Deaf Lives in Contrast: Two Women’s Stories might seem to bring together polar opposites in the broad range of deaf experience. Yet, as these narratives unfold, the reader will recognize that common threads run through them despite their different circumstances.
Mary V. Rivers, who came from a “dirt poor” Cajun family in Louisiana, was only 17 when she married Bruce Rivers, a member of the U.S. Air Force during World War II. She bore three children in quick succession, all boys, and traveled with them to Europe with her husband. When her third son Clay was nearly two, however, she learned that he was deaf. From that time on, she devoted her life to securing a good education for Clay.
Dvora Shurman’s parents, deaf Jewish immigrants from Russia, met in Chicago after World War I. Both were educated orally, declaring “I am not born deaf. Signing only for born-deaf.” They did sign, but they also wanted hearing children, stemming from their own sense of devaluation. Shurman lived a dual life in the deaf and hearing worlds. She saw herself as her deaf parents’ ears, their voice to the hearing world, and as sharing with her mother the task of being mother.
The resonating theme that echoes with both of these women centers on their resentment of the treatment received by their deaf loved ones. Early in her life, Shurman adopted a slogan with her father, “‘It’s Not Fair,’ to rebel against the shaming, the demeaning, our family suffered.” After years of struggling for her son, Rivers asserts that “deaf people have a right to prove themselves as first class citizens.” Their uncommon stories reveal that they share more in common, a belief in equal rights for all, deaf and hearing.