Tag Archives: refrigerator mothers

Week 7 Review–Better Late Than Never

I just realized that I forgot to post my weekly review for last week, October 16.  So here is an abbreviated version, with my apologies.

We began by discussing how the midterm exam went.  There was a consensus, I think, that the text “Telephone Man” was rich and complicated enough to merit serious discussion.  This was evident by some conflicting interpretations of the story: some thought it to be a highly problematic depiction of ASD, while others believed it challenged a number of stereotypes, especially the “angelic” disabled individual who helps others improve themselves.  I appreciated the insights and asked us all to consider the neurodivergent narrator.  Jack from “TM” was our first of the semester, if we allow Watson to be neurotypical, despite his possible PTSD.  We generated a number of observations and questions about ND narrators, including:

  • How close can NT readers get to a ND narrator?  Is the narrative ever truly transparent, or are always aware of the ND status of the narrator?
  • How reliable is a ND narrator?  Madness as a narrative device has precedent (see Edgar Allen Poe and many others), but in most cases, we are expected to distrust the mad narrator, not rely upon him or her for information.  Then again, isn’t every narrator a subjective reporter of events?
  • How gimmicky is the autistic narrator?   How can we distinguish between an authentic autistic narrator and a contrived one?  What are the telling points?
  • If narration is a way of ordering the world through language, to what degree can a “non-ordered” mind accomplish this task?  Does a narrator such as Benji from The Sound and the Fury stretch the bounds of probability too far?

Following this discussion, we watched the documentary Refrigerator Mothers, which told the stories of five or six mothers of autistic children.  Raising these children in the late 1950s and 1960s, when Bettelheim’s psychoanalytical theory of autism reigned, the mothers were told that they had caused their child to be autistic by being too emotionally distant.  Following the film, we had a brief discussion about its implications and its potential connections to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, our reading for next (this) week.  I was interested in the power embedded in mental hospital (highly patriarchal, reflective of post-war America), the desperate status of the mothers themselves (who would do anything to help cure” their children), and in the mythical figure of the refrigerator mother.

That’s all for now.  See you soon.  And don’t forget–you can revise your midterm if you are unsatisfied with your current grade.