What can you argue about the cultural relationship between gender and disability through either a close reading of the following passage, or textual evidence from throughout the narrative.  The...

What can you argue about the cultural relationship between gender and disability through either a close reading of the following passage, or textual evidence from throughout the narrative.

 The Crafts’ narrative interweaves poetry, law, anecdote, and other genres within the framework of its central narrative. What is the function and effect of the many rhetorical strategies the text employs? Craft a specific thesis statement that makes an argument about these rhetorical strategies in relation to the text. 

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In regards to your first question, because you have not included a specific passage (or it was removed because of copyright issues), I will talk about gender, disability, and culture in the work as a whole.  The cultural relationship between gender and disability can be explored mostly through Craft's decision to treat his wife as a male as soon as she puts on her disguise.

First, the "cultural relationship" can be easily identified as the culture of a society with the institution of slavery. This is most definitely a slave narrative, and a good one at that.  This is a culture who viewed women (even white women) as week and black women as almost useless.  In fact, only useful for housework, having babies, and light field work.  As a result, we need to discuss how being the gender of female IS a disability for Ellen Craft.  This is the exact reason why she not only becomes a slave master, but a MALE slave master.  For example, look at what she says here:

For I had much rather starve in England, than be a slave for the best man that ever breathed upon the American Continent.

Next, we can look at how, only when a white man is male, is a true disability acknowledged.  There is an anecdote about when the Crafts notice a cabinet maker they are acquainted with on the boat (that will bring them to freedom).  William, as the male slave, is in the slave car.  Ellen, posing as the white slave master, is poised right next to Mr. Collins.  Ellen pretends to be deaf so that her voice doesn't reveal her as a woman (and so Mr. Collins won't recognize her as Ellen, a woman he knows).  Deafness, of course, is a true disability.  Here, culturally, it is "okay" and acknowledged by Mr. Collins that a white male who owns slaves would have that very disability.  Ellen Craft answers Mr. Collins' questions with only one word as a result.

The irony is that, within the culture of the mid nineteenth century, the Craft's cultural "disability" of wisdom is what secures their freedom.  Whites in America considered it a MAJOR disability for slaves to be both educated and wise, it is why slaves were strictly forbidden to read and write.  It is an irony, and specifically DRAMATIC IRONY, that we as readers know this very wisdom is the Craft's strength.  There are so many instances in the novel that show this!  When Ellen pretends to be deaf (as indicated above) is one of them.  The simple idea to have Ellen pretend to be a male slave owner is yet another.  Putting Ellen's arm in a sling (pretending it's broken) so that someone else can sign for her passage is yet another incidence of her wisdom.  Further, noting that the ability to write was what was culturally identified with "wisdom," the Crafts eventually educated themselves to write well.

In regards to your second question, I would like to focus specifically on the rhetorical aspect of poetry.  (Anecdote, of course, is shown well by the incidences I mention within your first question.  Therefore, feel free to take examples from there in regards to short stories within the narrative.)  Take the following excerpt:

United States, your banner wears,
Two emblems, - one of fame,
Alas, the other that it bears
Reminds us of your shame!
The white man's liberty in types
Stands blazoned by your stars;
But what's the meaning of your stripes?
They mean your Negro-scars.

Yes, anecdote is something separate, but I would argue that this excerpt combines both poetry and law.  First, this is a poem written by Craft himself. The imagery of the stripes in the American flag are striking, and more striking than ever before when the red slashes become the scars from beaten slaves!  Further, the "law" here is the actual law of the institution of slavery from which the Crafts are fleeing.  Using a very high form of writing such as poetry proves the Crafts' wisdom in regards to higher level of thought, even in regards to rhyme scheme, imagery, and symbolism.  Therefore, an apt thesis statement (as for which your question asks) might be as follows:

The Crafts use the rhetorical strategies of poetry, law, and anecdote in order to indicate their wisdom in escape for slavery as well as their right to freedom.

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