Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other English Language and Literature
My Capstone thesis is a discussion of the various representations of disability in Rodman Philbrick’s children’s book and the film it was made into. In analyzing the characters, relationships between the characters and vernacular used within the text, I came to the conclusion that certain parts of the book, including the inclusion of not one, but two characters with impairments as main characters, serve to engage the book in a complex discourse with various concepts of disability and masculinity.
In order to place Philbrick’s text within a larger discourse of disability studies, I analyze it with regard to theories of disability and its representation. I discuss the use of particular words and phrases to describe Max and Kevin. Although in some instances, the use of negative terms to describe people with disabilities such as “freak” or “cripple” can be empowering and intended to reclaim and redefine these words, the terms can also be misinterpreted and understood as the proper words to use when talking about people with disabilities. Specifically children, the target audience for the book may not realize that these terms are the incorrect ones to use.
In the next part of my paper, I explain the theory of the notion of disability as “incomplete,” and how the combination of Max and Kevin into a singular entity “Freak the Mighty” complicates this idea. When Max and Kevin come together to form Freak the Mighty, they come to embody the image of the ideal, consisting of a sound mind and a sound body that nonetheless remain distinct, which perpetuates the Cartesian theory of duality. This unification of Max and Kevin into Freak the Mighty leads to their acceptance by their peers and adults in their lives, which emphasizes the idea that the boys are not worthy of acceptance and praise on their own and are seen only as a “whole” person when they are together, which calls attention to the social construction of the abled/disabled binary.
The next section of my paper focuses on the heavy representation of the supercrip stereotype in the book. The supercrip is a person with a disability who “overcomes” his or her impairment to achieve normality, which can be critically problematic because disability is not something that needs to be overcome. In the end of the book, Max succeeds in overcoming his learning disability and becomes a writer, while Kevin, who is incapable of overcoming his disability because of its physical manifestations, dies. The fate of both boys enforce the image of the supercrip and the importance placed on overcoming disability. In the penultimate section of my paper I discuss how stereotypes and constructions of masculinity are enforced through Max and Kevin’s characters. In the same way that he is able to overcome his disability, Max grows into a more traditionally masculine character in the end, while Kevin, who cannot represent a stereotypical man physically, dies before he can grow into a man. The final section of my paper deals with the adaptation of Freak the Mighty into a film. I discuss what changes were made and what importance those changes have in terms of the representation of disability both within and outside the text.
Cohen, Courtney, "Becoming a Boy: Disability & Masculinity in Rodman Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty" (2009). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 434.
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