So I read “a cool moonlight” and instinctively compared it to “Wonder” and “Challenger Deep.” I kept thinking about the different ways that each protagonist connected with, talked about, and navigated their disability. A major concept within disability studies is “normalcy” and how socially-constructed and artificial it is. Normalcy operated very differently in each of these novels, and Auggie, Caden, and Lila all dealt with normalcy in distinct ways. For example, sometimes normalcy was desired as goal for the disabled characters, other times it was considered unnecessary.
I was fascinated by the ways that able-bodied characters interact with the disabled characters in these books, and how each author uses these scenes to depict, satirize, or ignore societal ableism. The secondary source I chose explores interactions between able-bodied adults and disabled children. The article makes use of Freud’s uncanny, continuing some of the themes of the minor Gothic mode discussed in the McGillis article and that we talked about in class.
Most of “a cool moonlight” explores how a disabled child deals with the able-bodied world, so I thought this source would be an interesting way to look at the other side of the book. How do the able-bodied characters deal with Lila? In what ways is “a cool moonlight” potentially more utopic than “Wonder” or “Challenger Deep”?
Throughout the 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” many of the main characters are classified as “misfits,” including Heremy, the elf who wants to be a dentist, and Rudolph, whose nose and lack of reindeer abilities other him. In one of the early songs in the work they sing:
We’re a coupIe of misfits, what’s the matter with misfits?
Seems to us kind of siIIy, that we don’t fit in.
We may be different from the rest
Who decides the test of what is reaIIy best?
Here they directly question what qualifies someone as a “misfit.” But it isn’t until Heremy, Rudolph, and their pal Yukon enter the Island of Misfit Toys that they realize the true plight of being other and/or excluded. The island and its inhabitants are introduced in a catchy song that is sweet, comedic, and festive, celebrating how Christmas is “the most wonderful day of the year.” However, at its core the song is a narrative about how these “defective” toys have been banished by Santa Claus to this island of manufacturing rejects, since no child would ever want to play with them.
In the song, the misfit toys describe the world they are excluded from:
Toys gaIore, scattered on the fIoor
There’s no room for more
And it’s aII because of Santa CIaus
A scooter for Jimmy, a doIIy for Sue
The kind that wiII even say ”How do you do?”
Here the happy world of regular children and perfect toys is glorified and characterized as something all the misfits wish they could be a part of. They then go on to describe their misfit-ness and the rhetoric that makes them undesirable to children:
How wouId you Iike to be a spotted eIephant?
Or a choo-choo with square wheeIs on your caboose?
Or a water pistoI that shoots jeIIy?
WouId you Iike to be a bird that doesn’t fIy? I swim!
Or a cowboy who rides an ostrich?
Or a boat that can’t stay afIoat?
We’re aII misfits!
If we’re on the IsIand of Unwanted Toys
We’II miss aII the fun With the girIs and the boys
When Christmas day is here, the most wonderful day of the year!
Although this is a TV special meant for children, I find it hard to ignore the disability politics of the situation. The toys are all marked as “misfits,” as defective and undesirable because of their irregular bodies. Many of the toys are functional still, but just not in traditionally way (train with square wheels). Some simply have different aesthetic elements (spotted element). This song/scene is an amazing example of the social model of disability: although the toys are still functional (have no “medical” conditions), they are stigmatized by society for being different. So this song creates comedy for children by mocking the unexpected manufacturing errors in the toys, but also has a potential deep satire about hierarchies of ability.
In exchange for temporary housing on the island, the toys make Rudolph promise to make Santa help them. All the misfits know that children would still like to play with them. Although they ave been stimgatized, they know that Santa “could find children who would be happy with [us].” In the 1964 Santa later promises to help the toys but does nothing. However, in the 1965 version the animators added a scene of Santa saving the misfit toys, and that version has been the one televised ever since. Rudolph’s bodily variation (red nose) saves the day and the misfit toys are finally given the chance to be played with by children.
In McGillis’ article he uses many terms from Gothic theory to describe the bodily reaction to bodily irregularity, such as Lacan’s the Real, Burkean sublime, and Freudian uncanny. In all three situations, an audience members recognizes something both familiar and unfamiliar about something, in this case, an irregular body. The result is a mix of captivation and fear. All of these terms from Gothic criticism are directly applicable to disability and to the Island of Misfit Toys, whose inhabitants are very familiar yet somehow off, making them relatable but distant, fun but startling, comedic yet sad. Because of all these contrapuntal emotions, the misfits toys are fascinating and captivating, so much so that we keep coming back to them year after year in one of the most beloved and memorable Christmas TV specials (often accepting their comedy and cute irregularities without questioning the politics of the scene).
I think I was supposed to just post questions about Kertzer but I just couldn’t help myself.
When discussing the concept of “risky laughter,” Kertzer repeatedly refers to Junior’s “satire” (55). Do you agree that Junior’s humor is satirical, or is it just offensive? Kertzer gives Junior’s obsession over Penelope as an example; is this a classic example of the objectifying male gaze, or satire?
Does Kertzer give Alexie too much credit, or is this book just “a mainstream novel that says little new” like Brandford suggests (50)?
Kertzer states Alexie creates two types of laughter: laughing at an object and communal laughter. Does he? Does Junior ever become part of this communal laughter, and if so, at what cost?
Crandall’s attempt at a disability reading of the novel seems desperate, not because he isn’t trying, but because Alexie has Junior self-diagnose at the start of the novel and then never mention his disabilities again. Because disability is not prominent in the text, Crandall had very little to analyze. Is the article a failure because of Crandall’s problematic analysis (use of the word “handicapped,” disability and race equivalency, disability as metaphor/metaphorical disability) or because of Alexie’s lack of inclusion and discussion of Junior’s disabilities?
In the novel, Junior’s disabilities are described in detailed on pages 1-4; afterwards they are basically never mentioned again. Why? What happens to them? Does he “overcome” them? Do they not affect his life? Are they not important to him, or to his story? The answer to all of those questions is most likely “no,” so why does Alexie not explore the disability angle more? Does this harm the novel overall?
One of the most unique parts about YA novels that have disabled protagonist as first-person narrators is getting insight into the mind of the character, specifically how they deal with language, time, perception, interpersonal relationships, etc. The style of the narration (diction, punctuation, paragraph breaks, sentence structure, timeline, descriptions, spelling) often reflects the mind of the disabled narrator. For example, in “Wonder” Justin’s section had run-on sentences and no capitol letters, which was supposed to be a reflection in some way of his mental processes. In “Challenger Deep” the prose often literally mirrored Caden’s state of mind, sometimes with many very short paragraphs, and other times with very long sentences and paragraphs. However, in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” Junior states “I’m not even writing down this story the way I actually talk” (4) blatantly admitting that the prose does not match his actual experiences with language. Is this yet another example of Alexie ignoring disability?
In the novel, many characters go out of their way to say that August “does not have special needs. He is neither disabled, handicapped, nor developmentally delayed in any way” (163). However, Wheeler notes that from a disability studies perspective, he is disabled. Although Wheeler accepts this categorization, why do the characters in the novel resist it? Does this represent a barrier between disability theory (i.e. academics like Wheeler and their analysis) and the lived experiences of characters/people like August?
In what ways is Wheeler not critical enough of Wonder? What are some of the “less realist moments” (338) and how do they detract from the effectiveness of the work as a whole?
Wheeler discusses how three major models of disability (social, medical, and monster) are depicted in the novel, which impacts August’s life most?
Wheeler continually cites Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s “Staring: How We Look.” Here is a link to the whole book online (it is absolutely worth reading and is very accessible). Because I had read Garland-Thomson’s book before I was intrigued by all the staring in the book, the visual politics, and how aware August is of stare dynamics. How do you feel staring operates in the novel, and what is August’s relationship to it?
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