Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Nicolas Witschi


This study examines the representation of the mentally disabled in the novel for two related outcomes. The first is to prove that the representation of the mentally disabled is not merely a subset of the representation of the disabled in general. This is intended less as a political statement as it is a literary one. Acknowledging and building off the work of writers in disability studies such as David Mitchell, Sharon Snyder, and Tobin Siebers who concentrate on the body of the disabled, this study shows that attempts to represent the mentally disabled are fundamentally different than those who are physically disabled. This uniqueness and complexity of representing the mentally disabled in literature leads to the second outcome of discussing eight different novels (Melmoth the Wanderer, Moby-Dick, The Idiot, The Secret Agent, The Sound and the Fury, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Apartment in Athens, and Flowers for Algernon) where mentally disabled characters are revealed to be vital to the discourse of each respective narrative. These representations may reflect not only historical patterns of cultural values, but more importantly show that the question of the mentally disabled in literature is the question of the structure of each respective novel‟s discourse. The result of this new attention to mental disability leads to new readings of the texts in which mental disability occurs, yet has been previously ignored.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access