November 13, 2013 (Andrew)

For my second round with the Krew, we again discussed my paper exploring the intersections of race and disability. This time, we looked at the section analyzing Francis Ellen Watkins Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892). The novel follows the Leroy family from a generation before the Civil War, up through the War itself, and the years immediately following. Marie Leroy is a slave who marries her white master, and has two children by him, Iola and Harry. The children are light-skinned enough that they are raised to believe they are white. When circumstances reveal the truth, they get involved in the Civil War and racial activism during Reconstruction. “Disability” appears in the novel as a metaphor of race prejudice, as the “disabilities of color,” and as a permanent condition that limits function, as when Harry is injured in the war. But disability, as a stigmatization of bodily difference, also appears implicitly in two characters: Tom, an escaped slave with unspecified “defects,” and Dr. Gresham, a white doctor with the Union Army, who is missing an arm. Their disabilities function differently depending on their race, but both contrast with the essential able-bodiedness and beauty of the Leroys.

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