In Susan Nussbaum’s Good Kings Bad Kings, the audience is refreshed with a completely honest and raw take on not only the mindset of people with disabilities, but also those who are associated. Instead of repeating one person point of view with the plot of epic overcomings, Nussbaum offers multiple character’s points of view that allow for a much more diverse and stimulating piece of literature.
In relation to the other works for class, Good Kings Bad Kings seems to be not only one of the most diverse and powerful narratives from this class, but also from all I’ve read. Usually with diversity literature, there are often either the sole token diverse characters or a character with a disability/illness that is severely misrepresented. Fiction with minimally acceptable or even outstanding presence of diversity is rare, but Nussbaum is able to incorporate it as a part of each character. She does so in a way that their said ‘difference’ is just a trait, without making the character’s personality solely revolve around their diversity factor.
These practices can be seen in every character we have been introduced to so far, and cannot easily be labeled as inherently good or bad people, just human with flaws. This is also illustrated by the change of viewpoints, where we are able to see into the mind of each character. My favorite character so far is Joanne, as I appreciate her self sufficiency alongside her anti sugar coating persona. She is able to form connections with the neurotypical staff, but also to the kids in the ILLC as a wheelchair user. Her viewpoint and personal experiences are able to bring attention to the injustices that the kids are facing that staff weren’t able to realize. Nussbaum’s authentic perspective is displayed easiest in Joanne’s character also, with her satire and complete honesty. As seen in quotes like “And that’s the inspirational true story of how I overcame my disability and became a contributing member of society.” where she challenges the cliche norms.
In addition to narratives on ILLC patients like Yessina and Teddy and a disabled caretaker like Joanne, another interesting character is Michelle. Here I feel is where the outlook on humanity is displayed the strongest of a mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Nussbaum intentionally creates first person viewpoints on characters that would be deemed as antagonistic from a singular perspective. She’s incredibly monetarily motivated and it disconnects her from stronger morals. Although she works in the healthcare system with disabled patients, it’s evident she has significant ignorance regarding their lives and disabilities. Displayed how she genuinely thinks the system is the best it can get for a disabled person, and seeing it as humanitarian work. Regardless of affiliation in her career, her primary focus is money and possesses a sort of savior complex encouraging disabled stereotypes. Her interaction with a patient in her chapter reinstates her unfamiliarity, saying that a girl with schizophrenia didn’t look the part by seeming too lucid and controlled. While commissioning she states, “the work I do is important because I’m getting people off the streets and into warm beds with three meals a day and medical care.”
It’s important to have representation that accurately depicts a community. False representation or misunderstanding can do more harm than good and continue to feed the stereotype surrounding it, instead of showing an authentic approach. Nussbaum is able to effectively deliver an inclusive and down to earth story about diversity, disability, and typical successes and struggles of life. Instead of feeding into savior complex troupes to ‘save’ the disabled or delivering the inspirational achievement story due to a disability, she gives her readers a refreshing and genuine work of realistic fiction that represents diversity and disabilities alike.