The book My Left Foot was written by an Irish writer and painter named Christy Brown in 1954. The author was born with cerebral palsy, and he was only 22 years old at the time he wrote the book. It is nonfiction describing Brown’s experiences of living with the disability. Suffering from poor coordination and muscle problems, Brown could only control the toes of his left foot, which he eventually learned to use for writing, painting, and performing various everyday tasks.
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In the book, the author describes his entire life from early childhood to the time he was writing My Left Foot. As a personal story told with vivid details, the book is valuable for understanding how one can live with a disability.
When analyzing the content of the book, it should be noted that Brown does not emphasize the horribleness of his state. Instead, he tells his story in a warm and life-asserting way—and even with humor at times. However, the details about Brown’s growing up in a very big working-class family are capable of impressing a reader deeply and provoking genuine compassion. Brown uses many details in his narrative instead of telling the story in a general way.
This technique helps readers imagine the author’s experience more vividly and with a stronger emotional appeal. Despite written more than 60 years ago and despite the young age of the author, My Left Foot is still an important and powerful book today because it addresses many issues, both internal (emotions, overcoming, frustration, and acceptance) and external (social conditions, prejudice, and people’s perceptions of disabilities), that people with disabilities can face in the modern world.
The reflection on being disabled is the central theme of the book. Three particular aspects of Brown’s disability that he explores are wrongness, differentness, and communication. Since he was four months old and first displayed signs of a disability, Brown was treated as a defected child, and his mother was told by doctors that Christy was an imbecile. However, she refused to treat him as wrong and always tried to raise him the same like his brothers and sisters.
Realizing he was different from other people, Brown became gravely frustrated and bitter in his teenage years. He writes that he did not want to be different, no matter what it meant, even if being different meant being remarkable—he wanted to be ordinary. However, as he meets other people with disabilities, some severer than his own, he becomes more inspired and determined to live his life on the full. An especially important aspect of Brown’s life was his limited ability to communicate.
He could barely talk and could not write with his hands, but when he discovered his ability to hold a piece of chalk with his left foot, he felt happy. Seeing his attempts to express himself through scribbling something on the slate with a piece of yellow chalk, Brown’s mother decided to teach him how to write, and this was a crucial moment in the author’s life. Brown (1990) writes, “It had started—the thing that was to give my mind its chance of expressing itself. True, I couldn’t speak with my lips, but now I would speak through something more lasting than spoken words—written words” (p. 3). The ability to communicate is exactly what saved Brown from withdrawal and loneliness.
Brown, C. (1990). My left foot. London, UK: Minerva Mandarin Paperback.