Illness Narratives Analysis

In Kathlyn Conway’s “Introduction”, she argues that illness narratives, rather than focusing on an overly-positive take away, should write more about how difficult living through those experiences can be.  She states that personal stories about illness are much more impactful and helpful to those suffering in similar situations when the author is honest about all of the low moments of their illness, rather than focusing solely on how they benefited from living with illness.  Nancy Mairs’ essay “On Being a Cripple” shows that people with disabilities like Mairs have to face many limits and harrowing experiences, but they can still enjoy their life.  She describes her experiences in a very honest and upfront way, talking about the worst things she’s dealt with as a crippled person, as well as what she appreciates about her life. 

While Conway is against the “triumph narrative”, a type of story that glorifies life with illness or disability, Mairs uses some aspects of the triumph narrative in order to show all her feelings, both positive and negative, about being disabled.  For example, many triumph narratives focus on what the author has gained from living with disability, and Mairs talks about how being disabled has caused her to be much more empathetic.  However, unlike most authors who write about their disabilities, she pairs this positive outlook with frank descriptions that reveal just how awful living with a disability has been for her.  One topic that Conway and Mairs agree on is that they’re both against the media dancing around the topic of how terrible living with a disease or disability can be. Conway shows her opinion with her arguments against the triumph narrative, and Mairs with her contempt for euphemisms like “differently abled”.  Although Mairs never makes any direct comments about triumph narratives, her essay is against the general goal of triumph narratives, which is to glorify the terrible realities of living with a disability or terminal illness.  Although she does reassure readers that she is happy with her life and enjoys it as much as she can, she is very clear about how bad it can be and that she would take a cure instantly if there was one.

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