This issue will examine the representation of illnesses, diseases and disabilities in African literature (both in the oral and written dimensions). The focus of the study is on literary-diagnoses of pathological conditions, physical and mental. The aim of this study is to highlight how illnesses, physical and psychological conditions, manifest in people, the experiences of the sufferers and their relationship with physicians and care-givers. The essence of this is to humanise modern medical practice in Africa, through the instrumentality of literary imagination.
The study, which is anchored on the analysis of literary texts, argues that the imagination and exploration of human health conditions is a reflection of the social commitment of the writer, whose vision is to reorder society. As a way of conveying social reality, writers explore biological, socioeconomic and cultural dimensions of human health and medical practice. Literature and medicine, as an interdisciplinary study, shows the social function of literature which lies at the intersection of humanities, medicine and social sciences. Since illness and medical experiences are daily encountered in our society, writers’ exploration of such health conditions attests, significantly, to their consciousness of societal depravities and commitment for social and human improvement. For instance, in D. S. Sheriff’s essay, “Literature and Medical Ethics” (1988), he highlights the significance of literature in conveying human health experiences: “Literature is life. Literary classics present and confront us with the problems of daily human experience including medical ones” (688). Literature, given the humanism that informed its content, is characteristically realistic. This verisimilitude is not a mere reflection of social characters— it demonstrates significant suggestions for social improvement.
Therefore, since illnesses and diseases originate from the social space, they are socially constructed. Illness, as we have experienced in the society, usually reshape the identity of the patient or sufferer. A valid example is deafness, which can be a cultural identity. Social reality, which differs significantly from biological or individual cognitive reality, is evident in the creation and construction of social experiences through interaction with societal encounters. The creation of characters that suffer from pathologies— physical or mental— is a creative perspective that is anchored on social behaviours. The writer, in that sense, invented his ailing characters and the incident surrounding their health conditions from the society. The writer’s universe is constructed from the universe inhabited by people of life and blood.