27 February 2023 at 12:47:38 pm
Rebecca Hill graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in English and a Masters in Writing, but is now retraining for a career in psychotherapy. With both an academic and personal interest in representations of mental illness and disability in fiction, she hopes to further her understanding through research and psycho-education.
Her creative work has been published in a number of anthologies and journals, including Matter and Zodiac Young Writers, and most recently in Test Signal: Northern Anthology of New Writers (2021).
“A Feast of Sound and Mouths”: Deaf Representation in Short Fiction
deafness, disability, communication
In Harriet Martineau’s words, “blindness is frequently made interesting in books; deafness seldom or never.” From the “deaf-mute” to the “deaf and dumb”, historical ignorance of deaf people has led to a lack of representation in literature. Often, where they are included to begin with, deaf characters are given voices by external characters, and their true, internal voices are left unrecognised and unimagined. The deaf are ignored, dismissed, and deemed unworthy by both society and art.
So who speaks for the voiceless? On those rare occasions where we imagine what a deaf person may be thinking, what words do we feed them? How do the hearing reconcile the lack of verbal communication with themselves? And how do these external narratives match up with the true internal narratives of deaf people? What voices do they give to themselves?
Hearing authors can often use deafness for shock value, or to promote the “Christian duty” of charity, as seen in Alice T. Terry’s ‘Laurens Beecher, Christian’. In Dickens’s ‘Doctor Marigold’, we see a man projecting his late daughter onto a newly-adopted deaf girl. H. G. Wells and C. M. Eddy Junior examined the “delicate intelligence that brooded in external darkness and silence” in their short horror ‘Deaf, Dumb, and Blind’.
But there is hope. A steady stream of new authors are joining the sparse ranks of their historical peers to promote the reality of deaf life experiences through authentic representation. In Ross Showalter’s ‘Feast’, for example, we see the modern reality of navigating a party with technological assistance while still weighing the effects of social isolation.
This paper will explore non-normative communication in short fiction, focusing on the differences between how ‘voiceless’ characters are imagined and represented by others versus how they represent themselves.