Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
Saying that Children of a Lesser God is about the deaf is to miss the point. It is a play about communication of all kinds, not a sociological treatise. It is a drama about searching for identity, not a political tract advocating the rights of the deaf, though that element is there, and rightly so. Medoff makes it abundantly clear that Sarah is a person of acute intelligence, intelligence that the school wastes in consigning her to work as a cleaning woman. An intense individualist, she resists conforming to expectations others have of her; thus, she alienates her mother and ultimately disrupts her marriage to James.
The title, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, suggests that people all try to make one another over according to their own perceptions of what people should be like. Thus, James tries to pressure Sarah to learn to lip-read and to speak; this is what he has done for his other students to enable them to adjust to the hearing world. Sarah, however, wants the hearing world and her husband to adjust to her and to accept her as she is. From her perspective, signing is the genuine language, and those who cannot use it are handicapped. Deafness intensifies the problem of communication between James and Sarah, but it does not create it; both of them, as they try to remake each other, find that there are no easy solutions. Their dilemma suggests that of any couple whose members come from different backgrounds—racial, ethnic, cultural, handicapped—and the problems they may have in adjusting and in being accepted by others. If Sarah and James are to be reunited, they must help each other and join through love, which makes no demands.