Presentation on theme: " ENGL 3840, Adolescent Literature Lecture on Green’s The Fault in Our Stars."— Presentation transcript:
ENGL 3840, Adolescent Literature Lecture on Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
Death and Sickness in YA Literature Up until the mid-19 th century, a great deal of children’s literature focused on death. High infant mortality rates Romanticization of the dead child Focus on the afterlife in many religious communities
Death and Sickness in YA Literature In the 19 th century, the rise of realism in YA literature led authors to turn their focus away from death, dying, and the afterlife to texts that focused more on young people growing up to become model citizens. Sickness became a code for non-normative behavior that had to be corrected or tamed.
Coolidge’s What Katy Did (1872) Katy Carr wants to be a tomboy and to grow up to have a profession, both behaviors that were frowned upon in the late 19 th century. In a frenzy of misbehavior, she swings on a swing that is broken and falls (both an actual fall and a symbolic one). Her cousin Helen, who is an invalid but makes the best of her situation, comes to Katy and puts her through “The School of Pain.” Once Katy has become demure, she is “cured” and marries.
YA Literature, Disability Studies, and Rethinking Norms By the 1980s and 1990s, problem novels for teens moved into new territory, with an increased focus on issues of illness and disability. However, just as Artie and Sybil were treated as aberrations in Blume’s Forever -- as teens whose inability to conform to mainstream definitions of sexual orientation or of idealized bodies rendered them inferior to Katherine and Michael -- characters with disabilities in subsequent problem novels continued to be viewed as individuals who needed to be “normalized.”
“Nothing Feels as Real” In her essay “’Nothing Feels as Real’: Teen Sick-Lit, Sadness, and the Condition of Adolescence,” Julie Passanante Elman discusses the way that disability and illness manifest themselves in YA problem novels of the 1980s and 1990s. She focuses in on authors such as Lurlene McDaniel, whose novels often equate health and ablebodiedness with normalcy.
Elman on Teen “Sick Lit” of the 1980s “Problem-driven narratives quickly became the prevailing literary and cultural form exclusively for teenagers, and one that, through its pedagogical approach to storytelling, articulated a relationship between consuming “healthy” popular culture and developing good citizenship.” (176). “Within this normative framework, good citizenship implied adherence to traditional norms of gender, heterosexuality, ablebodiedness, and emotional management (the ability to express “appropriate” emotional responses to the social world).” (176)
The Depiction of Illness and Disability in YA Literature Elman: “Alana Kumbier argues that YA disease literature portrays ‘sick people’ as objects of inspiration, pity, tragedy, and innocence; as ‘narcissistic’ or duplicitous figures in need of medical and parental surveillance; and most importantly, as ‘vehicles for others’ emotional growth and sentimental education’.” (179).
What Happens When a Teen Reader Contemplates the Illness of a Protagonist? Elman: “Engendering both fascination with and aversion to the ill body of an enfreaked fictional protagonist, teen sick-lit’s unrelenting diagnostic indexing of characters’ symptoms also compels readers to imagine their own bodies as subject to an endless “body project,” encouraging them to self-examine not only for signs of illness (as many fans of the books report doing) but also for other markers of undesirability or abnormality that might be improved.” (180).
How Readers May Respond By focusing on the ill or the disabled, teen “sick lit,” readers are encouraged to scrutinize their own bodies and behaviors. As Elman notes, “Within these stories, disability and disease, as embodied metaphors, become the material basis upon which normal bodies are rendered visible” (180). What Elman means is that many people take ablebodiedness for granted and only SEE it when they are asked to contemplate disability.
Maturity and Illness Elman observes that “characters with disabilities or diseases are often desexualized within dominant culture…” ( 186). In most of these novels, ablebodied individuals are equated with maturity, whereas individuals with disabilities or illnesses are equated with stunted growth or with immaturity. These texts imply that in order to “grow up,” characters need to leave illness behind, or if they are not ablebodied, they need to prove that they can function as “normal” in spite of their supposed difference.
Contemporary YA Lit and Illness In the last decade, a number of authors have attempted to call into question the storyline that equates disability with immaturity or lack. Over the next two class periods, we will consider whether Green is able to portray Hazel and Gus in a way that is realistic, respectful, and thoughtful. How is maturity and illness handled in the text? What factors might lead a reader not only to care about Hazel, but to identify with her? These are only a few of the ways that we will consider Green’s text.
For today, I’d like us to think about the way that The Fault in Our Stars provides a commentary on teen sick-lit and on the way that authors write about young people and illness. The term “metafiction” refers to literature that includes, as part of its structure, a commentary on itself, and John Green uses The Fault in Our Stars to comment upon the teen sick-lit that comprises the genre in which he is working. Apparently, he is not very fond of the genre and offers up his novel as a critique.
From Green’s The Fault in Our Stars “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck. Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer- curing legacy. But in AIA, Anna decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera…” (48).
From Green’s The Fault in Our Stars “The thing about dead people, he said, and then stopped himself. “The thing is you sound like a bastard if you don’t romanticize them, but the truth is…complicated, I guess. Like, you are familiar with the trope of the stoic and determined cancer victim who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even at the very end, etcetera?” (173).
From Green’s The Fault in Our Stars Van Houten pursed his lips. “I regret that I cannot indulge your childish whims, but I refuse to pity you in the manner to which you are well accustomed.” “I don’t want your pity,” I said. “Like all sick children,” he answered dispassionately, “you say you don’t want pity, but your very existence depends upon it” (192).
From Green’s The Fault in Our Stars “A minister walked up and stood behind the coffin, almost like the coffin was a pulpit or something, and talked a little bit about how Augustus had a courageous battle and how his heroism in the face of illness was an inspiration to us all, and I was already starting to get pissed off at the minister when he said, “In heaven, Augustus will finally be healed and whole,” implying that he had been less whole than other people due to his leglessness, and I kind of could not repress my sigh of disgust” (271).