Document Type

Honors Project

Publication Date



Between 1830 and 1940, American fiction is populated by an increasing number of cognitively disabled characters. I explore the relationships between these cognitively disabled characters and the rapidly changing scientific and political environments in which they were created. Drawing on a variety of regionally specific primary sources, I analyze the influences of medical and social conceptions of cognitive disability on works of American fiction containing characters which fit historical labels for cognitive disability such as The Deerslayer, “Life in the Iron Mills,” the short stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, The Sound and the Fury, and Of Mice and Men. Scholarship on these works has neglected historical analysis of their intellectually disabled characters, flattening them into common and unchanging literary tropes. I argue that the way the authors represent these characters is not only dynamic but is also deeply influenced by changing American disability culture.

Level of Honors

magna cum laude




Melissa Range