We started class today with the welcome announcement that there was no reading quiz. This excitement was quickly overshadowed by our first conversation about our final paper/project, which is worth 30% of our course grade. Professor Foss read through the assignment sheet with us and explained that we can either write a thesis driven paper or come up with a creative project for our final grade. In addition to this major paper/project, which is due November 16, we will have a take-home exam on our final unit about autism. Although November 16 seems far away, Professor Foss encouraged us to be thinking about our topic, since our topic proposals are due in two weeks.
To get our creative juices flowing (and to “make [him] a little misty”), Professor Foss guided us around past dis/lit websites going back to 2012, where we looked at previous major paper/projects. Some of these were very creative, ranging from literary analysis to photography to music to Tumblr versions of To Kill a Mockingbird. We also looked at various other websites linked on our dis/lit site, which might prove helpful for our research.
Once questions were exhausted, we moved into small group discussion of Flannery O’Conner’s “Good Country People.” My small group was somewhat disgusted by the story as a whole. We expected a sexual assault scene and were almost relieved when Manley merely stole Hulga’s wooden leg—still a terrible violation of her body. We toyed with the idea of Manley being a kleptomaniac. At the very least, we said, his obsession with stealing things from disabled people is an attempt to gain power over his own life by making others feel helpless. We also noted that just because Hulga has two disabilities, an artificial leg and a heart condition, she is treated as if she has a mental disability too. She is treated like a child, when in reality she is a very intelligent woman. Back in large group, we asked the big question: Is this text progressive or not? We appreciated that Hulga has a strong sense of self. She isn’t “edgy and broody,” according to Melissa, because of her disabilities, but because those around her do not accept her. In this sense, the representation is progressive. Besides, at least she doesn’t end up dead or cured—or does she? Zeb pointed out that Hulga said the leg is her soul and it was stolen from her. From there, we considered that the text may not be as progressive as we thought. We could see some victim blaming at the end where Hulga is written as sheltered and naïve. (Note: Melissa also invented a new word, edgy-cated. Definition: when you get too educated and it makes you edgy.)
While in large group, we discussed The Secret Garden, which had the exact conclusion we expected. Healthy equals lovable for Colin and his father; disagreeable equals disabled for Colin and Mary. The garden cured all disability in the story, from Mary’s “contrariness” to Mr. Craven’s trauma to Colin’s illness and anxiety. Although we were inclined to write off the story as NOT progressive in the least bit, one idea came up that gave us pause. Is this story an early form of showing the importance of mental health? We know that mental illness does often translate to physical symptoms. Mr. Craven’s grief and Colin’s conviction that he will die could certainly be causes of physical illness. Perhaps their physical issues were in part brought on by their mental states. And while fresh air and exercise are not a cure, they can be helpful for people with physical or mental illness.
Back to small group, we discussed Baynton’s “Defectives in the Land.” We saw strains of white supremacy here as disability and race mingled and almost became one. Foreign race equals defect in this logic. Brie told us about her field trip to Ellis Island and seeing the cards of people turned away due to “defect.” Back in large group, we elaborated further on that idea by realizing that we tend to only teach those things through a historical lens. After taking this class, Brie said, she had a whole new perspective on the discrimination in our nation’s past. The old discrimination was justified with new scientific data from the theory of evolution and genetics (eugenics).
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I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. –Tabitha Robinson