This essay uses both ethnic studies and disability studies to read two late-nineteenth-century American texts that refer to Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twin entertainers from the country then known as Siam who were popularly called the Siamese Twins. Mark Twain's sketch “Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins” and Thomas Nast's political cartoon “The American Twins” use Chang and Eng Bunker as metaphors to discuss national unity at key moments when that unity appears to be most pressing. While these patriotic visions of unity appear to be inclusive, they are ultimately race-, gender-, and class-specific—implying that they apply only to white, class-privileged men. Moreover, Chang and Eng's status as Asian-raced and anatomically anomalous figures functions strategically in the rhetoric of both Twain and Nast. The twins are alternately rendered racially exotic and domesticated for the Anglo-American reading public. Their conjoinment similarly functions in ambivalent ways that both celebrate unity and suggest discomfort with it.
Cynthia Wu; The Siamese Twins in Late-Nineteenth-Century Narratives of Conflict and Reconciliation. American Literature 1 March 2008; 80 (1): 29–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2007-061
Download citation file: