Erin Kappeler, Tufts University
Erin Kappeler is a first year MA student at Tufts University. She earned her BA at Princeton University, where she wrote an undergraduate thesis entitled "H.D.'s Trilogy: A New Annotated Edition with Critical Commentary." Her research interests include modernism, postmodernism, and contemporary poetry.
Cutting Words: The Invisibility of María Cristina Mena's "Marriage by Miracle"
In addition to critiquing the imperialist ways of the United States, "Marriage by Miracle" condemns the racist project of turn-of-the-century cosmetic surgery. Late nineteenth century discourse about race and beauty revived Renaissance notions of the impure racial nose and other perceived racial markers, and in response procedures to Westernize Asian eyes and to hide Irish ears and Jewish noses proliferated. These procedures arose from eugenic discourse and Lamarckian ideas of inheritance, and were "intended to improve or preserve the attractiveness of the individual and thus improve the breeding of the race" (Gilman 12-13). It was believed that by fixing too-small or too-large noses, non-Western eyes, and too-dark skin, surgeons could fix the moral character of so-called inferior races. Because of this association, aesthetic surgeons were often seen as disreputable quacks because they made it impossible for society to identify the corrupt body. Paradoxically, the same discourse that condemned "abnormal" individuals for trying to hide their imperfections also focused on Enlightenment ideals of self-improvement. Aesthetic surgery became part of the pursuit of happiness, a self-actualizing choice by an autonomous individual. The idea of transforming the body was extended to the body politic, and the eugenic project of aesthetic surgery was seen as a way to transform immigrants and racial others into "healthy [members] of the new polis" (Gilman 13-20).