Major Project – Alex Huber

Word count: 547

For my major project for this course, I wanted to tackle one of the texts we read this semester, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and one of its most iconic disability-aligned characters, Arthur “Boo” Radley. Throughout the novel, Arthur is portrayed as a phantom hanging over the town of Maycomb, to the point where Scout, Jem, and Dill see him as an inhuman bogeyman. This is further punctuated by the nickname he is referred to as throughout the story: Boo. However, at the end of the story, Arthur is revealed to be a normal person, just like anybody else, and his implied disability (as the nature of his disability is never explicitly named or revealed) does not change that. As part of this project, I wanted to include both depictions of Arthur and show how they mirror each other, as although he is not a monster or bogeyman the rumors and stories are a part of how the people of Maycomb perceive him, especially the children.

At the start of the novel, Scout, Jem, and Dill have never seen Arthur, and as such they can only imagine what he looks like. In the first chapter, Jem describes him as being “about six-and-a-half feet tall,” “[dining] on raw squirrels and any cats he [can] catch,” having “blood-stained” hands, with “a long jagged scar that ran across his face,” and teeth that “were yellow and rotten” (Lee 14).. While I kept this description in mind as much as I could, ultimately I decided for a more abstract approach with the two depictions of Arthur. The Arthur at the bottom of the image is the bogeyman Boo Radley, colored entirely red with the blood staining his body from the animals he supposedly eats and holding the pair of scissors he is said to have stabbed his father with. His eyes are hidden by shadow, aside from the light shining from the one eye not covered by his hair, further pushing the imagery of Boo being a monstrous figure haunting the minds of those in Maycomb.

In contrast, the Arthur at the top of the image represents the Arthur described in the final chapter of the book, when Scout properly sees him for the first time after he saves her and Jem from Bob Ewell. In this description, Scout notes how his “face [is] as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin,” how “his cheeks [are] thin to hollowness,” and how “his gray eyes [are] so colorless [she] [thinks] he [is] blind” (Lee 310). Once again, while I kept this description in mind as much as possible with my piece, I took an abstract approach and instead colored the entire Arthur a pale grey, depicting him smiling gently at the viewer with clasped hands. This depiction of Arthur, the true Arthur, is far more gentle than legends would have one believe, and while he does ultimately kill Bob Ewell, he only does so to protect the children he considered his friends.

Arthur Radley is far from the only example of a disability-aligned character in literature with a dramatically different reality from his reputation, but he is perhaps one of the most iconic, and certainly he is one of the most memorable characters from Lee’s novel.


Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins, 1960.

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. Alex Huber.

Major Paper; Lily Shirley

The Animalization of Disabled People:

Boo Radley, Lenny Small, Julia Pastrana, and other “Freaks of Nature”

Positive representations of disabled people are a modern notion often overlooked in the current social climate. Society, and standards of beauty, are not inclusive so accurate representations of any person who is not white, and not able bodied, are hard to come by. However, the disabled community still fights for just and positive portrayals in popular media, and works to include themselves in political protests and intersectional debates. Some protest the often offensive depictions of people with disabilities, comparing a piece of literature to the Fries test- the Bechdel test of this community. Positive portrayals in a piece of literature would include a disabled character being central to the plot, rather than just an object of pity  or ridicule. 

Young students read books with potentially problematic depictions of disabled people, in opposition to the wishes of those in the disabled community. Authors uses the “r” word and overcommitt to the supposed hilarity of dumb or feebleminded disablity aligned characters. With such widespread depictions, it is hard to break free of the representation so prevalent in our favorite classic books, such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. While both of these works were revolutionary in their time, and have truthfully been eye-opening in many ways, it is essential to move forward and recognize the harmful connection of disabled men and women to simple or violent animals. Afterall, both previously mentioned titles quite literally have animals in the name. 

To Kill a Mockingbird has acted as a mode of “wokeness” for white saviorism, and the animalization of characters like Boo Radley and Tom Robinson have reflected the true impact of the text. Of Mice and Men, often seen as a problematic work in Disability studies, goes as far to equate Lenny Small, the gargantuan and small brained man to a disabled dog who gets shot in the head- a fate similar to Lenny’s at the end of the novel. It is not uncommon to have a crazy dog shot in a book with disability aligned characters- a character in To Kill a Mockingbird also shoots a rabies-infected, crazy dog. And in fact, those dogs often act as a metaphor for those “animal” characters. Of course, popular books are not the only example of the raw animalzation and connection to the disabled body- it is extremely apparent in twentieth century freak shows and the gawking of a man who looks vaguely lobster or bear-like. It is essential to discuss the impact of such depictions, and offer a more inclusive view of the disabled body and mind. It is time to forego the offensive characterization of the disabled man to animals. 

Many older white women of the baby boomer generation claim that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a literary piece essential to the newfound inclusivity of discussion. However, Atticus Finch, the father and lawyer central to the plot and central to “saving” Tom Robinson, is often seen as too powerful, and as though the black characters would flail pointlessly without his strength. Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, is compared to a harmless mockingbird, but only after his death. Earlier in the book, Atticus explains that it is a “sin to kill a mockingbird”, and later, Mr. Underwood, the town news source, states “it is a sin to kill a cripple” (Lee, 220.) The juxtaposition and relative sentence structure shows that these two phrases were meant to be compared- Lee encourages the audience to see Robinson as a bird. Robinson is a disability aligned character who injured his hand at a young age in a cotton gin accident, rendering it essentially useless. When trying to escape from this wrongful imprisonment, Robinson is shot many more times than necessary, showing the racism and ableism of that time period. 

Boo Radley, is described as “frightening” and “animal-like” in his mannerisms. The Maycomb county folklore centering around Boo does little to depict him as the careful, kind, and empathetic character the readers find out he truly is. Jem, Scout’s older brother, and Atticus’ son, emphasizes the horror involved in the crime of Boo stabbing his father with a pair of scissors- then later explains that Boo “dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained” (Lee, 10). 

While the differences between Tom and Boo are apparent, the two animals that they are represented by does little to reflect them in a positive light. Tom is the innocent, sweet, little, weak, bird, but only after being shot seventeen times and unfairly imprisoned based on racist falsities. Representing Tom as something that can only be helped by the able bodied white man furthers his animalization as a delicate mockingbird. Boo, depicted as a wolf-like, dog-like, and bear-like dangerous man, can not elegantly break free of the restraints Lee places on him as a violent animal and freak of nature.

John Stienbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a classic tale of “friendship” and farmhands, commits to the idea of Lenny as a poor, innocent puppy. Lenny is viewed as both harmless, as he is unintelligent, but also as harmful, as his body is towering and extremely strong. Steinbeck takes little time to compare Lenny to an animal- on page four, the first time the audience meets Lenny- he describes his walk as  similar to “ the way a bear drags his paws”. This is not the only time Lenny’s movements are described as bearlike. On page hundred, Stienbeck does it again, outlining Lenny’s stride as akin to a “creeping bear moving.” Lenny is also described as a terrier, a small but mighty dog, when George Milton, his best friend, makes him set a mouse free from his grip. George is described as his master, as any loyal dog should have an able bodied master. George often infantilizes Lenny, and in the end of the book, makes a life or death decision for him, much like Candy, another farmhand, does for his old sheepdog. 

Because Lenny is both strong of muscle and weak of mind, it is interesting to compare the differences in the wide array of animals Stienbeck compares him to. It is no secret between the characters of the book that Lenny could easily kill any of them- but those same characters treat him as one would treat a small, idiotic terrier. Stienbeck goes as far to equate his personality as both bear-like and tiny puppy-like. Those two animals could not be any farther apart in terms of size and capability. However, Lenny is both meek and boisterous, as are both the animals stated.  

The connection of able bodied people and the racism affecting our world is also apparent in these connections. While some wish to “reclaim” their animalazaion as a disabled person, we must recognize the racist roots that animalization clearly has. It is not uncommon for black men and women to be described as ape-like, and in blackface shows, the actors would often make monkey sounds or pretend to throw their feces. Much like the reclamation of the “q” and “n” slur in LGBT and black communities, some disabled people involved in freakshows took advantage of their inherent “animalness”. Percilla Bejano, a notable example of such reclamation, was involved in many freakshows and exploited her hairy body and freak of nature appearance. She later married the “the alligator” man, and the two had a happy life together, working as two animals in love. It is possible that Bejano was insulted by her animal name, but at least maintained some autonomy. 

 Otis Jordan is another example, a black man billed as amphibian-like, who wished to be referred to as “frog boy”. He enjoyed his life on the road as a disabled performer. Jordan pointed out that, given his condition, there wasn’t much else work he could get, therefore, the freakshow was a positive, money-making experience for Jordan.

Animalization in freak shows can be an overly negative thing. P.T Barnum, whose name is synonymous with the circus, was at the forefront of exploiting disabled people, making them an “animal” entertainment, rather than a human. Circus shows, like the one Julia Pastrana was in, perpetuated the animalization of people with disabilities and placed them in unsafe environments in order to pursue their career. Pastrana, described as the “ugliest woman alive”, had a case of hypertrichosis, which covered the body and face in copious amounts of hair. Pastrana was billed as the “ape-women ”, because of her hair and naturally feminine figure. Because able bodied humans found her so enticing, after her death, she was embalmed with her recently deceased son, to be gawked at for years to come. Even after her death, Pastrana had no peace.

In the theory piece, Beasts of Burden, Sunaura Taylor describes hands as “human” and mouths as “animal.” Her point in detailing this is that able bodied people often view the use of one’s mouth to open things, or to move objects around, as disgusting and improper. Taylor’s ideas are revolutionary- as she does explain in further detail the essentiality of some disabled people using the animal to describe oneself. Much like some overweight people are fighting for the word “fat” to be used as a descriptor rather than an insult, Taylor admits that some of her movements are rather animal-like, and it would not necessarily be unfair to describe them as so. However, she does recognize her privilege in being a white woman comfortable in her animalization.

Essentially, the problem then lies with the able-bodied making decisions for the disabled. George places himself in the role of executioner for Lenny , and Lee and Stienbeck take on the important role of describing a person with disabilities. Pastrana had her whole life planned out by a man of more power, capability, and “normalcy”. This is simply not the job for an able bodied person. All people, including disabled people, must have a say in their depictions, be masters of their fate, especially their mortality. Taylor, Bejano, and frog-boy can do whatever they like with their bodies and physicality, but authors and able bodied characters can’t decide for them.  

Animalization is popular in modern media, and even in the books that every child reads in order to pass a required class. It is ingrained in our minds to compare man and animal, and even more so when the man is overly hairy, or his appearance is otherwise aberrant,and thus, doesn’t fit into the abelist ideals of America. Aversion to normalcy is seen as wrong, offensive, and unsuitable, and this is prevalent in classic literature. 

It does not matter how it makes the able bodied feel when talking about the disabled body. The disabled body should have say over their bodies and reflections in art and books. 

Terrencia Johnson’s Class Summary for October 7th,2021

On October 7th, 2021, some in the class came to the realization that hot cakes are the equivalent to pancakes. On top of that excitement, everyone was ready to start their fall break. Thankfully Dr. Foss allowed for an early release if the conversations were active and had good content. The main topic that stood out during our class was the identity of how disabled people look and how they can be cured.

To begin the discussion, Dr. Foss wanted to get the classes opinions of whether Arthur is viewed as a protector, or if we saw him solely as a murderer. Everyone agreed that yes Arthur was a murderer, but he indeed was also a protector; some would say a hero. The conversation then moved on to question whether Arthur had a disability. During our reading Arthur is only present once and has very limited dialogue. To give a firm answer on whether Arthur had a disability was hard to figure out. Megan commented that Arthur could have been shy but still believed there was something there, it was just not specific as to what. Jamie highlighted Arthur’s appearance. Arthur did have pale skin and sickly white hands, but nothing about his appearance would appear that he had a physical disability. With these points, Jamie believed that Arthur had more of a neurological issue rather than psychological or physical.  Hannah went over the section in the book where Arthur is stated to have a voice of a child and to have timid body language. It was clear to conclude that there was something going on with Arthur, but we did not have enough information to specify exactly it was. While we did not have a clear answer to the question of whether Arthur had a disability, we began considering if giving special treatment because of a disability was okay. Heck in the book wanted to protect Arthur at all cost, was this protection justified? As we pondered on where exactly the line crossed when considering which actions should get punishments, Irene made a good point. She told the class that typically people with disabilities do not do violent acts but rather are the victims to violent actions caused by others. Her statement wrapped up the conversation about To Kill A Mockingbird.

Our next discussion moved on to our readings for the day. To start we discussed The Case For Conserving Disability. A big topic we touched on was eliminating disabilities. If society were to eliminate disabilities, it would not just loose those individuals, it would lose a widespread of diversity. People without a disability often say they cannot imagine living with a disability, that is no one’s issue but their own. No one ask someone without a disability to try to live as though they have one, but rather asking them to understand that people with disabilities have their own normal and handle their day to day according to their abilities.

At the end of discussing The Case For Conserving Disability, we only had a little time left to discuss The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. The standout topic was that disabilities can be cured easily by doing one thing. Bibi had been an experiment her entire life, and people tired so many things to cure her but failed every time. As her life went on and people disrespected and used her, her condition stayed the same. Then poof her seizures were “cured” because she had baby. Many disabilities do not have cures and often society pants a picture as if there is. Disabilities are different for everyone, and everyone has their own normal.

Zeb’s Class Summary for October 7th, 2021

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

Jamie’s Class Summary for October Fifth

Word count: 1437 words

On October fifth, the class started off with a quiz. The class joked lightly about each question being repeated. There were two questions on “To kill a mockingbird” chapters twenty two through twenty seven, two on the “Beasts of Burden” and the final question was on the “Symptoms” poem. After the quiz, Professor Foss went into several extra credit opportunities that were coming up. Some of these events have already passed but one event that is happening in a few days is on October thirteenth. It is a coco movie night that starts at 6:30 p.m. in the channeler ballroom.

The first reading we discussed was a small portion of the ‘Beasts of Burden’. The chapters that we read were chapters nine and ten with a small portion of chapter eleven. In the story, it comments on how people with disabilities often get dehumanized. My small group discussed the fact that even though humans are technically animals, we don’t usually think of ourselves as animals. There is often a negative connotation being associated with an animal. For example, being associated with a snake or cat means you are sly and untrustworthy. I overheard one of the other small groups, while discussing this, joked that it doesn’t matter because “we are all animals anyways.” One of the first people that is brought up in chapter nine is a woman named Pastrana. She and her son died several days after she gave birth. Pastrana was only twenty six at the time. Her body was heavily covered in fur like an ‘ape’ or a ‘bear’ as the story describes it. Once she died, she was embalmed and went around on tour. The tour lasted for 112 years and no one even thought about properly putting her to rest. As my group said, it goes to show that Pastrana was seen as an object rather than a person or a human being. Another thing that we mentioned was that those that are disabled often aren’t seen as the same as those without disabilities. An additional thing I overheard was in relation to Pastrana, “taking out internal organs, the body will last a long time because there’s nothing progressing the aging process.” I don’t know if this is actually true, but it was something interesting I heard. The final thing I overheard in relation to chapter nine was that chapter nine was all about being objectified by others. Continuing on what they were saying, chapter ten is about people taking control of the names others call them for themselves. On a similar note to what I overheard about those two sentences, it is about other people’s labels versus people’s own labels or no power versus their own power. As I already started to write, chapter ten is about people embracing who they are, especially the money girl and the alligator skinned man as some others commented on. They ended up getting married. Since they actually embraced their conditions, they were able to somewhat control what other people called them. The beginning of chapter ten it was brought up that Percilla Bejano was similar to Pastane in terms of her condition, but instead of being exploited while being dead, she was exploited while being alive. Both of the Bejanos took control of their circus life which meant that they had more control of their disability rather than having a negative affect on it. Besides the Benjano couple as I just mentioned, one of the other main people that is discussed in chapter ten was Otis Jordan who had arthrogryposis. Because of his arthrogryposis Jordan was unable to find a job so he ended up going to join the circus. Our group commented on the fact that when a disabled woman who was a disability rights activist saw his show, she went to court to try and get the court banned. We were surprised that not everyone had the same view on it, especially with the difficulty of trying to get a job. Not everyone sees the good out of a bad situation based on their personal experiences. Our small group also took note in the final chapter in “Beast of Burden” that there are cases where people with disabilities don’t always get a choice when they get ‘fixed’. Sometimes they feel better because they could’ve been in a worse position then they are now, but they could also wonder what it would’ve been like if they weren’t fixed. There is also the fact they could feel like their body is no longer theirs.

When in the big group, nearly everyone had different thoughts on what was read. One of the things that the large group mentioned which was similar to the small group was that the human brain is developed differently from other animals. Many people who are not disabled consider people who are disabled as “suffering” or as animals. For example, is there a ‘natural’ body when drawing a line between animals and humanity? Where does the line get drawn? After all, what is wrong with society if the only option left for those who are disabled, is to join the circus. Oftentimes in dystopian societies and other stories, the homeless, disabled, and African Americans have comparisons to animals. It is assumed that tourists don’t want to see the homeless or disabled in the world, as shown in utopian societies. The shift in discussion happened when people started talking about how people can’t know what those with disabilities are going through. Those that have the same disability can have entirely different experiences as everyone grew up differently. There are times when people don’t want to say how they feel because they always hear that there’s someone worse off than them, such as ‘kids starving in africa’. They forget that what they feel is valid.

The next thing we discussed as a large group was the Symptoms poem. It is about a woman who is going through sclerosis. She describes it like she is wearing a corset as if she’s trapped in what she can do and she hates it. Corsets were to fit the fashion in the past, but it was a very dangerous fashion trend. Lambeth isn’t defeated by it though. She struggles with trying to find the right words to explain how it feels and the lines may be intentionally disjointed to show the struggle. As she puts it, the disability tends to remain hidden but occasionally she has to show it when her clothing ‘drops’. Even if it doesn’t seem that hopeful it offers a perspective in a way that others couldn’t imagine before.

The final thing we discussed was “To Kill a Mockingbird” chapters twenty two through chapters twenty seven. It was very weird when people were trying to make Scout a lady even though she was only eight at the time. For reference, in modern times, when a kid is eight, they are usually in second grade which most people don’t try to make kids try and act more mature. Granted, her personality might have been slightly influenced as there was no mom in Scout’s life, but most people don’t try to abruptly change it. It usually isn’t until middle school when kids start figuring themselves out and in highschool when a kid’s behavior starts setting in stone. Though, we did have a chuckle on how Scout noticed Jem was becoming more of a man. We eventually shifted to Tom Robinson and the trial. Until he was introduced, we just knew him as an African American. When it was revealed he was disabled it was a mild surprise because the disability wasn’t really talked about. The issue that the townsfolk had with him was that he was an African American rather than disabled. If he was white, we were sure that there would be more of an issue with it. People commented on the fact that just because he was disabled, he was innocent. It would be a sin to kill him, just like it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. There was also an offhand comment that there didn’t seem like there were many African Americans, or at the very least, those that played a major part in the story. There was also the fact that it seemed like mixed kids seemed to be ostracized. That was the end of most of the conversations as it pattered off. Professor Foss was kind enough to let us out of class early as it was the week before break. People were happy about that. I hope you enjoyed this rambling of the class period.

Melissa Madsen’s Class Summary for Sept. 30, 2021

On September 30, students walked into Room 322 to find a lively pre-class discussion already underway about our first impressions of the texts we had read for that day. The class collectively agreed that the scenes in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) that detail Tom Robinson’s trial sucked; that the theory piece of the day, Nirmala Erevelles’ “Crippin’ Jim Crow,” matched well with the trial scene’s themes; and that there was some general confusion surrounding Jim Ferris’ poem “Normal.” These conclusions foreshadowed our upcoming class discussions. We first analyzed two poems – Ferris’ “Normal” and Sheila Black’s “What You Mourn” – and debated how the two poets gave different representations of disability. We then moved to discuss “Crippin’ Jim Crow” and the various problems surrounding the intersection of race, class, and disability in educational settings, specifically focusing on the school-to-prison pipeline and special education classrooms, before finally connecting our findings to TKAM for a few final thoughts and speculations.

We first analyzed two poems as a large group and discussed how they represent disability, starting off with “What You Mourn” by Sheila Black. Many students agreed that this poem represents disability as a natural part of life, and that any changes made to ‘fix’ that disability are unnatural, life-altering invasions. One student pointed out how Black uses natural imagery like “nesting” in one’s body, “unkempt trees,” and “the familiar lay of the land” to connect the narrator’s disability with positive, warm, and comforting images. Another student pointed out how the phrase “before I was changed” implies that not only did some outside force change her, but that it was against her will. While the doctors believe they’re freeing the narrator by fixing her legs, as evidenced in the first line when the doctor says “Now you will walk straight/on your wedding day,” she instead feels trapped in a body that’s not hers. In giving the narrator ‘greater mobility,’ the surgery took away the body she knew how to handle (possibly since birth) and forced her to relearn basic motor skills, turning the thing meant to free the narrator from her disability into a disabling force itself.

We then moved on to “Normal” by Jim Ferris and debated whether the poem was highlighting the positives of life with disability or critiquing certain aspects of it. On one hand, the poem highlights the separation between the outside world and the narrator and his car-watching buddies. A few students pointed out that the narrators feel like they’re ‘on the outside always looking in,’ watching a fast-paced world go by without them. Ferris emphasizes their separation in the last line of the poem when the narrator describes “a world going on, going by, going home,” but he never goes home himself. None of the cars that he and his buddies identify as they drive past the window stop to take any of them home, as if these men are living in a different world than the folks who drive past. On the other hand, a few other students – including myself – saw this poem as portraying a positive message about enjoying life no matter who you are. When I first read the poem, I noticed that Ferris set up a contrast between the folks playing softball in the field and the narrator car-watching with each of his buddies through establishing the softball players first, then the narrators. This specific placement highlights that the narrator has hobbies like other folks do, just that they’re different than the activities we normally consider. He seems to enjoy car-watching and connecting with other people in the facility. Not only does he casually mention details like how his dad used to have a ’57 Chevy when he spots one drive by, but another student pointed out that he also uses words like ‘soft’ and ‘lush’ to describe ‘the streets as far as I can see,’ implying that the narrator also finds joy in the general aesthetic of the environment around him.

After our lengthy discussion about the car-watching poem, we switched gears to small groups to discuss Everelles’ “Crippin’ Jim Crow.” My small group chose to focus at first on the school-to-prison pipeline, a model that details how if kids (especially those from minority groups) are labeled as troublemakers early on, those labels often become a self-fulfilling prophecy that turns those kids into actual criminals that will get arrested after they graduate. One of my groupmates proposed a solution: if these kids are threatened like this in school and/or they really are acting out, why not just homeschool the kids instead? This question turned our discussion into a debate about the pros and cons of homeschool vs. public school in this scenario. On one hand, it’s the parents’ responsibility to raise their kids and make them behave, so if the parents can’t fix any systemic issues that are causing this problem, they should take the initiative and educate the kids themselves. Besides, homeschool is a cheaper option than public school and it will reduce the chance of going to jail. However, on the other hand, many families can’t afford to homeschool their kids. You need at least one parent to stay home and teach the kids, but if your family is poor and both parents need to work, there’s not enough time, energy, or resources that the family can dedicate towards making homeschool work. Homeschool does not guarantee that a minority kid won’t get arrested and many parents can’t speak up because of the systemic issues, just like we saw with Tom Robinson’s trial in TKAM. Public school also gives kids a chance to not only get away from failing and/or abusive parents, but also helps them develop their social skills and increase their knowledge through interacting with people other than their family. As we went back and forth dissecting each of the pros and cons, we realized that the school-to-prison pipeline is a multi-faceted problem that has no easy solution. One of my group members even theorized that the pipeline may be ‘a midpoint in the solution train’ in that it may have been created to solve another underlying problem. It isn’t a good solution, but it’s also not the worst-case scenario, so it can definitely be improved for the future.

Our small group discussion was cut short when Dr. Foss called everyone to reconvene for our final large group discussion of the day. The conversation shifted to focus on how special education functions as ‘a postcolonial ghetto’ that segregates all the ‘deviant’ bodies from the mainstream population. These classrooms may have been designed with good intentions – to help kids with disabilities actually learn something in school in a supportive environment tailored to their needs – but they may not be as good in practice as they are on paper. Many students shared their own experiences with special education programs, critiquing certain elements like placing the special ed classrooms away from the rest of the student body or focusing more attention on elementary school students versus high school students. We concluded that even designated communities can be forms of segregation, and used this idea as a transition to talk about TKAM for the last few minutes of class. Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are both segregated from the greater Maycomb community, but in different ways for different reasons. Boo Radley is segregated by his family and the community to keep him away from the community at large. Meanwhile, Tom Robinson is segregated from the community because he’s black and he’s a ‘dangerous predator’ because Mayella accused him of raping her. One student pointed out that a lot of what’s going on in the novel follows the statues of ‘the ugly law’ – basically, if something is not pleasing to look at or will disturb any passerby, you must get rid of the thing that doesn’t fit The AestheticTM, including disabled people like Boo Radley and ‘dangerous predators’ and minorities like Tom Robinson.

If this is the case in the novel, one student asked, then is Mrs. Maudie immune to getting worked up over racism, what Atticus calls ‘Maycomb’s usual disease?’ Is Atticus immune? It may be more complicated than that. As a final thought, Dr. Foss reminded us that since multiple factors are at play in the novel, we can’t just focus on race. We need to consider the ways in which race, class, and disability intersect and work together in order to understand and ultimately solve these complex problems.

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. -Melissa Madsen

Word Count: 1411

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