Title

Changing the Coastline : Three Short Stories ; and, Perceiving Differently, Respecting Diversity : Representing Disability in Fiction

Date of Award

2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of International, Cultural and Community Studies

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

First Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Abstract

This thesis comprises a collection of three short stories that explore aspects of disability and motherhood and an essay which examines some of the questions and concerns raised by this subject matter. The first two stories centre on a mother and her child who has Down syndrome. The protagonist of the final story acquired a spinal cord injury in a car accident as a teenager, and is the mother of a two-year-old. The events and characters in the short stories were inspired by non-fiction narratives, disability theory, personal experience and informal interactions with people who have a disability or who mother a child with a disability. 'Intensive care' tells of the birth of a child who is diagnosed with Down syndrome. The first part of the story depicts the parents' emotional journey as they deal with the shock and grief of this discovery. At times, Kate, the mother, wonders how she is going to cope and whether she wants her daughter to survive. The second and shorter part refers to the child's hospitalisation because of a serious respiratory infection. This life threatening event causes the mother to realise that she really does love her child, and wants her to live. In 'Family ties', Kate recounts her experience of a holiday at the family beach house with her mother, her brother and his family. Dana is now seven. Kate is frustrated by the way her mother treats Dana, since she has never shown her warmth or affection, but it is only after Dana goes missing that Kate confronts her mother about this. As a result of the conflict, Kate's mother makes a first awkward attempt to reach out to Dana despite feeling uncomfortable about doing so. 'The cyclone' explores the impact of a tropical cyclone on Emma, who has an acquired spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair, and on the mining town in which she lives. Told in first person, the story describes how she and her husband, Cohen, prepare for the cyclone and the conflict that emerges as they try to decide whether to go to a shelter. In the aftermath, Emma and Cohen survey the damage done to their home and community, and Emma organises a barbecue as a way to reach out to others affected by the cyclone. iii The stories explore women's experiences of disability, including the relationship between a mother and her child, while the essay highlights the emotional complexity of that personal experience and the connections and disjunctions between theory and lived reality. The essay outlines current thinking in the area of disability theory, focusing on the key features of the medical and social models and their contrasting conceptualisations of people with disabilities. It discusses some of the ways disability has been represented in fiction, and the way people with disabilities would like to be represented. Importantly, it identifies key points a nondisabled person should consider when writing about disability, and the difficulties that arise when disability theory and personal experience diverge.

Access Note

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