The literary and cultural dimensions of the longstanding US political debate over public versus private health care have been critically underexplored. How did early twentieth-century US writers portray the business of medical care within a stratified US economy? In Robert Herrick’s The Healer (1911), Wallace Thurman and A. L. Furman’s The Interne (1932), and Frank G. Slaughter’s That None Should Die (1941), the problems of inequality, profit, and corruption plague the practice of professional medicine. The writers of these novels do not, for the most part, blame the trouble with care on individual nurses, doctors, or other medical staff. Instead of exposing the power of individual medical practitioners to exploit bodies, these novels call attention to the power of capitalism and inequality to distort and derange the mission of medicine. Yet, the political critiques offered by health care fictions are foreclosed by anxieties about collective reform and government intervention in health care. So, this article asks why some of the most sustained literary treatments of capitalist medicine in US literature ultimately retreat from the structural critiques that they themselves raise.

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