James Leeds, a teacher in his thirties, is new to the state school for the deaf and he is assigned to teach Sarah Norman, a student in her mid-twenties who has been deaf since birth. Because of her profound deafness, learning speech is difficult if not impossible for Sarah and she resists James’s teaching methods, arguing that she does not need speech in order to communicate. At the same time, James is also teaching Lydia and Orin, both of whom have residual hearing and some proficiency at speech. Lydia, only in her late teens, has a crush on James and is jealous of the time and attention that he pays to Sarah. Orin is motivated to learn speech so that he will not be pitied and so that he can be an effective social advocate for deaf people.
Even though their teacher-student relationship is combative, James and Sarah are intrigued by each other, and they begin dating. James visits Sarah’s mother in an attempt to find out more about her; Mrs. Norman tells him about Sarah’s difficult childhood. At first, Sarah was labeled retarded. When her profound deafness was understood, she was sent to the school, where she has lived since she was five. On visits home, Sarah dated her sisters’ friends; Mrs. Norman says they treated her like she was a lady, like she was “normal.” Sarah later reveals, however, that the boys never bothered to learn sign language—they were just interested in Sarah because she would have sex with them.
(The entire section is 592 words.)