Megan Sonner

By William & Mary

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Freakery, Celebrity, & American Ideology

I examine a 24-page pamphlet from 1847 in Swem's Special Collections about General Tom Thumb, a dwarf who worked with PT Barnum in freakshows, a cultural institution from the 19th to the mid-20th century. The pamphlet details Thumb's European travels and reception by common audiences and royal courts alike through European newspaper articles. The second half of the pamphlet, likely sold as a souvenir after Thumb's return from abroad, is a songbook composed of songs he performed and songs/poems written about him.

I will analyze this document through the lenses of dis/ability studies as well as marxist, racial, feminist, and postcolonial thought to examine Stratton's celebrity life and the interaction of American ideologies with his extraordinary body. I center discussion on the performative nature of Stratton's freakery and the agency with which he acted as one of the US's wealthiest and well-known men.

The pamphlet's agenda seeks to mitigate potentially threatening implications of a secular American dream narrative, using a hero freak who defines sociopolitical status.

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