Being deaf can be pretty raw deal for someone wanting to live a full and happy life. Describing deafness in illustrated form requires an understanding of how it feels to be deaf in the first place. Cece Bell describes the journey very cleverly in her illustrated world using the graphic novel genre to her advantage In Her novel El Deafo. We the readers are always reminded visually of Cece’s hearing impairment due to Bell’s choice of using rabbits as the characters. Rabbits have large, quite noticeable ears and Cece’s hearing aids are always shown as a result. Speech bubbles in grey indistinct font or just filled with blank white colour truly illustrate to the rest of the world what a person is feeling when they cannot hear in clear distinct detail.
It is white noise or an indistinct jumble of words that can lead to some peculiar challenges and assumptions when you are deaf….bake or lake? Cake or fake?.CeceBell also addresses the hardships and isolation endured with hearing loss.
How do I know these challenges? I was born deaf in my right ear. This is something I have in common with the author, Cece Bell. El Deafo’s protagonist Cece contracted viral meningitis at the age of four. While I don’t have the harrowing experience Cece did being in hospital, being deaf does put you in a certain club. Many deaf people I am certain, would really like to leave the club if they could. Cece’s formative years are spent dealing with the everyday difficulties of being deaf and trying to fit in with her classmates and friends who are not deaf… I was always aware that something wasn’t right hearing wise, I suspected that I was deaf long before I was officially diagnosed when I was sixteen. My formative years were spent undiagnosed and looking back it explains so much about my childhood.
Deafness has a profound impact on your life. The self-esteem of many hearing-impaired children is usually much lower than in other children in their formative years. It can cause the delay of speech and language skills leading to social anxiety and poor social skills generally. This can also make you less willing to try and work on these skills, if like me, you don’t know why everyone else is getting along so much better than you. I just assumed I was dumb.
This also flows onto poor academic achievement. Many schools are now employing the use of trained aides to sit with hearing impaired children or the use of electronic microphones as depicted in El Deafo. I really struggled with mathematical concepts, which apparently is common with deaf children. Visual and English subjects are more readily picked up by the hearing impaired. As many people will understand this leads to isolation and poor self concept, which can follow through to adulthood which has its own unique challenges.
Deafness poses everyday challenges to your most important one to one relationships. Asking small favours may seem to hard if you need to sign or talk loudly to your hearing impaired loved one. Deafness has one of leading divorce rates for disabilities. Simply put, communication really is one of the main aspects of any relationship. If spontaneous communication isn’t really available, for example, you really like that flower over there and you want to say it to your partner, you may be discouraged if it feels like too much effort to sign. Harsh but true, sorry to say. Which leads to frustration, for both people. For Cece, in El Deafo the inability to hear, when her microphone is dropped, leads her teacher to interpret Cece’s lack of hearing as disrespect. If I had a dollar for every time I got in trouble for ‘daydreaming’ as a child I’d be a rich woman today. Daydreaming was interpreted as laziness or disrespect.
My deafness does pose some amusing relationship issues as well. My incredibly lovely partner will occasionally whisper sweet nothings into the wrong ear…and all I’ll feel is the tickle of his breath. I then have to gently remind him it was the wrong ear…awkward. But worth it when I get to hear what he wants to say.
However it can become a major obstacle in major life circumstances. Only very recently a Georgia, USA hospital awarded damages to a deaf mother that had given birth and wasn’t provided an interpreter that could sign. This actually violated legal standards within the hospital but what was the worst part for me was that during the birth by C-section, this poor woman would have felt so isolated. I imagine that being wheeled into surgery and having your abdomen being cut open would already be a harrowing experience.
While thankfully most of the time this doesn’t happen, when it does, it reinforces the isolation deafness brings. Deafness makes even the smallest things like crossing the road a little more tinged with anxiety as I ran out in front of many cars as a young child, not hearing them coming. In fact Id say I’m probably more anxious due to the need to constantly be aware, listening for sounds. My work in a retail store relies on my hearing, so I need to be constantly alert. Many times I think I’ve heard my name, but it’s a word that rhymes with mine, something I am sure Cece would have dealt with too. Basically it’s a world of unease.
That’s what makes this book so remarkable and inspiring. Cece, the protagonist turns the things she needs to do like lip reading, into a detective story, still wants to have friends and socialize with the world. But best of all she finds a way to turn her disability into positive by realizing that she can hear her teachers when her other classmates cant. She helps them skive off class and her newfound ability leads her to renaming herself ‘El Deafo’. She becomes a super hero to herself, classmates and importantly to ‘deafo’ readers like me.
The concept of fiction as a way of understanding the past is one that resonates with me quite strongly. Call me a Pollyanna but I don’t think I could have ever understood at all the despicable standards that slave traders and Colonial ideals subjected slaves to. The sheer depth of indignity that a slave endured during this time is still slightly unfathomable to me. To have work for a master that potentially was violently cruel, would rape and take away your offspring.
As a counter point though, I can’t imagine ever treating a fellow human differently because of his skin type, much less kidnapping them from their only home to work in servitude. If it weren’t for Toni Morrison, Sue Monk Kidd, Joseph Conrad, films like ‘The Help’ and ‘Lincoln’ I would never appreciate the scope and magnitude in which slaves suffered and even after slavery was officially abolished how hard the fight was. There are so many people who have read similar works and would have similar experiences. Literature allows us to empathise and experience another way of life.
This is the great gift that fiction gives us, the ability to see both sides of an experience and still agree that both sides are wrong in how the society was run. We are able to see how things can change for the better with the almost 20/20 vision that history gives us. (Im slightly cynical that all historical texts are all ‘truth’….. at least with fiction you can sometimes concede some artistic license has been given, forgive my cynical nature!)
What book or real life adaptation really resonated with you on the topic of slavery? It doesn’t need to be highbrow literature or even based on real life events to make an impact. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences….
The Victorian authors we know of today are largely overshadowed by the works and beliefs of Queen Victoria.
Whatever they have written it will always be synonymous with the Victorian age.
While most of us remember being told the Victorian age was a time of repression and docility, it was also a time of mass contradictions.
While any mention of sex or bodily functions were banned in contrast public education for the masses was introduced and industrialisation was in full swing. There was a rising merchant, middle class which gave way to question which was morally ethically the right way to live? As a member of the Aristocracy forbidden to work or as someone who made their own fortune and therefore in control of it? Could good genes and good breeding still be considered the mark of a superior person? And what was the true role of the woman? A merely decorative addition to a family or a true force in it’s own right? While in later years the push for feminism was in force, writers were exploring the basic idea of woman’s rights. Although female writers still had publish under male pseudonyms, it was a start.
Emily Bronte, George Eliot and Charles Dickens all explore these great questions.
If your not so into the book there are fantastic film productions of all of ‘Silas Marner, ‘Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’
May I recommend for anyone wanting to watch Tale of Two Cites the 1932 version is the best! Real silver screen classic. Grab a good coffee and sit back and enjoy! And let me know your thoughts! X