The class started with a quick, and surprising, reward quiz before we jumped into the topics of class discussions. Our discussions for this class period focused on the ways we can, and should, see disability in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and Kafer’s political/relational model for disability studies.
We started our discussions about “To Kill A Mockingbird” in large group. Dr. Foss started the discussion by asking the class if we should view Arthur Radley, or as the kids call him “Boo Radley”, through a disabled lense. The class felt it may not be right to think of Arthur as a disabled character because we have never seen his character. Some felt that because the book doesn’t say he is disabled, we shouldn’t assume he is because we have no evidence to support this. All we know about him are the rumors that people say about him. Because he is not there to disprove the rumors about him, he is almost forced into a disabled lense. We also briefly discussed whether Arthur could be compared to The Creation in “Frankenstein”. Both characters can be seen as kind or benevolent until they are judged by other people, but Frankenstien is judged by his appearance and Arthur is judged because no one sees him.
We then moved our discussion into small groups where we mainly talked about Tim Johnson and the idea of racism as a disease. My group thought the question of whether we should see Tim Johnson in a disabled lens was interesting, especially because his name is a human one, but ultimately felt the disabled lens didn’t work because he had a contagious disease. The town wasn’t afraid of him because of a disability, but they were afraid of his sickness spreading and killing others. We also talked about the pros and cons of talking about racism as a disease. In chapter 9, Atticus refers to racism as a disease when he says “I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb’s usual disease”(100). We felt that it could be a good comparison, but pointed out that sometimes people lump offensive thoughts and language with mental illness, which can feed negative stereotypes about people with mental illness. Also the idea that racism is something you can catch in an unavoidable way isn’t the best representation.
Before returning to the large group, Hollis had to leave to save his books from the sudden rain. The class suggested we should all leave to help, but our attempts were quickly squashed. We briefly reconvened to share what we talked about in our groups including the parallel between the shooting of Tim Johnson and the shooting of Lenny in “Of Mice and Men”, and an interesting point about addiction and disability. It was pointed out that Mrs. Dubose was shut in her home in the same way Arthur was, and that addiction can be a disability. We also noticed that the respect Atticus has for her comes from the ways she overcomes her addiction, which we believed to be problematic.
Dr. Foss then introduced Kafer’s introduction to “Imagined Futures” which led into our small group discussion. We discussed Kafer’s response to the medical and social models before talking about her political model. The medical model is problematic because it treats disability as something that needs to be fixed medically, but Kafer states that exclusively using the social model excludes those who seek medical assistance or relief for pain or other difficulties due to their disability. If we attach disability to a solely medical model, it becomes apolitical. She discusses how people see only negative outcomes when they look at her disability, but disabled people can still live a complete, happy, and fulfilling life.
We had a small controversy between the small groups about the disability awareness activities. We discussed the ways that these activities try to put people in the shoes of a person with a disability, but these activities are always very surface level. This idea led to our final thought about Atticus from “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the ways in which his activism is surface level and won’t lead to real change in the system. We questioned if the book sends the message that surface level activism is enough.
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” Emily Malone