Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
Children of a Lesser God is one of two plays by Mark Howard Medoff that deal with deaf characters. In the Hands of Its Enemies (1987) features a major character who is profoundly hearing impaired, but the play is less political than Children of a Lesser God and far less didactic. The play focuses on a playwright who is writing a play about a woman’s sexual abuse. The character’s deafness functions as a metaphor for the difficulty that the main characters have in communicating with characters from their past.
Critic Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., called the Tony-award winning Children of a Lesser God “an outcry for a group which, it insists, speaks more eloquently for itself in signs than hearing people are able to manage with mere words.” The success of the play led to the film version, which in turn led to some interest in popular culture in the 1980’s and 1990’s in deafness and the issues facing deaf people. Yet there are few literary works that feature deaf people in main roles. Carson McCullers’ novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and Children of a Lesser God are the most notable of those that have achieved any popularity, and Medoff’s works are almost unique in the realism of their portrayal of deaf people.