A Rhetorical Analysis of Disability, an Article by Nancy Mairs

In Nancy Maris’ Disability, she confronts the mentality that a disabled person is limited and that they are “different”. Her use of ethos, logos, rhetorical questions, diction, and tone are strong and hard-hitting. She makes her points clear and her dry humor entertains but makes the reader uncomfortable at the same time. She makes it clear from the beginning that pathos and pity are not what she wants. She wants to hit you in the gut with her words and put her point across straight.

Mairs uses ethos to prove her point very clearly right from the beginning when she explains that she has been searching the media for representation of herself. This is synecdoche because when she speaks of herself she really means the whole population of disabled people that are not represented in the media. She then goes on to explain, “I know I’d recognize this self because of certain distinct…features…woman crippled with multiple sclerosis…”(paragraph 1). She also uses it when she says, “Take it from me…”(paragraph 4). She’s telling the reader that she knows these problems. This story is her everyday life, just like it is for thousands of other people. This allows the reader to trust her point of view because she is in the shoes of the people she speaks of. Her ethos allows her claim, that disability is an “abnormality” in society, to be taken seriously because of her obvious knowledge of the subject.

Logos and rhetorical questions are not used very profusely but are still present when she admits that she asked a local advertiser as to why disabled people were not more present in his advertisements. The man came back simply with, “We don’t want to give people the idea that our product is just for the handicapped.”(paragraph 5). This doesn’t make sense to her and she infers that the real reason is that handicapped people cannot be represented as “normal” because society does not accept it that way. Being handicapped is abnormal and people fear it. She then goes into using rhetorical questions to get under your skin. She sounds almost sarcastic as she asks, “But tell me truly now: If you saw me pouring out puppy biscuits, would you think these kibbles were only for the puppies of the cripples? If you saw my blind niece ordering a Coke, would you switch to Pepsi lest you be struck blind?”

It’s completely irrational to believe that this would happen in reality, but she does this to make the point that, even though it would never happen, we fear disability. In admitting to asking a local advertiser, she showed that she had true and solid facts from the source to relieve any doubt that the reader may have and to ensure that she wasn’t just giving empty statements. Mairs’ diction and tone were very striking. She uses the word “cripple” in multiple places and it is hard-hitting because it is not a “socially acceptable” way to refer to a disabled person. The reader feels uncomfortable because of the connotations of the word that she chooses to use.

Another example of diction was when she describes normal everyday things that she does, “I menstruate, so I have to buy tampons. I worry about smoker’s breath, so I buy mouthwash. I smear my wrinkling skin with lotions. I put bleach in the washer so my family’s undies won’t be dingy. I drive a car, talk on the telephone, get runs in my pantyhose, eat pizza.”(paragraph 4)

These words are all the same in the aspect that they are all considered “normal”. She does all these things and she is disabled. She points out that she would be “the advertiser’s dream” and that she is “Ms. Great American Consumer”. Yet she finds no trace of herself in the media. She uses everyday products just like any other person, but because society does not accept her as normal, then she cannot be displayed in the media as normal. Her tone was very prominent in the beginning and it dripped with sarcasm. This was especially evident when she explained that the only representation she had seen was a melodramatic soap opera in which the disabled woman “succumbed to [the doctor’s] blandishments and fled the taxi into his manly protective embrace.

No escape to Kenya for this cripple.”(paragraph 2). She was criticizing the soap opera for portraying the disabled as helpless people who cannot fend for themselves. She immediately becomes serious in the following paragraph where she continues her criticism and is obviously disappointed that this is what represents her in the media. Her tone and diction portray a roughness about her, and that she does not intend to sugar coat her words and use euphemisms to soften the blow. She wants a hard-hitting piece that will make her reader uncomfortable and make them realize that it’s not fair to discriminate the disabled as a completely different race when they live just like the rest of us, with a little extra hardship along the way.

In the end, Mairs’ essay proves to be very purposeful and shines a new light on the disabled population. She calls us to accept disability as a normal part of life because we will all, at some point in life, become disabled as well. She suggests that accepting it will make it easier to see it as an obstacle that, although great, does not take over a person’s life. Everyone does the same things, disabled or not, and she wants to be integrated into society, not as a helpless woman with multiple sclerosis, but as an ordinary woman who does ordinary things.

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