Many works of literature are about a character who is unaware of
reality. The story continues until the character’s moment of insight into
the situation, which is usually the climax or turning point of the story.
In Joanne Greenberg’s “And Sarah Laughed,” Sarah’s twenty-five
years of self-imposed isolation prevents her from experiencing a fulfilling
marriage and family life with her deaf husband and four deaf sons.
A visit from Janice, her son’s new bride, threatens Sarah’s wall of
silence. Janice and Abel, Sarah’s son, have learned to use sign language,
and their lively discussions reflect an intimacy that Sarah has never
experienced with her husband or her children. Although Sarah has
longed for the intimacy of communication, she has believed it impossible
to achieve. Her son and daughter-in-law enjoy a rich and varied secret
language—and it intimidates and infuriates Sarah. As a result, she
rejects the possibilities sign language offers and forbids its use in her
presence. Her envy of other people’s intimacy and her own self-pity
increase her unhappiness, yet she clings to her false sense of reality.
Why does Sarah reject signing, which seems to offer her the
possibility of greater communication, in favor of the loneliness and
isolation of basic commands and simple expressions? Sarah believes that
signing would draw attention to the deafness of her family and thus set
them apart from others. Years ago, Sarah had accepted the advice of
school officials who told her that the children could be taught to read
???lips and communicate in other simple ways that would not make their
deafness apparent. Her decision to accept this view left her family very
limited in the ways they could express emotions. Over time, when writing
notes eventually became too bothersome, communication, along with
intimacy, had fallen by the wayside.
Sarah compensates for these feelings by constructing a false sense
of reality in which messages communicated through work substitute for
actual communication. Janice’s arrival forces Sarah to confront this false
reality. There, before her eyes, she sees her family experiencing the
joys and nuances of communication as they learn to sign. When Matthew,
her husband, angrily states what Sarah cannot admit, “I am deaf,” he
confronts her with her own prejudice. Her first reaction is angry
resentment. Yet, she slowly begins to realize that her family will sign
with each other and that “no one can stop it.”
Sarah finally gains insight into reality when she realizes over dinner
that she is shutting herself out of the opportunities that Janice’s signs
provide. She summons the courage to ask Janice to teach her signs.
Then, Janice’s signs allow Sarah and Matthew to exchange words of
love for the first time in years. In stories, this moment of recognition
is often the climax, or high point, of the work. In Sarah’s case, it may
be the high point of her life, for it promises to end her loneliness and
renew her connections to her family.