During the early twentieth century, public health campaigns taught Americans from all strata of society to recognize that a great threat to the health and prosperity of the South was not an enemy abroad, but rather a bloodsucking parasite living underfoot in Southern soil: hookworm. According to the information widely disseminated by these campaigns, hookworm infection was responsible for the physical “backwardness” of Southern men, women, and children. By linking physical and cognitive symptoms to a parasitic source, the public health campaign introduced a new literary tool for constructing characters who are not “quite right” that continues to be employed in contemporary fiction. This paper focuses on the so-called “lazy man’s disease” (hookworm) and takes the work of William Faulkner as a case study to demonstrate how authors deployed a figurative form of hookworm to construct disabled, poor, and degenerate characters.


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pp. 208-229
Launched on MUSE
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