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Week 9 Reflection: Good Kings Bad Kings

LaurenH's picture

It is not my first rodeo with Good Kings Bad Kings, but rereading it still brings back truely tragic, realisitc, and humbling exeriences.

We get to see many perspectives of the experiences of ILLC--both caregivers and patients. Each individual is either a victim of the system, helpless to the system, contributes to the system, or some combination of these three. Though each worker certainly contributes to the system, to a degree many are helpless to it as well. For example, Joanne, Ricky, and Jimmie really had no legitimate alternative than to contribute to it. In their introduction, Jimmie is homeless who was practically tricked into her homelessness. Joanne has multiple pofound disabilities and although not wealthy, describes herself lucky to have the amount of money she does have. Further, Joanne tells the reader about how getting the job as the secretary at ILLC was easier because of her visable disabilities, existing as representation of possibility for "success" for the children. Ricky sees some amount of joy in his job as the bus driver but often feels bad for the children, questioning the practices of the institution along with Joanne. Though his heart is in the right place, we see various instances where Ricky simply goes along what he is told by staff instead of providing the help that the patients of ILLC deserve. Both he and Joanne know that the place is in many ways broken, but at early stages of the novel merely talk about it with eachother and do not take action against it. Michelle recruits vulnerable children and convince their parents to send them away to ILLC where they are often trapped there until they are adults. We also see through Michelle how the system is centered around money and not the help they provide, rewarding Michelle a considerate amount for any new patients she recruits. At the end of the day, everyone needs a paycheck to provide for themselves and the methods for which the paycheck is received become less important to the individual. None of the workers are saviors and are inherently flawed individuals who often unwillingly partake in the system. 

The patients and caregivers often express how little freedom the children are given, the immense desire for autonomy, and how the system creates helplessness. For instance, Yessie talks about the tests that they must pass in order to be able to take the elevator by themselves or even go outside. This barrier for freedom creates helplessness in the patients since they must be given permission to do anything, which prevents them from attaining life skills or experiencing the outside world. Thus, when they must leave the institution, they do not have the life skills to sustain themselves. Teddy talks about running away from ILLC, but with his lack of understanding of what life is like outside ILLC, his desires are merely fantasy and are likely unattainable. Joanne comments on how most of the children are given standard wheelchairs, when they are supposed to have electric ones to allow them to move themselves. Instead, they must ask a caregiver if they would like to move anywhere, contingent that there is one available to do so for them. However, someone comments that they don't give them the freedom because it makes it easier for the workers. In summary, while the system claims to be helping individuals, in many ways it actually creates greater disability through creating dependence and trauma. 

The character's chapters are writen in the way that the individuals would speak or think in their head. It made me wonder how Nussbaum researched for the book. Did she speak with institutionalized individuals, wrote from her own experiences, etc.? I do think there can be a problematic nature to writing in a way you would think a character would speak or think without adequate research, since they are characters and not people and writing as if she knew how these people would think. I love this novel and I think it's a great commentary, it was just a thought that I had about it. I tried looking up articles about the creation process but didn't find much luck. If anyone knows, I would love to hear!