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Submitted Literature

Walter

By David Cook

Review

Set in mid 20th century, Cook’s novel is a poignant and moving exploration of learning disabilities, examining issues such as stigma, maternal struggle for love, lack of social understanding and awareness and the impact of developmental delays on behaviour and cognition.  Walter, the main character, is forcibly institutionalised following the death of his parents.  Prior to his mother’s death, Walter maintains a job at Woolworths as a cleaner – this is set in stark contrast to his later disempowering and abusive institutional experiences.  This novel serves as a reminder as to the progress that has been made in the treatment and expectations towards individuals with learning disabilities.

Key Themes:

  • Developmental / Learning Disorders
  • Institutional Abuses
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

38 – “It became clear to the teacher that Walter was unable to concentrate his mind upon even the simplest of sums and that both reading and writing were arts which would be for many years beyond him.  So Walter was given a large sheet of what was called sugar-paper - usually dark blue and of a rough texture – and told to draw whatever he wished.  Walter drew.  He was never asked to stand beside the teacher, and read aloud.  He had no idea how letters could be put together to form sounds and how those sounds, alone and in concert, represented words, and words would come together to form sentences, to form speech, conversation, what was said and written by human beings to each other.  Walter’s vocabulary consisted of five words which he had learned from his mother, after laborious effort on both their parts.”

188 – “His own interest in the real world, which he saw on these walks, had diminished over the years.  He noticed the changes in fashion, buildings being knocked down; none of it concerned him.  Some of the buildings stood, half-demolished, for years, and reminded him of houses his mother had taken him to look at during the war, with exposed wallpaper fading, fireplaces crumbling.  As one year followed another, the walks outside became more and more like the film shown in the hospital on Wednesday evenings.  They could distract him for a few moments, but as he returned to the hospital and entered the Lodge Gates, it was as if a hand had been held up between projector and screen to remind him that what he has been watching was only make-believe.  What was real to him now was the hospital and the routine.  This was his real world.  It had to be.  He would never get out of it.”

Reference: David, Cook. 1978. Walter. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009