Representations of Disability in Young Adult Literature
Chapter 3. Awakening Stories: “The Scarlet Ibis” and The Cay
AWAKENING STORIES: “THE SCARLET IBIS” AND THE CAY
In this chapter I discuss two pieces of older fiction which were both written in the mid-20th century, won prizes, and are still read widely in schools today: “The Scarlet Ibis,” an anthologized short story by James Hurst, and The Cay, a short children’s novel by Theodore Taylor. “The Scarlet Ibis” is often taught in ninth grade and The Cay usually in fifth or other middle grades. While not in a strict category of “young adult” that requires texts be written specifically for young adults or teens, these pieces are both stories in which the adult narrator has an epiphany regarding something from his childhood. He comes to regret the way he treated someone else when he was a boy. Both pieces have a character with an impairment. In “The Scarlet Ibis” that character is the narrator’s brother, referred to as “an invalid” who was born “with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man’s.” In The Cay, the narrator becomes blind when he’s hit on the head by a timber during a ship wreck but then is cured at the end of the story. To my knowledge, neither author had a disability.
Regarding these two canonical pieces, it’s important to analyze the reception documents that shape classroom discussion as well as the texts themselves. To what extent do these texts and their accompanying classroom activities challenge or cement “disabled” and...
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