To celebrate diversity week, we’ve taken a look at novels which explore different perspectives on disability, to get you thinking.
The best literature does everything from reflect the world we live in, to making us question the status quo, to creating an understanding between ourselves and people who have had different life experiences to us. Here, we look at disabled writers and characters.
John Milton is arguably Britain’s greatest poet, known around the world for Paradise Lost and many other works. At the age of 43, Milton had become totally blind, having suffered from glaucoma for some time. Milton struggled to accept his condition, which made pursuing his writing incredibly difficult. Milton refused to let his blindness become an obstacle and went on to write some of the greatest literature in history.
Not all disabilities are physical or necessarily visible. Mental illness is something people still find very hard to discuss, despite it affecting a huge number of people. In Poppy Shakespeare, Allan plays with what we think we know of sanity. Allan examines and exposes the mental health system and explodes myths around the subject of mental illness.
On the surface, Metamorphosis appears to be the story of a man, Gregor, who transforms into a giant insect. However, a deeper look reveals that Kafka is saying something far more profound about mental illness and disease, and how society treats those who are afflicted. The prejudice Gregor experiences at the hands of his family and colleagues sheds a light on just how crucial it is that we exercise empathy to all people, no matter their circumstances.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, it is Scout, Jem and Dills’ curiosity about their neighbour, Boo Radley, which allows Lee to make a powerful comment on our perception of disability. Boo has a learning disability, and until his appearance later in the novel, is a powerful fixture in the children’s’ imaginations.
The depiction of the American Dream offers a useful backdrop to explore diversity and disability in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Here, we see Candy struggle to make ends meet due to being paid less for having one hand. However, there is a more positive relationship in George and Lennie’s friendship, with George helping Lennie, who has a learning disability, to get a job.
This heart-warming novel follows the story of 15-year-old, John Francis Boonee, who has Asperger syndrome. When John’s discovers his neighbour’s dog dead in the garden, he sets about investigating its death. The success of Haddon’s novel is that he puts us in John’s shoes, letting us see and feel the world just as John does.
The Secret Garden sees Mary Lennox, our central character, befriend Colin, who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal problem. Learning that Colin never ventures outside, Mary sets about helping him, bringing him to the ‘secret garden’. Ultimately, Colin returns to health in this beautiful tale of family and friendship.
Image Copyright: Book CC Santi DeFerrol