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Samuel Beardslee’s Formal Post on Jim Ferris’ “Poet of Cripples”

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we carry within, our hidden void,
a place for each to become full, whole,
room of our own, space to grow in ways
unimaginable to the straight
and the narrow, the small and similar,
the poor, normal ones who do not know
their poverty. (lines 6-12)

A common theme which has appeared in several pieces of Literature throughout this semester is the idea of a disabled character bringing about an epiphany for another main character.  The concept behind “the epiphany” implies that a certain ignorance is in place before an event occurs which illuminates the situation and matures that person’s thoughts on the subject in question.  This is important to distinguish in disability readings, as how this epiphany is handled determines what is ultimately said about the disabled character’s role.  Jim Ferris, in “Poet of Cripples”, focuses, among other things, on the ideal role of the disabled individual in life.  He also addresses another problem people have both in and out of fiction.  People wish to gain an understanding of the world around them, and this is exceedingly difficult due to the innumerable inconsistencies and paradoxes that one encounters.  When confronted with an abnormality, people react in different ways, however, these reactions are simply a process in which we “make sense” of the world around us.  Unfortunately, the definition of “abnormal” is becoming grayer with each passing year, which can lead to a treatment of disabled persons as something “other” and “unapproachable.”

One of the more difficult obstacles in the way of human understanding is understanding another human.  This is to say that sympathy and, much more so, empathy, while difficult to consistently utilize, are essential in making sense of humanity, not only in terms of society, but also to the metaphysical concepts of the state of being.  Finding connections and similarities between two people is daunting and sometimes risky, as finding these points of common understanding can lead others deeper into one’s own psyche than one is comfortable with.  This is “the hidden void” mentioned in Ferris’ poem, a place which we desperately wish to fill, and certainly try, but, more often than not, fail.   Filling this void seems to be impossible by oneself, so we turn to others to help fill it, however we do not know if the other is going to help fill the void or to expand its emptiness.  So we search for ways to gauge whether or not another with help or harm by finding points of similarity or complementarity.  This is difficult enough on a psychological level.  When someone is disabled, suddenly their outlook on life is different than the majority of the world, which makes them harder to connect with.  At least, this is the initial thought process regarding anyone who is “other.”

What Ferris is trying to convey in this poem is the lines of connection, of sympathy and empathy, that can be made between all people, whether they are “abnormal” or “normal”.  In fact, he points to those who are “normal”  and calls them ignorant, “the poor, normal ones who do not know/ their poverty.”  By calling attention to the fact that disabled persons, by virtue of seeing the world through a lens that far from what is considered “the norm”, are, in fact, more in tune with the answer of the great question of humanity than “normal” people.  However, Ferris does not say this as a slam against those who are not disabled.  On the contrary, he is calling everyone broken, hobbling, empty, and longing.  All disabled in their own way, trying to make sense of the world that seems to want to make sense but then throws a pink elephant into the room.  He is saying that, in our quest to reach our own epiphanies, the “other” lens may be what we are missing.  It is in this way that Ferris shows the ideal representation of a disabled person’s role in another’s life.  Showing that both characters in question are human, and therefore both searching, in their own way, for fulfillment, is the best way in which to portray any disabled person interacting with someone else.  Likewise, if all people are disabled, then it should be of utmost importance to ensure that the “other”, since it is a concept which isolates and degrades those grouped into it, does not get in the way of finding that understanding that which we all are looking for.

Written by Spyden

November 5th, 2010 at 1:08 am

Katherine Sullivan’s Formal Post on Laurie Clements Lambeth’s “Hypoesthesia”

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“Are you touching me,

I thought to ask, but instead watched as he kissed each part and caressed

and did what we do when I feel right. I didn’t say          I can’t feel that,

but let his hands and mouth travel.

For the first time in my life I let go of my body a while and looked down

with fascination at the man I love in the process of loving me —” (lines 11-16)

Laurie Clements Lambeth’s poem titled “Hypoesthesia” presents three unique perspectives on disability that are captured in a single, vulnerable moment between a disabled woman and her lover.  In this scene, the female speaker cultivates a new definition of disability (that our class has not yet examined), offers an unguarded view of sexuality in a life driven by disability, and experiences the clarity of viewing the self through the eyes of one’s lover.

The excerpt above highlights the exact moment in which the speaker realizes that her body is not defined by her disability.  She is finally able to “let go” of her body and notice that her lover appreciates her exactly as she is.  This acceptance of self is significant in that the speaker learns to experience the pleasure of sex in an entirely new way.  She no longer feels inadequate for not being able to feel the delicate sensations that her lover draws on her skin, and in turn finds pleasure in her lover’s enjoyment.

This poem also describes a shift in the speaker’s attitudes towards sex in the lens of her disability. Up to this moment, the speaker’s entire life, and all of her sexual experiences have been “senseless,” meaning both without logic or thought, and without the feeling of sensations.  This epiphany allows the speaker to finally actively participate in sex, instead of allowing it to happen to her against her will.  Previously, the speaker was not able to actually feel what her lover did to express his feelings through her body, but she instead grows to experience it by watching and listening to her lover.

Lastly, this unique poem cultivates a new definition that our class has not yet come across. Not a non-normative functioning of the mind, or a broken or painful aspect of the body – but the absence of feeling, be that potential feeling bad (like some of the other disabilities we have studied) or good (like the sensations of the speaker’s lover).   In this way, her skin is essentially blind to texture and pressure, but not to temperature, as we see in the line “with each kiss planted along my belly, to feel only the cool afterward.”  This kind of disability connects to many other neutrality-based disabilities that our class has not yet studied, such as emotional disorders that render individuals incapable of processing other’s emotions.

The speaker’s disconnect from the traditional physical senses of her body lead her to a significant epiphany of how she views her own body, sexuality within that body, and disability.  This poem contributes significantly to our class’ on-going discussion of disability because it introduces the complications of sexuality and self-identity.

Written by Katherine Sullivan

November 4th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Meg’s (Last!) Formal Blog Post

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I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted

To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.

How free it is, you have no idea how free—

The peacefulness is so big it dazzles you,

And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.

It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them

Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.

Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe

Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.

Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.

They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,

Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,

A dozen red lead sinkers around my neck.

—Plath, “Tulips”

In this section of “Tulips,” Plath contrasts the peacefulness of death and the hospital with the vividness of life and tulips (which she equates together). Through this, the tulips also become a symbol of Plath’s otherness. Like Plath, they stand out, unable to blend in and exist in her desired world.

In the first stanza, Plath details her desire for nothingness. She mentions lying “with her hands turned up,” a motion that implies both surrender and death. Plath would rather give up to the emptiness and expansiveness of the hospital rather than maintain health. Ironically, this “surrender” doesn’t imprison Plath; to her it is a freeing motion. There is also the idea of bodily transcendence within the stanza. In order to attain what is a heaven to her (and exist on a plane that “dazes”), Plath must take on the role of the disciple and give up her earthly possessions. The “peacefulness asks” only for her to take on a nametag and give up a few “trinkets.” This religious ideal is furthered through the “communion tablet” at the end of the stanza, another symbol of the body given up for a chance at heaven. With this image in mind, then, the hospital becomes a holy place of worship, and the dead those who are truly penitent. This is how Plath would like to exist—since she can not function in the vivid world of the tulips, she would rather experience the bland nothing.

The second stanza sharply contrasts with the first. It details life against death, and where the first stanza comes across as expansive and white, this one is vivid and sharp. Color is key to this poem; the whiteness of the hospital implies sterility and death. There is a nothingness and peace that Plath hopes for. However, the tulips “correspond” to her wounds. The red of the tulips suggests blood, and therefore life. The tulips are also immediately invasive; they are “too red” and their color is “sudden.” Their color is already out of place in the sterile hospital. “Wound” here also probably applies to Plath’s depression; the tulips “correspond” to it because they remind her of the life that she does not want. Like the tulips, it is a gift to her that has been given in the stead of her hospital stay (which should invite emptiness and possibly death).

In this way, the tulip also functions as a symbol of her disease; its bright otherness against the sterility of the hospital is a reminder of Plath’s otherness. She can not exist (or does not believe she can exist) properly in the outside world. She stands out. However, she can not exist in the “empty” world of the hospital either; she is like the tulips, too harsh. Because they are reminders of her depression and of her life outside the hospital, they are a disruption and take her away from health. So, rather than be at the peace that she assumes she will be at, she is “weigh(ed) down” and “upset.”

“Tulips” shows a striking contrast between the sterile world of the hospital and the vivid life of the real world (as shown with the gift of the flowers). Through this, the reader is also able to glimpse a sense of Plath’s otherness and inability (or at least the belief in her inability) to happily exist in society.

Written by Meg

November 4th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Stacy’s Formal Blog Post on “The Treatment of Bibi-Haldar”

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“Besides who would marry her? The girl knows nothing about anything, speaks backwards, is practically thirty, can’t light a coal stove, can’t boil rice, can’t tell the difference between fennel and a cumin seed. Imagine her attempting to feed a man!”

“The Treatment of Bibi-Haldar,” is a story about a character named Bibi that is confined by the world around her, including her physical surrounding and the mental burden of trying to comply with others expectations that are forced onto her. Bibi does in fact have a physical disability, however, her greatest ailment is represented as her inability to function as a ‘proper’ woman in order to please her family, friends and suitors. This passage expresses the notion that if a character like Bibi does not fulfill the role of a traditional woman, than no one will want her because she is of no use.

In this passage, Bibi is portrayed as a worthless and ignorant woman.  It starts off with the question, who would marry her?  The underlying response is that she is not considered a traditional woman, which allows others to view her as an outcast. This passage affirms the idea of what is expected of a woman and if those expectations are not met, she is deemed unworthy. Bibi is thirty years old and not married yet, which is already looked down upon. Additionally, Bibi does not talk like a ‘proper’ woman should, as she ‘speaks backwards.’ She knows ‘nothing’ because she cannot cook, nor is able to tell the difference between different foods.  Bibi’s character is rejected because she fails at these common ‘womanly duties.’

The significance of this passage is not that Bibi cannot cook, talks differently or is still unmarried, instead,  she is spoken poorly about and mistreated simply because she cannot assimilate herself into the traditional role of acting and behaving as a women ‘must’ in order to please her man. The passage ends with a sarcastic tone about her attempting to feed a man, implying that she could never be capable of properly taking care of a man, which also brings up the idea that a man is not expected to feed himself, but that it his wife’s obligation to put food on the table. This passage embodies the feministic view of women being mistreated when they act non-traditional and are not skilled at areas where they are expected to be knowledgeable at.

Word Count: 360

Written by skeser88

November 3rd, 2010 at 11:35 pm

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Andrew’s Formal Blog Post on Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People”

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“Put it back on,” she said.
“Not yet,” he murmured, setting it on its foot out of her reach. “Leave it off for awhile. You got me instead.”
She gave a little cry of alarm but he pushed her down and began to kiss her again. Without the leg she felt entirely dependent on him. Her brain seemed to have stopped thinking altogether and to be about some other function it was not very good at.

In this scene from the end of “Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor uses the prosthetic leg as both a narrative prosthesis and a literal prosthesis in the narrative. We see behind the false facades that the two characters are outwardly portraying, the simple Bible salesman and the cold philosopher, and are able to see the true ugliness of the situation.

In one sense, Hulga uses her prosthetic leg to help normalize her mobility impairment, while in another sense, she uses the prosthetic to distance herself from her family and other “good country people.” By distancing herself physically, she is also able to differentiate the mental superiority she holds over those around her. Losing the prosthetic causes her to feel vulnerable both mobility-wise and in regards to her distinctive “ugliness” that she flaunts towards her mother.

Hulga acknowledges that “she felt entirely dependent on him,” after the leg was out of her reach, which forces her to have faith in Manely to put it back on. It also shows that she believed in her prosthetic leg, rather than holding disdain for it and using it as a social crutch, which completely casts away her faith, or complete and total lack thereof, and life philosophy.

In portraying Hulga as a cold, nihilistic, disabled person, O’Connor puts her character in contrast with the “whole,” simple Manely Pointer, who turns out to be even uglier and unbelieving than she. The moment of grace that O’Connor works towards shows that Hulga’s prosthetic leg does not hold her back from society, but rather Hulga is giving in to the stigma and letting it repress her.

Written by aallingh

November 3rd, 2010 at 11:02 am

Helen’s formal blog post on Banner’s “The Wedding of Tom to Tom”

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“I mean, I’m not against love. I’m not against human sexuality. I’m against obsession. Those two are obsessed. I mean. I talked to Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s guardian last night on the phone, and he told me they’ve been like that since Orient, since they were boys, and it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t. So we’re just gonna move Tom A. over to Franklin Street… I mean, what I’m afraid of is that they are gonna end up hurting each other. Physically…when I walked in on them the other morning, Tom A., excuse me, but Tom A. was anally penetrating Tom B.”
The way she said “penetrating,” I had to laugh.

Kate Anderson-Malloy, the head caretaker in Keith Banner’s The Wedding of Tom to Tom, draws a line between what she perceives as the difference between “love” and “obsession” when she decides to have Tom A. and Tom B. separated. She cites no institutional regulation that states that the two cannot be allowed to be together, nor does Tom A.’s guardian imply that he requires of Kate that the behavior be stopped. Kate’s assumption—that these two “retarded” people cannot make decisions for themselves despite their seeming lucidity and competence—is complicated by the fact that Tom and Tom are in a homosexual relationship. The implied judgment behind Kate’s decision is that Tom A. and Tom B. are only together because their mental illnesses impair their ability to choose “appropriate” partners. Kate categorizes the two Tom’s “deviant” sexual behavior as symptoms of their greater instability.

All of the caretakers, including Anita and Kate in the quoted passage, seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of Tom A. and Tom B. having sex. It is impossible, here, to separate their discomfort of seeing two “retarded” people having sex from their discomfort with homosexuality generally. Anita laughs at the idea of the two men having anal sex, as do her coworkers. None of them speak out against the move, but neither have they separated Tom and Tom with much decisiveness in the past: the two men’s desire for each other seems to be accepted as a kind of eccentricity that is indulged in the context of the institution, but widely acknowledged to be socially unacceptable. The two Toms are treated like children, as if they were five and had been caught kissing chastely on the playground: it is cute, but ultimately inappropriate. Tom and Tom are not allowed to make this decision for themselves not because they are too young, but presumably because they are “too retarded” to choose an “appropriate” partner.

Because the two Tom’s sexuality does not manifest in more “normal” heterosexual ways, Tom and Tom wanting to be together is regarded as “obsession” rather than “love.”  “Obsessive” behavior is something quantifiable, a commodity that Kate can legitimately seek to control or eradicate in her patients because it is a sign of mental instability. Kate talks of being afraid of the two men “hurting each other,” but she also mentions that Tom A.’s guardian said Tom and Tom had been together for years without much incident. Anita never mentions either of the Tom’s guardians speaking out about having the Toms separated. Kate’s decision to move them apart, then, becomes a matter of her own discomfort.

Although Kate admits that “it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t,” she endeavors to end it regardless because there is some unspoken difference between what the Toms are doing and what two people in love would do. Their love is, to the caretakers, adorable up to a point, but it is only taken seriously inasmuch as Kate believes they are capable of hurting each other. Their homosexual relationship is labeled as “obsession,” a term which, for Kate, changes their relationship into a symptom of mental illness, a quantifiable thing which she has control over and plans to eradicate.

Written by Helen

November 3rd, 2010 at 9:27 am

Mairin Martin’s Formal Blog Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider (part 3)

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“[The creatures] have learned too, the insidious technique of taking the content of my days thoughts and rendering it filthy or absurd or grotesque, and sometimes even as I’m writing I can’t stop myself looking up, I see a skewed imitation of the very matter on the page in front of me- see now! See them do it now! See how huge my hands are, disproportionately huge, and my face long and yellow with the skin flaking off in a shower like the scales of a cod under the fish monger’s knife! Oh see him fumbling there, the poor monster, fumbling with his pencil with those great misshapen paws- the pencil so tiny and delicate now as he tried to grasp and manipulate it- and I tear my eyes away, force myself back to the book…”
– Spider pg. 213

As Dennis goes longer and longer without his medications, his mind sinks further and further in to the realm of the world he creates with his schizophrenia. While in this state of mind, Dennis no longer has control over the splitting of himself into different beings. As he unravels, the narrator reveals to the reader the reasons behind his need to create Spider, to displace the blame for his mother’s murder. With an unlocked mind, Dennis allows himself to remember that he killed his mother. Immediately upon doing so, the narrator reverts to speaking of Spider in the third person. This time, it is not with a loving and sentimental voice that he speaks of Spider, as he did earlier in the novel, reflecting on the only times of contentment in his life which were spent alone with his mother who called him Spider because she knew that was who he really was. Now that the narrator has discovered he is responsible for his mother’s death he speaks of the Spider in himself as an “other”. There is a man separate from himself who is writing in his diary. This man, Spider, is a monster. Dennis wants to be able to blame someone else for his horrific actions and so he creates Spider. Here, Dennis is displaying the desire of the “normal” people to reassure themselves of their normality by dwelling on the monstrosity of the “others”. Dennis’ half of the brain, the “good lunatic” side, describes Spider as a monster in order to make sense of why he would murder his mother.

Another result of the lack of medication is that the creatures are not only more prevalent, but they have become more active beings, beginning just as loud voices scuffling in the attics then speaking directly to Spider (“kill her”) and now openly mocking and ridiculing the narrator. Rather than subject himself to this torture, the narrator pulls himself aside and leaves Spider behind. In this way, he can be Dennis and he can be on the stronger side; he can be one of the crowd and join with the creatures in the attic, mocking the deformed Spider rather than sitting weak and lonely, the object of their ridicule. Through the mechanics of blame and desperation to separate himself from the part responsible for his mother’s death, the narrator begins to show, for the first time, the origins of his schizophrenia that are based in the need to shift blame from himself. In doing so, Dennis displays an acute sense of understanding of social norms. He attempts to convince himself of his normality and sanity by casting out and chastising the “other”, the Spider, within him. He uses the mentally disabled part of himself as a scapegoat for the actions for which he is too weak to take responsibility.

Written by Mairin Martin

November 1st, 2010 at 9:44 am

Sarah Roop’s Formal Blog Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider, Part 2

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“(I know this feeling, I too have been tormented in this way, I too have felt them clacking and clicking round the back of my head like the teeth of a hound, like a cloud of chattering gnats, in fact the sound is rarely absent, though most of the time it is mercifully subdued, more of a hum than anything else.)” pg. 88

Plagued by images that haunt his mind, Denis, known as Spider, is left to live in the horrors he has witnessed and those that his mind creates and tends to dwell upon. As a young child, Spider’s father commits the horrific crime of murder, which impacts Spider’s life and his memories surrounding that time in his life.  Spider’s narrative demonstrates his impressive mental capability for remembering the facts and details of a situation, however he does not relay his own feelings and reactions to the story. After his father comes to realize the fullness of his actions of killing his wife, about two days after the murder, a wave hits him. It is to this is what Spider is relating to in the passage. He describes his head as an epicenter of perceptions, a constant and dull part of his life. It is through this passage that it is shown that the loss of control illustrated overwhelms Spider after the loss of his mother and does not permit him to fully grasp the situation.

The narrative of Spider’s life lacks complexity and great emotion that is often present, especially after a young child loses their mother. He is left unaware of the full situation for a period of time, simply recounting the details of the home and the smell of his father’s mistress, Hilda Wilkinson. He admits to not knowing where his mother was, and wonders where she has gone? But he does not appear to go looking for her, instead retreats to his room or spies on his father and Hilda Wilkinson. It is as if he is unable to fully comprehend at the time, that she is gone. Spider’s narrative then comes back to the present, and he states that “familiar running together of past and present has occurred”, as he is unable to differentiate the fine line in his mind. The jumble in his mind relates to the “clanking and clicking”, and though he says it is often subdued, it overwhelms him to the point that it interferes with his mental processes. A constant hum can be as excruciating as the chaos itself.

The memory and loss of his mother left Spider in a state of shock, lost to confusion. In turn, this added to the disarray that he identified in the back of his mind. The inability to completely realize and comprehend left Spider at a disadvantage. The event further illuminated that Spider is victim to his mind, as he simply describes his surroundings in a blunt, matter-of-fact manner.

Written by sroop

October 29th, 2010 at 11:29 am

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Susan’s Formal Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider, part 1

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I am not a fast walker; I shuffle, rather than walk, and often I am forced to stop dead in the middle of the pavement.  I forget how to do it, you see, for nothing is automatic with me anymore, not since I came back from Canada.  The simplest actions—eating, dressing, going to the lavatory—can sometimes pose near-insurmountable problems, not because I am physically handicapped in any way, but rather because I lose the easy, fluid sense of being-in-the-body that I once had; the linkage of brain and limb is a delicate mechanism, and often, now, for me, it becomes uncoupled. (10)

This passage from Patrick McGrath’s Spider comes from the very beginning of the book.  I found it to be important because it is the first instance that allows us to know of Spider’s mental disability, a significant influence throughout the rest of the book.

Spider’s mental disability is established not by an explicit statement, but rather as a foil to physical disability. He reveals that he is challenged by walking, along with “eating, dressing, going to the lavatory,” and that these activities “can sometimes pose insurmountable problems” (10).  These challenges could easily be classified as the result of a physical disability since they are activities difficult for Spider to complete.  However, in this passage Spider makes it clear that physical disability is not the case.  He states he has these problems “not because I am physically handicapped in any way,” but because his “linkage of brain and limb” sometimes becomes “uncoupled” (10).  This is the reasoning presented to us as an explanation behind the disconnect between Spider’s mind and the rest of his body.

Although this is an abstract representation of mental disability (as most representations are), it is firmly established that Spider is suffering from something inside his mind, rather than a physical impairment.  Without this important insight into the character of Spider, a reader would have difficulty understanding the character and motivations of Spider for the remainder of the book.

Written by Susan

October 27th, 2010 at 11:53 am

Sarah S.’s Formal Blog Post on Spider pt 1

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“It was the cloak of spectral unreality I loved, the cloak it spread over the familiar forms of the world. All was strange in a fog, buildings grew vague, human beings groped and became lost, the landmarks, the compass points, by which they navigated melted into nothingness and the world was transfigured into a country of the blind. But if the sighted became blind, then the blind—and for some odd reason I have always regarded myself as one of the blind—the blind became sighted, and I remember feeling at home in a  fog, happily at ease in the murk and gloom that so confused my neighbors. I moved quickly and confidently through fog-blanketed streets, unvisited by the terrors that lurked everywhere in the visible material world; I stayed out as late as I could in a fog.” (page 67)

Spider is unique in that we get a close (legible) inner monologue from a mentally disabled character. Certain passages, such as the one above, give us a valuable insight into the thought process of a mentally disabled person (although it would help to know what disability). In the passage above, we see Spider’s alienation from the world around him and his inability to cope with normal perspectives.

Spider’s love of fog sets him apart from his “neighbors,” from the normal inhabitants of the city and their behaviors. Most people are disoriented in the fog, not able to rely on their usual landmarks and sense of direction. Spider, because he is so unlike the rest of the population, likes when these roles are reversed, so that he can walk like a normal person would, unhindered through the streets. To Spider, the real fear is in the “visible material world,” which is blanketed by the fog and thus obscured. The fog covers over all of the stressful real world sights and sounds that Spider is unable to deal with because of his disability.

It is interesting when he says that he has considered himself as “one of the blind,” because it shows a strange self-awareness of this disability, but a misplaced awareness nonetheless. He seems to understand that he does not fit in with normal society, but cannot pinpoint exactly what is wrong with him that sets him apart. For instance, he has no perception that the voices in the attic aren’t actually there, but figures out that the gas is not leaking from him and he was just freaking out.

Spider does not fit in with the world around him, and thus enjoys the cloaking atmosphere of the fog because it allows him to behave “normally,” at least compared with the rest of the world.

Written by sarahsmile

October 27th, 2010 at 1:42 am