Karlie Jahn’s Response to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Something we have talked about a lot in class was the abundance of authors writing in disabled characters. Although unfortunately not for the usage of having a diverse collection of characters, but rather so the main characters had something to use as a scapegoat or a means to an end. The idea of authors setting up disabled characters as less than human in the eyes of the reader and in the eyes of the other characters. We see instances like this in multiple stories we have read this semester. Everything from the Monster in Frankenstein, Lennie in Of Mice and Men and how he is related to a dog on multiple encounters, and how Boo Radley is seen as a sort of animal in a cage for children to look at in To Kill a Mockingbird

The Monster in Frankenstein is seen as this horrible monster that’s only purpose in life was to be seen as an outcast. In all the renditions of this story it is always the towns people turning against the Monster because of how horrible he looked. He was put off as a less than human monstrosity, when in every story all he wanted was love. Love which is a very human want, but due to the way the people looked at him was unattainable. Lennie from Of Mice and Men laid out very plainly for the readers to see that Lennie was to be seen as nothing more than a dog. From multiple characters saying as much when talking about him, to the way Lennie was killed. He was “put down” in the very same fashion as Candy’s dog was put down when he was too old to continue. Basically telling the readers that it’s better to be dead than to have to live the way Lennie was. 

The characterization of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird is set up in a way to make him seem less than human. The best way it has ever been described to me was as if he is the town’s cryptid. Nothing more than a story to scare children into acting right, the only problem is he is a real person in this town. He is obviously caring in how he treated Scout when she was out in the cold, or how he stitched up Jem’s pants when they tore on the fence. Boo Radley is more than just the name in the town. Although the way the Finch children have gone from frightened by his name alone to an almost fondness does not bode well for Boo Radley. It feels like the Finch children almost now treat him like an animal in a cage they can “Oh” and “Ah” over. He is simplified to nothing more than an animal they fawn over. 

While all of these stories are seen as classics in the eyes of literature, it feels wrong to see these stories come to life in the eyes of disability literature. They were once held at high esteem for a lot of people, but due to the nature of the characters the authors have so easily dehumanized, it now feels wrong. Seeing that some of the most well known characters are those that are disabled, but widely made fun of in the books is upsetting. There needs to be a greater shift to disabled literature where the main character is disabled and just as human as those without the disabilities in the book. A story that is just as popular, if not more than those that have pushed disabled characters to be comic relief or the bad guy like Frankenstien, Of Mice and Men, or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Word Count: 614

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