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The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
What happens to a person's reality when they have a serious illness? This lesson looks at the book ~'The Wounded Storyteller~' by Arthur W. Frank, summarizes it and provides key quotes about the story.

A Change in Direction

Riding bulls was all Billy ever wanted to do. As a youngster he climbed on sheep and tried to ride around the arena, both hands holding tight to the wool. As he grew, he graduated to calves and then small breed bulls. His dad, who had spent time in rodeos himself, was happy to give his son all the encouragement he needed. Finally, Billy entered his first regional contest and rode out the string (an eight second ride). He continued to ride in high school events and thought nothing of the danger that followed him out of every chute.

It finally happened during his second ride of his senior year. He was prepared to live up to the expectations set for him, but the bull had different ideas. Billy fell during the sixth second and wasn't able to get away quickly enough. An errant hoof kicked his head and Billy was never the same. Now Billy deals with what could have been and struggles everyday with what his life has become.

The Wound

Arthur W. Frank, a sociologist, wanted to provide people with a reconstructed look of how people see disease. This is not just a look at diseases which are temporary (the flu, a cold) from which the individual returns to normal functioning; these are wounds that change the individual's narrative. In the book 'The Wounded Storyteller' he says that 'Serious illness is a loss of the destination and map that had previously guided the ill person's life' (1).

He describes the serious, life-changing disease as 'the wound.' This can be any injury or illness that changes the way a person perceives life. The wound is not just physical, it is mental and it is different for each person.

Someone with an acquired brain injury, terminal cancer, or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) has to change the way they think about life. They have become a new person. The wound is the reason for this change. Of the wound, Frank writes 'Words suggest its rawness, but that wound is so much of the body, its insults, agonies, and losses' (98). He is discussing the fact that each wound produces a story.

The Story

Each person, according to Frank, has a story that is conditioned by their wound. His experience with wounded people has taught him that 'The stories that ill people tell come out of their bodies.' (2) Frank believed that people used to just give themselves over to medical professionals through whom the story of illness was told. However, people are reclaiming their stories and understanding who they are through and despite the wound.

What people are realizing, Frank believes, is that though the narrative has changed, the narrative goes on. There is life after the wound has entered the picture; it is just a different life with a different storyline.

Understanding the Story

The story of illness has been called pathography and Frank believes that there are three story types that people tell. These main chapters of the book describe different ways that people develop their stories based on how they relate to the wound.

Restitution Narratives

Some people want to return to where they were before. They want to be the people they were before the wound entered their lives. Frank ultimately sees restitution as a false narrative imposed on the individual by others and rejects it as not telling the whole or true story.

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