Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Losing Limbs in the Republic

Disability, Dismemberment, and Mutilation in Charles Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2017), 11, (1), 35–51.

Abstract

The article examines how Charles Chesnutt’s The Conjure Stories spotlights disability through its focus on bodily dispossession and literal and figurative dismemberment. In his stories, Chesnutt depicts characters like Uncle Julius McAdoo—a freedman whose body is susceptible to disability—alongside characters like Sandy and Tenie in “Po’ Sandy” and Viney in “The Dumb Witness”—enslaved people whose vulnerability to deformation and madness make them intimately familiar with the precariousness of corporeality. This essay argues that Chesnutt’s attentiveness to the varied forms of disability stems from his recognition that a portrayal of blackness and disability poses a particular set of challenges for African American authors, especially given the racist assumptions circulating about blackness and degeneracy. By examining the intersections of blackness and disability in The Conjure Stories, the article shows how Chesnutt depicts acquired visible and invisible disabilities via slavery and Jim Crow while maintaining distance from the racist claims that Blacks are innately inferior. Rather than disassociate disability from race, he acknowledges disability to gain a better understanding of how and why particular Black bodies are disabled.

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Author details

Tyler, Dennis