Children of a Lesser God followed William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, the last Broadway play to include a major deaf character, by twenty years. The two plays can be seen as metaphors for the deaf cultures of their time. In 1960, America was becoming aware of the deaf community, just as Helen Keller became aware of language. The intervening years brought the National Theatre for the Deaf, improved educational opportunities such as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the cultural attention of such groups as the American Theatre Association, which established the Program on Drama and Theatre by, with, and for the Handicapped, and civil rights legislation which included protection for individuals with challenging conditions. In 1980, deaf political activists, such as Orin in Children of a Lesser God, were beginning to have the impact that would lead to the 1988 Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Just as Sarah does in the play, the deaf community was demanding the right to represent and speak for itself.
Ostensibly a love story, one of Children of a Lesser God’s most significant contributions is the accurate portrayal of the complex issues facing the deaf community. Not all deaf people are the same. Two students are portrayed using residual hearing, reading lips, and having the ability to speak. Sarah, on the other hand, refuses to use her voice, wear a hearing aid, or read lips, preferring American Sign Language (ASL), the language of the manual deaf community. There is a hearing-impaired hierarchy; the hard-of-hearing think they’re better than the “pure deaf.” The goal of hearing teachers is to force deaf students to speak so they will be able to function in the hearing world, whether they want to or not. Several scenes in the play, such as the depiction of...
(The entire section is 762 words.)