“The mystery of their union”: Cross -cultural legacies of the Original Siamese Twins

2004 2004

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation uses a cultural studies approach to bridge the fields of literary criticism, Asian American studies, and disability studies. I examine the conjoined twin freak show performers, Chang and Eng Bunker---more widely known as the Original Siamese Twins---as historical figure, medical specimen, museum artifact, and literary/visual trope. In so doing, I show how Bunker twins display multiple possibilities for signification across time, space, and cultures, demonstrating that the meanings attached to the anatomically atypical and racially-marked body are necessarily contingent on shifting ideas about medicine, nation, race, gender, and class.

When anatomists at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (CPP) autopsied Chang and Eng Bunker, they encountered competing and discordant ways of interpreting and assessing the body. The multiplicity of possible meanings attached to the conjoined body persist in the artifacts collected from the Bunkers and displayed in the Mutter Museum at the (CPP). Under the inspection of physicians, photographers, and laypeople alike, the Bunker body---as with the on-stage identity of the Bunkers while in life---wavers between its status as on object of knowledge and an object of wonder.

Likewise, the ways in which the Bunker twins and conjoined twins in general are portrayed in nineteenth-century Anglo-American arts and culture and twentieth-century Asian American arts and culture is similarly ambivalent and unstable. Mark Twain's "Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins" and Pudd'nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins and Thomas Nast's "The American Twins" all invoke the Bunker twins as metaphor in championing national unity. Twentieth-century Asian American authors see such unions less enthusiastically due to legacies of exclusion. Traces of the Bunker twins can be read in Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter, Ju Hui Judy Han's "Incidents of Travel," and Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey as figurative devices that prescribe alternatives to U.S.-based models of citizenship.

Indexing (details)

American literature;
American studies;
Minority & ethnic groups;
0591: American literature
0323: American studies
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0631: Sociology
0304: Biographies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Bunker, Chang; Bunker, Eng; Chang Bunker; Cross-cultural; Disability; Eng Bunker; Original Siamese Twins
“The mystery of their union”: Cross -cultural legacies of the Original Siamese Twins
Wu, Cynthia
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542363894, 0542363895
Yaeger, Patricia
University of Michigan
University location
United States -- Michigan
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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