62 Section 2 .
The Selfin Social Context
The Damaged Self
Disability undermines taken-for-granted as-
self. Robert Murphy finds that his dis-
ability diminished the self he had created, the
position to which he had risen, the person he
had become, arzd the life he Izad accrued. Like
most middle-class Americans, iV111rphy had
never envisioned himselfas disabled. Like at-
titudes toward death. he had viewed disability
as a misfortune happellillg
not to himself. That misforwlle stains alUl
strains interaction for both people with dis-
abilities and the presumably unimpaired. i'vlur-
phy's hopes were symbolized by his defining the
wheelchair as only a convenience il1 convales-
cence. People with disabililies often view per-
manent reliance on a wheelchair as a stark
a diminislzed self and devalued
status. 111e wheelchair is something "needed"
rather than merely "used." Not surprisingly,
they rely on other or no assistive devices until
long past the poim
safety, or they may rem
a chair because rentals symbolize impenna-
Murphy captures the perverse reversal
guilt and shame that people with disabilities
routinely endure. Seldom responsible for their
conditions, they are punished by having them.
Other people's responses shame them for being
disabled and that, in tum. elicits their guilt for
being different. Murphy voices the silent agony
feeling demasculinized and being sexually
limited in a society that values male initiatiVE
control, and performance. Stigma, shame, an!
demasculinization all contribute to disem
bodiment, especially when a man loses sensa
tion, movement, and proprioception. Murph·
reveals the existemial comradiction ofdissoci
ating from his body while simultaneously be
ing imprisoned in an overriding idemity as dis
abled. Although Murphy dissociated himsel.
from his body, he could not dissociate himseli
his disability as its continuing presenCt
in his dreams attests. I1ze result
and corztradictirms? Anger. Existential anger.
And then exile.
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning
from uneasy dreams he found himself
transformed in his bed into a gigantic in-
sect. He was lying on his hard, as if it
were armor-plated, back and when he
lifted his head a little he could see his
domelike brown belly divided into stiff
.... What has happened
to me? he thought.
was no dream.
rom the time my tumor was first diag-
nosed through my entry into wheelchair life,
I had an increasing apprehension that I had
lost much more than the full use of my legs.
I had also lost a part of my self.
was not just
that people acted differently toward me,
which they did, but rather that I felt differ-
ently toward myself. I had changed in my
own mind, in my self-image, and in the basic
conditions of my existence.