Major Project: The Lunatic of the Headlands

Bryce Anderson

When the villagers told me of the madman raving around the headlands, I made it my purpose to see this poor soul. I make my living as a traveling physician, you see. It isn’t anything like the luxury I enjoyed when I lived in the city. It took me ten years into running my own practice to realize that I was utterly miserable. I had long since sworn my oath to do no harm, but it became evident to me that their issues were rarely real. At least, not in the way they were out here. “In the wilds” my mother called it. Away from civilization, law and order, effectively breaking bread with barbarians and heathens. In villages like this one, their children rarely had enough food, and not from lack of fasting from their parents. They died of common colds the poor things. After my first week abroad, I knew that this was the right choice. The city-folk would find another doctor.

            It was only a month passed since I had visited the village of Darington and their lunatic. Much like it typically is when I come upon a new people, they were hesitant at my intentions there. It only took me producing my medical bag and stethoscope and their apprehension turned into intense interest. They set me up in a house that was much more solid than it appeared from the outside. The exterior looked built mostly from dirt or clay, supported with logs and wooden planks. It always impresses me, the machineless carpentry that they can produce, perhaps from a previous underestimation of their abilities, of humanity’s abilities. I stayed with a single man who was called Ferron. He was incredibly thin, far too thin. The skin stuck to his bones. Fats and proteins, I told him as best I could. They spoke little English, enough for basic communication with signing weaved in. They understood even less which made conversation quite hard. I told Ferron that he needed to eat more, or he would go mad during his work in the fields. He asked if I meant like Ravi and I asked him who he was referring to.

            Ferron and I stayed up past dark talking of Ravi. He was Ferron’s age, around his thirties it seemed. Ferron called him crazy, a lunatic, not right in the head. Ravi did not talk until he was a decade old. Any attempts his parents made to “pull him out of himself,” as Ferron put it, before that time were fruitless. Ravi was never all there, Ferron said. Even when he did speak it was babble, words that didn’t belong together. He would rarely even allow his parents to touch him much less hug him. Often, he would devolve into fits upon physical contact. It made the Ferron, along with the other children at the time, not want to be around him. They teased him some, mostly to get a reaction out of him. Ferron used many different words for dunce describing Ravi. When I asked him where this Ravi was, Ferron released a chuckle, his dry throat sounding off like a cymbal. He told me that Ravi left the village a decade ago. He no longer lived there, but he saw him from time to time. He would wander into the village, fidgeting furiously and raving in his usual manner. Most of the villagers gave him a wide berth when he came into town. His parents were no longer around, but another woman, an elder of the village took to feeding him whenever he made his way back. She was the only one that could get close to him, calm him, and get him to eat peacefully. I asked him about this woman, and he told me her name, Helga. I slept that night on a straw mattress, earnestly beckoning the day forth.

            In the morning, I found Helga preparing to leave by the entrance to the woods surrounding the village. She was covered all around with silk-like fabrics, dull blues and greens. She carried a basket woven from reeds and wore a shawl over her head. A kind, wrinkled face poked out of it. I questioned her about Ravi and she smiled, laughing a bit. She was his mother’s sister, his last relative, and the only one that truly cared for him. When I asked about his whereabouts, she delightfully agreed to walk me there. He lived in a cave near the headland, away from the village and she liked to check in on him sometimes.

            On our way, I asked more questions about him. Was he dangerous? Ferron had told me was mad. No, she chuckled again. Ravi was not crazy, or mad, or dangerous. He was just, she waved her hand in the air, looking for a word, perceptive. So much so that it hurt. She told me that after Ravi was old enough to take care of himself, his parents had abandoned him. They left the village. He’s dealing with it in his own way, she said. As we walked through the tree, my nose caught the subtle scent of salt water. Helga picked ingredients as we hiked. She would stop and bend down when she saw something she needed, a groan rattling in the back of her throat. When she stood, she would say the plant’s name before placing it in her basket. The wind was picking up and, on some drafts,, I could hear a voice, soft and distant. Helga told me that Ravi took in too much of the world, that he just saw things differently. She grimaced at the word saw. It wasn’t to her liking. The world is different for Ravi. You and I, we speak different, she said to me, but Ravi, he is unique. Untranslatable, I said. No, she said, just difficult. She told me that Ravi was very good with plants. For her medicine, the wrong plant could kill someone, but Ravi could tell two apart that looked identical as if they were so obviously dissimilar. Soon we cleared the trees and a clear field that ended in cliffs stretched out before us. The smell of the sea was stronger here. It didn’t come and go; it stood its ground. We were in its territory and would have to adapt.

            We reached Ravi’s cave after about half an hour. It had a great view of the sea and the gulls’ screech was more relaxing combined with it. As we approached, I could hear a man grunting, he had heard us approach. He appeared at the mouth of the cave, a rather tall young man. He looked normal; some might even call him handsome if it weren’t for his dishevelment. His hair was relatively straight, just long and uncut, a good face, no obvious impairment. When he saw Helga, his arms flapped like the gulls circling around us, but they ceased, wrapping around his own body in a self-embrace, when he saw me. Protests shot forward like a departing locomotive, increasing in speed and intensity. Until the birds scattered. Helga managed to calm him down but in a manner I wasn’t expecting.

From Ferron’s accounts, I assumed this man to be volatile. I expected Helga to be somewhat gentle, but as soon as his grunting in protest grew too loud Helga shushed him, assertively, but friendly. Oh hush, she said, you have a visitor. Say hello. Ravi’s armed clenched. He did not look at me, but his arms relaxed after more coaxing from Helga, and then he smirked and said the seagulls like fish before walking into his home.

The interior was well furnished, relatively. There were furs and a place to sleep and a fire. Next to said fire were two fish, skinned and ready to be cooked. Helga dropped her basket and got to work silently. She washed her hands in a stone bowl then washed the fish. She dug into her basket for the plants she picked on our journey. She placed two of the same plant in front of Ravi. He now sat across from her, mesmerized by her workflow. Which is seasoning, she asked, which is medicine? Ravi smirked again, pointing at the plant to his right without a moment’s hesitation. Are you sure, Helga asked? Ravi nodded enthusiastically. She picked up the plant. Hmm she said. She looked at me, quietly observing this strange routine. He sees things clearly, she said. Better than you and me sometimes. Helga focused on cooking the fish for the next few minutes.

From what I could see of Ravi, he was not the raving madman of the headland I had imagine in my head. Nor did he appear to be mentally deficient. It even brought me joy to see his enthusiasm for company grow as the day went on.

Helga and I stayed there until the Sun began to set. The walk felt shorter on the way back and I passed out from exhaustion at the moment I lay my head down to rest. The next day, I decided that I had spent enough time here and packed my things. The people of the village were taken care of and a traveling physician can’t be so if they stay in one place for too long. I said my farewells to Helga and Ferron and the many children I had treated during my time there. During my trek through along the dirt road along the headland, I could see Ravi there standing at the edge of the cliff, his back to me, watching the seagulls circle around him. He joined in earnest.

Salem Smith, MPP – Nothing About Us, Without Us

To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the 1930s southern US, an era of eugenics and Jim Crow laws. While the story is one of tragedy and injustice, it is told from the perspective of a young white girl, who is personally unaffected by these oppressive complexes. This prioritization of white, abled, and wealthy perspectives or interpretations dilutes the logos of the narrative. To Kill a Mockingbird and other memoirs like it are disability and Black trauma pornography that serve to invoke the sympathy, and assert the lack of culbability, of white abled readers, while doing none of the same for Black disabled readers.  

This story is told exclusively from the perspective of Scout Finch, between the ages of 5 and 9. Harper Lee, the author, is also a white woman, and is likely the real voice behind Scout, referring to her own childhood in the south. Scout, while being a strong-willed and outspoken youngster, is still a white perspective, and a limited one at that. Scout and her brother Jem, are only friends with other young white children, like Dill, Cecil, or Walter. Most of the adults in her life are white, with the exception of their nanny, Calpurnia. Even when she reacts to racist sentiments, it’s to distinguish her father as an (white) individual separate from the Black clients he defends. While Scout is being raised to stand in solidarity with those less fortunate than her, her father never interrogates whiteness with his children, only moral platitudes of fairness or non-violence. From chapter 9, 

“ ‘If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?” 

‘For a number of reasons,’ said Atticus. ‘The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.’ 

In Atticus’ own words, defending Tom Robinson’s hopeless case is a matter of personal reputation, of upholding his own excellent defense record. He doesn’t ask Scout to empathize with the Robinson family, or to consider the real reasons behind being “licked a hundred years before we started.” Rather, he continues;
“…we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.” 

Scout is, of course, about 6 years old during this conversation. But what sort of conversations should we expect people in Tom Robinson’s situation to have with their own children? Certainly not that everyone is still friends, or that Maycomb is still home. This teaching solidifies for Scout that 1) the Finch family is still white, no matter who Atticus represents, 2) cases like Tom Robinson’s are practically inconsequential since the outcome is obvious. Some other implications tied in may be that Atticus is the main subject of the case, that others’ perception matters more than being equitable. These are the priorities, to defend white reputations of modesty or class rather than to renounce hateful racist rhetoric and white privilege. 

Another way that this story prioritizes whiteness is that the Black population of Maycomb hardly ever directly speaks on their pain. Lee expresses certain tensions, undertones of Jim Crow laws, but throughout the whole book, no Black person actually speaks the full truth of their pain over Tom Robinson’s trial. Given that this story is told from the perspective of a white child, it’s easy to explain away Scout’s limited view. The issue is that not only does the novel lack these candid, agonizing moments; instead we have just as many reminders that despite being children, they are still treated as better than Black adults. When Jem and Scout visit Calpurnia’s church in chapter 12, their entrance is a show-stopper.

 “When they saw Jem and me with Calpurnia, the men stepped back and took off their hats; the women crossed their arms at their waists, weekday gestures of respectful attention. They parted and made a small pathway to the church door for us.” 

It becomes clear that some want the Finch children to leave, but the majority are excited to have them, to give them “respectful attention.” During Tom Robinson’s trial, four unknown Black attendees voluntarily give up their front row seats for Jem, Scout and Dill. Later on during the trial, Reverend Sykes begs the children to leave, worried about what their father might say, and yet Jem, at only 12 years old, has enough authority to refuse the request. Interactions like these are commonplace, routine, and unquestioned by everyone in the room, and those who disagree are shunned and excluded. Whether out of compassion and understanding for two white children who have yet to comprehend the full sin of racism, or fear of retaliation from white adults, there is no widely shared discomfort with this intrusion upon Black spaces. The Black adults here are portrayed as welcoming, genial, loving, and ironically, color-blind. Even when Tom’s case is lost, despite Atticus’ attitude of resignation, the Black community comes down on the Finch household in droves, with whatever they could get their hands on to express their appreciation. Atticus doesn’t refuse their offerings, even though he immediately acknowledges what an expense this must have been. Throughout the rest of the novel, the Black community of Maycomb is invisible. Culminating with Tom’s eventual murder, the issue of anti-Blackness is neatly wrapped up. As Atticus puts it, 

“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe…some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.” 

And what this statement does, in line with the ultimate conviction, is re-establish that white supremacy is an undeniable truth. To Atticus, and to the white people of Maycomb, no matter how Black people suffer, it will always be this way and it should, because Black people simply were not made equal. This acceptance of the status quo, this maintenance of privilege, solidifies that To Kill a Mockingbird is a story for white readers, despite what other loosely held sentiments may be thrown in for good measure. 

In much the same way that the Finchs’ racism is unbeknownst to them, it is inconceivable that a disabled person like Boo Radley could have his own personal narrative. Boo is immediately characterized as an oddity, a recluse with violent tendencies. As the novel progresses, and his character slowly opens, almost agonizingly, it becomes clear that Boo Radley’s circumstances are not his own doing. The argument of nature versus nurture is sure to have been beaten to death in the gossip circles of Maycomb, when it comes to Boo Radley. Yet, unlike Tom Robinson, Boo Radley’s circumstances are not seen as incontestable. From Calpurnia, we know that Mr. Radley, Sr was the “meanest man God ever blew breath into,” and from Ms. Maudie Atkinson, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of-” 

The people of Maycomb are aware of what sort of abuse goes on in the Radley household, but don’t see any pressing need to intervene. They pity Boo Radley, and speak sympathetically to his situation, because it is a natural fact to them that Boo Radley deserved better treatment than he received from his father. As true as this statement is, the closest thing we have to direct characterization of Boo at this point in the novel is that, in his younger days, according to Ms. Maudie, “…He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did.” But who is Boo Radley now, more than 30 years later? What chances has he had to tell his own truth?

The answer to this, is sadly, none. Arthur Radley, like many neuro- or physically diverse people, has a narrative of violence, inhumanity, and pure evil placed upon him. It is only through Scout and Jem’s companionship that Boo Radley is rehumanized, instead of through his own words or explicit feelings. Boo’s only line in the entire story comes from the last chapter, as he timidly asks 8 year old Scout to walk him home. Despite this clear evidence of his affection for the Finch children, as he gently caresses an unconscious Jem, or humors his vertically-challenged walking partner, he is not expanded upon or revisited after this passage. Scout recalls, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” And yet, Scout isn’t really walking around in them; she’s reshaping Boo’s narrative into one that works for her. Where she had earlier acknowledged that she and Jem hadn’t done much of anything to reciprocate Boo Radley’s friendship, she then turns to create a romanticized ideal of the isolation Boo has experienced. 

In their book, Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell posits the following; “Even in the face of benign rhetoric about disabled people’s best interests, these locations of disability have resulted in treatment, both in the medical and cultural sense, that has proven detrimental to their meaningful participation in the invention of culture itself” (Snyder, Mitchell, 3). Meaning that, regardless of best intentions, actions and behaviors that consistently dehumanize disabled people, whether it be by race or neurodivergence, are simply a reiteration of institutional power that these disenfranchised people will never be benefited by. It doesn’t matter that Atticus saw it as his ethical obligation to defend Tom Robinson just as he would any other client; Atticus was not able or unwilling to interrogate the ways in which his own attitude and “private” beliefs affected the outcome of the case. The Finch family as a whole never seems to take pause and really consider their role, or how much space they take up in the Black community of Maycomb (both figuratively and literally.) In the same vein, it’s meaningless that so many people had an opinion about the way Mr. Radley Sr brought up his sons. Because no one intervened on behalf of Arthur Radley, whether they found it necessary in the first place, or important in the second, Arthur too, was never given a real chance to contribute to his community. Sentiment and prayer, while lovely to taste, have no real substance. Imagine if perhaps, that those who were so inclined, such as Mr. Link Deas, had taken it upon themselves to resolve Mr. Ewell and his smear campaign against Tom Robinson? Or if Ms. Maudie had marched herself right up to the front porch of the Radley house and invited Arthur over for tea whenever he might want it? Those small steps taken by sincere allies, would’ve opened up a world of possibilities for people put into unfortunate circumstances like Tom Robinson and Arthur Radley. 

Works Cited 

Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder, Cultural Locations of Disability, Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.

Major Paper/Project, [Hannah Foleck, Kim Eastridge] and [11 works]

We created a website! Here is the link:

I have also attached our Google Docs link with our write-up explaining the process, goals, and issues we had while creating this website.

Elena Marshel Major Paper: Race and Disability in Of Mice and Men

Elena Marshel
Professor Chris Foss
13 April 2021

Crooks: The Intersection of Race and Disability in Of Mice and Men
For decades, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has held renown as an account of the hardships and tragedies of migrant workers during the Great Depression. Steinbeck illustrates the difficulties workers faced in finding stable jobs, building savings, or attempting to own property through the story of two friends, George and Lennie, as they travel the country looking for work. The novella also explores the ways people during this era formed and maintained relationships with others and the effect of social structures, such as classism and sexism, on these relationships. One social structure examined in Of Mice and Men is that of disability and ableism; Lennie, one of the main characters, has an intellectual disability, and two workers on the ranch have physical disabilities. Candy, an elderly swamper, has an amputated hand, and Crooks, the elderly stable buck, has a crooked back; both of these injuries were received on the job and affect their ability to work, but Crooks and Candy hold relatively permanent positions on the ranch. However, despite their physical similarities, their superiors and peers treat them very differently. While Candy sleeps in the bunkhouse with the other workers and holds social relationships with them, Crooks is banned from the bunkroom and maintains emotional distance from the others on the ranch. These differentiations in treatment stem from an important difference between the two men: Crooks is the only black man on the ranch.
While other disabled characters in the narrative face ableism and discrimination, they are able to maintain some level of basic respect from most of their peers. This is often because the ranchers are able to overlook their perceived deficiencies in certain contexts. However, as a visibly disabled black man in the postbellum era of segregation, Crooks is unable to distance himself from his oppressed identities. There are no contexts in which both of his “defects” are irrelevant as physical health and race both play important roles in determining the social order on the ranch. Crooks is not only black, not only disabled, but both, and it leaves him with little option but to accept his mistreatment and subjugation on the ranch, leading to his social detachment and bitterness. The intersection of race and disability in the character of Crooks creates a story of extreme dehumanization through racism, manipulation, and exploitation.
Crooks’ status on the ranch is evident as soon as he is introduced as a character. When George and Lennie arrive late, Candy describes to them that their boss was upset with their tardiness, finishing his story with, “he give the stable buck hell, too” (Steinbeck 20). This elicits confusion from George because, without knowledge of Crooks’ identity as a black, disabled man, George doesn’t understand the relationship between the boss’s anger and his treatment of the stable buck. Candy seems to understand why George is confused, explaining with the simple statement, “Ya see the stable buck’s a n*gger” (Steinbeck 20). This answer implies that if the stable buck was white, the behavior would be inappropriate, but because “the stable buck’s a n*gger,” he is the rational target for the boss to take out his anger. In his explanation, Candy positions Crooks’ race as the most important aspect of his identity in determining how he should be treated.
Candy goes on to describe Crooks as a “nice fella” and then immediately explains how he has “a crooked back where a horse kicked him” (Steinbeck 20). The description of Crooks as a “nice fella” directly contradicts many of the later descriptions of Crooks as aloof and antisocial. Therefore, it seems likely that Candy’s positing of Crooks as a “nice fella” is not an attempt at an accurate depiction, but rather to separate himself from his boss’s behavior and establish to George that he doesn’t hold inherent aggression towards black people. Candy’s next sentence further justifies Crooks’ position at the bottom of the social hierarchy by revealing his physical disability, yet another visible difference that separates Crooks from the rest of the workers. Candy’s conceptualization and explanation of Crooks reveals how he is viewed on the farm: first and foremost, he is the only black person and therefore he is treated poorly; if more justification for his mistreatment is needed, he is also visibly disabled.
As further proof of Crooks’ social position, Candy tells George a story about a special occasion where their boss had given them a gallon of alcohol and “they let the n*gger come in that night” (Steinbeck 21). The social inclusion of Crooks is portrayed as a rare, unique event. Even then, Candy describes how Crooks was still not fully included, but rather used as a source of entertainment when another worker began to fight him. The others placed restrictions on Crooks’ challenger in order to accommodate his disability, which only serves to increase aggression towards Crooks: “If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the n*gger. The guys said on account of the n*gger’s got a crooked back, Smitty can’t use his feet” (Steinbeck 21). This treatment of Crooks’ disability is illustrative of the simultaneously protective and harmful effects it has on his life. Because the workers hold such a high emphasis on physical fitness and the ability to defend oneself, Crooks is given accommodations on the basis of his disability that allow him to partially combat the racial discrimination he receives. However, using these tools ultimately increases the animosity the white workers feel towards him. This creates a cycle where discrimination leads to accommodation, which then leads to more discrimination.
Despite the discrimination he faces, Crooks is a long-term worker on the ranch. This is not necessarily out of loyalty or love of the job, but instead due to a lack of options and fear of worse treatment elsewhere. Specifically, his disability is listed as a reason for the stability of his position: “being a stable buck and a cripple, he was more permanent than the other men” (Steinbeck 65). He shares this position with Candy, who says once he can’t work on the ranch he “won’t have no place to go, an’ [he] can’t get no more jobs” (Steinbeck 59) due to his disability and age. It is this sense of hopelessness that feeds the cycles of subjugation described above. If the employees who have work-related disabilities (Candy and Crooks) believe their current positions are their only option, they will withstand more poor treatment than they otherwise would. Curley and his father need only provide them with the most base level of respect and kindness in order to keep them in their positions, and for Candy, a white man, the base level of respect is far higher than it is for Crooks. Again, disability-based and race-based discrimination compound upon one another.
Crooks is completely isolated from the other members of the farm on the basis of his race physically, socially, and intellectually. Much of this isolation arises from the fact that Crooks is not allowed into the main bunkroom where the rest of the employees sleep and socialize. When the worker with an intellectual disability, Lennie, asks Crooks why he isn’t allowed in the bunkroom, Crooks responds, “‘cause I’m black… they say I stink” (Steinbeck 67). His exclusion from the main point of social contact is justified in precisely the same way another character justifies his request for Candy to keep his elderly dog out of the bunkroom. The same issue of odor is used to encourage Candy to allow his dog to be euthanized: “He don’t have no fun… and he stinks to beat hell. Tell you what. I’ll shoot him for you” (Steinbeck 47). These parallels show how the comfort of those higher in the social hierarchy is valued more than the quality of life (or life itself) of those deemed inferior. The parallels also illustrate how dehumanized Crooks has become in the eyes of his peers, as his social standing is disturbingly comparable to that of Candy’s dog: inherently beneath all others.
As seen in the expulsion of both Crooks and Candy’s dog from the bunkhouse, the comfort of the white, able-bodied workers takes precedence over the comfort of others. This is another contributing factor to Crooks’ alienation on the ranch. With the other disabled characters, disability is viewed as a deficiency that can, nevertheless, be overcome and consequently overlooked. When George introduces Lennie, he repeatedly tells the others, “He ain’t bright. Hell of a good worker, though” (Steinbeck 34). George attempts to keep the others as comfortable as possible with Lennie by simplifying his intellectual disability into a matter of “brightness” and immediately compensating for that deficiency with physical fitness and profitability. This explanation is more or less accepted by the others, and by preserving the comfort of those higher in the social hierarchy, Lennie is given access to the bunkhouse that Crooks isn’t afforded. Despite their disabilities, Lennie and Candy are protected by their whiteness, which immediately identifies them as similar to the other workers in at least one important way.
Contrastingly, Crooks is immediately identifiable as inherently different from the others through his skin color, which is almost universally deemed as inferior. So, as he must start at the bottom of the social pyramid, his disability is viewed as an additional defect, as opposed to a singular fault that can be more easily overcome. Instead of being an obstacle to physical and social success, Crooks’ disability solidifies his place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. When Crooks is talking to Lennie and realizes he isn’t listening, he says, “This is just a n*gger talkin’, an’ a busted-back n*gger. So it don’t mean nothing, see?” (Steinbeck 69). Again, his most important identifying feature is his race, which automatically discredits him, but the addition of his “busted back” merely confirms his inferiority. The fact that Crooks himself is the one saying this shows how much he has internalized this narrative due to its constant reinforcement by others.
In order to deal with this isolation, Crooks becomes a “proud, aloof man” who “kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs” (Steinbeck 66), even when it goes against what he truly wants. In order to endure abuse as painlessly as possible, Crooks has learned to rid himself of any outwards expression of desire, contempt, or emotion, in general, to avoid giving his abusers additional leverage. When Curley’s wife comes into Crooks’ room and sees the three disabled characters, Crooks, Lennie, and Candy, she refers to them respectively as “a n*gger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep” (Steinbeck 77). Again, Crooks’ major deficiency is not his physical disability but his race, which therefore places Curley’s wife above him on the social hierarchy. Therefore, she feels free to abuse him in a manner she doesn’t attempt with either Lennie or Candy, who are disabled white men and therefore of fairly equal standing with her. When Candy yells at her, she merely laughs and teases in response, but when Crooks loses his temper and asks her to leave, she responds with a threat to have him lynched. In response, Crooks “drew into himself… seemed to grow smaller” and finally “had reduced himself to nothing” (Steinbeck 78-9). The practiced nature of this process and his history of taking the brunt of aggression on the farm show how consistently Crooks is exposed to this kind of abuse. His persona of “proud aloofness” is a coping mechanism for the long-term anguish of constant belittlement and threats.
Crooks is consistently and unequivocally placed at the very bottom of the social hierarchy on the ranch in Of Mice and Men. This is not totally because of his race nor his disability, but because of the combination of those two identities. His race causes him to automatically be deemed as inferior to the other white workers, but his disability creates a dependence on the system that oppresses and discriminates against him. Crooks’ personality as described in the novella- detached, rigid, unkind- is, therefore, a direct result of his treatment as a black disabled man.

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

Works Cited
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.

Major Project, Eliana Black, Collage

Eliana Black

Professor Foss 

Disability in Literature

13 April 2021

Major Project Art Collage of Disability Depiction in the Media

Disability is a key part of society as it makes up 15% of the population according to the World Health Association, yet mass media often has a skewed perception that is pushed onto viewers. Incorrect stigmatization, no matter how well intended, forms harmful stereotypes in societal norms that affect people with disabilities. In my piece, I focused on examples of real media taken directly from newspapers and magazines which exhibit contribution to a warped viewpoint including those we’ve spoken about in class such as infantilization and savior complexes. 

Media has a substantial influence on sociological and societal norms which are developed by continuous acceptance and production of certain views for what is considered ‘normal.’ Already there is a lack of representation of disability in each source that we take in. Seen on the top middle area in my collage, The Ruderman White Paper is portrayed which refers to the study that shows 95% of characters with a disability are played by non-disabled actors. This creates yet another division for a person with a disability, as even the representation in television is somewhat of a lie as well . To the right of that photo is a scene from American Horror Story which is one of my favorite, more accurate depictions of a character with a disability. The character Nan is played by actress Jamie Brewer, who has Down Syndrome. Instead of using Brewer’s Down Syndrome as a character trait, American Horror Story incorporates her as a main character, living the same way as the other girls in the house. The subtitles show a scene in which one of the girls asks Nan if she’s a virgin, and she says “Hell no. I’m not a virgin. I get it on all the time and guys find me hot” (“The Replacements” 12:26). In this scene, the rest of the girls talk about their sexual interests, but Nan’s claims are never second guessed or disputed by the others, but rather accepted. This scene connects to the class reading from the Introduction of Sex and Disability, where normalization of sexual desire and acts often exclude people with disabilities. 

Another seemingly small but incredibly impactful is the diction used when referring to disabilities in the media. Highlighted in my piece are article titles such as ‘How to handle grandma with cancer’ and ‘Texas HS football player gives the cutest promposal to his special needs friend.’ Headlines and wording like these contribute to the infantilization of people with disabilities, and takes away agency as their own person. These representations also idolize the caregiver for their job, which instills the mindset of disability as an issue or a nuisance to be cared for. In the reading Coming out Mad, Coming Out Disabled, author Elizabeth Brewer highlights the negative connotations associated with disability and how ever then society still has an expectation for those with a disability to come out. The concept of coming out furthermore creates alienation for people with disabilities and other viewpoints are easily unconsciously changed. 

Ableism is exhibited in a variety of ways throughout society, some of which are not always direct or visible. In an attempt for allies or supporters of the disabled community to make disability more normalized, there is also the risk of over-encouragement. Statements seen in the collage graphic titled Spectators exhibits a man in a wheelchair completing his race, as the crowd holds up a sign saying “handicapable” and the audience remarks on his ‘bravery.’ The Teen Vogue piece shows a model in a wheelchair for their Disability Awareness Special. Referring back to the promposal article displayed, the football player praising was broadcasted nationally, for a simple high school dance. Examples like these are controversial in the disabled community and although the intentions may be positive, the actual execution contributes to even more segregation of disabled people in society. It creates the concept of ‘inspiration porn’, which is defined by Wikipedia as “the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability” (Wikipedia).

In my collage piece I demonstrated a handful of the vast examples in the media that either misrepresent disability as a whole or aid in the formation of harmful prejudice and accepting generalized views. It creates an environment in which disability is seen as an issue or a lack of ways of life, where instead it needs to be more accepted and easily accommodated. Media is only one of the many impactful variables that create society’s conforming definition of disability onto people who have a disability. As inspirational author and advocate Robert M. Hansel states, “There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.” (

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

Eliana C. Black

Works Cited

“Inspiration Porn.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2021,

“Robert M. Hensel Quotes.” Quotefancy,

Woodburn, Danny, and Kristina Copic. “Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television.” Ruderman Family Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017,

“World Report on Disability.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 14 Dec. 2011, 

“The Replacements.” American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy, season 3: Coven, episode 3, FX Networks LLC, 2013. 

Major Paper/Project Write-Up

            There is this restrictive ideology that those who are disabled, whether physically and/or mentally, are incapable of obtaining an ideal future for themselves. This mentality often robs the disabled community of many opportunities for them to follow and succeed in their aspirations. However, it does not completely prevent the many different communities of those with disabilities from achieving their dreams. For this assignment, I focused on the members of the autistic community. My goal was to create digital art posters depicting people on the autism spectrum who are leading active and successful lives whose contributions have enriched society. I hope to further convey to those who view these caricatures that the neurodiverse community are capable of so much than the limiting predetermined futures of “pain, isolation, and bitterness” that the neurotypical majority predicts (Kafer 2).

All the steps leading up to the final results were integral to the authenticity and significance of getting this message across. The first part of the process required research of famous autists. I expanded the field to throughout history, countries, and occupations. Finding autistics in the past turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated. Autism did not become a term until the early 1900s, so while there were many examples of prominent figures who have done extraordinary things in their lifetimes and that were speculated to be on the spectrum, I could not choose them as a focus on any of the posters since there is no way of officially diagnosing them. Even after the 1900s, where diagnosis of autism and access of information about it became more readily available to the public, I also could not pick those who self-diagnosed themselves. Unless they were officially diagnosed by a credible medical professional, I could not consider them for this project as a viable representation of those with autism “leading an engaging and satisfying life” (Kafer 2). After much research, I decided to illustrate Temple Grandin, Satoshi Tajiri, and Greta Thunberg. Once I had decided on who my muses would be, the next step of the process was to examine various photos of them to give me a few ideas for their sketches. I would then draw a few rough sketches that depicted them, and other props related to their respective professions. When I was satisfied with the concepts, I would then create the final sketches to be used as references for the digital drawings. Each of these individuals featured on the posters come from different places around the world and have unique jobs. Temple Grandin is a “professor of animal science” from Boston, Maryland who has reformed the methods conducted at slaughterhouses to make them more humane to the treatment of cattle (UMSL). Satoshi Tajiri, from Tokyo, Japan, transformed his hobby of bug collecting into the beloved world of Pokémon that continues to evolve and bring joy to all ages. Greta Thunberg, an environmental activist from Sweden, confronted the world leaders at the United Nations about climate change and the dire need for action against it.

            The significance of the final results of this project is that it removes autism from the “medical framework” that disability is often boxed into with this idea that whatever the impairment is must be cured or a “problem” that has “to be eradicated” (Kafer 9). Instead, the posters highlight the autists’ achievements within the frameworks of politics and social involvement. These posters are my counter-argument to those who are neurotypical and think that people on the autism spectrum have nothing but these “grim imagined futures” of being “abandon[ed]” by friends and family, “drug addiction,” and “suicide” (Kafer 1-2). People with autism are more than capable of making a lasting positive impact in society as well as leading their best lives.

Works Cited

Kafer. “Imagined Futures.” pp. 1–24.

Temple Grandin,