Disability stylistics: an illustration based on Pew in Stevenson’s Treasure Island

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Abstract

This article represents the first illustration of the tools of disability stylistics on a literary text. It does so by examining the representation of blindness in an extract from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island in which the character Pew is introduced.

The article outlines concepts relating to the othering of disabled people before describing two major cultural stereotypes of disability that scholars argue persist to the present day. These are the pathetic and pitiful disabled person and the disabled individual as evil.

Disability scholars have identified language as a key area for the construction and perpetuation of stereotypes of disability. However, scholarship has tended to focus on labels, or discourse with language use considered in context. This article confirms that labels and basic description are crucial elements through a consideration of noun phrases. Nevertheless, the article also utilises the models of transitivity, Speech Acts and im/politeness, and elements of Martin and White’s (2005) framework of appraisal.

The article identifies a pivotal moment in the extract in which Pew is transformed from a potentially (though ambiguous) pitiful figure into a realisation of the evil stereotype and shows that all stylistic frameworks outlined permit these depictions to be analysed.

The article calls for the tools to be used to test the claims that stereotypes persist into the present day. It also concludes that disability stylistics should be tested on representations of other disabilities. It argues that the tools need also to be used to analyse other disability stereotypes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage and Literature
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2022

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