(In)visible images : seeing disability in Canadian literature, 1823-1974
Truchan-Tataryn, Maria Alexandra
Despite the ubiquity of images depicting disability in the narratives that have contributed to the shaping of Canadian national identity, images of unconventional bodies have not drawn critical attention. My study begins to address this neglect by revisiting selections from Canada’s historical literary canon using Disability Studies theory. I examine eight Anglophone novels selected from the reading requirements list for field examinations in Canadian literature at the University of Saskatchewan. Because fictional representations inform the ways we interpret reality, I argue that the application of Disability Studies theories to a Canadian context provides new insights into the meaning of Canadian nationhood. The study begins with Thomas McCulloch. His Stepsure Letters provides a counter-discourse to the commercialized ethos of his time. The disabled Stepsure exemplifies the ideal citizen. While Gwen, in Ralph Connor’s Sky Pilot, presents a sentimentalized stereotype of disability, her role also foregrounds the imperative of human relationship. Connor’s Foreigner, on the other hand, intertwines disability with ethnicized difference to form images of subhumanity that the novel suggests must be assimilated and/or controlled. Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Emily trilogy echoes Connor’s later use of disability to embody a sinister Other that threatens the British-Canadian mainstream. In Such Is My Beloved, Morley Callaghan realistically depicts the power investments involved in configuring difference as social menace, defying the eugenic discourse of his day. While Malcolm Ross’s As for Me and My House seems to revert to the exploitation of disability as a trope for trouble, at the same time the story subverts convention by failing to affirm normalcy. In Ethel Wilson’s Love and Salt Water disability signifies the complexity and depth of humanity. In Mordechai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, betrayal and rejection of responsibility to Other is the source of human suffering. The marginalized figures of Adele Wiseman’s Crackpot, the last novel examined in this study, defy their abject roles, pronouncing the right of being within one’s difference.Defamiliarizing the function of portrayals of disability brings into consciousness biases that have been systemically naturalized. Exploring constructions of difference reveals constructions of normalcy. Just as interrogating Whiteness uncovers hidden processes of racism, questioning normalcy illuminates a discriminatory ableism. My reading reveals a struggle within the national imaginary between ableism and a desire for inclusive pluralism. Disability Studies readings may help to liberate the collective psyche from tyrannical impositions of normalcy to a greater realization of the richness of human diversity.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorJames-Cavan, Kathleen; Gingell, Susan
CommitteeStephanson, Raymond A.; Regnier, Robert; Parkinson, David J.; Clark, Hilary; Titchkosky, Tanya
Disability Studies theory
Canadian literary history
Eugenics in Canadian literature
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