Monsters: Mother Nature’s Own Eugenics

After encountering the term ‘monster’ in Middlesex and again in our current reading, Mendel’s Dwarf, the deeper implications of the word seem to merit further investigation. Firstly, what constitutes a monster? Although Middlesex equated ‘monster’ with ‘hermaphrodite’, Mendel’s Dwarf appears to provide a much broader definition. While Lambert obviously considers himself a monster and constantly uses similar terms such as ‘freak’ and ‘deformed’, he also chose the same label for other characters with more neutral traits, such as Jean whose contrasting eye colors were her only visible abnormal phenotype. Even though her genetic flaw was exceedingly less abnormal than Lambert’s, do those types of biological mistakes make someone a monster? Surprisingly, I think the answer is yes.

*If you look at the Latin root monere, one of its meanings is “to warn”. Biologically speaking, it would make sense for Mother Nature somehow warn us of genetic mistakes like Achondroplasia through acute physical manifestation, so that we do not attempt to reproduce with those individuals and subsequently weaken the species. Although Jean was said to be a monster more for dramatic effect in this case, Lambert views her abnormal phenotype as evidence of something gone wrong in the genetic process. If you think about it, is that not how we tend to view all people with any type of physical abnormality? While we may support them and attempt not to think negatively about their unique situation, we still have that uneasy feeling that something has gone wrong in the genetic process. I will use myself as an example. As I have mentioned in class, I was born with a genetic disorder known as Ectodermal Dysplasia (ED) and even though I had similar symptoms as a young adult, I still get that uneasy feeling when I see other people who have the disorder. I do not think one could argue that this uneasy feeling is a result of social conditioning, especially since I personally experienced the disorder for almost two decades. Instead, I believe this unintentional mental labeling of those people as monsters comes from an innate mechanism that we all possess that is Mother Nature’s own form of Eugenics. Being repulsed and intrigued by (as one would be in a freak show) people with physical abnormalities, is unfortunate, but necessary.

This idea seems to explain much of Mawer’s emphasis on black and white (the chapter headings), normal and not normal (how he categorizes everyone), and his constant references to genetics when describing people’s physical characteristics. Although ‘normal’ is both subjective and nearly impossible to define, in this context, I believe it means phenotypically normal, since in many cases, phenotype reflects genotype and mistakes in genotype are manifested phenotypically. While this black and white view of normalcy might seem quite harsh, I have no qualms about categorizing myself as abnormal or even as a ‘monster’. Although no organism, including humans, are genetically perfect, they are genetically perfectible. Because I have lived through a genetic disorder, I feel that while this negative view of people with physical abnormalities is harmful to those individuals, it is constructive for the human race as a whole. I, personally, have decided against having children naturally, and while I definitely do not agree with the eugenics of the past (forced sterilization, experimentation, etc.), I do agree with requiring those individuals to undergo genetic testing of various sorts if they are considering having children naturally.  Our world does not need more monsters, especially when we possess the technology to help us avoid it.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster

– Miriah Martin

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~ by miriahgmartin on March 31, 2008.

4 Responses to “Monsters: Mother Nature’s Own Eugenics”

  1. This powerful piece is a nice example of writing informed both by knowledge and personal experience.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, you have some great thoughts. I just wanted to say that I had a slightly different interpretation of the black and white headings. In a genetic pedigree, a circle or square that’s half-black and half-white signifies a carrier. Since Lambert has one normal gene and one achondroplasia one, I thought it might symbolize what his square would be in a pedigree. Even the little dividers between the sections in the chapter are squares that are half-black and half-white. I think that represents him. Just an idea…

    ~ B2

  3. Yes, that most definitely is an interesting and relevant interpretation that I had not considered. However, I am not sure that that would actually be an accurate representation of his square on the pedigree. Despite the fact that Lambert does have one normal allele and one Achondroplasia allele, the Achondroplasia allele is dominant, which clearly makes him affected by the condition. In pedigrees, affected individuals usually have their square or circle completely filled in to signify that they have the condition whereas unaffected carriers are generally the ones with only half of the square or circle filled in. For dominant alleles, the heterozygote and the dominant homozygote would both have their circles or squares completely filled in because they would both be affected (I believe receiving two dominant alleles in that case is fatal so those offspring would also have a line through them to signify that as well). For a recessive allele, the heterozygote would have half the square or circle colored in and the dominant homozygote would have a blank square or circle. In this case, perhaps the squares half colored in should be interpreted more in a literary than in a scientific sense for that reason. If the entire square were colored in black, it might appear as though there was nothing phenotypically normal about him, and he did specifically mention that his brown eyes and other more private parts of his physique were not affected by the disease.

    -Miriah Martin

  4. You’re right – I forgot about that. Oh well, it made sense at the time…

    ~ B2

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