A (Head) Case for a Mad Humanities: Sula's Shadrack and Black Madness

Hayley C. Stefan


This article calls for literary studies and the humanities to critically engage with the emerging subfield of Mad Studies. Developing alongside anti-psychiatry activism and Disability Studies, Mad Studies critiques how mentally and emotionally disabled individuals evidence the breadth of state violence and discrimination. After tracing a genealogy of Mad Studies, the article offers a model of a Mad literary studies approach by analyzing Shadrack from Toni Morrison's Sula (1973) as a complex figure which resists flattened readings of Black madness. The novel's scholarly history, while rich in Disability Studies readings, makes evident persistent societal neglect of distressed characters—especially distressed characters of color—as peripheral or symbolic. This article pulls from critical race theory, Disability Studies, and trauma studies to form an intersectional inquiry into the material and lived conditions of mad individuals of color. In so doing, the article demonstrates the significant possibilities of this developing interdisciplinary methodology.


Mad Studies; Literary Studies; American Literature

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v38i4.6378

Copyright (c) 2018 Hayley C. Stefan

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