Carpe Vitae: Living Life or Succumbing to Physical Disabilities
Living with a disability comes complete with challenging obstacles in an already convoluted life. Some of these obstacles are obvious, such as the lack of ramps for those who rely on a wheelchair, not enough material offered in Braille for people who are challenged visually, or lack of closed captioning for people with hearing impairments. Other obstacles physically disabled persons face might not be so obvious, such as society’s prejudices against people with disabilities, or low self-esteem the disabled person feels every day. It is a personal choice to either claim the disability and make the most of life or let the disability control and devour. When the reader meets Hulga Hopewell in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People”, it is apparent that she has let her disabilities define her. On the other hand, when the viewer meets the main character in the movie Rory O’Shea Was Here, it is obvious Rory has chosen to make the most of life and play the cards he has been dealt. While both Rory O’ Shea and Hulga Hopewell have physical disabilities that obstruct their ability to live a normal life, Rory has made the wise choice to live life to the fullest. Hulga has chosen to let her disabilities control and define her as an arrogant and hateful person.
Hulga Hopewell is ashamed of her prosthetic leg and her weak heart. She was born with the weak heart and acquired the prosthetic leg in a hunting accident when she was 10 years old. One of the perplexing things about Hulga is she left home for college, obviously doing well enough independently to reach the level of a Doctorate degree in Philosophy, but oddly moved back home after college and fails to exhibit any interest in changing that arrangement. She exploits every opportunity she can to be mean, hateful and arrogant to everyone around her. Hulga is a proclaimed atheist that has no intent to help others nor improve her own existence in life. She has let her weak heart and prosthetic leg infect her and disfigure who she is at her core. These disabilities have brought her unhappiness and left her feeling cheated in life, which explains the atheism. Hulga must feel a fair and just God could ever allow this atrocity on anyone. In the story “Good Country People”, Mrs. Hopewell speaks of Hulga’s unhappiness and unappealing behavior as a choice Hulga makes, she says: “Sometimes she went for walks but she didn’t like dogs or cats or birds or flowers or nature or nice young men. She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity” (O’Connor 441). The core of Hulga’s existence is a rude, hateful temperament that wishes the same unhappiness she feels on all around her.
When we meet Rory O’ Shea at the beginning of the movie Rory O’ Shea Was Here, he is arriving at the latest of a string of institutions in which he must call home. With his hair in spikes, black boots and leather jacket, he is being rolled into the foyer in his wheelchair. The administrator of the facility demands Rory introduce himself, which he does in the following manner: “Rory O Shea. Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Besides the full vocal range, I have the use of two fingers on my right hand, sufficient for self-propulsion and self-abuse”. (O’Donnell, Rory O’Shea Was Here) Rory is 20 years old and from living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He knows most who have this disease do not live past their mid-twenties. Rory is quick-witted, foul-mouthed and very charismatic. From his sharp sense of humor and infectious smile, we learn he is far from giving up on life. He seeks independent living desperately knowing his time to live is limited and feeling caged by having to follow the rules of institutionalized living. He befriends another resident of the institution, Michael Connolly, who has cerebral palsy and because of the disease a serious speech impediment. Rory talks with Michael being the only one who can understand him, and finds out he has been institutionalized his whole life, never having the chance to live on his own or make his own decisions. During a most touching scene between the two, Michael and Rory are talking about living on your own and doing things normal people do, Michael asks Rory, “What’s out there?” and Rory responds, “What’s out there? Out there is out there. I should be out there. Michael, don’t you want to be like everybody else? To get drunk…. get arrested…. get laid?” (O’Donnell, Rory O’Shea Was Here). It is in these crass questions Rory’s desire for life is found. It is these nuances that reveal his passion for living while he still can. Throughout the movie, Rory pushes the limits of all around him finally achieving independent living for himself and Michael. By doing so, we do not see a selfish act by Rory, we see an act of selfless service.
Rory O’Shea uses the resources around him to attain his goal of living independently. The same could be true for Hulga if she strived for a fulfilling life. In fact, people that live with disabilities account for the biggest minority in the world (Caprino, Forbes.com). For example, the website for the Center of Disease Control shows that in 2015 22 percent, roughly one in five adults has a disability. Of that 22 percent, 13 percent (one in eight adults) suffer from a mobility limitation(www.cdc.gov). That is the most common functional disability type. Both Rory and Hulga fall int o this category. Both have made different life choices due to their personal disabilities. Rory has chosen to live as close to normal as possible. Hulga, on the other hand, has given in to her disability and let it turn her into a jaded and arrogant person. From John Ditsky’s overview of “Good Country People”, he says of Hulga “she contents herself with a Philosophy that abhors the contemplation of nothingness and an attitude that holds her above the “nice young men” of the region” (www.go.galegroup.com). She only wishes the same unhappiness she feels on everyone around her. Rory has accepted his disability, claimed it his own. Hulga cannot accept that the life she has, prosthetic leg and all, is fate. She cannot recover from this fate and decide to modify and move on. Ironically, similar arrogance can be found in both Rory and Hulga, of course for different reasons. Rory has a burning desire to live as self-reliant as he can which is saying a lot as Rory is completely dependent for basic accommodations in life such as eating, bathing, and travel over distances. Hulga Hopewell is arrogant and rude for selfish reasons. She only lives to badger and belittle all those she meets. Holding a degree in Philosophy she must be intelligent. It is a shame she let her disability define her she could have made a difference in the world by showing others who are disabled that nothing can stop a successful life when the right attitude is in place.
Every person who lives with a disability has the choice to embrace that disability and use the resources that are found in their community or what is available to them. Each person who has an ailment that offers a unique challenge in life has the option to assess what it would take to live a meaningful life and not miss anything the world has to offer. Rory O’Shea decided to live independently and show others who were dependent on care facilities for the disabled how they also could find the same freedom he fought for. While Rory is wheelchair bound and needs others to supply him the basic necessities of life, Hulga Hopewell chose to see her prosthetic leg, weak heart and bad eyesight as a weakness, and it changed her into a mean, arrogant person whose only happiness lies in judgement of others. Hulga never accepted her fate and never made the decision that she would claim her disability and be the Philosophy Professor she wanted to be. Rory made the wise choice by choosing life.
Caprino, Kathy. “The World’s Largest Minority Might Surprise You, And How We Can Better Serve Them.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/04/14/the-worlds-largest-minority-might-surprise-you-and-how-we-can-better-serve-them/#6beb0f5c496f>.
“CDC: 53 million adults in the US live with a disability.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 July 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Ditsky, John. “Good Country People: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GLS&sw=w&u=avl_cvcc&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CH1420006057&asid=404316791d2c50e32d1bb151fb5fc847. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.
O’Connor, Flannery. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, and Writing. 10th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martins, 2016. Print. “Good Country People” pgs. 438-451
Rory O’Shea Was Here. Dir. Damien O’Donnell. Working Title Films/Studio Canal, 2004. DVD.