“My Difference Is Not My [Mental] Sickness”: Ethnicity and Erasure in Joanne Greenberg’s Jewish American Life Writing

  • Gail Berkeley Sherman
Part of the Literary Disability Studies book series (LIDIST)


Sherman investigates identity and difference in Joanne Greenberg’s autobiographical novel, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964). Published in the midst of post-Shoah, nuclear anxieties, the novel’s treatment of cognitive difference and ethnic stereotyping have continued relevance in today’s climate of xenophobia and fear of the mentally ill. Unlike the 1977 movie version, Greenberg’s novel foregrounds disability and ethnic identity to repudiate stigma. Sherman draws on Emmanuel Levinas to analyze how Greenberg constructs difference as a precondition to ethical engagement. Through a sympathetic portrayal of a mentally ill Jewish protagonist, the novel reformulates the subject’s relation to Others, casting vulnerability and difference as fundamental markers of humanity. Rose Garden models a search for language that respects cognitive differences and enables ethical exchange.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gail Berkeley Sherman
    • 1
  1. 1.Reed CollegePortlandUSA

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