Alex Huber’s Class Summary for September 28

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.

Emily Malone’s Class Summary for 9/28/21

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