Date of Award


Access Control

Campus-Only Access

Degree Name

English, M.A.


English Department


Dr. Timothy Bryant

First Reader

Dr. Timothy Bryant

Second Reader

Dr. David Ben-Merre

Third Reader

Dr. Lisa Berglund


Medicine has the power to create cultural norms, as well as the power to reinforce existing prejudices, drive or dispel hysterias, and find its way into the most private moments of life. Driven by the needs of patients and the doctrines of clinicians and surgeons, medicine is positioned precariously in society. It is both savior and executioner, healer and demon. Medicine has its own system of ethics, dating back to the Hippocratic oath, “to do no harm,” yet is often unreliable in its application of these ethics. Medicine inhabits a peculiar and integral space. It deals with that which is purportedly absolute, inarguable, definitive, and objective. A diagnosis from a doctor is seen as truth, a prescription a cure, and each new discovery often represented as objective and factual. Yet an examination of history and literature displays how this objectiveness is a myth, perpetuated by collective medical establishments that are often self-serving and driven by profits and power. In antebellum America and industrial Manchester, conversations surrounding medicine were pervasive and nuanced, reflecting wider concerns about race, class, economics, and politics. These conversations are reflected in the literature of their corresponding times, books rich with commentary on the existing systems of medicine, and societal responses to the institution. My thesis focuses on this disconnect between idealized medicine and what medicine actually was and represents, demonstrating the ways in which this institution participated in racist and classist ideologies. This thesis focuses on two texts, Sheppard Lee by Robert Montgomery Bird, and Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell.

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