Anchors on the Ship of Progress and Weeds in the Human Garden: Objectivist Rhetoric in American Eugenic Writings

Gerald O'Brien


The eugenics era was marked by a very pejorative view of persons with disabilities, especially what was labeled as "high functioning" feeble-mindedness or moronity. This perception can be seen by the frequent use of denigrating metaphors in eugenic descriptions of those who supposedly fell into these and related, though vaguely defined, categories. This article analyzes the use of the "object metaphor" in eugenic writings, in which persons with disabilities were described as passive, unsightly, and valueless objects. The paper further analyzes the various sub-themes within object metaphors and how these were also employed to portray persons with disabilities as passive, unsightly, and valueless objects. While the use of the object metaphor has obviously changed over time, it remains one of the most frequently employed pejorative metaphors in relation to persons with disabilities.


Dehumanization; eugenics; object metaphor

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Copyright (c) 2011 Gerald O'Brien

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