Class on September 28 started with a quiz, in which we answered questions relating to the readings, particularly To Kill a Mockingbird. After the quiz, we transitioned into a large group discussion regarding the novel. Specifically, we talked about the characters of Arthur Radley, who is referred to as “Boo” throughout the novel; Tom Robinson; and Mrs. Debose, focusing on the various ways these characters can be interpreted as disability-aligned. A theme throughout this class period was how different models of disability give us different perceptions on disability and disability-aligned characters, as well as how these different models affect how disabled people are viewed and treated.
When discussing disability-aligned characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, the most obvious one to come to mind is Arthur “Boo” Radley himself. As we discussed in class, throughout the novel, he is built up as a boogeyman figure, practically mythologized in the minds of Scout, Jem, and Dill. A comparison was drawn to the Creation from Frankenstein, though it was also noted that Arthur is given far less physical description than the Creation. The exact reason why Arthur is isolated from the rest of Maycomb is never revealed, but he is treated as a disability-aligned character nonetheless. One symbol repeated throughout the novel is that of the mockingbird, a creature that, according to Atticus, it’s wrong to hurt, because it never did anything wrong. However, another symbol brought up in the large group discussion is Old Tim Johnson, the mad dog that has to be shot and killed for the good of the community. Is Arthur “Boo” Radley the mockingbird or is he the mad dog? This is the question we discussed in large groups, and when we transitioned into small groups afterward, this is one question that question my group tackled.
Another disability-aligned character that comes to mind in To Kill a Mockingbird is Tom Robinson, a disabled black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. His story is central to the plot of the novel, and the mockingbird symbol refers to him as well. While in small group discussion, my group discussed Tom Robinson’s unjust and unfair death, once again harkening back to Old Tim Johnson. Though Tom is not portrayed as “mad” like Arthur or the dog, he is ultimately “put down” like the dog for the “good of the community” once he is falsely convicted of rape. The tragedy of Tom’s death echoes throughout the story, and it brings to light the intersectionality of race, class, and disability, which was also discussed in large and small group discussions.
Finally, the third character that may come to mind in To Kill a Mockingbird as being disability-aligned is Mrs. Dubose, an old woman suffering from morphine addiction. Whereas Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson are made to be likable characters the readers can feel sympathy for, Mrs. Dubose is a bitter, cruel old woman. However, Atticus refers to her as a figure of courage at one point, even comparing her to Tom, saying she was possibly the bravest person he ever knew. In both large and small group discussion, we discussed this line from Atticus, and it was pointed out that this line reads like inspiration porn, in which a disabled person is viewed as inspirational solely because of their disability. Atticus claims that Mrs. Dubose is an inspiration because she never gave up. In large group discussion, Dr. Foss pointed out how, as the character in the novel who most acts as the voice of Harper Lee and delivers the story’s moral lessons, this moment can easily be read as Lee suggesting that a disabled person like Mrs. Dubose may have no future, but they are still brave for continuing to exist despite that.
After our discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird, we moved back into large group discussion to discuss the other major reading for the day, the introduction to Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip, then back to small group discussion to discuss them further. In the final small group discussions of the day, my group discussed Kafer’s introduction and her criticisms of the medical and social models of disability. Ultimately, while Kafer acknowledges that the models are important to some, her criticisms point out that these models are not effective for everyone, and that room must be made for other perspectives. This ties back to the discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird by bringing to light the fact that disabled people are often seen as having unhappy lives purely by virtue of their disability. A person who is not disabled cannot know what it is like to be disabled, and yet able-bodied people continue to make judgments on what kind of lives disabled people can lead.
Class concluded on that note, that disabled people each have their own desires and cannot be boiled down to one model or perspective. Every person is unique, and every experience with disability is as well.
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” Alex Huber.
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