Feed on

The section In the Infirmary (Summer, 1936) is an especially powerful section of The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in terms of structure, characterization, and plot development. The inclusion of “A Dictionary of Hereditary Defects” and the supplemental images of the orders for sexual sterilization play a crucial role in the development of each of the aforementioned elements.

In prefacing each of the three patient-spoken poems with their documentation, Brown reaffirms the idea that each of the different forms, which reoccur throughout the work, belongs to the voice of same character each time it is used. The allusions throughout the entirety of the text about each patient’s “hereditary defects” are then clarified and affirmed through these same means. Readers are also able to finally associate names with characters. Saving this information for the final couple of sections is an excellent device for defining the characters outside of their name, and forcing the reader to acknowledge each character as a complex human being. Until this section, the only option was to identify them how they identify themselves through their lens of consciousness and how others defined them, generally as sub-human.

Almost more importantly, it is notable that each of the patients who are identified specifically are women. In the larger context of the work, this relates the poet even more closely to certain possibilities of experience she could have encountered in a different time. Collectively, women, still to this day, base a part of their social value in their possibility to reproduce; for many of the featured women in the colony, that did not seem to be an option anyway. This device amplifies a reader’s curiosity to include the suggestion of multiple levels of the corruption of the practice of unwanted sterilization, and the true purposes for the practice.

Leave a Reply