Second Thoughts on The Imprisoned Guest

I happened to be the one to suggest The Imprisoned Guest as last month’s book for a book club I’m in. They have the person who picked the book post the questions to start off the discussion. In figuring out the questions and answering them, I thought of things that I hadn’t written about in the earlier post. So I thought I’d post the questions and answers here. Please feel free to leave comments. I’d love for this to open up discussion about it!

Are you glad you read the book?
I am so glad I finally read this book. When my mom gave it to me years ago, I was suprised that there was someone who preceded Helen Keller. It was a wonderful account of not only how Laura became educated and able to communicate with others, but also of the times and how people thought.

What was your favorite part of the book? It can be something as simple as how it was written or it can be one of the stories.
My favorite part of the book was Ms. Gitter’s style. The fact that she would always use quotation marks around the word “normal” is possibly my favorite. Personally, since college I have grown to hate the word and only use quotation marks around it when necessary. There is no such thing as “normal”. There is average, but not “normal”. It implies there is one standard way of people to be, yet no one is.

Did you learn anything new?
The fact that Helen Keller was able to be taught because of Laura was a wonderful suprise to me. Not just in the fact that the methods developed with Laura formed the basis of Helen’s education, but the fact that Anne Sullivan knew and lived with Laura before graduating and being sent to the Kellers was totally new to me. I did also like that despite the fact that Helen became so well-known when Laura had become but a distant memory, Helen recognizes that the progress she made would not have been possible without Dr. Howe’s work.

Has it changed your views on anything or piqued your interest?
It has made me want to learn more about the Perkins School and Dr. Howe. Despite his distain for sign language, he does share similar qualities with Thomas Gallaudet in the fact that he saw the disabled, particularly the blind, as people who should be treated and educated just like their non-disabled peers. At that time, it was a revolutionary thought. He was ahead of his time, and brought about some wonderful reform because of it.

What did you think about how Dr. Howe and Laura’s relationship changed over the years?
At first I thought that he really did care for her, and perhaps he did. But in the end he appeared to treat her as an experiment that had run it’s course and could not get any new information from it. He started out seeing her as a person but then, like a child would do with a toy they outgrow, he seemed to forget about her. He did not seem to care that this was hurting Laura deeply and possibly was responsible for her drastic change in attitude. She looked to him like he was the father she never had. He would pay her the positive attention she craved from her parents and support her in her interests and progress. But once she stopped making new revelations and learning new things, he abandonded her for new things, new glories.

What do you think Dr. Howe’s reaction would be to today’s world? For example: equal rights; LGBT issues; religious matters; today’s politics; the wars overseas.
I think he would be slightly torn over how the disabled are treated. He would probably be glad to see that many are out in society able to support themselves and be contributing to society in ways he probably never imagined. He was hoping to be able to teach them to work in factories and do simple jobs, while today they are professors and executives and actors.

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