Title

Disability and Monstrosity in Transnational Modern Literatures

Titles of the Individual Presentations in a Panel

Monstrous Mothers: A Feminist Disability Reading of The Babadook & The Yellow Wallpaper (RaeAnna Hogle) Of Bondage and Other Demons: Marginalization of the Enslaved and Disabled as Imperial Control in Of Love and Other Demons (Eli Miles) "The coward!": Septimus Smith and the Tragedy of the WWI Veteran in Mrs. Dalloway (Angel Bullington) The Exclusion of the Vampire: Immortality and Disability in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Matt Rood)

Subject Area

Film and Literary Studies

Abstract

Monstrous Mothers: A Feminist Disability Reading of The Babadook & The Yellow Wallpaper

This essay will argue that mental disability—specifically postpartum depression/anxiety—results in the demonization of the mother in the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as in the 2014 Australian film The Babadook by Jennifer Kent. I analyze how both texts present disability as a social phenomenon, one that is constructed as monstrous when it occurs in maternal figures. However, I claim that both texts also critique society’s representation of motherly monstrosity as inherent and as the result of a woman’s ascribed “lack.” I posit that by incorporating conventional gothic elements, such as spatial symbolism, madness, and the doppelganger motif, both Gilman and Kent illustrate that disability as monstrosity is socially produced through the trope of the “bad mother.” While Gilman uses the “woman in the wallpaper” as a representation of the repercussions of denying a woman proper treatment for debilitating postpartum depression, Kent provides a realistic portrayal of mental illness as she uses the Babadook as a representation of postpartum depression itself. Ultimately, this essay demonstrates how women who experience postpartum depression/anxiety are produced as monstrous by society, and that this demonization prevents taking the issue seriously and dehumanizes women with mental illness.

Of Bondage and Other Demons: Marginalization of the Enslaved and Disabled as Imperial Control in Of Love and Other Demons

Throughout Of Love and Other Demons, Marquez weaves slave imagery into Maria’s struggle to depict the crisis of the lowest castes of her stratified society. But we find the connection between infirmity and slavery is more than just symbolic in its metaphorical representation as rabies infection. Marquez illuminates a disturbing and illuminating relationship between the enslaved and the disabled, focusing on the imperial aim to keep those groups of people on the margins of society as a way to maintain power. This paper will show how Marquez constructs the world of the slave and the disabled, underscoring the methods by which the colonizer’s control was fostered by using existing prejudices toward the disabled and slave to blur the lines between the two groups, further othering them into powerless constituencies. The slave and the disabled, Marquez asserts, tracked on parallel courses that both intersected in the colonial society’s gutter, in many cases helped by the imperial government spreading disability among the colonized. By close reading this text, I will show the unique pattern of complementary marginalization among the diseased and enslaved in Marquez’s colonial world.

"The coward!": Septimus Smith and the Tragedy of the WWI Veteran in Mrs. Dalloway

This essay takes a disability approach to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which is one of several British modernist texts that has helped fuel academic discussions regarding the effects of World War I, both for the men who fought in the war and also the women who were left home. Woolf critiques the relationship between disability and the upper class through her feminist narration that creates a double relationship between a broken, disabled war hero (Septimus Smith) and an upper-class woman (Mrs. Dalloway). Despite the fact that he is a war hero, characters in the novel—particularly the doctors and Rezia—strip him of his value and masculinity because of his disability. These characters’ treatment of Septimus represents Woolf’s critique of British upper class norms of able-bodiedness and gender. In other words, through elements such as the harsh treatment of Septimus and the double relationship between him and Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf displays her own disappointment in post-WWI society’s assumptions that being disabled (whether mentally or physically) entails a loss of masculinity and loss of humanity.

The Exclusion of the Vampire: Immortality and Disability in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reimagines a classic mythological monster that exists within the world of the upper class in late 1800’s Britain: the immortal vampire. However, by viewing the downfall of this character, we begin to see how Dorian’s immortality is viewed as a disability. By tying him to other immortal literary and cinematic characters we begin to find similar examples of perceived disability. These disabilities move beyond just the weaknesses already attributed to the famed vampire, but also tie into the social exclusion caused by his ability to weaken and affect other characters who were deemed as able-bodied prior to “following” Dorian. By comparing the vampirical contagion to that of disease and addiction, we can see clearly how this “dark gift” is viewed as weakened and unwanted. Though immortality is often viewed as something mortal beings should desire, as they mythologically sustain everlasting youth and physical beauty, the social fear and exclusion of these mythical monsters tells us more about disability and our social attitude towards it. By looking at the case of Dorian Gray, we can see a character who has been granted longevity, as well as a sense of invincibility, though in the end his exclusion from the aristocracy is caused through true fears tied to our own society. Like the vampire, what makes Dorian appear able-bodied proves to be what is truly his disability: immortality.

Brief Bio Note

RaeAnna Hogle is an English graduate student at the University of West Georgia. She is the College of Arts and Sciences online support coordinator, and works one on one with faculty members to develop, build, and maintain their online courses.

Eli Miles is graduate student in English at the University of West Georgia. His interests include Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and science fiction. He aspires to be a writer and a teacher in some capacity, whether at the high school or college level.

Angeline Bullington is a graduate student at the University of West Georgia. In addition to working as editor-in-chief for the Literary Undergraduate Research journal on campus, she is president of UWG's Sigma Tau Delta. Her areas of interest include British literature, library science, and editing.

Matthew Rood received his BA from UGA in English, and is finishing his MA at the University of West Georgia. He is currently a Teaching Assistant at UWG, and he plans to teach college. His focus is in Renaissance Drama and Creative Writing, and he has two books published online.

Keywords

Disability, Gender, Colonialism, Modern Literature

Presentation Year

2017

Start Date

3-23-2017 3:45 PM

Embargo

11-17-2016

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Mar 23rd, 3:45 PM

Disability and Monstrosity in Transnational Modern Literatures

Monstrous Mothers: A Feminist Disability Reading of The Babadook & The Yellow Wallpaper

This essay will argue that mental disability—specifically postpartum depression/anxiety—results in the demonization of the mother in the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as in the 2014 Australian film The Babadook by Jennifer Kent. I analyze how both texts present disability as a social phenomenon, one that is constructed as monstrous when it occurs in maternal figures. However, I claim that both texts also critique society’s representation of motherly monstrosity as inherent and as the result of a woman’s ascribed “lack.” I posit that by incorporating conventional gothic elements, such as spatial symbolism, madness, and the doppelganger motif, both Gilman and Kent illustrate that disability as monstrosity is socially produced through the trope of the “bad mother.” While Gilman uses the “woman in the wallpaper” as a representation of the repercussions of denying a woman proper treatment for debilitating postpartum depression, Kent provides a realistic portrayal of mental illness as she uses the Babadook as a representation of postpartum depression itself. Ultimately, this essay demonstrates how women who experience postpartum depression/anxiety are produced as monstrous by society, and that this demonization prevents taking the issue seriously and dehumanizes women with mental illness.

Of Bondage and Other Demons: Marginalization of the Enslaved and Disabled as Imperial Control in Of Love and Other Demons

Throughout Of Love and Other Demons, Marquez weaves slave imagery into Maria’s struggle to depict the crisis of the lowest castes of her stratified society. But we find the connection between infirmity and slavery is more than just symbolic in its metaphorical representation as rabies infection. Marquez illuminates a disturbing and illuminating relationship between the enslaved and the disabled, focusing on the imperial aim to keep those groups of people on the margins of society as a way to maintain power. This paper will show how Marquez constructs the world of the slave and the disabled, underscoring the methods by which the colonizer’s control was fostered by using existing prejudices toward the disabled and slave to blur the lines between the two groups, further othering them into powerless constituencies. The slave and the disabled, Marquez asserts, tracked on parallel courses that both intersected in the colonial society’s gutter, in many cases helped by the imperial government spreading disability among the colonized. By close reading this text, I will show the unique pattern of complementary marginalization among the diseased and enslaved in Marquez’s colonial world.

"The coward!": Septimus Smith and the Tragedy of the WWI Veteran in Mrs. Dalloway

This essay takes a disability approach to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which is one of several British modernist texts that has helped fuel academic discussions regarding the effects of World War I, both for the men who fought in the war and also the women who were left home. Woolf critiques the relationship between disability and the upper class through her feminist narration that creates a double relationship between a broken, disabled war hero (Septimus Smith) and an upper-class woman (Mrs. Dalloway). Despite the fact that he is a war hero, characters in the novel—particularly the doctors and Rezia—strip him of his value and masculinity because of his disability. These characters’ treatment of Septimus represents Woolf’s critique of British upper class norms of able-bodiedness and gender. In other words, through elements such as the harsh treatment of Septimus and the double relationship between him and Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf displays her own disappointment in post-WWI society’s assumptions that being disabled (whether mentally or physically) entails a loss of masculinity and loss of humanity.

The Exclusion of the Vampire: Immortality and Disability in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reimagines a classic mythological monster that exists within the world of the upper class in late 1800’s Britain: the immortal vampire. However, by viewing the downfall of this character, we begin to see how Dorian’s immortality is viewed as a disability. By tying him to other immortal literary and cinematic characters we begin to find similar examples of perceived disability. These disabilities move beyond just the weaknesses already attributed to the famed vampire, but also tie into the social exclusion caused by his ability to weaken and affect other characters who were deemed as able-bodied prior to “following” Dorian. By comparing the vampirical contagion to that of disease and addiction, we can see clearly how this “dark gift” is viewed as weakened and unwanted. Though immortality is often viewed as something mortal beings should desire, as they mythologically sustain everlasting youth and physical beauty, the social fear and exclusion of these mythical monsters tells us more about disability and our social attitude towards it. By looking at the case of Dorian Gray, we can see a character who has been granted longevity, as well as a sense of invincibility, though in the end his exclusion from the aristocracy is caused through true fears tied to our own society. Like the vampire, what makes Dorian appear able-bodied proves to be what is truly his disability: immortality.