Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wild Child

Wild Child by T.C. Boyle is a novella/short story about Victor of Aveyron. I've had a fascination with the so-called feral children for ages, so I knew the story of Victor quite well before reading Boyle's book. It's less a portrait of the child, but more a look at the society he gets thrown into when he is captured. People are fascinated and some even feel for the child, but only as long as Victor more or less behaves himself. There always comes a time when he doesn't and then he is given away, passed around like a wild, exotic animal.

It's something that has interested people for a long time: what does it take to make a human being? Do we have something that makes us human right from the start or do we need other humans to become one? So Victor is experimented upon, more to prove theories than to really give him the place him human society he deserves, even by Itard who is the most well-meaning and understanding of all the teachers Victor has. In the end, even he gives up because Victor doesn't fulfil his expectations.

I seriously doubt we would do much better with Victor, even with all the progress we have made in understanding how children develop. There are feral children found even today and in many cases, they can be taught basic skills, but complex language and many other skills needed to live a life on their own are mostly beyond them. It seems that in those extreme cases at least, there are things that cannot be learned once a certain point has passed. It also seems that we are just as helpless as what to do with those children as we were 200 years ago. Many have made just the same experiences as Victor: treated as an intriguing case and then placed in some institution once they were no longer interesting. For some modern cases of feral children, see Genie or Oxana.

18th book for the Library Challenge

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