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  • Published: 31 January 2020

Is Lennie a monster? A reconsideration of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in a 21st century inclusive classroom context

  • Clare Lawrence   ORCID: 1  

Palgrave Communications volume  6 , Article number:  17 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Of Mice and Men remains a staple text in schools in both the United States and United Kingdom, where both neuro-typical and disabled pupils encounter it. The character of Lennie has learning difficulties and also—as identified by some researchers—exhibits many characteristics of autism. Although the novella is hailed as a modern classic, there are aspects in Steinbeck’s portrayal of Lennie as un-human, ‘othered’ from the other characters in the book and demonised as animal-like that merit challenge if they are to be encountered in the modern classroom. This study asks, ‘If Lennie is a monster, what does that mean for pupils’ understanding of autism and intellectual disability both inside and outside the classroom?’ It considers the portrayal of Lennie from within its origins in the Eugenics movement of the 1930s, the effect of reader sympathies with George in the final action of the book and the moral effect of the ‘Briseño’ factor, used in Texas to decide on a prisoner’s suitability to face the death penalty. The importance of teachers’ awareness of disability issues and language when teaching texts of this kind and of the positioning of texts within the disability awareness curriculum is discussed.

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In books [young people] are meeting extremely compelling images of life that will undoubtedly influence the crystallisation of their ultimate attitudes, either of acceptance or of rejection.
(Rosenblatt, 1938 , p. 20 in Garrison, 2008 , p. 3).

Of Mice and Men has been a staple schoolroom text in both the United States and United Kingdom for decades. In 2014 it was identified that ‘over 90% of schools teach Of Mice and Men to their GCSE students’ (BBC News, March 25th, 2014). The text was subsequently removed from the GCSE examination syllabus in the UK in favour of books by British writers. As such it has lost its central position in many school curricula, yet is retained by many schools as a text in Key Stage 3 (Kneen et al., 2019 ). Here it is not subject to the same examination constraints in its teaching, potentially liberating it for new considerations, not least that as an exploration of disability issues.

Although the National Curriculum requires schools to include Citizenship in their teaching (DfE, 2013 ), including the need for ‘mutual respect and understanding’ (DfE, 2013 , p. 3), it does not specify disability awareness and understanding within this. A survey of pupils aged 14–16 (McCarthy et al., 2008 ) recorded that over half had not learned about disabled people or people with learning difficulties within the previous academic year. It is also the case that in 2018 the National Audit Office reported that over 70% of secondary schools were identified as Academies (National Audit Office, 2018 ), and are therefore not required to follow the National Curriculum. All schools in England are required to teach Fundamental British Values, including ‘an understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination’ (DfE, 2014 , p. 6). However, this is framed within a cultural and faith context, and does not explicitly include disability awareness. Pupils’ encounters with disabled characters as portrayed in literature are likely therefore to remain an important element of their disability understanding.

Of Mice and Men remains a much-loved and valued text. As Ryan Wilson, writing in The Guardian (8th May, 2016 ) puts it:

Everything you’d want to teach a child about literature is there. Symbolism, structure, pathos, characterisation, imagery: it’s got it all. More than that, the themes of hope, friendship, loyalty and vulnerability speak to students and their very modern concerns.

The text is accessible, engaging and powerful as a piece of literature. As such, it may provide a useful vehicle for the exploration from a disability studies perspective to challenge societal stereotypes and prejudices. Of course, it is important within such an exploration not to lose sight of Steinbeck’s original voice as Steinbeck did not create Lennie to be an educational resource around disability.

It is not Steinbeck’s responsibility as an author to cast Lennie in a positive or negative light, it is the teacher’s task to unpack Steinbeck’s novella and representations of Lennie.
(McCabe, 2014 , p. 16).

As well as being a teaching responsibility to challenge pupils’ concepts of disability regardless of authorial intention, as will be argued in the course of this paper characters in books can sometimes ‘take on a life of their own’ never intended by the author. Lennie exists now in a 21st century context in our classrooms. The move ‘down’ in UK schools for Of Mice and Men from GCSE text to KS3 text gives teachers greater freedom and allows exploration of Of Mice and Men to move beyond curriculum concerns. Rather than an ‘exam text’, one approach available to teachers is to use it to explore, consider and challenge the portrayals of disability within it, both within historic and current contexts. As McCabe ( 2014 ) suggests, ‘The questions that a teacher does or does not ask may profoundly shape students’ views of disability, for better or for worse’ (p. 16). Discussion of the depiction of Lennie as ‘other’, and the implications of this for all autistic and/or intellectually disabled people may find a space.

The inevitable question in all classroom readings of Of Mice and Men is to what extent George’s action in killing Lennie at the end of the book can be justified. This is ‘the ethical debate that has engaged generations of critics (and generations of high school students)’ (Loftis, 2015 , p. 71). This study asks the question of how that discussion may be most potently framed within a modern 21st century context and gives a detailed examination of how the text might be used as a vehicle for disability awareness debate within the classroom. As such it is new, it expands upon current research and thereby makes an original contribution to the field.

This analysis of the portrayal of disability in Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men for use in the classroom uses the theoretical framework of Disability Studies, and specifically the Social Model of disability, to explore the novella as it can be understood in the 21st century classroom and, in particular, how the final action of the book might be framed. Disability Studies as a movement developed from the late 20th century to provide ‘an epistemology of inclusion and integration’ (Linton, 1998 , p. 526) that challenges societal conceptualisation of disability. It positions previous understanding of disability as ‘social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairment’ (Thomas, 2007 , p. 73), and seeks to question previously held notions and perceptions. As such, re-examination of texts through a Disability Studies lens allows a re-evaluation of those texts, while simultaneously recognising their historical and contextual significance. The Social Model of disability challenges the concept that disability is understood as an impairment within an individual but instead suggests a model where ‘disability (as opposed to impairment) is considered to be imposed over and above impairment by societal barriers’ (Chown et al., 2017 , p. 724). This study encourages students to consider how much the character of Lennie is inherently impaired by his disability, and how much he is disabled by other characters’ responses to his impairments. It considers how the final act of the book can be explored in the classroom within a 21st century moral and ethical framework and how this might be used to challenge ableist rhetoric in students and society.

As Kennedy and Menten ( 2010 ) indicate, ‘whether we talk about it or not, (dis)ability issues permeate our classes, our teaching, and our students’ experiences in and outside of the classroom’ (p. 61). Of Mice and Men is a story about an intellectually disabled man. Lennie’s disability is central to the plot; if he were not intellectually disabled, the story would simply not work. It has also been suggested (Loftis, 2015 , 2016 ) that Lennie exhibits characteristics of autism. His love of repetition and use of echolalia, his idiosyncratic memory, his sensory attraction to things that are soft and his over-load (or ‘meltdown’) in the face of noise or panic in others may all position him within a modern understanding of an autistic portrayal. Steinbeck did not create the character from a position of sophisticated understanding of autism as the condition was not identified by Leo Kanner until 1943 (Wing, 1996 ). However, he based his portrayal on a real person (Steinbeck in Fensch, 1988 ), and he clearly had very distinctive characteristics in mind in his descriptions. ‘[Steinbeck’s] depiction of Lennie highlights traits strongly associated in the public mind with autism’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 474).

This current study builds securely on previous work on the portrayal of autistic characters within texts by Loftis ( 2015 , 2016 ). As an autistic researcher, Loftis is strongly positioned to explore the implications of an autistic reading of the character Lennie. Best practice in autism research as described by Chown et al. ( 2017 ) identifies as important that ‘a researcher with autism either identifies and defines the matter(s) requiring investigation or confirms the identification and definition of the problem by others’ in autism research (Chown et al., 2017 , p. 727). Loftis confirms the importance of ‘illuminating the space between stereotype and personal identity’ (Loftis, 2015 , p. 2) and how ‘stories … matter. They influence the way we think about people with autism [and] the way we think about disabled people as a culturally minority group’ (Loftis, 2015 , p. 2).

Consideration of Of mice and Men through a disability studies lens results in both an understanding of the portrayal of Lennie as un-human and in a perception of inhumanity in the societal context—both contemporary and modern—in which the character is set. This is explored in this study in two sections: (i) The monster within: Lennie and (ii) The monster without: contextualising Lennie within society .

The monster within: Lennie

Lennie from the very beginning is portrayed as ‘other’; indeed, he is introduced in terms of how he is not like George:

Behind [George] walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.
(Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 2)

Lennie follows George, even when the path widens to allow more space. George forces Lennie to hand over a dead mouse that is ‘not fresh’, an action that invites approval from the reader. George provides Lennie with food in an action designed to emphasise that Lennie would be helpless without him (‘How’d you eat. You ain’t got sense enough to find nothing to eat.’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 13)). At a fundamental level Lennie lacks agency—and when he does attempt to ‘do his own thing’, whether to retrieve the dead mouse, smuggle the puppy into the bunkhouse or touch the girl in Weed’s red dress, George retakes control. Lennie ‘is completely subordinated to George … the reader is subtly guided to empathize with George and to see Lennie only through his relationship with his neurotypical friend’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 472). Furthermore, the physical descriptions of Lennie mark him out as different. His size is constantly emphasised; he is repeatedly described as ‘huge’ and as being a ‘big guy’/’big bastard’/’big son-of-a-bitch’. His portrayal as ‘shapeless’, McCabe suggests, ‘lends itself to Steinbeck’s representation of his disability. Lennie is vague and nebulous, much like what his mind is assumed to be’ (McCabe, 2014 , p. 14). This positioning of Lennie as ‘other’ has its roots in philosophy:

From Plato and Aristotle to Kant and beyond, philosophers have prized rationality as the defining factor that makes a human being human … Intellectually disabled individuals have caused philosophers to question the validity of rationality as the primary determinate of humanity; [such] philosophers may not view those with intellectual disabilities as human at all.
(Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 145).

Lennie is further identified as un-human through the many descriptions of him as animal. He is described, variously, as having paws, as growling, as moving as a bear moves, as drinking like a horse, as being as strong as a bull, as being like a terrier with a ball. Each of these dehumanise him. Some animal rights activists (for example, Singer, 1995 ; McMahan, 1996 , 2002 ) have argued that people with intellectual impairment have no innate right to be treated better than non-human animals with similar cognitive functioning. This position argues that ‘to grant human beings higher moral status than nonhuman animals with … “comparable” intellectual ability is arbitrary and unjustified’ (Carlson and Kittay, 2009 , p. 311). According to these philosophers, ‘the intellectually disabled individual has even less of a claim on humanity than do some highly intelligent nonhuman animals’ (Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 146). In this philosophical position, Lennie is truly un-human.

Lennie is not unique in the text as being described in animalistic terms. Steinbeck is creating a world where men (and women) are part of nature, with little human agency effective in impacting their lives and where the characters are blown like tumbleweeds across a dusty and barren landscape. The reader is led to believe at the opening of the narrative that the rootlessness of the two men described is due to Lennie, and to his actions in Weed. However, the reader quickly understands that the opposite is true; George’s care of Lennie is his rooting factor. Slim recognises this and sanctions it and briefly a similar stability seems to be offered to other characters. However, the characters’ natures and their place within a natural order do not allow this. ‘In the light of the naturalistic view the characters in Of Mice and Men … are reduced to animals, which look for their living and struggle for their existence’ (Abdullah, 2010 , p. 569). Each of the characters is close to animals; Lennie is just closer. His strength, unmediated by rational understanding, makes him less human than the others.

Part of Lennie’s animalism is his affinity with animals and this further positions him as animal-like; as Iyer ( 2007 ) suggests, ‘resemblance to and kinship with animals is often called forth to emphasise the difference of people with intellectual disabilities and signal that they are not quite human’ (p. 129). Lennie is not given sufficient human status to be able to care for animals as lesser than him. That status is given most powerfully to Slim, ‘the prince of the ranch, capable of driving 10, 16, even 20 mules with a single line to the leaders’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 36). Slim has control over the mules, over the puppies to decide which live and which die, over the fate of Candy’s old dog and—ultimately—over that of Lennie. Although Slim can choose life or death, Lennie is portrayed as a killer without choice. He was given mice by his late Aunt Clara, but ‘always killed ‘em’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p.10). He kills the puppy when he ‘made like I was gonna smack him … an’ … I done it. An’ then he was dead’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 95). He plans to ‘tell George I foun’ it dead’ (as he did with the mouse at the very opening of the book) and does in fact ‘get away’ with this when larger events overtake this one. The reader is led to understand that even should Lennie have achieved his dream of tending the long-haired rabbits, this would inevitably have resulted in their deaths. Lennie is not positioned as sufficiently human to be able to take care of animals.

He is also positioned as being dangerously ‘at large’, not contained in an institution and only barely controlled by George. ‘Steinbeck’s work emanates from an era when intellectually disabled individuals were primarily regarded as burdens on society and were often institutionalised’ (Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 130). The institutionisation of individuals with intellectual impairment would have meant that to the original reader, George and Lennie’s relationship would have seemed strange. The boss questions it when they first arrive at the ranch (‘what stake you got in this guy? You takin’ his pay away from him?” (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 24)) and Steinbeck has George justify the relationship to Slim: “You guys travel around together?” … “Sure,” said George. “We kinda look after each other.” (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 38). Lennie’s strength suggests that George struggles to control him (‘There ain’t nobody can keep up with him. God awmighty, I never seen such a strong guy’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 42)), as he is aware that Lennie could ‘bust every bone in my body jus’ with his han’s’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 44). In order to stop Lennie after he has set him on Curley he has to slap him in the face ‘again and again’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 69) and reports that he ‘socked him over the head with a fence picket’ during the incident in Weed in order to make Lennie let go of the girl’s dress (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 46). The reader is made aware that Lennie is barely contained and ‘the disastrous results of [Lennie’s] relative freedom reinforce the notion that he should have been segregated from society in the first place’ (Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 130).

In so far as Lennie is positioned as human it is as a child. He is told that he is a ‘good boy’ by George, is described as ‘giggling’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 7, p. 115), as ‘blubberin’ like a baby’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 10), and as being ‘jes’ like a big baby’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 98). When the pair arrive at the ranch, George ‘draws on Lennie’s childlike qualities to make him seem less threatening’ (Chivers, 2003 ), telling Slim, the leader of the ranch hands, ‘“Sure he’s jes’ like a kid. There ain’t no more harm in him than a kid neither, except he’s so strong”’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 47). Lennie’s obedience (and at times his disobedience, transparent to George), his mimicry of George’s actions and his enthusiasm are all childlike. In their article, Infantilizing Autism ( 2011 ), Stevenson, Harp and Gernsbacher describe that:

Adults with disabilities in general, and those with developmental disabilities in particular, have long been treated as childlike entities, deserving fewer rights and incurring greater condescension than adults without disabilities. The stereotype of the “eternal child” has burned a disturbing path through history and continues to wreak havoc in arenas ranging from employment discrimination to forced sterilisations.
(Stevenson et al., 2011 ).

However, Lennie is also positioned as menacing. Chivers ( 2003 ) identifies that ‘as the novella progresses, the comparisons to animals are increasingly sinister, rendering [Lennie] not just animalistic, but also savage’ (no page). When Crooks suggests that George might have got injured in town, Lennie becomes threatening:

Suddenly Lennie’s eyes centered and grew quiet, and mad. He stood up and walked dangerously toward Crooks. “Who hurt George?” he demanded. Crooks saw the danger as it approached him. He edged back on his bunk to get out of the way. “I was just supposin’,” he said. “George ain’t hurt. He’s all right. He’ll be back all right.” … Lennie growled back to his seat on the nail keg.
(Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 79).

This potential violence when he feels George to be threatened mirrors the incident that acted as the source for Steinbeck’s portrayal of Lennie. When working as a migrant worker himself Steinbeck had witnessed an attack:

Lennie was a real person. He’s in an insane asylum in California right now … he didn’t kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman. Got sore because the boss had fired his pal…
(Steinbeck in Fensch, 1988 , p. 9).

Steinbeck’s version of Lennie does not kill in anger, although his menacing stance with Crooks when he believes George to be threatened suggests that he might. Instead, Steinbeck allows the incident to take on an element of sexuality. Lennie’s sexuality is problematic to the characters throughout the novel. George’s emphasis that Lennie is childlike seeks to deny it, and Lennie is excluded from the men’s visit to the ‘cat house’. George refuses to discuss what he had said (presumably a sexual remark) about the girls in Murray and he is uncomfortable when Lennie shows signs of sexuality. When ‘Lennie’s eyes moved down over [Curley’s wife’s] body’ George chastises him for his behaviour complaining that ‘when she was standin’ in the doorway showin’ her legs, you wasn’t lookin’ the other way’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 35). People with intellectual disabilities are often portrayed as either sexual innocents or sexual predators (Garrison, 2008 ):

Cultural depictions of people on the [autistic] spectrum display the two stereotypical extremes accorded by our society to disabled sexuality in general (people with disabilities are imagined as either asexual or as hypersexual/sexually deviant).
(Loftis, 2016 , p. 475).

Within this, Lennie’s positioning is ambiguous. The reader understands that Lennie just wanted to touch the girl in Weed’s red dress, but the girl ‘rabbits in an’ tells the law she been raped’, resulting in the ‘guys in Weed start[ing] a party out to lynch Lennie’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 46). In one sense, then, Lennie is positioned as ‘a violent sexual predator’ (Gurko, 1998 , p. 62) and in another as a man with deviant sexual needs: ‘neurotypical readers are not likely to share Lennie’s intense sensory responses’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 475). His attraction to both the girl in Weed’s dress and to Curley’s wife’s hair is sensory. His innocent wish to ‘pet’ soft things is ‘other’ in this context and, although Steinbeck makes it clear that the killing of Curley’s wife is accidental, it is nevertheless as a result of his autistic traits. ‘A murder driven by sensory needs greatly reduces Lennie’s agency: he seems to be controlled by his impairment’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 475). Nor is Lennie’s motivation for the ‘attack’ clear to the other characters in the book nor, by inference, to wider society; the innocence of his intention is in this way undermined.

Steinbeck uses physical description of Lennie to indicate his intellectual state. This is a calculated technique:

Describing the physical form of a character with intellectual disability has the advantage of visually delineating the abstract concept of the disability … It also plays on the often unspoken assumption that people are as people look. This belief is so widespread that people with visible anomalies are often assumed to be intellectually disabled, even if they are not.
(Iyer, 2007 , p. 129).

Lennie’s arms do ‘not swing at his sides, but [hang] loosely’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 2); he watches George ‘with open mouth’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 20) and flaps ‘his big hands helplessly’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 75), each description feeding the potentially dangerous assumption that that learning disability and/or autism can be ‘seen’. Although some conditions that result in learning disability do include physical characteristics, autism is not a set of behaviours and as such there are no physical traits or characteristics of autism: ‘Although some behaviours may be associated with being autistic, none of them is universal and certainly none of them is exclusive’ (Beardon, 2019, private correspondence Footnote 1 ). However, each of the descriptions of Lennie’s physical behaviour that Steinbeck gives in the novella acts as a stage direction in Steinbeck’s ‘novel-play’, a book written ‘with the stage in mind’ (Perry, 1968 , p. 1312). Steinbeck’s idea with the novella was to ‘write a play in the form of a novel … [where I] constructed it in scenes and filled in the character descriptions and painted in the background’ (Steinbeck in Fensch, 1988, p. 9). The character directions in the book also provide support for the (presumably non-disabled) actor playing Lennie in the stage version written the same year, and invite that actor to indicate, physically, that Lennie has intellectual disabilities through stereotypical actions and behaviours.

The monster without: contextualising Lennie within society

The positioning of Lennie as irredeemably ‘other’, as un-human and animal-like both enables the final action of the book to take place and, importantly, for the reader to condone it. This positioning is validated by Steinbeck through the person of Slim, the clear authority figure of the book. That Lennie’s killing as justified has been prepared for the reader in the killing of Candy’s dog, when Slim agrees the action, resulting in Candy looking ‘helplessly at him, for Slim’s opinions were law’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 50). Lennie’s death is similarly sanctioned by Slim in the novella. In the stage version published by Steinbeck in the same year Steinbeck makes this affirmation of the unavoidability of the killing even clearer by having Slim condone it before the event. The mob are searching for Lennie but are misdirected away by Slim, leaving only him and George on stage. ‘Where is he?’ Slim asks, and George indicates Lennie’s hiding place. ‘You want I should go away?’ Slim asks. He then ‘ starts away, comes back, tries to say something, instead puts his hand on George’s shoulder for a second then hurries off upstage ’ (Steinbeck, 1937b , p. 85).

Eugenics themes run strongly through the narrative of Of Mice and Men . Slim drowns four smaller puppies in order to enable the bigger ones to thrive; Candy’s old dog is shot because it is old and blind and—more important to Carleson who instigates the killing—it smells. Although there are other disabled characters in the novella (Candy has lost a hand and Crooks’ has a bent back) in each case this is as the result of an accident and the character was born ‘normal’. Given the eugenics obsession with genes and breeding, this would have rendered them less threatening.

Sterilisation or even eugenic elimination of those members of society deemed “subnormal” … represented a particularly U.S. approach to dealing with disability … California’s eugenics laws allowed for the sterilisation of more than 21,000 people between 1907 and 1939 in order to prevent the passing of “feeble-mindedness” from generation to generation.
(Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 130).

George shows awareness of Lennie’s vulnerability to eugenics scrutiny when he lies to the boss that Lennie was kicked in the head as a child; he is aware that brain injury is less threatening to society and more socially acceptable than developmental delay or autism. ‘George tries to protect [Lennie] … by telling the other ranch hands that Lennie was kicked in the head … when he was a child, as though that makes his disability more noble and acceptable’ (McCabe, 2014 , p. 17). However, Steinbeck also makes clear to the reader the true nature of Lennie’s disability (‘“I wasn’t kicked in the head with no horse, was I, George?” “Be a damn good thing if you wa” George said viciously. “Save ever’body a hell of a lot of trouble”’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 26).

Steinbeck positions the story so that the reader’s sympathies at the end of it lie with George, despite and indeed regarding his killing of Lennie. George kills Lennie in what is positioned as a kindly termination, a ‘putting out of his misery’, as one might an animal. ‘Many readers see George … as Lennie’s “rescuer”’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 478). George is in a carer—almost a parental—role, and he chooses to kill Lennie to ‘protect’ him. Loftis identifies that ‘Lennie’s death is ‘authorised’ by cultural discourses that depict autistic people as … [lacking] human subjectivity’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 470). A common argument put forward in classrooms is that George is undertaking a ‘mercy killing’ because he has no choice. Steinbeck allows little possibility of a safe future for Lennie if he is detained. As Crooks taunts Lennie, ‘“They’ll take ya to the booby hatch. They’ll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog“’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 79). Although George tries to reassure himself (“Maybe they’ll lock ‘im up an’ be nice to ‘im” Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 103), the grimness of the conditions for those with learning disabilities detained in 1930s America is often cited by students as justification for George’s action.

Students discussing the ending of the book in a 21st century classroom might consider this justification when aligned with care of learning disabled and autistic people in the present day. The recent Joint Committee report on the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism (November 2019) indicates:

(T)he detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism not only threatens their rights to private and family life [Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights] and their right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment [Article 3 ECHR] but also their right to liberty and security [Article 5 ECHR] and in some cases their right to life [Article 2 ECHR].
(House of Commons and House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2019 , p. 5).

Students may argue that to tie someone with learning disability or autism up ‘like a dog’ as Steinbeck’s world describes meant that death—in a 1930s context—was a viable alternative. However, this line of argument becomes far more uncomfortable when contextualised in current conditions, as described by a father of an autistic child:

Between 11th June and 8th November 2018, she was physically and forcibly restrained 18 times, including use of prone restraint on a hard floor. Brutal, frightening and traumatic for a vulnerable autistic child (clearly in fight or flight response). During the use of prone restraint, she sustained physical injuries that were neither reported to me or raised as safe guarding concerns to the [Local Authority Designated Officer].
The father of an autistic child who has been an in-patient in two psychiatric Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs).
(House of Commons and House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2019 , p. 35).

Figures from NHS Digital (Dahlgreen, 2019 ) show that in June 2019, 11% of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in inpatient units/wards experienced some form of restrictive intervention and that number has been increasing in recent years.

These restraints can involve sedation with strong drugs (chemical restraint), the use of belts, cuffs and restraints for behavioural control (mechanical restraint), and being forced to the floor in a chest-down position (prone restraint).
(Dahlgreen, 2019 , on-line).

The alternative to detention for Lennie in the course of the novella has been a form of care in the community where George ‘looks after’ him. The reader is encouraged to validate this care despite the many insults that George levels at Lennie, his mimicry of him, his taunts and his report of the near drowning incident in the past. Nor does George prevent other characters from abusing Lennie, most notably Curley’s attack and Crooks’ taunting of him over George’s absence. The reader is also invited to ‘over-look’ George’s final act of violence. The classroom debate is likely to be enriched by consideration of the vulnerability of people with learning disability and/or autism to acts of abuse and acts of violence. People with learning disability and/or autism are at much higher risk of violence than their non-disabled peers (Hughes et al., 2012 ; Chaplin and Mukhopadhyay, 2018 ), with 73% of people with learning disability and/or autism reporting being victimised because of their disability, including experiencing verbal, physical and sexual assault and with over half experiencing such acts within the last year (Dimensions, 2016 ). ‘Many disabled people experience fear, harassment and occasionally violence’ (Hall, 2019 , p. 249). In one study (Luciano and Savage, 2007 ), 83% of young people with learning difficulties reported experiencing bullying and in another (Bejerot and Mörtberg, 2009 ) 80% of children with autism combined with other characteristics were found to have been bullied.

As well as being an intrinsically violent act, George’s murder of Lennie as a ‘mercy-killing’ has disquieting echoes in the world outside the book. ‘Violence against people with autism is often perpetrated by family members’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 478) and ‘autistic people are particularly likely to be the victims of filicide [when a child is killed by its parents]’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 470). What is more, the focus and sympathy regarding these killings ‘in the majority of these cases … is not on the child who has died, but rather on the parent’ (Murray, 2008 , p. 168). Like those of the reader in Of Mice and Men , the public has its sympathies tuned towards the perpetrator: ‘media coverage that is sympathetic to autistic filicide [presents] parents as overwhelmed by their children’s care [and depicts] murder as an act of mercy’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 471). The focus is turned away from the victim; instead, ‘too often, stories of filicide focus on how “stressed” the parent or caregiver was’ (Swenson, 2019 , p. 142). The public is positioned as ‘understanding’:

When a child without a disability is murdered by their parents, everyone stands united in condemnation. No one attempts to understand, justify, or explain the murder. No one expresses sympathy for the murderer. No one argues that every parent has had moments or thoughts like that … The crime is punished harshly, and the victim is remembered and mourned.
When someone with a disability is murdered by their parents, the opposite happens.
(Gross, 2012 , p. 5).

Autistic people are positioned in this narrative as ‘other’, allowing society to empathise with the perpetrator. This narrative needs to be challenged in schools. In the Autism Self Advocacy Network Anti-filicide Toolkit there are a number of suggestions made about how to write about the murder of a disabled person by their parent or carer. These include that the writer should humanise the victim, should use the victim’s name, should mourn the victim, should not imply that the person is better off dead and should use the term ‘murder’ rather than ‘mercy-killing’. Above all, ‘the reader should get the sense that the victim was a real human being’ (Gross, 2012 , p. 8). Each of these could be usefully applied to discussions in the classroom about Lennie’s death as all too often the framing of discussion around the ending of the novella is ‘not really about Lennie’s death so much as it is about George’s decision’ (Loftis, 2016 , p. 478).

This study aims to enhance our understanding of what we can do to support children’s understanding of autism and intellectual disability. Removing Lennie from his context in the book and arguing for the effect of the character in a ‘real world’ scenario may be uncomfortable for some readers as it is to remove the character from Steinbeck’s original intention, and from a time when society’s perceptions of the place of disabled people was, at least in theory, very different. However, it remains a valid undertaking not least because characters from fiction may sometimes take on a life of their own, unimagined by their creator.

In 2002, the Supreme Court in America barred the execution of mentally disabled people. In this respect this group is given protection in their positioning as un-human: only a human being capable of rational thought and moral understanding is deemed ‘fit’ for execution. At this ruling ‘a lot of leeway [was left] for individual states to determine just how they would define intellectually disabled’ (Liptak, 2016 ). Texas, somewhat controversially, decided to use what became known as the Briseño factors: ‘non-scientific standards inspired by the character Lennie in Of Mice and Men ’ (Long, 2013 , p. 859) to make this judgement. The Court of Criminal Appeals stated that their role was to:

“define that level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.” As an example of an individual that most Texans would agree should be exempt, the court cited Lennie, the fictional character in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men .
(Crowell, 2015 , p. 749).

This use of this fictional character to decide the fate of humans was fiercely contested by Steinbeck’s son when it was last used to justify the execution of Marvin Wilson on 7th August 2012. Wilson was judged to have an IQ of 61 but failed the ‘Lennie test’. Thomas Steinbeck stated that his father would be ‘deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way” (Thomas Steinbeck in Khomami, 2012 ). Lennie’s fate in the novella makes the Briseño factors even more bizarre:

Setting aside the fact that Lennie Small is, in fact, murdered by his only friend, George Milton … one wonders what business Lennie has appearing as a limit case in a legal instrument designed to measure intellectual disability and fitness for capital punishment? (Kupetz, 2016 , p. 3).

Briseño was more recently contested and the objection upheld (Moore vs. Texas, 2017). It is interesting to note, however, that according to it, in the country in which the book is set ‘justice’ for Lennie’s actions would not constitute the death penalty; for George’s actions, on the other hand, it would.

Consideration of Lennie away from the social context of the book, and without consideration of Steinbeck’s authorial intention in his creation, does therefore have precedent. However, even within the confines of the novel, ‘justice’ for Lennie is clearly lacking. At the end of the novella the reader is very clear about George’s future. He rejects the vision still held onto by Candy: ‘”You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we George? You an’ me can go there an’ live nice, can’t we, George? Can’t we?” (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 103). Instead there is complete clarity about how George will now live: ‘”I’ll work my month an’ I’ll take my fifty bucks an’ I’ll stay all night in some lousy cat house…”’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 103). There is no suggestion at any point that George will face criminal investigation, imprisonment or any other sanction for his crime. The law, in the shape of the deputy sheriff Al Wilts has been sent for, but this is with regard to the death of Curley’s wife. Punishment for this, even though the reader knows it to have been accidental, is potentially that Lennie be ‘put in a cage’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p.106), ‘lynched’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 103), shot ‘in the guts’ (Steinbeck, 1937 a, p. 105/106) or—as transpires—shot in the back of the head having been ‘essentially tried by a jury of one peer and sentenced to death’ (Jensen-Moulton, 2012 , p. 145). George, on the other hand, seems set to escape any retribution; it is this lack of sanction by the law for George’s action that positions his victim most powerfully as un-human.

Pupils’ responses to portrayals of disability in literary texts are important.

‘The Disability Equality Duty (DED) … includes a requirement to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people. Schools are well-placed to proactively inform and raise awareness among children, young people and their families’
(McCarthy et al., 2008 , p. 2).

Garrison ( 2008 ) studied the perceptions of disability of 28 female and 20 male adolescents aged 14 or 15 on reading the text of Of Mice and Men . The results were disturbing. The young people frequently responded to the construct of disability as presented in Of Mice and Men as being ‘other’ to their own experiences. They described disability as being ‘abnormal’ or ‘inferior’ and indicated that they were less likely to identify with disabled characters (Garrison, 2008 , p. 195). The results of the study ‘revealed that these adolescent readers reported negative perceptions of the characters with disabilities and their relationships within the novel that align with eugenic beliefs about people with disabilities when responding to the novel Of Mice and Men ’ (Garrison, 2008 , p. 191). Garrison highlights the importance of ‘teachers who are knowledgeable of disability studies and ableism [who] can foster their students’ ability to critically analyse disability as a social construct in literature and in society’ (Garrison, 2008 , p. 205).

This study builds on the work of Sonya Loftis who, as an autistic researcher, is powerfully placed to discuss the portrayal of Lennie within a modern reading of the book. One of the implications of a view of autism as one of deficit is ‘the exclusion of autistic voices from processes of knowledge production’ (Milton and Bracher, 2013 , p. 61). Good practice in autism research is beginning to recognise the importance of these voices:

Autistic researchers have begun to contribute to the debates over aspects of autism, to research led by non-autistic scholars, and to the development of our understanding of autism.
(Chown et al., 2017 , p. 721).

Also important in Loftis’ contribution is her position as Professor of English. One of the fundamental issues regarding the portrayal of Lennie in Of Mice and Men lies in the way that Steinbeck positions the reader from the very beginning to identify with George. It is inconceivable to Steinbeck that readers will identify themselves with Lennie; people ‘like Lennie’, he implies, will not read the book. As important as an autistic researcher at the heart of this study is awareness of the place of autistic and learning-disabled pupils in the classroom debate. Moderate learning difficulty (MLD) was recorded as the most common primary type of need of pupils with Special Educational Needs in England in 2018, with autism identified as the most common primary type of need for pupils with a statement or EHC plan (DfE, 2018 ). Pupils with both MLD and with autism will encounter the character of Lennie in Of Mice and Men and hearing their views on the positioning of Lennie and the place of that position within a modern cultural context is essential. Equally, teachers both with and without autism will teach the book (Lawrence, 2019 ). Loftis, other autistic academics and autistic teachers each help to reposition the classroom response to one where Steinbeck’s instinctive positioning of Lennie as ‘other’ is increasingly challenged.

Brueggemann ( 2008 ) identifies how intrinsic disability issues are to the classroom:

Disability, unseen, unacknowledged, and unexamined, is already always present in the [classroom]. It is present as students in our classes, in the language we use, the ways that we teach and tutor, even in physical spaces and institutional structures (Brueggemann, 2008 , p. 61).

To deny a disability studies examination of Lennie in Of Mice and Men is to maintain a position where disability is ‘unseen, unacknowledged, and unexamined’. How much richer it is to embrace the issues and questions that such an examination brings and through it to re-establish Of Mice and Men as a central and important text at the core of the modern curriculum.

Data availability

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lennie's disability essay

Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

lennie's disability essay

Of Mice and Men : a differential diagnosis for Lennie Small

Howard Fischer Uppsala, Sweden

In John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men , 1 the two main characters work as itinerant laborers on farms and ranches in California during the Great Depression. Their only attachments are to each other. George is “small and quick” with “sharp, strong features,” while his companion, Lennie, is “a huge man, shapeless of face . . . with wide sloping shoulders who walked heavily, dragging his feet a little . . . His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.”

After orphaned Lennie’s Aunt Clara died, George decided to be a sort of guardian for him. Lennie is intellectually handicapped, has a poor memory, and is impulsive. His impulsivity leads him to do “bad things” and get into trouble.

These three major characteristics of Lennie—his size, his intellectual deficits, and his behavioral problems may serve as clues to possible diagnoses of his condition. Lennie is described as tall (“huge”), which is clinically defined as height greater than the 97th percentile for age and gender, 2 and is divided diagnostically into proportionate and disproportionate tall stature. 3,4 Those with disproportionate tall stature have an arm span, (arms extended outward like the wings of a plane) greater than their height, and the lower half of their body is longer than the upper half. Simply put, disproportionate tall stature means having very long arms and legs. There is no suggestion in the novel that Lennie is disproportionate in his stature, so certain conditions that include this physical feature: Marfan syndrome; 47, XXY (Klinefelter) syndrome; Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome; and XYY syndrome are excluded. 5

Conditions with proportionate tall stature include cerebral gigantism (Sotos syndrome) and Weaver syndrome. 6 Adult males with Sotos syndrome average six feet (183 cm) in height, although there are at least two reports of men with this condition that were more than seven feet (213 cm) tall. 7 People with Sotos syndrome also have a prominent forehead, jaw, and ears, large hands and feet, below-average intelligence (in 97%), and speech problems. They are described as being clumsy and having an awkward gait and about half of those affected have seizures. 8 Sotos syndrome is associated with a deletion in the NSD1 gene. 9

Weaver syndrome, another condition with proportionate tall stature, includes typical facial features, hand deformities as well as intellectual deficits in 80% of individuals. 10

An intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation) consists of below average intelligence and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors appropriate for age: self-care, home living, communication, self-direction, and attention to safety. The disability is mild in about 85% of the intellectually handicapped population, which corresponds to an adult having a mental age of about 9-11 years. A moderate intellectual disability corresponds to an adult having a mental age somewhere between 6-8 years, or an IQ below 50 or 55, with 100 being the average for the general population. 11

In autism or autistic spectrum disorders, language and reciprocal social behaviors are more affected than nonverbal reasoning skills. These people may have a narrow repertoire of interests and behaviors, repetitive actions, and echolalia. 12 They may have a sensory attraction to soft things such as fur or velvet, and react to sensory overload (noise, for example) with “meltdown” behavior—a complete and involuntary loss of behavioral control. 13

It is estimated that about 70% of persons with autistic spectrum disorders also have some degree of intellectual handicap. 14

Diagnosing a fictional character like Lennie Small is tricky. We have no medical history concerning his family, birth, childhood, or early adulthood. There are physical and behavioral descriptions in the book, but no clinical observations or standardized tests.

Based on what Steinbeck has written I believe that Lennie most likely had Sotos syndrome. We have no reason to think that his tall stature is disproportionate, and although Lennie was taller than average for those affected with Sotos syndrome, there are reports in the medical literature of adult men with the condition who are more than seven feet tall. Sotos syndrome includes intellectual deficits, which are mild in about 30%, moderate in 45%, and severe in 20%. 15  Lennie likes to pet soft things, and in the novel he accidentally kills a pet mouse, and a puppy, by stroking their soft fur too forcefully. He ultimately kills a woman who has invited him to stroke her hair. When the stroking becomes too rough, the woman panics and starts to scream. Lennie has a meltdown, does not let her go, and finally suffocates her because of the screaming. This is the worst of the “bad things” he has ever done.

Some authors have suggested other diagnostic possibilities. Ledesma 16 writes that Lennie’s meltdowns are actually panic attacks. Panic attacks, however, may occur suddenly and unexpectedly, without a triggering event, and are accompanied by a number of somatic signs and symptoms, that are not described in the story. Watanabe 17 proposes that Lennie is “Lennie Small” because Steinbeck wants to tell the reader that Lennie is subject to petit mal attacks of epilepsy. Very few people with Sotos syndrome have these absence ( petit mal ) seizures, 18 and autistic meltdown represents a more likely possibility.

“Ockham’s razor,” suggests that the simplest explanation, using the fewest assumptions, is usually the best explanation. Sotos syndrome would account for Lennie’s physical appearance as well as his intellectual deficit. It is reasonable to suggest that an autistic spectrum disorder is also part of his condition.

Was Lennie modeled on someone Steinbeck knew, a composite of characteristics of several individuals, or a totally imaginary representation of strength, bad judgment, and poor impulse control? Steinbeck answered this in an interview with the New York Times in December 1937. 19 “Lennie was a real person. He’s in an insane asylum in California right now. I worked alongside him for many weeks. He didn’t kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman. Got sore because the foreman fired his pal and stuck a pitchfork right through his stomach . . . I saw him do it. We couldn’t stop him until it was too late.”

More than eighty years have passed since Of Mice and Men was written. One can only hope that today the fate of a man like Lennie would be very different. Modifications in social environment and adaptive education can help people like Lennie to live more successfully in society, although society itself still needs to better learn how to adapt to those with physical and cognitive differences.

  • John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men/Cannery Row . New York: Penguin Books, 1949.
  • Pinchas Cohen and Melanie Shim, 2007. “Tall Stature,” In Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics 18th ed , RM Kliegman et al, 2304-2307. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Christina Meazza, Chiara Gertosio, Roberto Gincchero, Sara Pagani, and Mauro Bozolla, “Tall Stature: A Difficult Diagnosis?”, Ital J Ped , 43, no.6, 2017.
  • Justin Davies and Tom Cheetham, “Investigation and Management of Tall Stature,” Arch Dis Child , 99, no. 8, 2014.
  • Davies and Cheetham, “Investigation.”
  • Steinbeck, “Of Mice.”
  • Steinbeck,” Of Mice.”
  • Meazza, “Tall stature,”
  • Bruce K Shapiro and Mark L Batshaw, 2007. “Mental Retardation (Intellectual Disability),” In Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics 18th ed , RM Kliegman et al, 191-197. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Eric M Butter and James A Mulick, 2009. “Autism,” In American Academy of Pediatrics Textbook of Pediatric Care , TK McInerny et al, eds. 1196-1201. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Clare Lawrence, “Is Lennie a Monster? A Reconsideration of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in a 21st Century Inclusive Classroom Context,” Palgrave Commun , 6, no. 17, 2020.
  • Butter and Mulick, “Autism.”
  • Andrew Edmonson and Jennifer Kalish, “Overgrowth Syndromes,” J Pediatr Genet , 4, no.3, 2015.
  • Jillian Ledesma, “Diagnosing Lennie Small,” In Project Muse—Intellectual Disability in Carlisle Floyd’s “Of mice and Men,” 2016
  • Nancy Ann Watanabe, “Medical Genetics and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men ,”
  • Francesco Nicita, Martino Ruggieri, Agata Polizzi, Laura Mauceri, Vincenzo Salpietro, Silvana Briuglia, Laura Papetti, et al, “Seizures and Epilepsy in Sotos Syndrome: Analysis of 19 Caucasian Patients with Long-term Follow-up,” Epilepsia , 56, no.6, 2012.
  • Thomas Fensch, ed. Conversations with John Steinbec k. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.

HOWARD FISCHER , MD, retired as a professor of pediatrics from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan. He spent much of his career diagnosing and treating child abuse and neglect. He has always been interested in the relationship between literature and medicine.

Winter 2021  |    Sections   |  Literary Essays

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It is possible he had Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, my son has it and is proportional.

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lennie's disability essay

Of Mice and Men

John steinbeck, ask litcharts ai: the answer to your questions.

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Of Mice and Men is set in the 1930s—a period during which women, racial minorities, and disabled individuals had few rights. The oppressive nature of the period was further compounded by the socioeconomic instability of the Great Depression. Throughout the novella, Steinbeck argues that hard times necessitate scapegoats—and that the individuals who bear the brunt of society’s frustrations, suspicions, and uncertainties are those already marginalized by the world around them.

There are several marginalized groups within Of Mice and Men . The first character who is marginalized and scapegoated throughout the novella is Lennie , whose large, hulking frame stands in contrast to his delicate, childlike nature. Lennie is mentally-disabled, and as such his actions and intentions are often misunderstood. At the start of the novel, Lennie and his companion George have been chased away from a ranch in Weed because Lennie, longing to stroke the fabric of a young woman’s dress, seized the girl’s hem, leading her to tell the police he tried to rape her. Due to Lennie’s appearance (and societal attitudes towards the physically and mentally disabled at the time), his desire to touch and stroke soft things is entirely misunderstood. Lennie’s immense strength—and his inability to control it—make him both a marvel and a threat, and in the end, George must reckon with the fact that he, too, has been complicit in Lennie’s demise. In attempting to ignore, gloss over, or even ridicule Lennie’s disability, George has prevented Lennie from understanding his own nature, isolating and marginalizing his friend even further. 

The second and arguably most marginalized character on the ranch is Crooks , the black stable hand, whose bosses and fellow laborers alike refer to him using cruel racial slurs. Even Crooks’s nickname pokes fun at his crooked spine, the result of an accident with a horse. Crooks is doubly marginalized: he is black, which, in the 1930s, makes him a second-class citizen in the eyes of his peers and of society more largely. He is also disabled, which has the dual function of rendering him weak and making him an object of his peers’ derision, and of serving as a constant reminder of the very real danger that accompanies many of the jobs on the ranch—jobs that, in the Depression, are necessary to maintain even in the face of injury or death. Crooks spends most of his time in his room, which is segregated from the bunk house in a small, hay-lined nook off the barn. Crooks reads, keeps to himself, and refuses company even when it’s offered. Crooks explains to Lennie that as a child, he and his family were the only black family in their entire California town—now, as the only black worker on the ranch, he faces the same isolation and marginalization he has faced all his life. Crooks understand well how the system of marginalization and scapegoating works and does his best to avoid any and all situations in which he could possibly be misjudged or mistreated any more than he already is.

Candy is yet another marginalized character. Due to his age and his missing hand, which he lost in an accident, Candy is relegated to work as a “swamper”—a man in charge of odd jobs. Candy is kept on only, it is implied, due to his boss ’s pity. Candy’s plight is made manifest in the symbol of his dog —an old, stinking sheepdog who is blind and lame. Candy keeps the dog around because it’s been with him all its life, but as it becomes clear that the dog is suffering and needs to be put down, Candy agrees that the best thing for the dog is death. While Carlson , another laborer, takes the dog out back to shoot it, Candy stares at the ceiling in a silent state of denial or even dissociation as he listens to his companion meet a fate for which Candy knows he himself may one day be destined. Candy is well-enough liked among the other laborers, but the idea that he is living (and working) on borrowed time eats at him. He is aware that he is not like the other men on the ranch, and must find an alternative before he is scapegoated, attacked, or disposed of.

Curley ’s wife , though white and able-bodied, is the only woman on the ranch, and she is marginalized due to that fact. Curley’s wife dresses glamorously, curls her hair, and makes up her face each day. She hangs around the bunk house under the pretense of looking for her husband, when really it’s clear she wants to talk to and flirt with the men on the ranch. The men quickly label her as a promiscuous “tart,” and refuse to associate with her. Curley’s wife, however, later reveals that she is miserable on the ranch and always dreamed of being a big movie star in “pitchers” on screens around the world. Curley’s wife only wants company and an escape from her social ostracization—and yet all she gets in return is suspicion and judgement.

The marginalized characters in Of Mice and Men represent the larger stratifications in American society at the time, and speak to the fear, instability, and distrust that permeated the atmosphere. With jobs so few and far between and even white, able-bodied men unable to find work, society began to buckle under the weight of so many people’s disillusionment. The scapegoating of minorities—disabled people, people of color, and women—gave socially dominant groups someone to blame, and thus easier to shoulder their shame about their own failure to thrive in a crumbling system. In Of Mice and Men , Steinbeck cuts to the heart of these problems—and warns against any society picking on its weakest members in order to soothe the hubris of its most powerful.

Minorities, Marginalization, and Scapegoating ThemeTracker

Of Mice and Men PDF

Minorities, Marginalization, and Scapegoating Quotes in Of Mice and Men

“Well, we ain't got any,” George exploded. “Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble....An' whatta I got,” George went on furiously. “I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time. An' that ain't the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.”

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“Carl's right, Candy. That dog ain't no good to himself. I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I got old an' a cripple.”

lennie's disability essay

“Maybe it’d hurt him,” [Candy] suggested. “I don’t mind takin’ care of him.”

Carlson said, “The way I’d shoot him, he wouldn’t feel nothing. I’d put the gun right there.” He pointed with his toe. “Right back of the head. He wouldn’t even quiver.”

“I oughtta of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn't oughtta of let no stranger shoot my dog.”

“I seen it over an' over—a guy talkin' to another guy and it don't make no difference if he don't hear or understand. The thing is, they're talkin', or they're settin' still not talkin'. It don't make no difference, no difference...It's just the talking.”

“A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” He whined, “A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.”

“A guy sets alone out here at night, maybe readin' books or thinkin' or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin', an' he got nothing to tell him what's so an' what ain't so. Maybe if he sees somethin', he don't know whether it's right or not. He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too. He can't tell. He got nothing to measure by. I seen things out here. I wasn't drunk. I don't know if I was asleep. If some guy was with me, he could tell me I was asleep, an' then it would be all right. But I jus' don't know.”

“Why can't I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely.”

He pawed up the hay until it partly covered her.

“No, Lennie. I ain't mad. I never been mad, an' I ain't now. That's a thing I want ya to know.”

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Of Mice and Men: Lennie Character Construction and Representation

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Published: Jun 29, 2018

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lennie's disability essay

Characters – WJEC Lennie Small

The main characters in Of Mice and Men are George and Lennie. They are best friends but complete opposites. Learn about the other characters on the ranch and how they all long for friendship.

Part of English Literature Of Mice and Men

Lennie Small

Lennie is George’s friend and the two travel together. Lennie has a mental disability, making him dependent upon George to manage day to day life in the difficult environment in which they live and work.

Lennie is physically very strong (so his name is ironic), but cannot control himself, leading to escalating acts of accidental violence through the book. He is obsessed with stroking soft things, such as animal fur. This starts with mice, which he kills, then leads to his puppy, which he also kills, before the tragic death of Curley’s wife when he strokes her hair. He does not mean to cause harm but is not aware of his own physical power.

Lennie is very innocent and sweet-natured; he always means well and is focused on simple pleasures, which his dream with George reminds the reader of. He lacks awareness of social conventions and so does not feel the same racism and prejudice against women that many of the other male characters feel. Lennie is happy to talk to Crooks and Curley’s wife, despite them being rejected by the other characters on the ranch.

Lennie only gets angry or aggressive when he feels that his friendship with George is threatened. For example, when Crooks suggests that George might abandon Lennie, Lennie reacts angrily, worried that Crooks is threatening violence against his friend.

George and Lennie standing together with Lennie in George's shadow.

George’s opposite

How is lennie like this.

Lennie is described as a very large, slow man.

Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders;

Lennie’s physical vastness is emphasised here, which is linked to the problems that this causes later in the book. Whereas George’s quickness is concentrated upon when he is introduced (reflecting his intelligence) Lennie’s size is the focus of his introduction.

Lacking control

Lennie has no awareness of his own strength and cannot stop himself from hurting the animals he pets, which leads to him accidentally killing Curley’s wife.

He was so little, said Lennie. I was jus’ playin’ with him ... an’ he made like he’s gonna bite me ... an’ I made like I was gonna smack him ... an’ ... an’ I done it. An’ then he was dead.

The use of ellipsis close ellipsis Three dots (...) used to indicate a pause or missing words. here shows how upset Lennie is as he is not able to speak fluently, demonstrating that he did not mean to cause any harm to his puppy. The way he repeats an’ (meaning ‘and’) is childlike, which reflects the way that Lennie thinks and cannot control his own behaviour. The way that he describes the puppy’s death does not show the link between his actions and the outcome as he uses the passive phrase then he was dead.

Lennie is kind and innocent and so does not understand other characters’ cruelty and anger properly.

Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror. He cried, Make ’um stop, George.

Lennie is described using animalistic language ( paws and bleated ), showing his lack of understanding as Curley attacks him. Rather than defend himself, which he could do easily because of his size, he looks to George for help and protection.


Lennie is cheerful and kind most of the time, quickly forgetting things that make him unhappy.

Tha’s good, he said. You drink some, George. You take a good big drink. He smiled happily.

Even though George has just told Lennie off, Lennie quickly moves on and is focused on his immediate, positive experience. The way that he smiled happily suggests that he is focused on simple pleasures and can be satisfied with small things in life; he is not demanding.

More guides on this topic

  • Plot summary – WJEC
  • Themes – WJEC
  • Form, structure and language – WJEC
  • Context – WJEC
  • Sample exam question – WJEC

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Lennie Small

Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck, in which the protagonist George goes on a journey with his mentally challenged friend Lennie through California in search of work during the Great Depression. Of Mice and Men has been adapted into two movies, one in 1939 starring Burgess Meredith as Curley, Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie, and Betty Field as Curley’s wife; and one in 1992 staring Gary Sinise as George Milton, John Malkovich as Lennie Smalls, and Ray Walston as Candy. Of Mice And Men is considered to be among John Steinbeck’s best works.

Curiously enough Of Mice And Men was banned for being seen offensive towards people with disabilities by The Kern High School District Of Bakersfield, California in 1981. Of Mice And Men received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940 and was also adapted into a Broadway play Of Mice And Men still runs to this day. Lennie Small is John Steinbeck’s protagonist Of Mice And Men alongside George Milton.

Lennie Small is portrayed as an oafish man prone to fits of panic with immense physical strength that always results in him unintentionally harming those around him. Lennie has great difficulty controlling his impulses due to an intellectual disability, which combined with his athleticism makes him very dangerous when not closely supervised by someone he respects.

Lennie’s Character Analysis

Lennie was born on January 17th 1908 (As estimated during Of Mice And Men). Lennie has lost track of his actual age due to his mental disabilities, saying that he was twelve in Of Mice Of Men. Lennie’s exact birthday is never determined but it could be inferred from Of Mice Of Men that Lennie liked February because he said “Today’s my birthday.”

If Of Mice Of Men takes place at the beginning of spring then this would put Lennie’s birthday close to George Milton’s who was born on April 15th Of Mice Of Men. John Steinbeck describes Lennie as 6 feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds with big bones and raw muscles . This makes Lennie very strong for someone who works mostly with machinery because average strength for a person his size would be closer to 100 pounds Of Mice Of Men.

Curley and his wife was also two of the ranch hands. Candy, one of the ranch hands who was old and disabled, and had a dog. Of Mice And Men is a novel which takes place during the Great Depression Era in California. Lennie Small was portrayed as an innocent-looking man with huge muscles. He was mentally slow and tended to drool. Of Mice and Men did not give us any physical description of Lennie apart from these facts; we only knew that he came across as physically strong because he carried around dead animals (bunnies) that he killed for fun.

We know that he has always been like this since childhood because this is what his Aunt Clara told him: “You ain’t no good an’ you never was. Right from the time you was a little baby Lennie. You was always wild. Wild! Takin’ after any livin’ thing that come along, like it was sort of so… The ranch hands were always trying to get Lennie in trouble because he kept getting into fights with them over his friend George Milton. Of Mice and Men portrays Lennie as being something of a menace or monster who does not have any control over himself.

Curley’s wife tried to flirt with him while she herself flirted with other men on the farm. This comes back later in the story to haunt her when Lennie gets mad at her for flirting with another man earlier in the book . George Milton was an intelligent young man with a bad reputation for being careless in his actions. Of Mice and Men created a psychological portrait of George when he tells Lennie the story about how they met each other: In Of Mice And Men, Steinbeck portrays mental illness as a threat to society.

Examples can be seen when Lennie gets mad at Curley’s wife because she flirted with another man . This also comes back to haunt her later on in the book when Lennie kills her husband by mistake . The people who were mentally ill were discriminated against during this time period and considered dangerous to society . In Of Mice And Men, Lennie Small fits into that category because he was said to have killed two men, but he did not really know what he was doing. Lennie was also described as being “not right” in the head due to his mental state .

Of Mice And Men portrayed people with problems or disabilities as being dangerous, unpredictable, and violent. Of Mice And Men showed that the mentally ill were the most feared of all groups because they could never be trusted . This is true in Of Mice And Men because George Milton had to lead Lennie around like a child all of the time because Lennie got into trouble so much. Lennie Small’s reaction to Curley’s wife demonstrates how men can exert violence against women (the helpless). Of Mice And Men shows how men prey on women who are weak or unable to defend themselves.

Of Mice And Men shows how men can prey on women physically and psychologically . This is seen when Lennie gets mad at Curley’s wife because she flirted with another man. Of Mice And Men also demonstrates that there were no limits to the kinds of abuse men could heap upon women during this time period. Of Mice And Men showed that men were capable of doing anything they wanted to women and there was no one who would stop them. Of Mice And Men shows the historical realities of the time period (of how power and authority were perceived).

Of Mice and Men clearly demonstrates how people abuse their power over others, like Curley’s wife was abused by Lennie Small because she could not defend herself . Of Mice And Men showed the physical and psychological violence that men bestowed upon women during this time period. Of Mice And Men portrayed how authorities (such as police officers) did not protect women from abuse. Of Mice And Men also illustrated that even if a man was put in jail for committing a crime, he could still have control over his woman if he had someone else threaten her while she was alone .

Of Mice And Men demonstrated how women were treated like objects and not humans during this time period. Of Mice And Men showed that people mistreated others who were different during the 1930’s because society feared them. Of Mice And Men shows how men can be monsters when they get mad at women for flirting with other men. Of Mice And Men demonstrates that some people only cared about their own gratification and did not care what happened to others. Of Mice and Men also portrayed how women could be psychologically manipulated by men (and made to feel guilty if they refused to do something).

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Gagarin Cup Preview: Atlant vs. Salavat Yulaev

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Gagarin cup (khl) finals:  atlant moscow oblast vs. salavat yulaev ufa.

Much like the Elitserien Finals, we have a bit of an offense vs. defense match-up in this league Final.  While Ufa let their star top line of Alexander Radulov, Patrick Thoresen and Igor Grigorenko loose on the KHL's Western Conference, Mytischi played a more conservative style, relying on veterans such as former NHLers Jan Bulis, Oleg Petrov, and Jaroslav Obsut.  Just reaching the Finals is a testament to Atlant's disciplined style of play, as they had to knock off much more high profile teams from Yaroslavl and St. Petersburg to do so.  But while they did finish 8th in the league in points, they haven't seen the likes of Ufa, who finished 2nd. 

This series will be a challenge for the underdog, because unlike some of the other KHL teams, Ufa's top players are generally younger and in their prime.  Only Proshkin amongst regular blueliners is over 30, with the work being shared by Kirill Koltsov (28), Andrei Kuteikin (26), Miroslav Blatak (28), Maxim Kondratiev (28) and Dmitri Kalinin (30).  Oleg Tverdovsky hasn't played a lot in the playoffs to date.  Up front, while led by a fairly young top line (24-27), Ufa does have a lot of veterans in support roles:  Vyacheslav Kozlov , Viktor Kozlov , Vladimir Antipov, Sergei Zinovyev and Petr Schastlivy are all over 30.  In fact, the names of all their forwards are familiar to international and NHL fans:  Robert Nilsson , Alexander Svitov, Oleg Saprykin and Jakub Klepis round out the group, all former NHL players.

For Atlant, their veteran roster, with only one of their top six D under the age of 30 (and no top forwards under 30, either), this might be their one shot at a championship.  The team has never won either a Russian Superleague title or the Gagarin Cup, and for players like former NHLer Oleg Petrov, this is probably the last shot at the KHL's top prize.  The team got three extra days rest by winning their Conference Final in six games, and they probably needed to use it.  Atlant does have younger regulars on their roster, but they generally only play a few shifts per game, if that. 

The low event style of game for Atlant probably suits them well, but I don't know how they can manage to keep up against Ufa's speed, skill, and depth.  There is no advantage to be seen in goal, with Erik Ersberg and Konstantin Barulin posting almost identical numbers, and even in terms of recent playoff experience Ufa has them beat.  Luckily for Atlant, Ufa isn't that far away from the Moscow region, so travel shouldn't play a major role. 

I'm predicting that Ufa, winners of the last Superleague title back in 2008, will become the second team to win the Gagarin Cup, and will prevail in five games.  They have a seriously well built team that would honestly compete in the NHL.  They represent the potential of the league, while Atlant represents closer to the reality, as a team full of players who played themselves out of the NHL. 

  • Atlant @ Ufa, Friday Apr 8 (3:00 PM CET/10:00 PM EST)
  • Atlant @ Ufa, Sunday Apr 10 (1:00 PM CET/8:00 AM EST)
  • Ufa @ Atlant, Tuesday Apr 12 (5:30 PM CET/12:30 PM EST)
  • Ufa @ Atlant, Thursday Apr 14 (5:30 PM CET/12:30 PM EST)

Games 5-7 are as yet unscheduled, but every second day is the KHL standard, so expect Game 5 to be on Saturday, like an early start. 

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Savvino-storozhevsky monastery and museum.

Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery and Museum

Zvenigorod's most famous sight is the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, which was founded in 1398 by the monk Savva from the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, at the invitation and with the support of Prince Yury Dmitrievich of Zvenigorod. Savva was later canonised as St Sabbas (Savva) of Storozhev. The monastery late flourished under the reign of Tsar Alexis, who chose the monastery as his family church and often went on pilgrimage there and made lots of donations to it. Most of the monastery’s buildings date from this time. The monastery is heavily fortified with thick walls and six towers, the most impressive of which is the Krasny Tower which also serves as the eastern entrance. The monastery was closed in 1918 and only reopened in 1995. In 1998 Patriarch Alexius II took part in a service to return the relics of St Sabbas to the monastery. Today the monastery has the status of a stauropegic monastery, which is second in status to a lavra. In addition to being a working monastery, it also holds the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum.

Belfry and Neighbouring Churches

lennie's disability essay

Located near the main entrance is the monastery's belfry which is perhaps the calling card of the monastery due to its uniqueness. It was built in the 1650s and the St Sergius of Radonezh’s Church was opened on the middle tier in the mid-17th century, although it was originally dedicated to the Trinity. The belfry's 35-tonne Great Bladgovestny Bell fell in 1941 and was only restored and returned in 2003. Attached to the belfry is a large refectory and the Transfiguration Church, both of which were built on the orders of Tsar Alexis in the 1650s.  

lennie's disability essay

To the left of the belfry is another, smaller, refectory which is attached to the Trinity Gate-Church, which was also constructed in the 1650s on the orders of Tsar Alexis who made it his own family church. The church is elaborately decorated with colourful trims and underneath the archway is a beautiful 19th century fresco.

Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral

lennie's disability essay

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is the oldest building in the monastery and among the oldest buildings in the Moscow Region. It was built between 1404 and 1405 during the lifetime of St Sabbas and using the funds of Prince Yury of Zvenigorod. The white-stone cathedral is a standard four-pillar design with a single golden dome. After the death of St Sabbas he was interred in the cathedral and a new altar dedicated to him was added.

lennie's disability essay

Under the reign of Tsar Alexis the cathedral was decorated with frescoes by Stepan Ryazanets, some of which remain today. Tsar Alexis also presented the cathedral with a five-tier iconostasis, the top row of icons have been preserved.

Tsaritsa's Chambers

lennie's disability essay

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is located between the Tsaritsa's Chambers of the left and the Palace of Tsar Alexis on the right. The Tsaritsa's Chambers were built in the mid-17th century for the wife of Tsar Alexey - Tsaritsa Maria Ilinichna Miloskavskaya. The design of the building is influenced by the ancient Russian architectural style. Is prettier than the Tsar's chambers opposite, being red in colour with elaborately decorated window frames and entrance.

lennie's disability essay

At present the Tsaritsa's Chambers houses the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum. Among its displays is an accurate recreation of the interior of a noble lady's chambers including furniture, decorations and a decorated tiled oven, and an exhibition on the history of Zvenigorod and the monastery.

Palace of Tsar Alexis

lennie's disability essay

The Palace of Tsar Alexis was built in the 1650s and is now one of the best surviving examples of non-religious architecture of that era. It was built especially for Tsar Alexis who often visited the monastery on religious pilgrimages. Its most striking feature is its pretty row of nine chimney spouts which resemble towers.

lennie's disability essay

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Killer.Cloud the Serial Killer Database

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Serial Killer Stranglers by: Kevin Smith ISBN10: 1733630600

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Sergei Ryakhovsky

The balashikha ripper, the hippopotamus,   active for 6 years (1988-1993) in russia, confirmed victims, possible victims.

  • Serial Killer Profile
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Sergei Ryakhovsky (Sergei Vasilyevich Ryakhovsky) a Soviet-Russian serial killer known as the Balashikha Ripper and The Hippopotamus. Ryakhovsky was convicted for the killing of nineteen people in the Moscow area between 1988 and 1993. Ryakhovsky's mainly stabbed or strangulated his victims, he mutilated some bodies, mainly in the genital area. Allegedly Ryakhovsky carried out necrophilic acts on his victims and stole their belongings. Ryakhovsky standing 6’5" tall and weighting 286 pounds, gaining him the nickname, The Hippo. Sergei Ryakhovsky died on January 21st 2005 from untreated tuberculosis while serving his life sentence in prison.

Sergei Ryakhovsky Serial Killer Profile

Serial Killer Sergei Ryakhovsky (aka) the Balashikha Ripper, The Hippopotamus, was active for 6 years between 1988-1993 , known to have ( 19 confirmed / 19 possible ) victims. This serial killer was active in the following countries: Russia

Sergei Ryakhovsky was born on December 29th 1962 in Balashikha, Moscow Oblast, Soviet Union. He had a physically defect. During his education he had academic, social or discipline problems including being teased or picked on.

Sergei Ryakhovsky a necrophile male citizen of Russia.

Prior to his spree he had killed, commited crimes, and served time in jail.

In 1988 (Age 25/26) Sergei Ryakhovsky started his killing spree, during his crimes as a serial killer he was known to rob, commit acts of necrophilia , torture , strangle , rape , mutilate, and murder his victims.

He was arrested on April 13th 1993 (Age 30), sentenced to death by firing squad at a maximum-security penal colony in Solikamsk, Perm Oblast, Russia. He was convicted on charges of murder and other possible charges during his lifetime.

Sergei Ryakhovsky died on January 21st 2005 (Age 42), cause of death: natural causes, untreated tuberculosis at a maximum-security penal colony in Solikamsk, Perm Oblast, Russia.

Profile Completeness: 62%

Sergei Ryakhovsky has been listed on Killer.Cloud since November of 2016 and was last updated 4 years ago.

Sergei Ryakhovsky a known:

( 651 killers ) serial killer.

The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events. Serial Killer as defined by the FBI at the 2005 symposium.

( 308 killers ) RAPIST

Rape is usually defined as having sexual intercourse with a person who does not want to, or cannot consent.

( 60 killers ) NECROPHILIAC

Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia, is a sexual attraction or sexual act involving corpses. Serial Killer Necrophiliacs have been known to have sex with the body of their victim(s).

( 89 killers ) TORTURER

Torture is when someone puts another person in pain. This pain may be physical or psychological. Tourturers touture their victims.

( 251 killers ) STRANGLER

Strangulation is death by compressing the neck until the supply of oxygen is cut off. Stranglers kill by Strangulation.

Sergei Ryakhovsky Serial Killer Profile:

Updated: 2019-06-30 collected by, 8 timeline events of serial killer sergei ryakhovsky.

The 8 dates listed below represent a timeline of the life and crimes of serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky. A complete collection of serial killer events can be found on our Serial Killer Timeline .

Back to top Serial Killers Active During

The following serial killers were active during the same time span as Sergei Ryakhovsky (1988-1993).

Thomas Dillon 5 Victims during 18 Years

Lesley warren 4 victims during 4 years, john martin crawford 4 victims during 12 years, francisco garcia escalero 11 victims during 8 years, serial killers by active year, books that mention sergei ryakhovsky.

Book: Serial Killer Stranglers (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Kevin Smith

Serial killer stranglers.

Book: Serial Killer Rapists (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Serial Killer Rapists

Book: Butterfly Skin (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Sergey Kuznetsov

Butterfly skin.

Book: Believing in Russia (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Geraldine Fagan

Believing in russia.

Book: Freedom of Religion Or Belief. Anti... (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Danny Schäfer

Freedom of religion or belief. anti-sect move....

Book: 100 of the Most Famous Serial Kille... (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

100 of the Most Famous Serial Killers of All...

Book: The New International Dictionary of... (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

Stanley M. Burgess

The new international dictionary of pentecost....

Book: Global Renewal Christianity (mentions serial killer Sergei Ryakhovsky)

External References

  • Sergei Ryakhovsky on , Retrieved on Sep 18, 2018 .
  • Juan Ignacio Blanco , Sergei Vasilyevich RYAKHOVSKY on , Retrieved on Sep 18, 2018 .
  • Q372816 on , Retrieved on Oct 9, 2018 .

Sergei Ryakhovsky is included in the following pages on Killer.Cloud the Serial Killer Database

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  • #10 of 60[ Page 1 ] of Serial Killer Necrophiliacs sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #10 of 29[ Page 1 ] of Serial Killers active in Russia
  • #10 of 55[ Page 1 ] of Capricorn Serial Killers sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #11 of 89[ Page 1 ] of Serial Killer Torturers sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #27 of 250[ Page 2 ] of Serial Killer Stranglers sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #35 of 307[ Page 3 ] of Serial Killer Rapist sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #63 of 651[ Page 5 ] of serial killers sorted by Confirmed Victims
  • #264 of 651[ Page 18 ] of serial killers sorted by Years Active
  • #381 of 651[ Page 26 ] of serial killers sorted by Profile Completeness
  • #516 of 651[ Page 35 ] of the A-Z List of Serial Killers

My son is profoundly autistic. Please don’t say he’s merely ‘neurodiverse.’

Advocates are fighting to eliminate terminology that accurately describes my son and thousands of people like him — who can’t speak up for themselves..

lennie's disability essay

I t was pure coincidence that I happened upon the bloody site. Hoping to surprise my son, I drove to his favorite walking trail, along a lakefront, where I caught sight of police officers in a tense confrontation. Three officers stood side by side in an impenetrable wall while instructing someone splayed out and writhing on the ground. I hope Zack doesn’t get distracted by this scene , I thought.

As I neared the trail, I saw Zack’s aide, slouched inside her car, fully absorbed in texting. She was supposed to remain beside him at all times, but he was not with her. I called out to her, “Where’s Zack?” as my throat tightened with the realization he was nowhere in sight. I began sprinting toward the police officers — only to discover with mounting horror that Zack was the scene they were dealing with.

He was ravaging his forearms with deep, mutilating bites, thrashing angrily on the ground, and then rising to charge at the officers, who patiently but sternly reminded him to “stay seated” and repeated “Don’t panic, you’re not in trouble.” Breaking into the scene, I began a frantic avalanche of contrition. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what triggered this —” But I was abruptly cut off by an officer who stated calmly, “Yes, we understand who he is and that he’s petrified.”

Somewhere during his sojourn along the lake, Zack, who was 20 years old at the time, had abruptly sat down too close to a woman seated on a bench, who gingerly told him to put on a COVID mask — and Zack bit her on the shoulder for what he perceived as a reprimand. The woman immediately summoned the police, not in anger but in compassion, realizing this young man was seriously disabled and apparently unattended.


“He’s not in trouble, the woman’s not pressing charges,” the officer assured me. “We’ve been trying to get him to recount a phone number of someone we could contact —” He halted, spying a robust purple bruise on my calf and deep bite marks encrusted with dried blood along my arms. His tone turned solemn. “I can only imagine what you’ve been through. I do understand.”

I stood in stunned silence. I was not prepared for them to be prepared. It had been 45 minutes since they first gathered around Zack with no identifying information, 45 minutes during which his very safety hinged not only on the instincts of a benevolent stranger whom he assaulted but on a shared understanding by all involved of his clinical identity — that Zack is profoundly autistic.

Zack in 2023.

What’s remarkable about Zack’s behavior is how unremarkable it is. Autism has been on an inexplicable rise with no signs of a plateau. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in every 36 children born today has autism, and 1 in every 4 of those will have “profound autism,” a clinical distinction for those with much higher needs than the more verbally and intellectually able people who also have an autism diagnosis. Individuals like Zack with profound autism have minimal or no expressive language and require round-the-clock care to assist with daily living activities and safeguard them from extreme behaviors such as self-injury, the destruction of property, and “elopement” — the term for running or wandering away from caregivers or secure locations.

But while parents like me struggle to manage our children’s dangerous impulses, a powerful cultural movement has taken hold that forbids open discussion of profound autism and its manifestations. Advocates for “neurodiversity” are seeking to eliminate the term “profound autism” — on the grounds, they say, that it makes it seem as if autism is always an affliction. And now they are bullying doctors, researchers, lawmakers, and the rest of society into ignoring truths about Zack’s disorder that define his life.

Sanitizing Zack’s diagnosis and intense needs is dangerous. That day out on the lakefront trail, my son’s safety turned on the officers’ ability to decode from his conspicuous behaviors that he has profound autism in particular. They told me they realized that Zack’s refusal to identify himself to them despite repeated requests stemmed from an inability to articulate salient information in a moment of acute stress. They employed a measured response to his rage by speaking in succinct, assertive phrases, repeating reassurances, and maintaining a physical distance. If they hadn’t had such precise training , which depends on recognizing precise clinical criteria rather than employing general descriptors such as “neurodiverse,” the scenario could have gone very differently — with his arrest, forcible restraint, and even suffocation and death.

The intimidation campaign

I embrace many of neurodiversity’s fundamental tenets, especially the idea that people with intellectual disabilities should be broadly accepted and included in society.

I’ve staked my career on this principle — I used to work in the US Department of Justice as a disability rights attorney. I witnessed firsthand the exclusion of people with physical and cognitive disabilities from the rituals of daily life most other people take for granted. And I believe parents and professionals must aspire to discern a child’s authentic needs rather than superimpose our own preferences on them or force them into compliant molds of “normal.” Our children do not need to be “typical” to thrive in a society designed for its vast majority, nor is that an attainable goal.

But the concept of neurodiversity is going into dangerous territory if diagnostic distinctions across the spectrum are now considered archaic and bigoted.

In 2021, the medical journal The Lancet published a report from a commission of worldwide medical experts who recognized the need for “profound autism” as a discrete diagnostic category. The backlash was swift and mighty.

Autistic self-advocates launched a virulent campaign to quash the term, arguing that it had arisen, in the words of self-advocate Julia Bascom , “because some parents . . . see their kids as needing different kinds of support and different levels of restriction. But they are wrong on all counts.” The Global Autistic Task Force on Autism Research, an advocacy group, responded to The Lancet commission by saying : “For more than 30 years, autistic people have resisted functioning labels as misleading and offensive.”

As neurodiversity advocates denounce any framing of autism as a disability that requires medical intervention, they demand more support systems for people with autism, such as independent living “that honors authentic forms of human diversity.” Groups like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, people who identify on social media as #ActuallyAutistic, and parent activists insist that there is no such thing as a “normal” brain, only relative differences that render all humans “differently abled.”

To them, frank discussions about profound autism give a distorted image of people like Zack as unpredictable, cognitively limited, and presenting more behavioral challenges than the general population. Except the image is not distorted. While it’s painful to accept, these descriptors are accurate. Over the course of a single day, Zack, who is now 23, might furiously pummel his head in rage, slam his body into a wall, and bite me hard enough to draw blood.

The neurodiversity advocates — whose members are distinguished precisely by their ability to advocate for themselves, as Zack cannot — are not illuminating the complexity of autism; they are castigating into submission anyone who dares to deviate from their accepted language.

Intolerance for the term “profound autism” is leaching into medical journals and doctors’ practices. Doctors who’ve devoted their careers to treating children who compulsively ravage their flesh and slam their skulls into the ground are now verbally castrated on social media and “canceled” from lectures so regularly that preserving their livelihood requires stifling crucial medical data . It’s become common for autism self-advocates to “shout down” researchers imparting medical data at conferences or to call the researchers out on social media for online hazing and threats by neurodiverse mobs.

Today, both experienced and newer autism researchers contemplate leaving the field because, as one University of California scientist, David Amaral , observed, “People are getting reluctant to give public presentations or to be too vocal about what they’re finding,” despite the fact that “science is supposed to be about communication.” Top research institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tasked with conducting clinical trials to illuminate the disorder, face vitriolic accusations of being “ableist” and uncomprehending of the very people they are trying to help.

After the The Lancet’s commission recognized “profound autism” in 2021, the journal published an article by a doctor who wrote: “Generally, physicians think that disability is medical, and that if a patient’s condition interferes with their daily life, they are disabled. This traditional, medical model of disability does not address societal factors that influence disability, nor does it recognize disability as a cultural identity. Viewing disability as an issue stemming from an impaired body can encourage physicians to view disabled patients’ quality of life negatively . . . and to offer treatments aiming to fix the patient.”

This is absurd. I know of no person with profound autism who proudly identifies self-mutilating or violent impulses as core to their “cultural” identity. There is nothing bigoted about striving to ameliorate dangerous behaviors.

More critically, it is not the role of medical researchers to kowtow to trending cultural demands at the expense of addressing medically life-threatening conditions. Erasing diagnostic distinctions will make it impossible to perform research into the behaviors that are associated with profound autism — research that could lead to drugs that could benefit people across the entire autism spectrum. Although about 27 percent of all people with autism have profound autism, the condition is already underrepresented in clinical trials, which typically exclude those with an IQ lower than 70.

Two years ago, my son was abruptly ensnared in a cycle of self-injury, physical assaults, and chronic insomnia that within days catapulted him into a dangerously manic state — during which he risked seizures and seriously injuring anyone in proximity to him. Introducing anti-psychotic medicine delivered the jolt of serotonin to Zack’s brain that allowed him to reclaim his stability. Might other medicines become available that would work better? A movement that vilifies any medical mention of “risk,” “limitations,” or extreme behaviors has the power to thwart the development of such urgently needed drugs.

The Unique Burial of a Child of Early Scythian Time at the Cemetery of Saryg-Bulun (Tuva)

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Pages:  379-406

In 1988, the Tuvan Archaeological Expedition (led by M. E. Kilunovskaya and V. A. Semenov) discovered a unique burial of the early Iron Age at Saryg-Bulun in Central Tuva. There are two burial mounds of the Aldy-Bel culture dated by 7th century BC. Within the barrows, which adjoined one another, forming a figure-of-eight, there were discovered 7 burials, from which a representative collection of artifacts was recovered. Burial 5 was the most unique, it was found in a coffin made of a larch trunk, with a tightly closed lid. Due to the preservative properties of larch and lack of air access, the coffin contained a well-preserved mummy of a child with an accompanying set of grave goods. The interred individual retained the skin on his face and had a leather headdress painted with red pigment and a coat, sewn from jerboa fur. The coat was belted with a leather belt with bronze ornaments and buckles. Besides that, a leather quiver with arrows with the shafts decorated with painted ornaments, fully preserved battle pick and a bow were buried in the coffin. Unexpectedly, the full-genomic analysis, showed that the individual was female. This fact opens a new aspect in the study of the social history of the Scythian society and perhaps brings us back to the myth of the Amazons, discussed by Herodotus. Of course, this discovery is unique in its preservation for the Scythian culture of Tuva and requires careful study and conservation.

Keywords: Tuva, Early Iron Age, early Scythian period, Aldy-Bel culture, barrow, burial in the coffin, mummy, full genome sequencing, aDNA

Information about authors: Marina Kilunovskaya (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Candidate of Historical Sciences. Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail: [email protected] Vladimir Semenov (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Candidate of Historical Sciences. Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail: [email protected] Varvara Busova  (Moscow, Russian Federation).  (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Kharis Mustafin  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Candidate of Technical Sciences. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Irina Alborova  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Candidate of Biological Sciences. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Alina Matzvai  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected]

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