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Literary Characters Who Change Our Perception of Hearing Loss

From the time we're young children begging for one more story at bedtime, we understand that the literary world is a vast place, wealthy with characters of all shapes and sizes that depict nearly every walk of life. From wicked witches and heroic everymen to mischievous children and classic romancers, there's a character for everyone to relate to, form a connection with, love to hate, or aspire to be.

While these fictionalized people are primarily meant to entertain, sometimes they have a higher purpose: to show the complexity of the human condition and allow us the opportunity to experience the world through a perspective sometimes very different from our own. As Atticus Finch famously says to Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Throughout history, there have been many characters with hearing difficulties who portray the challenges and triumphs that come along with hearing loss. These characters have helped empower others to live their lives to the fullest as well as helped many better understand what it’s like to go through life without clear sound.


John Singer in Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The bestselling 1940 novel chronicles John Singer, a deaf man living in a small town in Georgia during the tumultuous 1930s, and his changing relationships with those around him. John is eager to forge friendships, but he sometimes feels limited in expressing himself to others. Regardless of this, many around him hold him in high regard and often use their imaginations to decide what kind of person John actually is.

Through his compassionate and thoughtful actions, John inspires those in his life to challenge their own personal conflicts while struggling to succeed during a time of great social struggles. Because of the novel’s honest approach and depiction of John, the reader can readily relate and apply the same sense of understanding to his or her own issues. Because of his uniqueness and development, John is regarded as one of the most unique characters in 20th century literature.

 

Linda Snopes Kohl in William Faulkner's The Mansion

The third of Faulkner's trilogy depicting the harrowing tales of the Snopes family in post-Civil War Mississippi features Linda Snopes Kohl. Made deaf by the loud artillery fire in the Spanish Civil War, Linda is a strong-willed woman who represents the "outsider's" point of view within the community. Linda is regarded by many as one of Faulkner’s more compelling female characters because of her fortitude, ingenuity, and cunning nature.

 

Alice Guthries in Sara Flanigan's Alice

Another story set in rural Georgia during the 1930s, Alice follows teenage Ellie Perkins and her friendship with her newly discovered neighbor Alice Guthries, a deaf teenager who was abandoned by her parents and kept in secret in their shed. After discovering Alice, Ellie rescues her and brings her to live with her family. They provide Alice with hearing devices, education, support and love, and she is given the freedom to blossom and live her life fully. By doing so, she also empowers readers to understand that no struggle is too large to be overcome.

 

 

There have also been many memorable characterizations of the deaf and hard-of-hearing on TV and in film.

 

Last Updated: July 9, 2014

 

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