... And Rarely Just Illness

Chapter 24

By Cooper Creech

English 2


Block 3

Explanation of Concepts

The chapter that I picked were about looling at illness in literature in more than just a physical form but more in a social form or in a symbolic form.

Students should learn this concept to use it as a tool when reading. If students learn this concept they will be able to see the books they read in different ways and pick up on different morales and themes throughout.

Concept 1: Multiple meaning illnesses

  • Certain illnesses often have multiple meanings in the stories of which they are portrayed. Illnesses such as paralysis might be symbolic of government oppression on the people and how they are paralyzed under their rulers or how they are unable to function due to a fear of something.
  • " From this little story the condition of paralysis grows into one of Joyce’s great themes: Dublin is a city in which the inhabitants are paralyzed by the strictures laid upon them by church, state, and convention."(Foster 112)

  • Different diseases can be tricky in how they present their meanings. Often diseases will hide their true meanings inside of a hard shell of physical symptoms that the victim is exhibiting.
  • One book that exhibits this is My Sister's Keeper. It can be seen throughout the book in how the cancer which is slowly killing Kate is also slowly killing Kate's parents marriage and is slowly destroying their family.
  • When reading a text make sure to look deep into each symptom and how the symptom effects the characters as a group and how it effects some of the less important characters.

Concept 2: Every time period has its own diseases.

  • History shows that in each period of time there has been a certain disease or couple of diseases that are written about more than others. For instance from the 1700s throughout the early 1900s TB was the biggest and most written about disease in the literary world. That is because it is an easy disease to write about and is almost beautiful in writing unlike, say, smallpox which was equal if not even more common in those times, but was very gruesome and was an awful way to die. In the 1900s through the present cancer has taken the lead fallowed by AIDS in literature. Like TB cancer is the most common and is literately beautiful but AIDS is ugly and slightly less common.
  • " Smallpox was hideous in both the way it presented and the disfigurement it left without really offering any constructive symbolic possibilities."(Foster 113)

  • " It should be picturesque. What, you don’t think illness is picturesque? Consider consumption. Of course it’s awful when a person has a coughing fit that sounds like he’s trying to bring up a whole lung, but the sufferer of tuberculosis often acquires a sort of bizarre beauty. The skin becomes almost translucent, the eye sockets dark, so that the sufferer takes on the appearance of a martyr in medieval paintings."(Foster 113)

  • When you read a book which speaks about disease make sure to make connections between the date and the disease.
  • A good example of time period diseases is Edgar Allen Poe's The Mask of the Red Death where he talks about Consumption which was Tuberculosis. The poem is set in 1842 and much of Poe's writings, which are set in the early 1800s. In My Sister's Keeper they talk about cancer which is a more present disease.

Concept 3: Diseases are sometimes nameless.

  • In older texts they may not give a scientific term for the disease, they may call it The Fever or Consumption. If the author calls a disease something like that make sure to look at the symptoms and try to connect them to a disease's medical name. This is usually because in older times no one knew what the diseases were or what they were called because science hadn't discovered them yet. Another reason they could change the name could be simply to be metaphorical or make the disease flow better into the story.
  • " When Henry James has had enough of Daisy Miller and decides to kill her off, he gives her Roman fever or what we would now call malaria."(Foster 114)

  • When reading a book that does not specify what the disease is called medically make sure to look at the symptoms and connect them with present day illnesses.
  • When looking at the book The Plague you can see that the author, Albert Camus, uses the term Plague to represent Bubonic Plague which devastated Europe in the 14th century. Even among people it was called Black Death rather than Bubonic Plague, so it wasn't only in literature.

Work Cited

Foster, Thomas. "How to read literature like a proffesor." ed.Edim.co. N.p.. Web. 12 Nov 2013. <https://ed.edim.co/24924650/howtoreadliteraturelikeaprofessor_1_.pdf?Expires=1384280998&Signature=WpG3vbqnoJSSfSK8Lpg8ybFR5EkDjzgHJaxdq8Z74b4w5xyGSkvJ3nwnKW9ocbrv8bGmgJuyyA009N7EY4tho1QmVDy9KUHS-u~aiBVkshe-cHpMqzjDVEk5QWamsfZ-~cy8SEBH-tqDpfyrAdyahr63SjgPxlX3wlFqon041yo_&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJI74L7OXO7CNJA7Q>.

Picoult, Jodi. My Sister's Keeper. 1. Washington Square Press, 2005. 448. eBook.

Poe, Edgar Allan. "THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH." http://xroads.virginia.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov 2013. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/masque.html>.

Camus, Albert. 1. Vintage Books, 1947. 308. Print.

Activity: Popcorn quiz and reading activity

  1. Get in groups of 2s or 3s.
  2. Look through the text I give you and find the 3 concepts.
  3. I will call up 3 people and quiz them with 1 random question each. (If they answer correctly they will get candy).
  4. Those 3 people will each choose one person who hasn't been chosen and I will quiz them and it will go on until everyone has been quizzed.


All together all though disease is an awful thing it can also be a beautiful and mysterious thing when used correctly in literature and even in theater. Disease is usually just another tool in literature that authors use to symbolize other actions in the story. They like to use it as a cloaking device to create mystery or excitement in a story and it usually helps the reader to connect better to the characters in the book.