Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

By Tebbe-Grossman, Jennifer | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature


Tebbe-Grossman, Jennifer, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature Christopher Krentz. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Christopher Krentz in Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature looks at deafness in the context of how Americans have formed personal identity. Krentz began to lose his hearing at the age of nine. He found his way to the "deaf community" after college. He learned American Sign Language and came to "proudly identify" as deaf (xi). Writing Deafness illustrates what he means by this in its explication of how deaf authors and nineteenthcentury American canon authors addressed the "hearing line, that invisible boundary separating deaf and hearing people" (p2). He uses the terminology of "hearing line" in ways that are similar to W.E.B.

DuBois' discussion of the "color line."

Krentz initially addresses the work of deaf writers who published in the early 180Os: Laurent Clerc (who co-founded the first school for the deaf in the United States with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet), James Nack (publishing the first book in America by a deaf person), and John R. Burnet (publishing a book on poetry). The work of these authors "allowed deaf people to gain more control over their own representation, to prove their reason and humanity, and to combat prejudice" (26). He emphasizes the struggle of deaf authors to write using the English language "slightly differently" in order that it had a "distinctly deaf tinge that would communicate their unique experience" (45).

In re-examining some of the canon authors of American literature in the early nineteenth century, he argues that just as Toni Morrison looked at the "national literature" from the point of view of how it "negotiates racial identity" he looks at the works of such authors as Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper in terms of how they "effectively construct and probe the hearing line" (64). Krentz chiefly finds that the authors express both horror and admiration for deaf characters and ultimately "associate deafness with unfathomable silence, powerful nonvocal communication, and the vast natural world" (97).

As the nineteenth century progressed, Krentz argues, American writers chiefly employed deaf characters in their works as a way to express their "own anxieties and desires and to attempt to demarcate their identities as hearing people" (100). One example is Lydia Huntley Sigourney, a well-known mid-nineteenth-century poet who wrote on religious themes, expressing horror, condescension, and pity toward deaf characters while at the same time as she esteemed, idealized, and romanticized them. Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Herman Melville, and Sigourney generally incorporated deaf characters in their work as children and women with passive natures. Not developing fully realized adult characters, canon authors objectified the deaf and were never quite able to "humanize" deaf characters. But, Krentz argues they at least "attacked the old notion that deafness is a mark of evil" and "raised consciousness of deaf people in mainstream society" (129).

Deaf authors writing in English expressed concerns about how the deaf experienced a "persistent sense of two-ness" in their efforts to live in American society. They took pride in a deaf community that was able to build and grow schools and associations, support heroic figures who represented the community, and develop American sign language. At the same time, deaf authors expressed the difficulties of living in a hearing world and not being able to withstand "feelings of inferiority and marginalization" (139). Deaf authors suggested a variety of directions that the deaf could take to achieve the best possible outcomes for the community in American society. Laurent Clerc argued that segregated deaf schools were the best strategy. John Jacobs Flournoy argued that deaf people should separate from the larger American society by forming their own communities in a state or territory that would provide "complete segregation until society was more just and accessible" (156). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.