Jessie Harper’s Final Paper

Jessie Harper

Professor Foss

Disability and Literature

6 May 2021

The Offerings of An Unkindness of Ghosts

            What does the future hold? Not many of any of us know the answer to that. Sci-Fi authors have been trying to imagine what the future will hold for us for centuries. Most people think quite a bit of our technology we have has been based on these written ideas of what could be in the future. From the “pocket telephone” which comes from “Space Cadet” by Robert Heinlein, which is what we now refer to as smartphones. To flying cars in writing and in filmography has been highly characterized. My first encounter of the flying car was Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The use of a traditional model vehicle with merely the ability to fly. In comparison to others that barely look like a vehicle at all.

In a large majority of Sci-Fi material, you do not often see race or social class-based discrimination as a main plot point, but rather a side story or a filler for background. That is a past and current issue not fitting in a futuristic idea of space travel. This piece of written work, An Unkindness of Ghosts, that takes a spin on a racial disparities, all the while being staged on the spacecraft that has been traveling from Earth for 300 years. This concept is almost unrealistic as the reader. That an advanced intellectual crew of humans can be ignorant or intolerant of others upon their very ship.

            However, race is not the only factor in the case of Aster. Race can bind the group of people that have it in common together and also the discrimination that they face as a whole. Yet Aster still feels ostracized from those around her. We quickly learn that Aster is neuro-divergent from the first little bit of the book, “Aster was always memorizing new ways of being with people” (Solomon 9), then again from being called a name by a fellow lower decker, “Insiwa. Inside one. It means you live inside your head and to step out of it hurts like a caning.” (Solomon 12). Finally, it is pointed out by someone close to her, “It was like what Aint Melusine was always saying, that Aster was one who looked sideways, or one who saw through the corner of her eyes. When you saw the world sideways, you couldn’t always get a proper handle on things.” (Solomon 62). This reminds me of another piece we read in this class Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Matter. By Morenike Giwa Onaiwa. In this piece Giwa Onaiwa talks also about being black and being neuro-divergent or autistic and says this, “even those who accepted, cared for me, loved me still did not understand me”(Onaiwu, XV). Giwa Onaiwa also goes makes a statement that Aster most likely understands as well with, I “looked the part” I was supposed to automatically understand and be fluent in all these random aspects of life attributed to black American culture.” (Onaiwa XIV). Onaiwa notes that since it is not something that they do not just do something is wrong with them. For Aster she only felt at peace in her botanarium, “There, at least, there was some kind of quiet” (Solomon 12).

            Asher was different in the eyes of everyone on the ship from the guards to her fellow lower deckers. However, the abuse of the guards was known by Asher and her fellow lower deckers. “….the morale of the Guard, and the details of previous abuses: strength, force, duration” (Solomon 25). Again, Onaiwa is able to relate to this with race-based discrimination along with being disabled, when they say, “We are painted as defective, flawed, undesirable, different. To be pitied. Not only are we non-white, but we are also disabled too?”(Onaiwu, XI). Which takes me back to the part of this still being a problem of the present and hard to grasp the thought of it still being a vast issue for the future. Yet thinking about where we have been in the past and where we should be today and yet we are not. I perhaps should not be as shocked and quite frankly appalled. More so disappointed that someone could envision these races, merely skin pigment issues never being eliminating from our apparent mind. “Giselle knew as well as Theo how Lieutenant singled Aster out for a startling array of abuses.” Then a little later it says, “He had given her name to several guards, so though she rarely faced him in person, she frequently experienced his wrath by proxy.” (Solomon 18).

It is so easy for Lieutenant to do this because Aster is a lower decker. The only reason, she is around Theo is because she’s different because her mind works different. In another piece, we read for this class they describe this as, “assuming that one person can serve as the voice or face of an entire community is an assumption that has jumped straight from the hotbed of microaggressions” (Ashkenazy, XXIX). Then they define what microaggression is, “meaning of everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership”(Ashkenazy, XXVII)

On the ship of Matilda, an everyday exchange for a lower decker is to do as you are told or be punished. Aster’s gift of Flicks foots from hypotherma to the Lieutanant as a reminder of the cold in the lower decks to him was a normal day’s punishment. However, I saw it as microaggression because of being not only aimed at the lower deckers but also at Aster personally. As Aster meets with him, she says, “Any leniency he gave was so he would have something to take away later. She didn’t know what her punishment would be, but it was certainly coming” (Solomon 82). Then Aster sees that come to fruition when “The person Lieutenant led out in chains to be executed was Flick.” (Solomon 84).

Through everything Aster faced, losing loved ones, her place of peace, she still started a revolution in part with the bravery of Theo. Not necessarily getting past the difference of being neuro-divergent but using it as a way to process things at different angles, seeing races as one people, seeing this ship as one society that needs to work together to survive successfully. Truly, I believe if the world had more Aster’s, that we would be in a much better place.

Word Count 1135

I pledge

Work Cited

Ashkenazy, E. Forward: On Autism and Race, All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, DragonBee Press, 2017, xxiii-xxxix

Giwa Onaiwa, Morenike. Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Mater, All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, DragonBee Press, 2017, x-xxii

Solomon, River. An Unkindness of Ghosts. Akashic Books, 2017.

Katie Blair’s Final Paper

Color in Autism Literature

Without color, the world would be dull, however, color is often taken for granted. Colors can symbolize, contrast, draw attention, and alter perceptions, especially in literature. While reading Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” I was reminded of how much color influences a piece of literature. This gave me reason to explore how color has impacted the literary works during the autism unit. Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” Amanda Baggs’s “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours,” and Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OBGYN” all are examples of how literature is enhanced by color.

Perhaps the most obvious example of color in “Don’t Mourn for Us” is the entire background of the article. The screen is completely made up of rainbow colors, spanning from the left to the right of the screen. At first, I wasn’t sure if the background would relate to the article, but with more analysis, it becomes a strong amplification of Sinclair’s messages. The contrast, joyful symbolization, and constant reminder of color in the background initiate deeper thoughts on its meaning. In the beginning, Sinclair’s article discusses the grief that a parent bears when learning that their child has autism; this grief is described as “the loss of the normal child the parents had hoped and expected to have” (Sinclair). With the content being upsetting and dull, it creates a large contrast between the darker tones in the article and the bright colors in the background; this gives an unconscious sense of hope to parents reading this, who intend to grow past their grieving. A sense that although the parents lost a child that they had expected, the child with autism will still bring light and joy into their lives, even if it’s different than what they had prepared for. Later in his article, Sinclair explains that when parents say they wish their child didn’t have autism, it is the same as saying “I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead” (Sinclair). These few sentences in his article stand out tremendously and contain one of the most strong and meaningful messages in the piece. This idea carries on throughout the rest of the article, reiterating the idea that “autism is a way of being” rather than being an outer shell to be broken through or something that can be taken away. This point that autism is a way of being is shown by the blending of the colors in the background, symbolizing the blending of autism in a person, and how someone with autism cannot be separated from what makes them who they are. At the end of Sinclair’s article, the bright background is then brought full circle with a more upbeat, hopeful ending. After discussing the darkness of grief and loss of the expected, Sinclair wraps up by saying to the parents of autistic children, “come join us, in strength and determination, in hope and joy…the adventure of a lifetime is ahead of you” (Sinclair). This joyful ending creates a parallel with the bright background that has been contrasting the article up until that point and finally gives hope and light at the end. Therefore, the color in this article creates a sense of hope at the end of a tunnel in the way that a parent has to learn to overcome the loss of what was expected and learn to find joy for the child they have. 

Amanda Baggs’ “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” incorporates color to enhance the message that just because autistics don’t speak the same language as most, they shouldn’t be seen as different or not ‘normal.’ One of Baggs’ main critiques is on non-autistics describing autistics as absent and having a “lack of soul” (Baggs). She builds up this critique with the element of color, by relating it to a mountain analogy where autistics are in seen in a valley while non-autistics are up on the mountain, saying, “they call that valley ‘not mountain’ and proclaim it dry, barren, and colorless because that’s how it looks from a distance” (Baggs). I especially like this analogy because it sets forth the idea that non-autistics rarely try to find different ways to connect with autistics because it is too different or unnatural for them. The way that Baggs incorporates color in this analogy gives it more of a lasting impact because it causes the reader to create a colorless image in their heads, causing a deeper understanding of the dullness in the way non-autistics often see autism. The addition of the word colorless creates that deeper meaning because a colorless world is something that many people don’t like, similar to how most people would choose a colored movie over a black and white one. The word also connects to the other ways that autism has been described as an absence and as a lack of a soul. This provides a plain picture for readers of the unfortunate ways that the world looks at autism. Later in the analogy, Baggs’ further explains how the valley has “all kinds of trees, many of which can’t grow in the mountain” and how “each experience is like a new rainbow for every sense,” she contradicts the colorless life that is assumed by most (Baggs). The contrast between the way people perceive autism compared to how autistic people live is explained in a more meaningful and impactful way by creating the large contrast between colorless life and rainbows. 

In Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” the color that transforms the poem’s influence on readers is blue. From the sad and hopeless tone in the poem to the blue background surrounding the stanzas, the color blue sets the mood for the entire poem. In general, society usually groups words with colors: happiness is more often than not associated with bright yellows, love is represented by pinks and reds, and sadness is matched with blues. With three out of the four stanzas beginning with the word ‘sorry,’ a sad, despairing tone is immediately given off, creating that blue tone. Furthermore, the addition of a dark and dullish-blue background is important in giving off the message that this poem is meant to be hopeless and sad, as it is about parents whose child is having complications in the prenatal nursery. When a parent’s baby is having a difficult time after birth, it is simply sad and blue, just like Foust’s poem. Sometimes the tone of a poem can be hard to read, but the straightforwardness of the blues and sad imagery in “Apologies to my OB-GYN” makes even more of an impact because of its simplicity.

Color in literature is a beautiful and powerful addition to any piece and I am glad that it was added within so many pieces in the autism unit. For someone who didn’t know much about autism before taking this class, I have a much stronger understanding now because of these literary works and the imagery, attention, and contrast that they presented to me with color. 

Word Count: 1186

Karlie Jahn’s Final Paper

Karlie Jahn

3 May 2021

ENGL: Disabilities and Literature

Dr. Foss


Of Mice and Men is one of the books in this semester that the main character is somehow mentally disabled, but due to the year, the book came out his disability was not labeled as autism. Lennie was rather seen as a character with multiple mental irregularities in how he acted versus the rest of the characters. Multiple traits could be from autism or another mental disability, but due to many of the traits Lennie had, it seems more likely that he has autism. These traits ranged from things like how he would stim, would hyper-focus on some details and ignore others, and asking things just to hear the answer he already knows. Due to the qualities that Lennie has in this book, it seems that he has autism, and the time the book was published is the reason he did not have an absolute diagnosis. 

One of the traits that Lennie does the most as a way of comforting himself is asking George to tell him about the rabbits and the farm. This is an autistic trait of hyper-focusing on one thing and ignoring everything else. Lennie is so fixated on this one dream that it seems to be the only thing keeping him going and working hard. After being told this dream of having the farm he seems to only care about it and is fixated with the thought. He keeps this mentality of everything that is happening is for the farm until the end when he is killed.

One of the most obvious autistic traits of Lennie is the way he seeks out the feeling of soft things. From the dress of silk to the soft puppies. He would seek out things that were soft to play with and touch, even if it was gross, like the dead mouse in his pocket. It is an autistic trait to try and feel comfortable or soft materials. Something like a soft blanket or in Lennie’s case an animal or person’s dress. The sensation of just something soft is comforting and a lot of autistic people enjoy the feeling of soft materials. 

Another trait of Lennie’s that is linked to autism is how he would remember the entire story that George would tell him about the farm and yet he would ask about it over and over again. There is a specific quote from the book about Lennie asking George to tell the story about how the farm will look and run, but Lennie keeps interrupting George to prompt him to tell the next part. This leads to George asking Lennie if he just wants to tell the story himself. Lennie just wants to hear the story from Georgie’s mouth. He asks again and again because he wants to hear the same answer, in the same way, every time. It is a sort of comforting thing to hear the same answer every time a question is asked. It’s reliable and gives Lennie a sense that things are not changing, that everything is the same as it was the last time.

Another trait of Lennie’s that could be linked to autism is how Lennie remembers specific things, but other things are gone from his memory within minutes. Like how he remembers the entire story of how the farm will be run and how they will be able to get the farm to be theirs, but tasks that George asks him to do are gone from his memory in a matter of minutes. He does not have a selective memory but rather he is not fixated on them so they are not as important. One of the most heartbreaking items he can relay word for word aside from the dream that he and Geroge have is how George tells him that he would be better without him. Lennie can stop George and continue what he was going to say about how things would be easier for George if Lennie was still with his family instead of being with George. 

One of the best-described items that seemed to be added in without thought of what that says for Lennie’s character is how he stims. There are a couple of different types of stimming he does. There is a physical one where he moves his hands in excitement or the rubbing on the mouse in his pocket to try and calm himself down. Then there is when he would ask George to tell about the farm and he would stim through George talking about that and his excitement was apparent. This is a trait of a lot of different disabilities, but the most likely given the other traits is autism. 

The last trait can be put under many different disabilities just like stimming, but this one is how he does not seem to have control over his body. There are obvious times when this happened like when he was too strong and killed the puppies and the mouse. When Curley’s wife is killed it is because Lennie was touching her too much, but he was enjoying the feeling of her hair and dress. He did not want to let go which ended with him being too strong and breaking her neck. The lack of body control is not always one that is hand in hand with autism, but like stimming, it makes the most sense with his traits and character as a whole. 

Lennie’s character is believed to be autistic, but at the time that the book was published in 1937 autism was still not a diagnosable disability. Autism was only made into an actual diagnosable disability in 1943, so the character may have not been labeled as autistic, but I believe that he is from his description. His character exhibits some very classic traits for autism, and because of that, I believe he was written in the likeness of an autistic person in the time before autism was diagnosable. Lennie is a character that everyone in some way is able to relate to no matter what disability they have.

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

Word Count: 1,006