Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Brunner, Edward


This dissertation explores the effects disability had on the aesthetics of American modernist writers like Langston Hughes, William Faulkner, Amy Lowell, and Ezra Pound at a time when eugenics' insistence on a superior and uniform humanity dominated social thought and how their writings complicate generalized conclusions espousing ablist tendencies in modernist literature, demonstrating that such generalizations can be complicated with careful attention to a broad range of modernist texts. The introduction highlights important ideas and events in the development of disability studies and applies the theory to Emily Dickinson’s “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers” to demonstrate how scholars have largely overlooked even well-known authors’ engagement with disability. The first chapter interrogates Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury to demonstrate that, rather than reify disability, Faulkner questions the idea of norms that imply a stable identity by alluding to and investigating ideas relevant to important events and conceptions of the time such as Henry H. Goddard’s The Kallikak Family and the U.S. Supreme court case of Buck v. Bell. Chapter two’s analysis of Langston Hughes's Fine Clothes to the Jew identifies a tendency in the poetry to enact Tobin Sieber’s concept of disability masquerade to assume but play against the intellectually disabled identity forced on Blacks at the time, rather than attempting to distance himself from the label as disability theorists such as Douglas Baynton posit generally occurs when racialized groups are associated with disability. In the third chapter, Robert McRuer’s concept of compulsory able-bodiedness is identified as a source for Amy Lowell’s fall from popularity and she is considered alongside conceptions of the freak to identify a source for her creativity most evident in the "polyphonic prose" of Can Grande's Castle, her invention to free poets of the restrictions of traditional cadenced verse. The final chapter offers a reading of Pound's Drafts & Fragments that, while highlighting this often neglected collection's importance because of the social awareness brought to it through Pound's twelve and a half years in a mental institution, also explores the limitations of readings that assume that his disabled status guided this poetry. Concluding the dissertation is an analysis of Sherman Alexie's Pulitzer prize winning young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, that demonstrates disability’s continued applicability after eugenics’ fall from grace and highlights Alexie’s use of humor to get readers to stare as a part of considering the serious topics he writes into the novel, instigating what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls the "good stare" that welcomes identification between staree and starer. Together, these chapters attempt to further expand the inclusivity of discussions of modernism and complicate long-standing understandings of disability.




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