It's Just Not Fair.
Flowers for Algernon: Treatment of the Disabled
Number 1: "He pushed me up close against her. So she danced with me. I fell three times and I couldn't understand why because no one else was dancing besides Ellen and me. And all the time I was tripping because somebody's foot was always sticking out" (Keyes, 41)
This takes place when Frank Reilly and Joe Carp take Charlie to Halloran’s Bar to have some “drinks” and they make him dance with a girl named Ellen. Ellen agrees to teach him the steps but it is quickly noticed that everyone in the bar seems to be laughing at Charlie. This shows mistreatment of the mentally disabled in particular because the only reason this joke was played was because Frank and Joe thought Charlie was not smart enough to understand what was going on, thus not affecting Charlie. It can be observed that Charlie is the victim of the joke and it is evident that someone intentionally did this to make fun of him; he mentions how someone was always sticking their foot out. At first, Charlie is unaware of the fact that they are making a joke out of him, but he later catches on. Charlie also notes that no else is dancing; all the attention is on him- a cruel way of making fun of Charlie’s incoordination; moreover, they thought it would be funny to make a mentally-disabled man dance. In comparison to other disabilities, one would never make fun of an amputee trying to dance, so why make fun of any type of disability at all?
This takes place at the bakery when Charlie finally earns the title of working by the dough-mixer. Knowing that Charlie had never used the dough-mixer before, Joe Carp suggested that Charlie give it a try at using it in hopes that he would fail causing others to laugh at his inability to use a simple kitchen appliance due to his mental disability. He uses the excuse of April Fools day to make fun of Charlie and get away with it. To everyone’s surprise, Charlie properly operates the dough mixer- some even say he did it better than Oliver who went to school for two years for it. Mistreatment of the disabled is present in this situation since this was done intentionally to attack Charlie and make him feel ashamed of his illness. Since no one actually ended up laughing at Charlie like Joe and Gimpy wanted, they became angry. They thought they could take advantage of Charlie simply because of intellectual delay, but Charlie ends up surprising them all.
This takes place at a diner. Charlie stops by the diner on his way home and hears the sound of plates breaking. To his surprise, the crowd at the restaurant is laughing at a poor boy’s attempt to clean up the mess - more specifically, they were laughing because he was mentally-disabled. This angered Charlie; he jumped up and shouted to protect the boy. This portrays mistreatment of the disabled because this was also a targeted attempt to belittle him due to the fact that he has a developmental delay. Being viewed as vulnerable, because of the boy’s disability, compared to the general population, he was perceived as weak and passive. The people making fun of the boy also knew he would probably not report the abuse, making him an easy target. With this communication barrier, they knew he would also have a hard time defending himself, making him the perfect candidate for this abuse. As mentioned in the theme statement, it is easier to abuse or exploit someone if one genuinely believes that people with disabilities are less human or less valuable than someone without a developmental delay. Charlie explains how this would not happen to someone without arms or legs; a reminder that the stigma around mental health still exists. He empathizes with the boy because not too long ago, just like the boy, Charlie was the victim of hatred and mistreatment.
This picture depicts inequality faced by the mentally or developmentally disabled community versus everyone else. The picture shows two types of people on either side of the pyramid and both are trying to reach the top- representing their ultimate goal. At first glance, they look the same, however, it is noticed that on the left side, the person is given square blocks and on the right, they are given sharp gear-like blocks, which are harder to build up. The objective remains the same, however, it is obvious that the person on the left has the upper hand.
The people on the left represent the disabled and the person on the left represent those who are not. The building blocks are societal challenges faced by both parties. As mentioned before, at first both people appear to look the same, portraying the idea that we are all equal in God’s eyes and everyone is valued. In society, compared to someone without a disability, it is harder for a disabled person to access help; they are usually given the shorter end of the stick - they have to work harder and usually deal with tougher situations. They are victims of inequality, judgement, abuse, and mistreatment, as proved in the book.
Similar to the previous picture, this shows lack of equality for disabled people. In this picture, there are two fishbowls, each containing two fish; the larger fishbowl contains the smaller fish while the smaller fishbowl contains the larger fish. It is evident that the larger fish is uncomfortable in its environment. The big fish in the small bowl represent the disabled community and the small fish in the big bowl represent the non-disabled people. The small fish can swim around freely in the big bowl doing as it pleases while the big fish can barely move. Similar to the rights of citizens, the majority of the people can do what they want, when they want like the fish, while it is not as free for disabled people. Their voice struggles to be heard and barely gets past its own “bowl”. Leaving the small fish in the big bowl is fine, however if doing so, the big should also get an appropriately big bowl. There is nothing wrong with having freedom, but looking out for others is important as well. Disabled people often struggle in voicing their opinion in society; even if it is heard, it can go unnoticed. Just by empathizing and then taking action, changes can be made.
In this picture, there are two different types of people; one appears to be the majority and the other appears to be the minority. The majority is represented with white and the minority is represented with the black. The white consists of working or upper class people while in the black, there are also people- some who are disabled and animals. It is clear that white is viewed as superior to the black, since they are walking over them as if it were a road. This relates to mistreatment of the disabled people because it portrays how they are viewed in society; those with disabilities are the black or the minority, while everyone else is the white or the majority. Disabled people are taken advantage of and are viewed as less valuable than others. Part of the reason for the mistreatment is due to the stigma around helping those at a disability; many people with disabilities have been verbally abused, causing low self-esteem and can potentially foster a belief that the abuse is deserved. Also being a part of the minority, this picture depicts the inferiority felt by those that are disabled. They are walked on, used, and victimized because of genetic mutations- something they had no control over it.
Text to World Connection
In this article, it highlights the ongoing issue of assisted suicide or euthanasia, killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or coma, in Europe. More specifically, in Belgium, parents can decide the fate of their child and whether they want to proceed with euthanasia. In Switzerland and Netherlands, one can be killed if suffering from mental illness, even if the person is physically healthy. In London, parents have the right to kill disabled children.
What kind of world is this?
The ideology of assisted killing or disposal of disabled people feeds into the idea that disabled people are worthless- to the point where they should just be killed off. No human should ever feel this way, ill or healthy. Everyone deserves to have dignity and happiness because they are made in the image and likeness of God. The article explains how a man in his 30s was killed simply due to the fact that he was autistic. Relating back to the book, Charlie always felt as if he was not enough; he would not be whole without intelligence. Professor Nemur also hints at the idea of pre-surgery Charlie not being considered a “person” at various parts of the book, feeding into this negative mentality and adding to the stigma.
Text to Text Connection
“The true story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, a gripping battle to overcome impossible obstacles and the struggle to communicate. As a young girl, Helen Keller is stricken with scarlet fever. The illness leaves her blind, mute, and deaf. Sealed off from the world, Helen cannot communicate with anyone, nor anyone with her. Often frustrated and desperate, Helen flies into uncontrollable rages and tantrums that terrify her hopeless family. The gifted teacher Annie Sullivan is summoned by the family to help the girl understand the world from which she is isolated, freeing Helen Keller from her internal prison forever” (Unknown reviewer, IMDB)
This movie showcases the effects of stigma that surround disabilities; more specifically, developmental illnesses. In the beginning of the movie, Helen is treated badly- people avoid her and do not like to come in contact with her, due to her illness. Without the lack of voice –literally- she is unable to communicate with others, causing frustration and all-time lows in regards to her self-esteem and she also behaves disrespectfully. Similar to Charlie, she experiences situations in which she is mistreated and taken advantage due to the fact that she physically could not do anything about it. She begins spinning out of control and feels worthless. That is, until Ms. Annie Sullivan comes along and changes her life. Annie was not like the others; she cared for Helen as if she was her own daughter. Like Charlie, Annie had felt as if she had gone through a surgery; she was a new person. Helen broke past the prison bars within her mind. Annie helped break the stigma, especially prevalent at the time, around this illness and truly made a change in Helen’s life. She helped her rebuild the relationship with her family and helped her find ways to communicate. Annie showed Helen how precious life truly is and that her disability does not define her.
Text to Self Connection
Personally, I have never experienced a mental illness, however, a daughter of a close family friend has been the victim of mistreatment due to her disability. Sky was diagnosed with down syndrome at birth. I would babysit her and she was a very sweet little girl. As soon as she was of age, Sky started school and at first, she loved. I continued to babysit her once in a while if her parents were busy, however within a few weeks, I started to notice a difference in her personality; she become much quieter and was often irritable. At first, I thought she was just having a bad day at school, but later came to realize that her classmates were very harsh on her and were verbally mistreating her. Just because she was mentally disabled, they would pick on her and try to embarrass her. They were not encouraging of Sky; rather they were very unforgiving. This took a toll on Sky’s well-being and although she did not say anything, various non-visual clues gave it away. Due to the fact that she was not like other kids, they, like many other people, fell prey to the stigma around this issue and hurt an innocent girl- similar to what Charlie went through. His friends made fun of him because of his disability, which is never acceptable.