“On Being a Cripple” is placed under the genre of autobiography because it focuses on a significant personal experience in Mairs’ past and draws out the meaning as she tells her story and reflects on her experiences. The key factors of an autobiographical essay include dramatic events or episodes, vivid details and narration, and an interweaving of narration with reflection on and interpretation of the essayist’s experiences (Norton xxvii). This essay focuses on Mairs’ experiences and personal struggles with multiple sclerosis.
Nancy Mairs was born in Long Beach, California in 1943. Throughout her life, Mairs has experienced numerous physical and emotional struggles. Mairs was hospitalized for six months in a state mental facility, suffering from a mix of agoraphobia and anorexia. At around the age of thirty, Mairs was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. However, along with these struggles, Mairs has also experienced great success. She earned the M.F.A. in creative writing (poetry) in 1975 and the P.H.D. in English literature in 1984. “On Being a Cripple” was written in 1986.
In this splendidly written essay, Nancy Mairs tells her story with humor, sorrow, and an unrelenting will to make the best of what she has been given. She will name herself, “I am a cripple. I choose this word to name me” (Mairs 59). In choosing this word she has represented her reality in a way that empowers her. “I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (Mairs 60).
Mairs describes the uncertainty of an incorrect diagnosis of a brain tumor, followed by a correct diagnosis of multiple sclerosis...