HomeNewsBusinessCultureHealthVideoNewsletter

Dickens Used Literature to Highlight Discrimination Against Disabled

Tel Aviv U Researcher Claims Art Used to Trace Social Attitudes

By: David Shear
Published: January 24th, 2013 in Culture » Books » News
Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens' tales are filled with immortal characters — think of A Christmas Carol's Scrooge and Great Expectations' Miss Havisham. But more than whims of literary invention, his characters and plots often deal with the difficult social realities of Victorian England. His portrayal of the disabled — both in terms of medicine and the social discrimination they faced — is no exception.

"Social attitudes towards the disabled can often be traced through art, from ancient times through today," explains Prof. Avi Ohry of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine and a scholar of the medical humanities. In Dickens' works, he says, readers are confronted with the stark realities of the 19th century, including poor medical care and social discrimination against the physically disabled and the mentally ill.

In a recent article for the journal Orthopedia, Traumatologia and Rehabilitacja, Prof. Ohry argues that literature was a way for Dickens to express his ideas for reform and advocate for better treatment of the disabled. Extremely influential, Dickens’ opinions may have gone a long way towards influencing social attitudes — the first step towards improved care and non-discriminatory legislation, he says.

During Dickens' time, disabled people were still commonly feared and seen as monstrous, explains Prof. Ohry. In the literature of the 19th century, physical deformities were often interpreted as "outward manifestations of inner depravity" or "punishment for moral failings," he says.

And while Dickens does portray some of his disabled characters in this way, such as the greedy and ruthless Smallweed in Bleak House, many of his disabled characters are uniquely sympathetic and inspirational — a surprisingly progressive attitude, considering the era’s social prejudices towards the disabled. Examples include the heart-tugging Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol and Phil Squod, a loyal and good-hearted servant in Bleak House, both of whom are “crippled.” Dickens also took care to differentiate between physical handicaps and mental disabilities or illness, another distinguishing feature of his work.

This kind of advanced thinking was shaped by Dickens' real life experiences, Prof. Ohry explains. The author’s own experience of illness and poverty, especially in early adulthood, bred a lifelong interest in medical and social conditions. Deeply committed to alleviating the plight of the poor and a frequent visitor at both hospitals and asylums, Dickens maintained close friendships with some of the most notable reformers and doctors of his time.

Although attitudes towards the disabled have shifted throughout the centuries, there are still lessons to be learned from Dickens' message. Today’s sociologists and anthropologists who have studied reactions to disabled communities can attest that prejudice remains common, says Prof. Ohry. Ask a healthy individual to sit in a disabled person's wheelchair, for instance, and often he will refuse, as though the disability is contagious, he adds.

In many arenas, advocates for the sick and infirm are still fighting the battle for greater acceptance of those who are different. Dickens' passion for social reform and support for those in need resonates even in our modern society, he concludes.

Related articles: Charles Dicken, Disabled, Social Attitudes, Tel Aviv, University, Israel, Art, Literature, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectation
0 times
Israeli Author, Amos Oz, Wins Franz Kafka Prize

The acclaimed author of ‘Jews and Words’ wins $10,000 honor

‘Glee’s’ Lea Michele Lands Book Deal

‘Brunette Ambition’ will “part memoir, part how-to and part style guide”

Israeli Writer Fania Oz-Salzberger Headlines 2013 Toronto Jewish Literary Festival

Festival Presented by Koffler Centre of the Arts from June 1 to 9

An Unorthodox Book Set for Orthodox Newlyweds

Sex Education Book Translated to Hebrew

Diary of Anne Frank Deemed Pornographic by Michigan Mom

A 7th grade parents wants the book removed from her child’s classroom

Beastie Boys to Release Memoirs in 2015

Mike D and Ad-Rock sign with Random House imprint

Israeli Author, Amos Oz, Wins Franz Kafka Prize

The acclaimed author of ‘Jews and Words’ wins $10,000 honor

‘Glee’s’ Lea Michele Lands Book Deal

‘Brunette Ambition’ will “part memoir, part how-to and part style guide”

Israeli Writer Fania Oz-Salzberger Headlines 2013 Toronto Jewish Literary Festival

Festival Presented by Koffler Centre of the Arts from June 1 to 9

An Unorthodox Book Set for Orthodox Newlyweds

Sex Education Book Translated to Hebrew

Diary of Anne Frank Deemed Pornographic by Michigan Mom

A 7th grade parents wants the book removed from her child’s classroom

Beastie Boys to Release Memoirs in 2015

Mike D and Ad-Rock sign with Random House imprint

news_scroll_down
OUR FACEBOOK FANS
Blogs
Take Responsibility for Your Own

The 19 year old sophomore sat on the exam table looking at the floor. A college student with obvious charm

The Stanford Prison Experiment at

In 1971, researchers set up a prison in the basement of Stanford University's Psychology Department. The idea was to

U.S. vs. Europe: Health Care

As I have tried to make abundantly clear the United States is the only country in the industrialized world that

Hands Off America

Alright, that does it.Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been willing to do their part for

Fat Returns After Liposuction ...

A study appeared in a journal titled “Obesity” which was reported by a group from the University of Colorado. In

What does Victory Look Like?

Sixty-five years ago today, World War II officially came to an end. On September 2, 1945, Japanese Foreign Minister

Share This Story With Your Friends!

Your Name:

Friend's Name:

E-Mail:

Friend's E-Mail:

(This information will not be displayed publicly)

Optional Message: