Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592
James Leeds, a teacher in his thirties, is new to the state school for the deaf and he is assigned to teach Sarah Norman, a student in her mid-twenties who has been deaf since birth. Because of her profound deafness, learning speech is difficult if not impossible for Sarah and she resists James’s teaching methods, arguing that she does not need speech in order to communicate. At the same time, James is also teaching Lydia and Orin, both of whom have residual hearing and some proficiency at speech. Lydia, only in her late teens, has a crush on James and is jealous of the time and attention that he pays to Sarah. Orin is motivated to learn speech so that he will not be pitied and so that he can be an effective social advocate for deaf people.
Even though their teacher-student relationship is combative, James and Sarah are intrigued by each other, and they begin dating. James visits Sarah’s mother in an attempt to find out more about her; Mrs. Norman tells him about Sarah’s difficult childhood. At first, Sarah was labeled retarded. When her profound deafness was understood, she was sent to the school, where she has lived since she was five. On visits home, Sarah dated her sisters’ friends; Mrs. Norman says they treated her like she was a lady, like she was “normal.” Sarah later reveals, however, that the boys never bothered to learn sign language—they were just interested in Sarah because she would have sex with them.
When Sarah tries to avoid James, he sneaks into her dormitory to see her. She admits her fear that she would never see him again, and they make love. Orin and Lydia have heard about and seen James sneaking into the girls’ dormitory, and both try to interfere with the relationship. Mr. Franklin, James’s supervisor, warns James about his behavior. Sarah confides in James that she wants to get married and have a middle-class life, that she wants to go to school to become a teacher. James encourages her, despite warnings from Orin and Franklin that their relationship will not work. Feeling pressured on all these fronts, Sarah and James decide to marry, and they visit Sarah’s mother, whom she has not seen in eight years.
After Sarah has moved in with James, they entertain Franklin and Mrs. Norman with dinner and bridge. Franklin praises James for teaching her so well, and James confides he has not given up trying to get her to speak.
Meanwhile, Orin recruits Sarah to help him in suing the school for discriminating in hiring practices against the deaf. She finally feels a sense of purpose, and when James tries to discourage her, she becomes even more determined to speak for herself in the hearings. When James tries to help, she accuses him of pitying her, and he accuses her of using her deafness to manipulate people, of controlling others by refusing to speak. She finally uses her voice, screaming unintelligibly at James. She goes home to her mother, and James realizes that his efforts to force her to enter the hearing world were wrong. Lydia tries to seduce James, and Orin’s suit wins some minor concessions from the school, but James is focused on trying to repair his relationship with Sarah. In the end, they realize that they come from two very different worlds, but they reconcile and decide to renew their efforts to meet in “another place; not in silence or in sound but somewhere else.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 845
Children of a Lesser God opens with Sarah quarreling with her husband, indicating in sign language that she has no hearing, speech, intelligence, or language, that she has only him and no longer needs him, that she can go her own way alone. Her husband, James Leeds, wondering if he has driven her away, recalls the events that led up...
(The entire section contains 3541 words.)
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