On October 7th, our discussions focused on chapters 28-31 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Rosemary Garland-Thomson’s “The Case for Conserving Disability,” and “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar.” The overall theme this class period seemed to be how other people view and understand, or have a lack of understanding for, disabled people.
Professor Foss began the class period by mentioning that he gave the section before ours the chance to leave early, so he would give us the same opportunity. I’m not sure if he had ever mention having another section before, but the chance to leave was appreciated. Directly after, we began discussing To Kill a Mockingbird. A student brought up the possibility that Arthur might have PTSD due to how he reacted to things around him, as though he was terrified of things, or he possibly just doesn’t like people: the audience can’t really draw a conclusion from what little we see of him in the book. That led to the point of how a person can make an argument that there are suggestions that he is disabled, or an analogue to disability. He may just be a recluse. Arthur is also a bogeyman in the beginning, which dehumanizes him a bit, but he is also a guardian angel of sorts. He isn’t malicious in his intentions as far as the reader is aware, and he watches over the Finch children from the shadows. He’s a moral character despite being presented in a darker setting. Foss brought up the point that that Bob Ewell attacked the kids to do more than scare them, possibly trying to kill them, and Arthur kills Ewell accidentally. If it went to trial, he probably wouldn’t have gotten in much trouble due to the fact that he was clearly protecting the kids and himself. People were worried that he would kill someone in the beginning of the book, and he ended up doing it. Their worst feelings of what he would do materialized. Burying up the fact that Arthur killed Ewell is seen as the right thing to do by Atticus and Heck Tate, which implies that people believe that Arthur needs to be protected.
This led to how Arthur is viewed by people in the book. A student noted that most of the adults don’t talk to Arthur directly very often, if at all. He’s in the room when Atticus and Heck ask about what happened to Ewell, but they don’t involve him in the conversation. Foss said that it should remind us of how people will talk about disabled people in front of them, as though they cannot hear, or they use their pet voice to them. Scout treats him as though he is littler than her. The way he’s treated is analogous to how people treat people with disabilities. Someone else said that they found it interesting that Scout is treated as an adult despite being 8 or 9 throughout the entire book. She acts as the adult when talking to Arthur. The student posed the question of whether or not it’s a developmental disorder and he is treating the kids as a secret friend. Foss said that some students were worried that his gifts were predatory at first. There are some adults who understand how children’s minds work and how to make them happy. Scout asking Arthur if he wants to pet Jem’s head is not something you’d ask an adult. It implies that he is somehow less than her. Another student noted that it’s interesting how Scout can relate to Arthur, whereas adults can’t. There was a bit where she says that she was beginning to understand his body English (page 319). He is brought to her level, and she is understanding that she is guiding him and the appearance of that. That is more of an implication that she is understanding of how others might see him as less than her. Later on, someone related Arthur to Lenny from Of Mice and Men in how they like to touch things. Foss said that Arthur’s childlike speaking could be further indication that he is disabled or disability-aligned, and with that comes infantilization from Lee herself. She sees the character she has created as a child afraid of the dark. Someone else said that it’s interesting that Scout and the others are protecting Arthur by not having him go to court. People had preconceived notions of Arthur already, and there might be a similar occurrence to what happened in the Tom Robinson trial. Foss said that part of what Heck was worried about was that people would recognize that Arthur was the hero in the story. They would bring him food and stuff, which would disturb Arthur’s lifestyle. Atticus, Heck, and Alexandria understand Arthur and accept him on his own terms, though people in town may not do the same. Heck said that it would be a sin to put him through that, which is similar to what another character said about Tom Robinson’s shooting. It also ties back to what Atticus said about shooting a mockingbird being a sin: we’re meant to see Tom Robinson and Boo Radley as mockingbirds. There’s an intersection of race and disability there, as well.
The discussion continued to talk about how the whole town was at the pageant aside from Atticus, women who were decorating, and the usual outcasts. Scout sees Atticus as above it all, she doesn’t relate to the women, and Arthur would be one of the others. Foss noted that Atticus and the Finch family are the ones bridging Maycomb’s favorable parts and undesirable parts. Foss also noted that Arthur’s hands are sickly pale, but it might not mean he is actually ill. The description goes on to describe shallow teeth, thin hair, and so on. He’s described as a ghost who looks different and ill. It’s mentioned that Arthur has a bad cough as well, but that could just be from exertion or from the Fall cold. A connection was also made between Arthur being ghostly and the Gray Ghost book Atticus and Scout read at the end. They say that a person is nice when you finally see them. Earlier, Foss said that what Lee wants the reader to get from the story is to stand in other people’s shoes. In the end, Scout has finally seen enough to understand what it might be like to be in Arthur’s shoes (page 321). Even standing on Arthur’s porch was enough to give Scout the opportunity to understand him. After she understood him, she left him alone and never saw him again. Foss posed the question of whether or not it’s a good ending or not. Scout didn’t go into his house, she didn’t learn more about the way he lives his life, and she never leaves him again. If people who acknowledge Arthur don’t see him as being able to join society, is that really progress? Someone hesitated in the jury during Tom Robinson’s trial, but it was progress. Is it enough progress, though? However sympathetic Lee wants to make Arthur’s character, is it really right for him to be so fragile and for Scout to consider herself as having walked in his shoes despite knowing very little about his life? At the end of the discussion, Foss asked if this is a progressive representation. By the end of the story, we like Arthur, but we may infantilize him and will never know what it’s like to live his life. A student replied said that it’s a step in the right direction to at least be able to see a disability-aligned character as a person who could be a hero. Now that we’ve taken that step, we need to go further.
The class moved on from To Kill a Mockingbird to “The Case for Conserving Disability.” Foss said that it’s important to look at the stories of disabled children who can’t tell their own stories, and that people want to acknowledge that there was suffering but it was entangled with joy. Their lives were still worth living. The question is how disability can be seen as something other than a negative: if it’s a gift, a resource, or productive. Not just in terms of society but in our views of ourselves and our others. We entered small group discussion and he said that we could tackle any or all of the various sections in the piece. My group primarily focused on the role of disability in society. There were similarities to the poems we read about conforming to beauty standards, like the woman who missed her old body before being treated, as well as the idea that people shouldn’t conform to what society views as normal. One person in the piece said something along the lines of disabled people contributing to teaching nondisabled people how to be more human (page 344). We thought that it was messed up that he believed that it worth to keep them around to inspire fear and loathing in nondisabled people. We also got off on a tangent about the difficulty of reading on a screen and how stories are easier to remember than theory pieces.
After our small group discussions, we had a class discussion about “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar.” Foss said that it’s a piece that is encouraging the reader to think of the intersection between disability and gender/sexuality. It’s also a story that seems to have progressive aspects that push readers to critique the response of Bibi’s family/community members, but there’s also the cure narrative at the ending that seems to pull the rug out from under that sentiment. A student mentioned that they thought it was another theory piece at first. Foss said that we’re supposed to think that the efforts to cure her are- if not misguided and misplaced- fruitless, which may undermine the medical model. Another student was hesitant towards seeing Bibi’s seizures as a medical thing, and that they could be more akin to temper tantrums because the treatments didn’t seem medical. She didn’t seem to be able to control the fits, however. Foss noted that, for many readers, we are being asked to see that there is an actual sort of condition. In the second paragraph, there’s traditional Hindu medicine and unconventional medicine. All of those were attempts to cure her before marriage, but marriage seems to have been closer to the actual cure. Some readers drew attention to “to the best of our knowledge cured” which may mean that they just haven’t seen any seizures since; she may be having them in private or they may not notice them due to seeing her in a different light. Bibi has internalized the ideas of a woman’s role in the society she lives in. They start to see her as a woman other than a disabled person. Is she actually cured? Some said that they think that the speaker using the words “treatment” or “cure” imply that there is something more physical that couldn’t be cured or didn’t go away with marriage. She didn’t even get married; she only had a child. Her disability wasn’t cured, her status in society was. She was able to have a child, her own home, and run the shop. She was a burden before, but she became a productive member of society in the role of a working mother. Another student asked about whose perspective we’re reading, and Foss said that it was likely someone who lived in the building, or possibly multiple people who took turns as the protagonist. Lastly, Foss said that the cousin and his wife were more humane to Bibi. When we’re reading the story, the author wants us to have a critical view of the story. There are a lot of things preventing Bibi from having the life she wants, and that critique is dropped by the end of the book. There’s the possibility that the cousin could have impregnated Bibi before he left, possibly non-consensually. If we go back to Arthur in To Kill a Mockingbird, have we seen enough about her to understand her? Maybe there was a crime, but it might not matter to society because she was cured. Bibi’s father left things to help her, but those things were used as scrap paper or turned into boats; they lost track of or used the directions on how to help her as scrap paper. In all three of the texts we read, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis on how nondisabled people view disabled people and whether or not they can understand them. There’s also the question of whether or not they really try.
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” – Zeb Armstrong