Date of Award

5-2017

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Laura Wilder

Abstract

My project, a critical thesis titled “Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Finding Ourselves: How and Why We Teach Our Children to Think About Disability,” investigates how representations of disability within children’s media transcend these texts and contribute to our society’s construction of disabled subjects. By first looking at historical traits of children’s literature in Grimm's Fairy Tales and The Trumpet of the Swan, I establish that the didactic function of this genre reproduces the values of the cultures in which they are written while it also attempts to instill social ideals that will guarantee 'progress.' Representations of disability in these texts teach children how to think about disability and, thus, inform how future generations will treat people with disabilities. My project culminates in an examination of the popular contemporary films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, stories wherein all of the major characters are disabled. In these analyses, I synthesize the fields of cultural, film, literacy, and disability studies to conclude that, when children can identify disability in the films, something that is not in itself guaranteed, they do not see wholly progressive portrayals of disabled subjects; instead, these visual narratives continue to dis-able real people by promoting characterizations that teach viewers to understand disabilities as abnormalities that Other people, mark them as different, and require a cure. I argue that, in order to really overcome prejudice, we must become conscious of what our media actually teaches children about disability.

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