Jillian Weise’s poem “Nondisabled Demands” informs the reader about how people who know about others’ disabilities will treat them. In contrast, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the reader can see that the unknown will either scare or spark curiosity in others. Whether it is better to hide the truth or reveal disability to the public is argued over between these authors. While each has a different opinion, both of them have experience with the same issue: the infectious effects of gossip and the lie about disability.
In the beginning of the novel, “Boo” Radley is introduced in several stories. These stories are mostly negative and brand “Boo” as a dangerous character that should be locked up to avoid “no further trouble” (13). As Weise states in her poem, “You can’t expect people to read you / if you don’t come out and say it” which causes gossip to spread (line 6, 7). Lee and Weise show just how much people do not know about other people’s lives, even more so when he or she has a concealed disability. Compared to Weise’s poem, Lee’s novel represents disability in a negative light. The poem “Nondisabled Demands” still shows how disability is seen as a cumbersome weight, “an inspiration,” something to overcome, in other people’s eyes. The novel represents what happens when other people fear it when it is hidden from the public (line 18). Although in Weise’s poem, she states that if someone does have a disability, he or she should be transparent about it, but considering what has or has not happened to “Boo” Radley in the past,—not to mention his nickname—it would be harder for the Radley’s to follow Weise’s advice. “Boo” Radley is not seen as a charity case; instead he is seen as a monster. Even if the Radley’s were clear about their son’s condition it does not guarantee that the gossiping would stop.
Weise then continues on to say that if the person with a disability does not comply with the public, the people would “rope [he or she] to the podium” and continue to force a reply (line 13, 14). A parallel is seen between these two works of literature. Jem, Dill, and Scout end up attempting to lure “Boo” out to answer some questions about his past. Even though their intentions are innocent, their perceptions are damaging. Jem compares “Boo” to a turtle and proceeds to say that “turtles can’t feel” (18). This may be just Jem’s naivete, but Lee’s choices here appear meaningful. This could be Lee’s way of showing her audience how disability was viewed back in the thirties when there wasn’t much to know about it, especially through children’s eyes. Instead of keeping their distance, the kids are constantly drawn to the house partly because they are curious and partly because they are concerned. Dill questions “Boo” Radley’s state of mind: “How’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin’ but cats to eat?” (62). Again, the character’s idea of “Boo” Radley is distorted, but matches up with what Weise states in her poem about pitying the disabled. Either people will fear the unknown or pity it, but for children they do both.
Even though these are different situations in front of different audiences, the literary works coexist together to break the misconceptions about disability and how it should not be handled by the public. Instead of making up stories about the disabled and being noisy, the community should keep to themselves and realize that even people with disabilities can feel, too.
Word Count: 598
I pledge… J. Faith Hopkins