Overcoming Adversity in the Children of Lesser God
There was a couple on a date at a restaurant looking through the menu. The waiter came to take their order and asked the woman what she would like. The puzzled woman looked at her date confused of what the waiter was saying. He used sign language to communicate with her. Thereafter, the waiter’s body language changed. He turned to face the man and avoided making eye contact with the woman. He continued to only address the man and ignored the woman, making her feel uncomfortable and inferior. This was among one of the stereotypes barriers faced by the main character in Children of a Lesser God.
The movie is about a stubborn deaf woman, named Sarah, working as a custodian at a school for the deaf. A new young speech teacher, James, was hired at the school Sarah worked. The film developed a conflict between James and Sarah when he tries to teach her how to speak. Eventually, James and Sarah got romantically involved. Children of a Lesser God gave a glimpse of how a smart deaf person, who has sensorineural hearing loss, can have barriers in trusting people who stereotype them, have difficulties building relationships due to cultural barriers, and trouble believing in themselves.
Ever since Sarah was younger, people always saw her differently. At first, they thought she was intellectually disabled or ‘mentally retarded’ as stated by the principal, Dr. Franklin, in the movie (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). ‘Sometimes, in real life, children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are misdiagnosed as mentally deficient’ (Tanner, 2012 p. 184). The misdiagnosed formulated difficulties in Sarah’s early life. As a teenager, Sarah was taken advantage of by her sister’s boy ‘friends’ and by her sister (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). Sarah stated that her sister had a list of boys she had to have sex with (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). The immature teenagers were only thinking of having sex and not caring to know or understand Sarah. They took advantage of her sexually affecting her physically and psychologically. Her mother sent her away because she did not know how to handle her (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). Sarah wanted her mother to comfort her or give her support but instead, her mother forsaken her when she needed her the most. Therefore, the psychological abuse, taking advantage of, and abandonment caused her to have little trust in people. Sarah put a barrier when facing others so she would not get hurt by anyone. Furthermore, as an adult, she refused to show any weakness so nobody would use her. Sarah portrayed a tough, stubborn deaf woman yet she was fragile inside. She believed that everyone saw her with a disability and not as a person until she met James.
Building relationship with two hearing people can be difficult. It can be much harder for two people with different communication cultures. Since Sarah could not trust people, she had a difficult time building a relationship with James. Moreover, James did not understand the world of a deaf person at a personal level. James believed he could take Sarah under his wings and teach her how to speak the same way he did his students. Sarah refused to learn how to speak and to read lips. In fact, the deaf community believes they should not learn how to speak because it is their way of communicating; it is their language. “One faction believes that sign language is the “natural” language of deaf…they consider it their native language’ (Tanner, 2012). James coerced her to learning how to speak caused friction in their relationship. Furthermore, during the beginning of their relationship, they experienced communication culture differences. First, Dr. Franklin invited James for a poker night at his home.
Once they arrived at the home, Dr. Franklin stereotyped Sarah by stating they could not sit together because “deaf people cheat” (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). James explained that she learned how to play by reading a book. However, Dr. Franklin continued to belittle her again. He did not believe she could learn on her own since she was a custodian. Sarah knew how to read lips and his comments did not make her happy. Later, when Sarah was invited to her friend’s gathering, the wheels were turned. During the gathering, everyone was signing because the most were deaf. James felt out of place and was bored. He asked her to leave her friend’s gathering only to stir something more inside Sarah. She felt that she no longer wanted to be told what do; she wanted to be independent.
All her insecurities, uncertainties, and psychological problems were caused during her childhood. Due to her misdiagnosed as mentally “retarded”, her father left his family because he was ashamed of Sarah and felt he had failed his family somehow. In the old days, people were embarrassed by a disability and viewed it as a punishment. Her father’s abandonment caused her mom to have hatred and contempt towards Sarah. Furthermore, Sarah probably had a lot of anger built inside during the time she was being sexually abused and had no one to vent to. Since her mom was not aware of her situation, she could not handle Sarah’s rebellious and felt she was out of control. Hence, she sent her away to the school for the deaf. The sexual abuse and rejection from both parents cause her to have low self-esteem. She settled for a custodial job at a school. She felt it was the only job she had control of since she did not have to do much communication with hearing people. However, everyone at the school stereotyped her, viewing her as less by the type of job she had. Once James came to the school, he was intrigued by her beauty and wit. He saw potential in her and believed he could do so much more.
He took her away from the custodial job and told her to pack her bags to live with him instead of asking her. Once again, Dr. Franklin stereotyped her by stating to James “if she was going to be his maid” (Palmer, Burt, & Haines, 1986). Although James was a bit controlling, he was the first person to asked Sarah what she wanted in life. She mentioned she wanted to have deaf kids. However, her mind changed when she was at Marian’s gathering. She observed Marian and compared her life to hers. She realized that all her throughout her life people had told her what to do thinking it was best for Sarah. No one ever bothered to ask her what she wanted. This led to a separation with James.
Finally, Sarah had to overcome her barriers by facing her past to move forward. She went back home to her mother to reconcile with her. Somewhat, her mother asked for forgiveness and offered her help. Sarah wanted to become independent. She decided to look for a job. Sarah was hired as a manicurist and began to save her money to go to college. At the end of the film, the director does a good job showing how Sarah’s attitude and self-esteem changed by dressing her in white and glowing. It symbolized Sarah’s readiness to face any new challenges, including rebuilding her relationship with James. The director showed how there are different types of deaf people: those that want to learn how to speak and those who do not. It was necessary to have Sarah’s character to resist learning to speak. As Tanner (2012) mentions, many people in the deaf community feel it is not necessary for them to learn to speak instead people should learn their sign language.
Children of a Lesser God portray how a smart deaf person who has sensorineural, can have barriers in trusting people who stereotype them, have difficulties building relationships due to cultural barriers, and trouble believing in themselves. Children of a Lesser God was a romantic movie displaying the adversity of a deaf person. I enjoyed the romance between James and Sarah. However, I found it difficult to write about the communication disorder, since Tanner gave a short summary of each of the hearing loss categories.
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