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Compare and contrast the ways in which the theme of disability is dealt with in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Hardy’s The Withered Arm.

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Introduction

David Stiles Compare and contrast the ways in which the theme of disability is dealt with in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Hardy's The Withered Arm. Disability is defined by the Collins dictionary as a 'Physical or mental incapacity or illness that restricts someone's way of life'. Given this there are a number of characters in both Of Mice and Men and 'The Withered Arm' who could be labelled as disabled. The 'Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy was written in 1818 and set in the 1820's in Dorset. John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men was written and set in the 1930's in California. The most obviously disabled characters are those with physical handicap. Gertrude in Thomas Hardy's story, develops a withered arm in her twenties. The cause of this is very unusual - her disability develops over night when Rhoda Brook has a dream in which she grasps Gertrude's arm. Although Gertrude has grounds for hating Rhoda (her new husband farmer Lodge is the father of her illegitimate son) she doesn't put a curse on her on purpose. So her withered arm is a mystery. There appears to be no medical cure for it. The doctor cannot help her and she has to resort to potions but to no avail. Gertrude's happiness is ruined by her disability. Her husband no longer loves her because her arm is disfigured - "I shouldn't so much mind it,' said the younger, with hesitation, 'if - if I hadn't a notion that it makes my husband - dislike me - no, love me less. ...read more.

Middle

Curley in Of Mice and Men has an inferiority complex - he is the boss's son and is short. He wants power but he can't get it on his own terms. He is jealous of Slim because he has power and of Lennie because of his size. In 'The Withered Arm' Rhoda Brook is also jealous. She envies Gertrude because she is married to Farmer Lodge and her life is very unhappy. In the two texts, gender is also something that restricts some of the characters lives. There is evidence to support the fact that the lives of the women in Of Mice and Men and 'The Withered Arm' are restricted by their gender. Curley's wife is just a possession; she has no identity of her own and no freedom. This is reflected by the way she has no name in the novel, she is just referred to as 'Curley's Wife'. Although she comes across as a 'tart' she is quite lonely and chases after the men for company and attention. Gertrude feels she has to please her husband, he shows her off purely for her beauty. Rhoda's son describes Farmer Lodge's new wife in church wearing 'A white bonnet and a silver covered gownd. It whewed and whistled so loud when it rubbed against the pews that the lady coloured up more than ever for the very shame at the noise'. Gertrude feels uncomfortable in her noisy dress but her husband is very pleased to show her off. ...read more.

Conclusion

For example, Rhoda thinks she will be discriminated against, so she behaves as if she is. But actually it's only farmer Lodge that does - the dairy workers are quite sympathetic: 'The dairyman, who rented the cows of Lodge, and knew perfectly the tall milkmaids history, with manly kindliness always kept the gossip in the cow-barton from annoying Rhoda'. Similarly Gertrude thinks her arm is responsible for the state of her marriage. She doesn't consider more sensible reasons. Her own obsession with her arm makes her probably helped to damage the marriage as well. Curley's wife also acts in the way other people expect her to. The men treat her like a 'tart' so she dresses and acts like one. This may also be the case for Lennie. Today he would be able to have special education to help him be more responsible. In Of Mice and Men the other characters treat him like an idiot and a child and so he never grows up. Although the tow texts are very different (one is a kind of folk tale set in rural Dorset, the other is more realistic), there are similarities in the way the theme of disability is dealt with. Both texts have characters with physical disabilities and many minor characters who suffer from an 'incapacity or illness that restricts someone's way of life'. It's quite surprising that despite the hundred year gap very little seems to have changed in terms of attitudes towards disability. In both stories these attitudes result in tragic deaths. ...read more.

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