Hooked: Public Health, Parasites, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the US and Global South Restricted; Files Only

Larson, Stephanie Allison (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/3f4626498?locale=en


This dissertation proposes an exchange between the fields of literature and public health by turning to the case study of a microscopic, bloodsucking parasite known as hookworm. During the early twentieth century public health officials and the press presented hookworm as the source of everything "backward" about the US South by linking physical, moral, and mental characteristics to a parasitic source. By using public health archival photographs, records, newspaper articles, and correspondence to analyze fiction by William Faulkner, James Dickey, Harper Lee, Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston, Walter White, Gabriel García Márquez, and Jamaica Kincaid, I argue that the US hookworm campaigns influenced the representation of disability, class, citizenship, and race in twentieth-century literature. I then use my findings to make two broad claims. First, public health methods, archives, and discourse can be adapted for literary analysis. My claim works to broaden the current trend in the health humanities, which continues to privilege literary analysis focused on clinical medicine, disease, and the individual rather than health and the community. Second, I argue that studying representation in fiction can help public health students, practitioners, and researchers better understand the broad impact the field has on culture far beyond keeping a community well. Specifically, teaching public health professionals to recognize and critically engage with the ubiquitous narratives underlying the field may, I suggest, lead to more thoughtful and ethically engaged public health research and interventions. 

Table of Contents

Introduction: Parasites Lost: Mark Twain, Satan, and a Public Health Approach to Literature: 1

----Satan, John D. Rockefeller, and Hookworm: 7

----The Wormy Work Ahead: Chapter Summaries: 23

Chapter One: "the land of the nine-fingered people": “hookworm-y” Literature and Visually Cued Disability in the Work of William Faulkner and James Dickey: 29

----William Faulkner Shot a Doctor: The Material and Figurative in The Sound and the Fury, The Hamlet, and Light in August: 43

----Dueling Banjos, Deviant Bodies: (Re)visualizing Figurative Hookworm in Deliverance: 61

----Conclusion: 92

Chapter Two: Three Generations of Ewells are Enough: Hookworm, Eugenics, and Fictions of the Salvageable Citizen in the Work of Harper Lee and Erskine Caldwell: 94

----Salvageable Citizens: Public Health, “White Trash,” and Eugenics: 99

----A Study of Contrast: The Ewells v. The Cunninghams in To Kill a Mockingbird: 103

----“sores of social life”: Tobacco Road As a Eugenic Family Study: 129

----Conclusion: 146

Chapter Three: “the hookworm blues:” Figurative Hookworm and Sickly Social Bodies in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston and Walter White:        148

----Victims and Vectors: Racism and Hookworm Discourse: 151

----“what awful gang of crackers is that?” Hookworm and Race in Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee: 157

----The “race problem” and the Equalizing Power of Disease in Walter White’s The Fire in the Flint: 181

----Conclusion: 197

Chapter Four: Evil Animes and Honorable Ruptures: Hookworm and Parasites in the Global South and the Work of Gabriel García Márquez and Jamaica Kincaid: 199

----Savage Doctors and Harsh Treatment: Hookworm Poetry and Immigrant Exclusion: 205

----The Poetry of Angel Island: 214

----“germs, parasites, and disease in general” in Annie John: 219

----“evil animes”: Moving Beyond Hookworm in Love in the Time of Cholera: 232

----Conclusion: The Very Hungry Hookworm: 254

Conclusion: As the Worm Turns: Future Directions for Literature and Public Health: 256

----Turn of the [Hook]worm: 256

----Literature in the Public Health Classroom: 260

----Works Cited: 264

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