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King Silence b~ Arnold Pa~ne EDITORS' PREFACE The following is a briefexcerpt from the novel King Silence by Arnold Payne. It is the only part of the novel that has much value either in literary terms or for our purposes in this anthology, but in these few pages how much is said! It is incredible to think that a person would first find someone to communicate with at the age of seven! Of course, other characters in this anthology have lived their whole life in total isolation, but that was in the nineteenth century, after all, and in distant lands. Gilbert Stratton (the boy in this excerpt) is a young deafboy ofour own time, or nearly our own time. All readers, especially deaf readers, can easily sympathize with his overwhelming joy and his sense ofutter relief to find that finally he will have friends with whom he can communicate and who have all shared his experience in life. This much we all accept and understand. The only disturbing aspect in this excerpt is that Payne falls into the old error among hearing authors when they use deaf characters of imputing heroic qualities to their characters. In this excerpt we find Gilbert waiting patiently in the office of his new school "as the deaf have always waited." He is lonely, but he has learned to accept his loneliness, says Payne, "as the deaf accept all their trials." There is a certain condescension in this idealization ofdeaf people-it is as if deaf people are not real people, but wooden images. There is also a certain guilt involved, I suspect, that a hearing author cannot use a deaf character 153 • The Twentieth Century • but he must somehow make that character a superior being. Such are the problems of hearing authors trying to portray the deaf experience: the attitude of the non-handicapped person toward the handicapped person is to care for that person in the abstract, not as he or she is. A person in a wheelchair once told me that the worst experience for her in public was that people refused to look at her. FROM KING SILENCE "Born deaf?" "Born deaf." The reply was flashed, as quickly as it was uttered, by means of the manual alphabet to Mr. Gordon, who nodded and bent again over the application form before him. He was interested in the written replies to the usual printed question, for here was a boy who was born deaf, and yet Mr. Gordon knew that his parents were not cousins, nor were their parents before them. Intermarriage with relations sometimes means deafness for those yet unborn, "unto the third and fourth generation." But sometimes even congenital deafness is inexplicable to our limited intelligence . Perhaps it is that the "works of God may be made manifest. " And the child-he was only seven-stood silent, lonely, passive, patient, with eyes apparently looking vacantly at the opposite wall, as deaf children will when others are talking of them. For though they hear nothing they know perfectly well when the conversation is about themselves. And Gilbert Stratton waited while the mother who loved but did not understand him, and the headmaster who did not love as much but did understand better, conversed together; waited in an office surrounded with maps that 154 • King Silence • were unintelligible, books that were meaningless, figures that conveyed nothing, while people spoke words which were inaudible to him and which would have been incomprehensible even ifaudible; waited, as the deafalways have waited, but will not have to wait much longer, perhaps. Lonely he had always been, lonely with an intensity of loneliness utterly unknown to those around him and unrealised even by his parents. But he had accepted it as the deaf accept all their trials, and they are many. It was part of his lot. But suddenly, as he still stood apparently looking at nothing , he saw the door slowly open and a boy a year younger than himselfquietly enter. He walked aimlessly, as it seemed, with head down and hands behind him, in that shy way which children of six have when they wish to be unnoticed. Pausing when opposite to Gilbert on the other side of the room, he remained with head averted till he knew the cursory glances of the seniors present were no longer directed towards him, and then he cautiously raised his eyes and fixed them on the deaf boy's face. The latter saw it all, and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781563681585
Print ISBN
9780930323172
MARC Record
OCLC
43475848
Pages
368
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
N
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