Final Exam – Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, and Lisa Gisselquist

Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, Lisa Gisselquist
Dr. Chris Foss
ENGL 384-02
7 December 2021

Becoming Human: The Progress of Autistic Representation from Of Mice and Men to An Unkindness of Ghosts

Whether consciously or unconsciously, authors tend to write novels and characters reflective of societal views at the time. Books written prior to the American Civil War, for instance, tend to view African Americans in a more derogatory manner than books written afterward. Similarly, novels containing disabled characters have changed their representation as society has learned more about different conditions. As shown through Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Aster from Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, the literary portrayal of autistic-coded characters and how they are treated by people around them is evident of how society viewed said characters at the time the novels were written. A comparison between the two shows how society’s opinion of autism and neurodiverse people has improved in the last eighty years.

Lennie and Aster share many of the same symptoms of autism, as illustrated through their mannerisms. For example, both characters have touch sensitivity: Lennie enjoys touching the fur of soft animals but cannot handle other textures, while Aster dislikes being touched by other people “unless it [is] certain skin” (Solomon 211). Another similarity between the two is a difficulty understanding language subtleties, with Aster not realizing her mother wrote in code until Giselle points it out, and Lennie taking George literally when he uses a figure of speech. Yet, these different portrayals of autistic symptoms indicate how the overall opinion of autism has improved throughout the years. Steinbeck’s characterization of Lennie, with his low perception skills and general naivete, represents the hyperbolic ‘low-functioning’ side of autism. In contrast, Aster has a higher awareness of her disability and her surroundings, portraying a more accurate representation and combating the idea that autism has a ‘high’ or ‘low’ functioning level. Because these similar depictions of neurodiversity, and therefore autistic-coded traits, have been reshaped over time to fit a more accepting narrative, society has gradually learned not to fear or chastise people who do not fit the neurotypical norm.

Of Mice and Men’s portrayal of Lennie reflects negative views of autism from the 1930s by constantly emphasizing how Lennie is a victim of his disorder and, as such, needs to be protected by George, a ‘normal’ person. Throughout the novel, Lennie is portrayed as not having a full understanding of what is going on in any circumstance due to his one-track mind, whether he misses social cues or does not respect personal space. One example of this is when Lennie asks Crooks, the only black farmhand, why Crooks has a separate bedroom from the other farmhands and why he is not wanted in the main bunkhouse full of white men, completely missing the racist social understanding of the time. Hence, when Lennie murders Curley’s wife, the text emphasizes how Lennie killed her unintentionally and that his ‘simple-mindedness’ is the real culprit. Lennie’s only goal was to subdue her and stop her from yelling, evidenced by Lennie outright saying that “I don’t want ta hurt you” (Steinbeck 87). Lennie was “bewildered” when Curley’s wife just lay there motionless because he did not understand that he used too much force (Steinbeck 87). And when Lennie finally realizes that he did something bad, he repeats over and over that “George’ll be mad;” the fact that he does not mention anyone else other than George signifies that he does not comprehend that there could be other consequences for his actions (Steinbeck 87). Because Lennie does not understand the gravity of half of the situations he finds himself in, Steinbeck gives him a caretaker that can understand: George. George and Lennie have been traveling with and looking out for each other ever since Lennie’s Aunt Clara died. However, instead of being equal partners, George is the one that holds all the power in their relationship. George tells Lennie what to do and where to go. George secures Lennie a job on the ranch and tells him to stay quiet during the interview, because “if he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job” (Steinbeck 6). Additionally, George is the one who decides that it would be better for him to kill Lennie than to allow the angry ranch mob to avenge Curley’s wife, without even attempting to tell Lennie what is going on. Since George believes he is essential for Lennie’s survival, he is the one who decides whether Lennie lives or dies, taking away whatever agency Lennie had. This reflects society’s overall negative views on autism at the time. Because the disorder causes decreased cognitive functioning and situational awareness, those on the autism spectrum were considered not only less intelligent than neurotypicals, but also robbed of the life they could have had if they were born a normal child. Therefore, children on the autism spectrum required a guardian to advocate on their behalf, because society believed they could not do it themselves.

Although there are vague mentions of Aster being treated poorly, An Unkindness of Ghosts focuses on the positive reactions to her disability – with a very subtle mention of autism – that reflects the improving opinions of society. Throughout the novel, Aster occasionally mentions people treating her poorly and calling her names. At one point, when someone calls her a “witch-freak,” “she could not contest [the freak part] and let [it] stand” (Solomon 138). This indicates that she had been faced with such bullying in the past. However, despite this, the subtle representation of autism in the book and the reaction of the people close to her shows how far autism representation has come. Her symptoms are only alluded to, not focused on. She is referred to as “Insiwa” or “Inside one” (Solomon 18), a gentle nickname by the people who have observed her. Her Aint Melusine believes that everything the girl says is “the right words to my mind” (Solomon 175). At the very end of the novel, it is Aster who solves the mystery of their location and sends Matilda back to Earth. She defeats Lieutenant, who called her an “aberration,” thus defeating all of those who see her as such (Solomon 232). Though she faced trouble because of being autistic, there are very light mentions of it in comparison to Lennie being constantly mistreated for being neurodivergent. Published eighty years after Of Mice and Men, Aster’s story is a sign of hope for a better future for autism.

While neither of these novels is a perfect portrayal of an autistic character, there is significant progress being made as time continues. Each novel has its own issues, but Aster from An Unkindness of Ghosts is portrayed positively whereas Lennie from Of Mice and Men is not. Steinbeck’s depiction of Lennie reflects a limited understanding of and disdain for autism while Solomon’s portrayal of Aster reflects a new understanding of autism and a hope for a future that fully accepts neurodiversity. While this ideal future may take some time to reach, one may hope that it will be here soon.

Works Cited

Solomon, Rivers. An Unkindness of Ghosts. Akashic Books, 2017. EBSCOhost,
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Covici, Friede, Inc., 1937.

Word Count: 1254

We hereby declare upon our word of honor that we have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. -Kelly Brown, Melissa Madsen, Lisa Gisselquist

Major Project – Melissa Madsen, Kelly Brown, Lisa Gisselquist, and Rebecca Visger – The Impact of Therapy

While the four members of this group project all enjoyed reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, we argue that there was more potential for this book with regards to its disability themes. The Secret Garden focuses primarily on physical disability, with three of its main characters – Mary, Colin, and Mister Craven – being disability aligned, or in the case of Mister Craven, explicitly disabled. These representations become problematic, however, as the book becomes a cure narrative for Colin, and to a lesser extent, Mary. The Secret Garden also begins to engage with mental health as well. Chapter XXVII “In the Garden” opens with the narrator discussing human discovery, and how “In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before” (Burnett). Assuming the setting of the book is contemporary with its publishing date of 1911, the narrator is referring to the discoveries of the 19th century. One of these discoveries is that “thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison” (Burnett). The book does not delve much further than this binary of “good and bad thoughts” and that good thoughts make a “healthy mind.” Burnett was limited by writing in the dawn of the mental health studies, which had only really begun in earnest just three years earlier in 1908 (Mandell). With the benefit of over 100 years’ more research into the mental health field at our disposal, we wish with this project to expand upon themes of mental health already present in The Secret Garden. Through a triad of short creative stories, we examine how the depictions of the mental states of the characters Mary, Colin, and Mister Craven, if written in the modern era in a modern setting, would differ from their original depictions.

Our creative writings are in the format of therapist’s forms and notes describing the interactions and “professional” assessments of two mental health professionals concerning the characters of Mary, Colin, and Mister Craven. This format not only reflects a more experimental approach to form more common in the 21st century than the early 20th, but also how in the 21st century mental health is a specialized field of study and practice, carried out by licensed professionals rather than a general doctor or going wholly unacknowledged. Research for these pieces was carried out on an individual basis by each author, with advice on starting points provided by Melissa’s father, CDR Clifford M. Madsen. Research mainly consisted of investigating potential diagnoses of these characters and how they may be accurately and sensitively represented and written. Melissa’s piece focuses on Mary, addressing the trauma Mary would have felt and experienced after losing both her parents and the servants who raised her to cholera that goes unacknowledged in the book. It also explores the implications to Mary’s character if she had had an adult who understood and supported her as soon as she had arrived at the manor. Kelly’s scenario focuses on the implied mental difficulties Colin experiences that, in the original novel, like his physical condition, are miraculously cured by the garden. Lisa’s work contemplates how a therapist might have reacted to Archibald if he had been able to seek out professional help rather than isolating himself after his wife’s death. (Rebecca is the author of this write-up.)

The goal of this project was not to disparage Burnett’s approach to mental health in The Secret Garden; her inclusion of mental health at all proves she kept up to date with the findings of her time. She was writing from the metaphorical cutting edge, and we wanted to revisit her characters and vision from our new edge. These creative writings reveal not only how far the field of mental health has come since 1911 through acknowledging the toll these characters’ collective life experiences would have taken on their psyches, but also that they would have benefited from more tangible help than the moor air or the secret garden could supply. In writing all that was known about at the time, Burnett revealed how much was left to be explored, and no doubt our work in the future would be viewed similarly. The format of our works and writing from therapist’s perspectives is indicative of, for better and for worse, the heavy emphasis on medicalization mental health receives in our time. Burnett’s work was progressive for her time, and maybe ours is too, but progress will keep going, and our writing will remain right where it is.


From the Office of Dr. Janice Gardner

Patient: Mary Lennox
Age: 10
Treated For: Childhood Trauma
Office: At-Home Visits
Alternate Address: Misselthwaite Manor, The Moor, England

Entry 1
I received a call from Mrs. Medlock last night. I was surprised that her focus was not on my usual patient, but on a girl who moved into the manor a few weeks ago. Apparently, Craven’s brother adopted his niece, Miss Mary Lennox, after an undisclosed event related to her previous home. While Mary’s physical condition had slightly improved since she arrived at the manor, she has developed a disagreeable disposition and a habit of acting out of line, which prompted her maid, Miss Martha Sowerby, to ask the housemistress to call me. Because of the girl’s history, Martha was afraid that the situation would deteriorate without my intervention, so Mrs. Medlock urged me to come to the manor for an introductory visit as soon as possible. I have learned to always trust the intuition of a Sowerby, so I accepted the invitation.

I arrived at the manor this morning to find a stubborn Miss Lennox sitting at the window with her arms crossed. The girl looked thin for her age, and glared at me when I walked into the room. We exchanged stilted introductions, then Mary promptly informed me that she does not want a governess. I promptly informed her that I am not a governess, but a therapist who was called to help her. Mary started to yell at both Martha and I about how she wasn’t crazy and that she didn’t need a therapist! She didn’t need help! She didn’t need anyone!

It took about ten minutes for Martha and I to calm her down. Once the dust settled, I asked Mary why she said she wasn’t crazy. She looked to Martha, who gave her an encouraging nod. Mary proceeded to tell me about what happened: how she heard someone crying in the night, how it became louder in the corridor, how Mrs. Medlock stopped her from going any further…

“I tried to ask Mrs. Medlock what was going on. I tried to tell her about the crying, but she said it wasn’t real. But there was someone crying – there was – there was!”

When I told her I believed her, Mary stared at me in shock; she hadn’t expected that answer. I proceeded to tell her who I am and what I do for a living – help people heal from or deal with mental wounds, trauma, and disorders. I reassured Mary that she can tell me as much or as little as she wants; I am only here to figure out if there is something deeper going on and help her as much as I can if that is the case. However, I made it clear that I would not pry or continue if Mary did not want my help. She looked over to Martha again, who gave her another encouraging nod. She accepted, and we agreed that I would come back to the manor in two days’ time for a proper appointment.

Judging by the minimal information I received from Mrs. Medlock and my meeting with Mary earlier today, Mary may be dealing with unresolved childhood trauma. She’s showing many of the indicators in her demanding and possessive behavior, the way she carries herself, and how she interacts with others. I will not know for certain until I talk with her at our first appointment, however, if this is the case, I may have a technique that can help her.

Entry 2
I came into Mary’s room today to find her waiting for me next to the fireplace. She still seemed hesitant, but more comfortable than before in speaking with me, so we wasted no time and immediately got to work. I started the session by asking her various questions about her life. What is her life like at the manor? Does she have any friends? What is her relationship like with Mr. Craven and the other servants?

Mary hesitated at first, but once we started talking about Martha and the gardens, her eyes lit up and her entire demeanor changed. She started talking about the manor as a positive experience so far and how her favorite activity is walking around the gardens and enjoying the moor air, something that she was not able to do back in India.

Using that answer as a segway, with her permission, I then moved on to asking questions about her past. What is her relationship with her parents? Did she previously live in India? How did she like living there? And what happened in her previous home that caused her to come to the manor?

The answer is not a pretty one. Mary used to live on her parents’ estate in India. As soon as Mary was born, Mary’s mother entrusted her care to an Ayah, an Indian nanny, who kept Mary out of her parents’ sight as much as possible and catered to her every need. However, a few months ago, most of her family’s household fell victim to an Indian strain of cholera, including her parents, her Ayah, and most of the servants. The few who survived forgot about Mary and left her alone in the estate. She was found days later by a group of officers. While she spoke of her experiences, Mary’s face shifted from impartial to fondness to discomfort to something unreadable. The rest of her body became more and more tense as her story went on. Despite her independence, her experiences have affected her more than she’s willing to admit.

Not wanting to get too deep into processing yet, I guided Mary to start talking about our plan of action. I introduced her to EMDR and how the technique allows her brain and body to process trauma by giving her eyes two moving dots to focus on while she reflects on her experience. We discussed at length what memories Mary wanted to target and in which order, and agreed that we would start with her early childhood next session.

In the meantime, I guided Mary in establishing her safe place so that she had a tool to use in between sessions to handle any annoyance or surfacing trauma brought on by the processing. I asked her to think of a place where she feels safe and, if she felt comfortable, to describe it to me. She chose a peaceful, quiet, secluded garden with tall walls made of ivy and many different flowers growing around the area, all connected via a cobblestone pathway. The rose bushes grow the tallest, almost rivaling the ancient trees that provide shelter to birds native to the moor, most prominently red-breasted robins. A wooden door is the only way in or out, and is hidden from the outside world by a wall of ivy that covers the doorway, making it blend in with the rest of the wall. Mary keeps the only key to the door on her person, allowing her to come and go whenever she pleases and unlock the door whenever she likes.

“…I can unlock the door whenever I like…”

Mary paused after that last sentence, as if she was pondering something. She put her hand in her pocket. I could see the realization slowly dawn on her face as the seconds passed. I asked her if she was alright, but she only replied with a simple yes. I decided to not push her any further, not wanting her to lose the progress she’d made so far. I asked her to think of a word that best describes this place in her mind, a word that would trigger her recollection of this place and how good she felt in this moment. Her response: garden.

Entry 3
This house continues to surprise me.

Mary has made excellent progress on processing her trauma. She has successfully processed much of her early childhood; the only events left are her abandonment following the cholera outbreak and her journey to the manor. It has not been an easy road, however. Mary has grown comfortable enough to let me see her most vulnerable side. In our last session alone, she expressed how she felt betrayed by the servants who left her, how she felt angry at her parents for not spending time with her, how she felt so alone in the hut after everyone had left with only a snake to keep her company. Some sessions have ended with warm feelings and closure; others have ended in tears and fluffy blankets. I was informed that this same effect has spread into the rest of Mary’s life; some days she feels joyful while others she just wants to curl up on her bed and cry. Mary has been utilizing her calm place in those moments to help her, and I can see the positive effects of our treatment finally shining through.

Mary and Martha have become close friends over the past few weeks. Mary has become comfortable with Martha helping her through her troubles; sometimes she specifically calls for Martha to be in the room during our session so she can provide moral support. I am also told that Mary has made friends with one of the gardeners and Martha’s brother, Dickon. This is wonderful news; Mary finally has a stable social circle!

At the same time, Mary’s physique has also greatly improved since I first met her. She spends every day she can out in the gardens, building her strength and developing a healthy appetite. She now has so much energy that her positive attitude almost becomes infectious. In our last session, she proudly informed me that she can now do one hundred skips and is aiming for two hundred.

Mary’s vast improvement is wonderful, of course, but it makes me wonder – what exactly is happening in that garden? If there is some sort of secret trick to all of this, Mary is certainly benefitting from these positive effects. And if Mary has shown this much improvement in so little time, is it possible for her to inspire another to do the same?

…I should introduce her to Colin.


From the Office of Dr. Janice Gardner

Patient Name: Colin Craven
Age: 10
Treated For: Conversion Disorder
Office: At-Home Visits
Alt. Address: Misselthwaite Manor, The Moor, England

Entry 1
Progress with the patient has been, regrettably, extremely lackluster. Colin is a bright young boy, but he refuses to even consider what he is capable of because of his mental disability. It truly holds him back, in more ways than one. He claims he will not live to adulthood, and worse, that everyone would be happier if he died. Time and time again I have encouraged him to rethink his fatalistic mindset, but to no avail. Colin simply sees no reason to improve, and should this behavior go on, I will have to end our sessions indefinitely. It would absolutely break my heart, but Craven needs to understand that I can only do so much for an unwilling client.

When I compare Colin’s treatment, or lack thereof, to that of Miss Mary Lennox, I notice a striking amount of similarities between the two. Both have extensive trauma that originates from the hostile environment they were raised in, but unlike Colin, Mary has gradually learned how to open up about what she went through. Colin has not yet found a sense of trust in me, because in his eyes, I am just another adult he can give orders to. That is why I wholeheartedly believe Mary, a child his age, can help. Normally I would never ask patients to get involved in cases besides their own, but I will make an exception, seeing as Colin and Mary live under the same roof. I have no doubt that, if nothing else, they are at least acquainted with one another. I plan to ask Mary for her assistance during our next meeting, and if she takes interest, I will lead her to Colin’s room. From there I will decide whether or not to continue holding group sessions based on how responsive Colin is, but let it be known that this is my last resort. In terms of outcome, I expect the worst, but hope for the best.

Entry 2
Prior to today’s meeting, I have kept my assumptions on the Misselthwaite staff to a minimum. How they interact with Colin, and therefore Mary, is entirely their call, and I am in no position to criticize or reprimand them. Despite that, had I known they were withholding Colin’s very existence from Mary, I would have intervened sooner. No matter how unbearable he is, Colin still deserves respect from the servants. It is unfair, and frankly insulting, to not give him the decency of acknowledgement. Hence why, upon seeing Mary’s confused expression, I realized she’d never heard his name before. I knew what needed to be done from there.

When the two children made eye contact for the first time, they were speechless. Quite literally, in fact: for a good while they just gazed at one another, in complete and utter silence. Finally, Mrs. Medlock broke the tension, asking what I had brought Mary here for. I explained to her what I had planned, and although reluctant, she conceded and left the room. We began with introductions and small talk, and once those fell flat, I prompted Mary to tell Colin about her calm place. That piqued his curiosity, but when he asked if he could visit, his smile faded. “Never mind.” He uttered solemnly. In all my time knowing Colin, never before had he seemed so excited to do anything besides wallow in lament. It was as though listening to Mary helped him forget about his disability, if only briefly. Our session ended shortly after, but not before Colin asked Mary to come back later without me. I can only imagine he wants to hear more about the garden.

Overall, I would call this experiment a success, but that does not excuse the circumstances surrounding it. It is no wonder Colin feels like a burden when everyone in Misselthwaite treats him as such, and the next time I see Craven, I intend to give him a piece of my mind.

Entry 3
Approximately three weeks have passed since I implemented group sessions, and the patient is showing various signs of growth. For starters, we moved our meeting location from his bedroom to the main corridor, and he no longer needs Martha’s help walking between rooms. Colin also has grown closer with Mary, as supposedly he does not “summon” her like he does with the servants. I have reason to believe she is his first real friend, and that is something the grown-ups in his life could never be.

Colin’s bond with Mary seems to have affected his trust in me, for I am the one who brought the two together. He is now a lot more honest during our one-on-one visits, and just recently he began opening up about his late mother. Because it is a very serious topic, I have sworn to keep everything confidential, and Colin may stop at any point if he starts feeling uncomfortable or upset. From what he has told me so far, his mother died shortly after giving birth to him. His father, Craven’s brother, never truly recovered from it, and has been neglecting Colin ever since. “I look too much like her…” Colin said, and did not elaborate any further.

The fact that Colin now feels safe enough to confide in both myself and Mary is a step in the right direction, and at the rate we are currently, I expect he will continue improving.

Entry 4
This will be my last entry for the time being, but that is not necessarily bad. Just the opposite: Colin is finally understanding how much potential he has. Of course, none of this could’ve happened without Mary; she has comforted him beyond our group meetings, and even introduced him to Dickon. I am very grateful to her, as well as Martha, who eventually realized how crudely the servants of Misselthwaite were treating Colin. “What do you suggest we do when Colin is upset?” She privately asked me after a visit. My advice was to not get frustrated: “Give him space to breathe, help him feel better once he calms down, and let him vent out any lingering emotions rather than bottling them up.” She shared my advice with the rest of the household, and by the time I returned for my next session, the hostility of the environment seemed to have declined. As for Colin’s health, he is no longer a pale and sickly boy who hates being looked at. He has managed to step outside the manor at least once or twice, and I think spending time outdoors will do him some good, like it did with Mary. He will likely need more time to learn how to properly walk, but I have recommended a physical therapist for him to try in the meantime.
Colin and I will be meeting on a less frequent basis from this point onward, but I still intend to check up on him at least once a month. Recovery does not happen overnight; for some people it can take years to properly heal, as is the case with Colin’s father. Still, Colin has come a long way since we first met, and I could not be prouder.

…Speaking of Colin’s father, Craven told me his brother is seeing a therapist of his own.


Year: 2021
Patient: Archibald Craven
Treated for: Depression
Psychiatrist: Dr. Peggy Blackwood

I met with Archibald Craven again today. Since his brother recommended him to me for treatment a year ago, we have not made much progress. He continues to struggle with depressive episodes, often leaving home for months on end to escape the reminders of his dead wife and his sick son. Any mention of his son or the garden is likely to trigger a new episode. He has been largely resistant to any attempts to relieve his depression.

During our session today, a strange event occurred. The appointment began as normal. He has been in one of the deepest depressive episodes I have ever seen him in for the last week. Dr. Craven contacted me, concerned for his brother’s safety, and we scheduled this emergency appointment. Archibald was very despondent and barely receptive to talking with me or to my suggestions.
With forward progress halted, I changed techniques and started him on a processing treatment called EMDR. It is typically used with PTSD patients to help them deal with their trauma, but I chose to try it with Archibald since normal methods and medications weren’t working. The goal of the exercise was to keep his eyes occupied with something visual on a screen while his mind had a chance to wander and process ­­the trauma of his wife’s death and the worry for his son’s survival in the ensuing months. I instructed him to pick a particular event to focus on.

At the beginning, he was resistant, as he is to most treatments. Then, he almost seemed to be drawn into the process, his eyes focusing on the two dots bouncing around on the screen as his mind wandered. I heard him mumble something about “a bubbling brook” as his face started to soften slightly. It wasn’t a smile, but it was as close to one as I had ever seen. His shoulders relaxed almost imperceptibly. As our session ended, I tried to ask him about the experience, but he just gave me a sad, half-smile and left the room.
I notified my assistant to schedule another appointment soon. Though Archibald was difficult to pin down with all his travels, I didn’t want this development to be in vain.

Since the breakthrough two months ago, Archibald has continued to progress, with only small setbacks. He has begun attempting the various exercises I put before him. His mental health has started to improve at a slow pace but a still moving pace. He has even begun to contemplate returning home, which is unusual. The last time he returned home, it was only because his brother needed him for a few days and Archibald left as soon as he could. He also admitted that he has stopped seeing his wife as often in every window and face that he sees.

As our session started, I started him on EMDR again. This time, his face started out gentle. After a few minutes, his head started to tilt to one side as if he was listening to a faint voice.

Suddenly, he sprang to his feet.

“Lilias! Where are you?”

Naturally, I was concerned. Hearing voices is a step in the wrong direction. This was a setback rather than the improvement I had been hoping for. Then again, he had never mentioned his wife’s name. He stood there listening for several long moments before speaking again. I waited, not wanting to interrupt his trance-like state lest I injure him. He appeared as one sleepwalking.

“In the garden! But the door is locked and the key is buried deep.”

Perhaps this was a good event after all. He had never mentioned the garden before. I only knew about it from Dr. Craven. Archibald appeared to recover from his dreamlike state and looked around, startled to see where he was. He quickly picked up his briefcase and began searching through it. Pulling out a piece of paper, he read it before returning it to its previous resting place. He grabbed his coat and briefcase, told me farewell, and left.

I must remember to follow up with Dr. Craven shortly. Leaving Archibald alone in such a vulnerable state was unadvisable.

I received the shock of my lifetime today. Since our last visit, I had not seen or heard from Archibald Craven. Dr. Craven had alerted me not to be concerned, but I was still apprehensive about Archibald’s mental state. I had reached out to him on multiple occasions but there was no response.

Today, he walked through the door, as tall as I have ever seen him stand with one arm wrapped around a girl and one around a boy. The boy looked too much like his father for me not to make the connection. However, the boy was healthy. I had been told that he was in imminent danger of death.

A smile burst from Archibald’s face as he shook my hand and thanked me for everything I had done. He flooded me with information about the miraculous recovery of his boy and the wonderful garden. He promised to return in the short future to check in. I watched in a daze as he left with his small family.

I would follow up with him shortly. This recovery was impressive, but I knew that only careful work over the next couple of months and years would ensure its permanence. I would also have to check out this magical garden. If it had cured all three of them, perhaps it could help others.

Works Cited

Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden. Project Gutenberg, 1994,, Accessed 16 Nov 2021.

CDR Clifford M. Madsen USN MC Sports Medicine Physician. Personal Interview. 4 Nov. 2021.

“Conversion Disorder: What Causes It and How Is It Treated?” WebMD, Accessed 15 Nov. 2021.

Dr. Mandell. “Origins Of Mental Health | Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School Of Public Health” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School Of Public Health, 1995,

Dr. Amira Niori. Personal Interview. 12 Nov. 2021.


Word Count: 4620

We hereby declare upon our word of honor that we have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.
-Melissa Madsen, Kelly Brown, Lisa Gisselquist, Rebecca Visger

Melissa Madsen’s Class Summary for Sept. 30, 2021

On September 30, students walked into Room 322 to find a lively pre-class discussion already underway about our first impressions of the texts we had read for that day. The class collectively agreed that the scenes in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) that detail Tom Robinson’s trial sucked; that the theory piece of the day, Nirmala Erevelles’ “Crippin’ Jim Crow,” matched well with the trial scene’s themes; and that there was some general confusion surrounding Jim Ferris’ poem “Normal.” These conclusions foreshadowed our upcoming class discussions. We first analyzed two poems – Ferris’ “Normal” and Sheila Black’s “What You Mourn” – and debated how the two poets gave different representations of disability. We then moved to discuss “Crippin’ Jim Crow” and the various problems surrounding the intersection of race, class, and disability in educational settings, specifically focusing on the school-to-prison pipeline and special education classrooms, before finally connecting our findings to TKAM for a few final thoughts and speculations.

We first analyzed two poems as a large group and discussed how they represent disability, starting off with “What You Mourn” by Sheila Black. Many students agreed that this poem represents disability as a natural part of life, and that any changes made to ‘fix’ that disability are unnatural, life-altering invasions. One student pointed out how Black uses natural imagery like “nesting” in one’s body, “unkempt trees,” and “the familiar lay of the land” to connect the narrator’s disability with positive, warm, and comforting images. Another student pointed out how the phrase “before I was changed” implies that not only did some outside force change her, but that it was against her will. While the doctors believe they’re freeing the narrator by fixing her legs, as evidenced in the first line when the doctor says “Now you will walk straight/on your wedding day,” she instead feels trapped in a body that’s not hers. In giving the narrator ‘greater mobility,’ the surgery took away the body she knew how to handle (possibly since birth) and forced her to relearn basic motor skills, turning the thing meant to free the narrator from her disability into a disabling force itself.

We then moved on to “Normal” by Jim Ferris and debated whether the poem was highlighting the positives of life with disability or critiquing certain aspects of it. On one hand, the poem highlights the separation between the outside world and the narrator and his car-watching buddies. A few students pointed out that the narrators feel like they’re ‘on the outside always looking in,’ watching a fast-paced world go by without them. Ferris emphasizes their separation in the last line of the poem when the narrator describes “a world going on, going by, going home,” but he never goes home himself. None of the cars that he and his buddies identify as they drive past the window stop to take any of them home, as if these men are living in a different world than the folks who drive past. On the other hand, a few other students – including myself – saw this poem as portraying a positive message about enjoying life no matter who you are. When I first read the poem, I noticed that Ferris set up a contrast between the folks playing softball in the field and the narrator car-watching with each of his buddies through establishing the softball players first, then the narrators. This specific placement highlights that the narrator has hobbies like other folks do, just that they’re different than the activities we normally consider. He seems to enjoy car-watching and connecting with other people in the facility. Not only does he casually mention details like how his dad used to have a ’57 Chevy when he spots one drive by, but another student pointed out that he also uses words like ‘soft’ and ‘lush’ to describe ‘the streets as far as I can see,’ implying that the narrator also finds joy in the general aesthetic of the environment around him.

After our lengthy discussion about the car-watching poem, we switched gears to small groups to discuss Everelles’ “Crippin’ Jim Crow.” My small group chose to focus at first on the school-to-prison pipeline, a model that details how if kids (especially those from minority groups) are labeled as troublemakers early on, those labels often become a self-fulfilling prophecy that turns those kids into actual criminals that will get arrested after they graduate. One of my groupmates proposed a solution: if these kids are threatened like this in school and/or they really are acting out, why not just homeschool the kids instead? This question turned our discussion into a debate about the pros and cons of homeschool vs. public school in this scenario. On one hand, it’s the parents’ responsibility to raise their kids and make them behave, so if the parents can’t fix any systemic issues that are causing this problem, they should take the initiative and educate the kids themselves. Besides, homeschool is a cheaper option than public school and it will reduce the chance of going to jail. However, on the other hand, many families can’t afford to homeschool their kids. You need at least one parent to stay home and teach the kids, but if your family is poor and both parents need to work, there’s not enough time, energy, or resources that the family can dedicate towards making homeschool work. Homeschool does not guarantee that a minority kid won’t get arrested and many parents can’t speak up because of the systemic issues, just like we saw with Tom Robinson’s trial in TKAM. Public school also gives kids a chance to not only get away from failing and/or abusive parents, but also helps them develop their social skills and increase their knowledge through interacting with people other than their family. As we went back and forth dissecting each of the pros and cons, we realized that the school-to-prison pipeline is a multi-faceted problem that has no easy solution. One of my group members even theorized that the pipeline may be ‘a midpoint in the solution train’ in that it may have been created to solve another underlying problem. It isn’t a good solution, but it’s also not the worst-case scenario, so it can definitely be improved for the future.

Our small group discussion was cut short when Dr. Foss called everyone to reconvene for our final large group discussion of the day. The conversation shifted to focus on how special education functions as ‘a postcolonial ghetto’ that segregates all the ‘deviant’ bodies from the mainstream population. These classrooms may have been designed with good intentions – to help kids with disabilities actually learn something in school in a supportive environment tailored to their needs – but they may not be as good in practice as they are on paper. Many students shared their own experiences with special education programs, critiquing certain elements like placing the special ed classrooms away from the rest of the student body or focusing more attention on elementary school students versus high school students. We concluded that even designated communities can be forms of segregation, and used this idea as a transition to talk about TKAM for the last few minutes of class. Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are both segregated from the greater Maycomb community, but in different ways for different reasons. Boo Radley is segregated by his family and the community to keep him away from the community at large. Meanwhile, Tom Robinson is segregated from the community because he’s black and he’s a ‘dangerous predator’ because Mayella accused him of raping her. One student pointed out that a lot of what’s going on in the novel follows the statues of ‘the ugly law’ – basically, if something is not pleasing to look at or will disturb any passerby, you must get rid of the thing that doesn’t fit The AestheticTM, including disabled people like Boo Radley and ‘dangerous predators’ and minorities like Tom Robinson.

If this is the case in the novel, one student asked, then is Mrs. Maudie immune to getting worked up over racism, what Atticus calls ‘Maycomb’s usual disease?’ Is Atticus immune? It may be more complicated than that. As a final thought, Dr. Foss reminded us that since multiple factors are at play in the novel, we can’t just focus on race. We need to consider the ways in which race, class, and disability intersect and work together in order to understand and ultimately solve these complex problems.

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. -Melissa Madsen

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