can show how the unpredictability PD and the comfort of Dunlap-Shohl’s career are combined into one page. The letters and circles seem to be hand drawn, perhaps the author was practicing his letters as his condition progressed. The black border at the top of the page is almost like a transition of what our reality and narrative is to the author’s story. it is like  Without getting into too much of the contents of the graphic memoir, one is able to graph the type of narrative Dunlap-Shohl is presenting.

The first title explicitly tells us that there is a sad beginning, the author is going to experience his diagnosis of Parkinson’s and is experiencing depressing feelings. From the second title, the reader can infer that he is learning to understand and work around the struggles of having PD. There is an educational experience that comes with an illness that changes one’s life. It is like a culture with its own language and mannerisms and one must adapt to it because it takes on a visible role in one’s life. 

In the third chapter, Parkinson’s is personified to create an identity for the disease: separate from the author. Though they are of the same body, they are two different “people”. This can be interpreted as the author not accepting PD as a part of his life and as a part of himself while also understanding that he is still a multifaceted person though he has a debilitating disease.

The fifth chapter’s title along with the chapter’s first page shows a confusing reality. This notion is supported by the graphic novel-esque form: cartoons and drawings are not reality. They mimic reality but are not a complete copy of what is perceived as 3D or real. The prism is not only changing his view on life but also how the author is viewed by others: “it changes the way you perceive things and the way you are perceived” (Dunlap-Shohl 50). It is a combination of the disease, medication, and his personal thought processes that create his reality. 

The last chapter title reminds me of a musical where musical numbers have reprises, or songs that appeared earlier and entering the story once more. Reprise means to repeat, to show up again: which is odd to think that there is another diagnosis for a disease that does not “leave” or have the ability to “come back”. Yet the last title has a more hopeful meaning in a sense that the author is returning to where he started. There is a tone of finality: a final negotiation of the diagnosis and its meaning for the author’s life. 

A restitution narrative does not seem fitting due to the nature of Parkinson’s, there is no return to a life without Parkinson’s once one is diagnosed: “Yesterday I was healthy, today I’m sick, but tomorrow I’ll be healthy again” (Frank 77). They are restored to their former self, pre-illness with the help of medicine. I don’t think any story about Parkinson’s will fit the restitution narrative. “So mark this moment with gratitude and relief, and anticipate the next ten years” (Dunlap-Shohl 96). This quote contradicts the end of what a restitution narrative should end like, it is ten more years of living with Parkinson’s disease.

The titles are giving the reader a timeline which contradicts the chaos narrative which is anti-narrative in a sense. Chaos narratives “are chaotic in their absence of narrative order” (Frank 97). The progression of Parkinson’s is “linear” for everyone though there is a lack of control because there is no cure for Parkinson’s. Events are not by chance, they are predictable in the sense that the patient will progressively get worse and lose their motor skills. There is a sequence of events that Peter Dunlap-Shohl is telling the reader: there is a beginning, middle, and end. 

 From the titles, there does seem to be a journey that is compliant with a quest narrative. “Quest stories have at least three facets: memoir, manifesto, and automythology” (Frank 119). There is a plot, the genre is a graphic memoir, and there is a story acceptance. 


Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015. 

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

The Wounded Story Teller ch. 3 Reading Response

In the third chapter of The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank declares that ill people are called to tell stories about their illness whether or not they particularly want to tell those stories. Stories about illness must be told to medical professionals, families, and friends. However, those stories also can serve as a sort of road map for the ill person to renavigate what their life looks like in different health. Frank describes ill people as a “narrative wreck” as they tell their stories, and states that sometimes this jumble of words and memories can sometimes “be worse than having no story at all”. Not only is it exhausting to live with the physical side effects of illness, but it can also be equally as exhausting to have to repeat what is often asked to be a perfect recount of the illness for different people over and over again. Frank uses a candid tone to express these points through personal and general anecdotes in the first couple of pages of this chapter. Additionally, he uses the metaphor of a shipwreck in his description of illness stories told by those afflicted by the illnesses.

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

Arthur Frank : The Wounded Storyteller Chapter 3 – Illness as a Call for Stories

On page 56, there is a paragraph that talks about how telling stories, specifically a self-story, is a means to “reaffirm” relationships with oneself (who is experiencing illness/suffering from disease) and the listener. Within this paragraph the phrase “reaffirm” or a variation of it comes up seven times. As I was reading this idea of reaffirming connections to others and to the self leads me to believe that the self is always doubting or at stake of being lost. There is a constant battle to keep a connection to the self or others. There is a consuming quality of an illness to take over identities and networks of people. The prefix “re-” means once more or with return to a previous state. In our case reaffirm means to affirm once more and/or that the state of affirmation was lost but now has been restored. Disease is causing constant disruptions to life that need to be addressed on a repeated basis.

This passage parallels a the following paragraphs on interruptions caused by disease on a ill person’s life. There is a repetition of the word “interruption”. I find repetitions very obvious to see but hard to understand.

In order to understand all the jargon and terms we have related to narratives and storytellers themselves, we must have some understanding of their day-to-day lived experiences. Through the repetition of “reaffirm” and “interruption”, we are experiencing the constant questioning and constant stop-and-go nature. The mood seems frantic and distressed. When someone is constantly trying to gain affirmation, there is a nagging and an anxiety of losing something integral. Through repetition, Frank is allowing us to understand (to a superficial extent) the frequent occurrences that an ill person is experiencing. I found myself taking not, and in a sense pausing by means of interruption, each time I came to the word “reaffirm” or “interruption”.

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

The Wounded Storyteller:The Quest Narrative

Arthur Frank’s analysis of the quest narrative makes it an asset of the storyteller’s journey in which the illness is to be “conquered” in a sense of overcoming its biological deterrents and turning them into tools of liberation. In the journey from a wretched state of being to indemnification, Frank attempts to explain that while transformation interrupts the self-story, the interruption also pushes the storyteller to rise to the occasion and recognize themselves as a moral agent, whom of which dissociates from their disease by seeking to self-reinvent.

However, Frank’s development of such a quest draws upon help from Campbell’s three phases of storytelling which help to set up the framework of one’s illness journey. In the definitions of departure, initiation, and return there lies an underground force that is able to influence how each phase works-the concept of seeing one’s self as a hero. “The paradigmatic hero is not some Hercules wrestling and slugging his way through opponents, but the Bodhisattva, the compassionate being who vows return to earth to share her enlightenment with others. What the myths are about is agony. The hero’s moral status derives from being initiated through agony to atonement: the realization of oneness of himself with the world, and oneness of the world with its principle of creation. Suffering is integral to this principle and learning the integrity of suffering is central to the boon” (Frank 119). The hero is any storyteller who steps out of the boundaries of what confines them physically and consequently mentally and places them in a situation where they are not only the dynamic character, but they are able to metamorphose their suffering into something to be shared and a reformation of an imminent pitfall into the contingent body’s source of productivity.

The storyteller becomes their own hero, in which their conquering of the somatic transcends into the inner physique. While the manifesto and the memoir are quest stories that exemplify overcoming battles, the automythology is set in a space in which one must overcome and continue to revitalize. In the case of Oliver Sacks “A Leg to Stand On”, the usage of an automythology best highlights the hero as it is the job of the hero to reform from their own ashes. The setting for such a story is never set in stone as the different markers of change in the person become the “locations” that the story is formed around. Succeeding Sacks incident with the bull, a need to regain the ability to walk is an identification of the need to not let the event define his sense of self but rather rearrange what has left him in constraints. In an account that reflects the quest most profoundly Sacks comments that “a destiny of experience neither given to, nor desired by most men: but one which, having happened would refashion and direct me” (Frank 124). Arthur Frank uses these experiences to interweave the bigger concept of reinvention into an understanding of growth-mindsets being more powerful than illness.

Work Cited:

Frank, Arthur. The Wounded Storyteller: The Quest Narrative-Illness and the Communicative Body.  University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp.119-124.

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