On Being A Cripple Discussion Questions

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

After reading the essay 'On Being a Cripple' by Nancy Mairs, use the following discussion questions with your high school students to help them think critically about the work.

''On Being a Cripple'' by Nancy Mairs

Nancy Mairs is a famous American author who also happens to have multiple sclerosis (MS). In her essay entitled ''On Being a Cripple,'' Mairs writes about her diagnosis and life with the disease. Your students will get an inside look at how MS (or, really, any physical limitations) can impact a person's life and attitude. Use these questions after reading the short essay to help students think critically about what they read and apply lessons from the essay to their own life.

Thinking Critically about the Plot

  • What two subjects does Mairs combine in this essay? The topics are an odd pair- what tools and devices does she use to make the connection?
  • What is Mairs' personal connection to the topic she is discussing?
  • What did you first think when you read the title of the essay? Did it take you aback?
  • What is the tone of the essay? What types of rhetoric and figurative language does Mairs use to create this tone?
  • What other words does Mairs say that people refer to her as? What is her problem with these words? What do you think Mairs would say about the push to be ''politically correct'' in all aspects today?
  • Reread the following quote from the beginning of the essay: ''Society is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles. I would never refer to another person as a cripple.'' Is Mairs using a double standard? What stands out to you about this quote?
  • Read the following quote from the end of the essay: ''What I hate is not me but a disease. I am not a disease. And a disease is not--at least not single-handedly--going to determine who I am, though at first it seemed to be going to.'' This is one of the most profound quotes from the essay. Describe its significance and how you can apply it to your own life.
  • How does the essay conclude? Were you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

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