Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Set in a state school for the deaf, Children of a Lesser God depicts several key issues facing the hearing-impaired community. It proclaims the right of deaf individuals to determine their own role in society. James Leeds, a new speech teacher, is assigned to Sarah Norman, a twenty-six-year-old deaf woman who prefers to communicate exclusively in American Sign Language (ASL). She informs James that it is a waste of time trying to force deaf people to speak and read lips so that the deaf can pass for hearing. When James counters that ASL is only good among the deaf, Sarah accuses him of wanting to be God, wanting to make her over in his own image. Deaf students do not want to be changed simply because hearing teachers want to change them. Sarah confides that she dreams of becoming a teacher for the deaf and having deaf children. They eventually realize that they want to communicate with each other no matter what the language and decide to get married. Orin, a hearing-impaired student, tries to convince Sarah that their marriage cannot work. The schoolmaster tries to convince James that the marriage is unwise. While arguing, James catches himself trying to censor the conversation for Sarah and realizes that he has no right to decide what she can or cannot “hear.”
They are married and Sarah begins to enjoy life with her hearing husband, but Orin urges her not to turn her back on the deaf, arguing that “deaf rights” are more important than...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
James Leeds, a new speech teacher at a state school for the deaf, is working with Orin Dennis to improve his ability to pronounce English. The superintendent, Mr. Franklin, introduces James to Sarah Norman, a twenty-six-year-old deaf woman who does not read lips or use speech, preferring to communicate exclusively in American Sign Language(ASL). Even though James’s charm intrigues her, she informs him, with deliberate rudeness, that speech therapy is a waste of time. Sarah’s hearing mother, Mrs. Norman, chides James for trying to get Sarah to speak and read lips so that she can pass for a hearing person. James responds that he is only trying to help Sarah function in the hearing world.
In his next meeting with her, James tries reaching Sarah with humor. When she is not amused, James apologizes for using hearing idioms and promises to remember that she is deaf. She is skeptical but accepts his offer to go out for Italian food. In the restaurant James asks Sarah why she does not want speech therapy. She responds that ASL is just as good as English, but James counters that ASL is good only among the deaf. Sarah accuses him of wanting to be God, making her over in his own image. The next day, James discovers that Orin knows everything about his date with Sarah. Orin complains that deaf students do not want to be changed simply because hearing teachers want to change them. Orin vows that someday he will change the deaf education system.
(The entire section is 866 words.)
Act I Summary
The primary action of Children of a Lesser God takes place inside the mind of James Leeds. Time is not linear during the play, and characters "step from his memory for anything from a full scene to several lines," and place changes rapidly on a bare stage that holds "only a few benches and a blackboard." James is a speech teacher at a State School for the Deaf. He meets Sarah Norman, a cleaning woman who has been deaf from birth and has resided at the school since the age of five.
Two other students meet with James for speech therapy on a regular basis: Orin, a contemporary of Sarah who has become an apprentice teacher at the school, and Lydia, a girl in her late teens who develops a crush on James. As the relationship between Sarah and James grows, Orin distances himself from James, while Lydia becomes more infatuated with her teacher.
Sarah's mother, known only as Mrs. Norman in the play, appears at first to be a bitter woman, one whose husband left at the same time her daughter was sent away to the State School for the Deaf. Later, James brings Sarah to her mother's house and forces a reunion. The two women reconcile and Mrs. Norman attends James and Sarah's wedding.
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Act II Summary
The second act begins with a bridge party at the newlyweds' home, attended by Franklin, James's supervising teacher, and Mrs. Norman. Sarah delivers a splendid performance, suggesting that she has become integrated into the middle-class hearing world, but later tells James "I feel split down the middle, caught between two worlds." James also experiences this struggle to feel comfortable in both worlds because he becomes exhausted serving as Sarah's translator and finds it impossible to enjoy music because Sarah cannot share it with him.
When Orin enlists Sarah's help in a campaign to charge the State School for the Deaf with discrimination for not hiring enough deaf teachers, the personal differences between James and Sarah become part of a larger political issue. Edna Klein, a lawyer brought in by Orin to help with the case against the school, illustrates the misconceptions and mistakes made by well-meaning people from the hearing community. Sarah begins to realize that Edna wants to speak before the commission "for all deaf people,'' and that James wants to speak for her. Sarah explains that everyone has always assumed that because she cannot hear, she is unable to understand and is incapable of speaking for herself. Her own identity as a separate individual has been ignored by the hearing world in general, by Edna, and by her husband. Sarah declares:"Unless you let me be an individual, an /, just as you are, you will never truly be able to come inside...
(The entire section is 366 words.)