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Esploitier (paper 4)

Sydney's picture


By using something to its full, we engage in the exploitation of that particular object (Oxford Dictionaries). In this context, the word “exploit” sounds harmless. However, when used to describe actions done to a person, the word takes on a harsher meaning. Eli Clare makes his understanding of the word clear in his text: to exploit someone is to act selfishly. For Clare, when done with self-serving desires, exploitation is essentially “pure thievery (Clare 91).”

By opening his story with the destruction of his beautiful childhood safe places, Clare virtually opens his story with a tale of exploitation. Without really thinking twice about the surroundings being destroyed, loggers and other workers tear apart habitats within the forest.  Ultimately, the logging companies desired to keep Clare and the people in his town quiet about the destructive actions, not only exploiting their natural resources, but also exploiting their ignorance. He recounts that, “no one told us, and the logging industry had quite a stake in the silence (Clare 23).” Unfortunately, this silence led to the demolition of the trees so that the workers could take from nature in order to turn a profit.

Along with Clare’s safe places being exploited, his femininity was as well. Growing up, Clare identified as a female. Unfortunately, not only did Clare’s father sexually abuse him as a child, but others in his community did as well. This exploitation aligns with a modern understanding of the word: to “use or take advantage of another person, especially sexually, with little or no regard for their desires or pleasures (Urban Dictionary).” If this is how the word is used as a mainstream understanding, then Clare probably, at least subconsciously if not intentionally, connects the word exploit with this definition. He describes his recovery as, “long periods of time uncovering the memories and working through persistent body-deep terror, grief, and confusion (Clare 35-36).” This description reveals that his being exploited sexually brought him not just physical pain, but severe mental suffering. He regarded his body with terror, a feeling that no one should have to endure. This  feeling should be unnatural for people, yet his being taken advantage of as a small, young girl, marked his body as a confusing entity.

In addition to his struggles as a young female within his hometown community, Eli Clare’s cerebral palsy has given him a different perspective that many people do not understand. He communicates his struggles to the reader through a series of histories that describe how disabled individuals have been exploited, labeled as freaks, deemed as useless. Clare shares that minorities, nonwhite or disabled individuals, were placed in freak shows that traveled the country to showcase their differences. Foreigners, women without arms, dwarfs, and others were placed in these sideshows. They  are prime examples of exploitation: disgusting portrayals of how selfish individuals take advantage of the differences of others for profit and to promote disgusting ideals.

Through these sideshows, people, such as Robert Bogdan,  pushed the ideals of racism and ableism (Clare 90) onto the public. Bogdan described the freak shows in his letters, yet he “refused to situate the people who worked the freak shows as passive victims (Clare 90).” Through this application of the term “to exploit,” one could draw the parallel with the origin of the verb to its meaning in the English language. “To exploit” stems from the Old French word esploitier. In the fourteenth century, this  French verb meant to accomplish, achieve, or fulfill (Online Etymology Dictionary). However, in 1838, the verb was laced with a harsher meaning, “to use selfishly.” This connotation was believed to be given to describe the actions of mine owning companies and how miners were not treated fairly (Online Etymology Dictionary). Miners were often victimized adults and children, forced to work in harsh conditions with little pay (“Child Labor”). Similarly, “workers” in freak shows were treated without respect,  enslaved to a life with little pay and poor living conditions (“Side Show”). Clare gathered these histories to portray how exploiting can turn so serious that people are stripped of their dignity.

After reading Clare’s Exile and Pride, I felt confused about identity. To be honest, my mind was not clearer; rather, I felt more conflicted about my understanding of what identity actually means. Maybe this feeling is what Clare desired for his readers to experience, but I really do not know. In addition to that, I also felt utterly conflicted on what word I wanted to write this paper. I did not feel confident about what I thought any of the words that stood out to me actually meant. However, exploit grabbed my attention most, although I did not know why.

Now, after writing what I believed Clare was portraying through his words, I know that I do not like the work exploit. In society, we exploit so many. We exploit the uneducated in politics by appealing to persuade them without presenting them with all of the facts. We exploit people, both children and adults, in foreign countries to labor for us in order to have inexpensive goods. People exploit others too often; those two examples could be easily transformed into an extensive list, yet it's terrifying to think of how often and easily we allow others to be exploited. I think that our unawareness of exploit’s repulsive meaning is dangerous. Through analyzing Clare’s texts, I feel responsible for more pain than I thought that I caused. This is not necessarily a bad realization. Instead, I feel that I have more power within myself to refrain from being a thief to someones peace of mind as they search for their identity.