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Special Issue Articles

Vol. 3 No. 1 (2021): Im/Mobilities in American Culture

'But I'm not even in a wheelchair': Dis/ability, Im/mobility, and Trauma in Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life

April 29, 2019


Even after decades of disability rights activism, Americans with disabilities are restricted in both their geographical and social mobility. Access to mobility still depends overwhelmingly on monetary factors, thus linking disability, poverty, and restricted mobility, both in terms of education and employment, and everyday mobility. In my article, I examine the implications of this connection by discussing the representation of disability, trauma, and im/mobility in Hanya Yanagihara's novel A Little Life (2015). I analyze how the decline of both the ambulatory mobility and mental health of the novel's main protagonist, Jude St. Francis, is represented in A Little Life. In a second step, I connect these representations to the novel's notion of upward social mobility as well as to its spatial organization. Furthermore, I discuss how Jude's mobility is restricted by his trauma and the forced institutionalization that he experiences in spite of his financial and professional success as well as his social advancement. My analysis highlights how Hanya Yanagihara's narrative of "a protagonist who never gets better" (as the author has put it) creates a highly problematic representation of disability that is linked to death and loss of humanity. This enables me to shed light on the way A Little Life also undermines American narratives of linear progress and continual improvement through its resistance to therapeutic resolutions and its representation of disability. Thereby, I show how American individualism obliterates stories of disability and poverty from its narratives of social and geographical mobility.


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