A Corner of the Universe Themes
by Ann M. Martin

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A Corner of the Universe Themes

Intellectual or Mental Health Disability

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Although the book never quite identifies Adam’s disability—autism is mentioned but not confirmed—his brain functions in ways that make it difficult for him to function normally in society. Adam is capable of humor, rational thought, and basic functioning, but he is unable to filter sensory data as most people do, has no concept of social norms, and is emotionally unstable. The novel deals adeptly with many of the issues that come with having a disabled family member: the frustration of not knowing how to adjust to their behaviors, the occasional embarrassment when they do something out of the ordinary in public, the awkwardness in their lack of social tact, the anger when others judge and make fun of them, the concern and fear that they will harm themselves, the exhaustion of taking care of them when they are unable to care for themselves, and most of all the joy and happiness that they express and help others feel. Adam’s capability for sheer exhilaration and wonder at the world around him are infectious and endear him to all. These issues—good and bad—are all presented in the novel as well as the most tragic issue, which is that sometimes the world is harsh and unaccepting of people who are different, so much so that disabled people might feel they do not belong at all and that there is no hope of ever belonging.


Throughout the novel, the main character, Hattie, makes strong and lasting friendships in unusual places. She is an ideal character to highlight that friendships can be formed between people of any age and circumstance. Her friends are not found in typical places, such as her class at school; instead, she is friends with the elderly, the eccentric, and the young and beautiful through her life at the boarding house. Martin paints those friendships as fulfilling, happy, and positive benefits for Hattie. Also, as Hattie makes friends with Leila Cahn, the daughter of a traveling circus performer, the point is made that friendships can spring out of unlikely situations. Lastly, as she befriends Adam, the message is that even though mental health or intellectual disabilities keep people from functioning in certain ways in life, they are fully capable of making meaningful and reciprocal friendships that enrich the lives of everyone involved.

Coming of Age

Hattie begins the novel as rather naïve and childlike in her opinions and perceptions. As the story progresses, she makes some mistakes that come in youth and limited perspectives; by the end, she realizes that there is much more to life than her small world, and she has matured quite a bit. Even though the storyline covers only one summer, it is a monumental one in terms of maturation and growth. She begins it sheltered and clinging to sameness; she ends it with her eyes open and a firm recognition that change comes and goes and is just a part of life. Hattie also learns a lot about adult relationships through the discovery of Angel Valentine and her boyfriend as well as by watching her mother, father, and grandparents interact. Because of...

(The entire section is 817 words.)