In the book, “On the train”, written by Fiona Kidman we are introduced to the view points of a man named Dick, who has down syndrome, the book reveals the seperation Dick feels and how all he wants is love and acceptance. Throughout the short story Kidman develops the idea of discrimination against people with disabilities and acknowledges the small actions that are aimed at disabled people that go unnoticed and become a normal way of life.
In the novel, everyday Dick boards the train and sits in his “special seat”, the seat that everyone on the train always leaves for him at the back. Dick sits here at the back of the train searching the passengers faces for an indication of love or acceptance as the idea of this is especially important to Dick. Dick smiles at the people he makes eye contact with in hope that he will get a smile back in return instead, “they smile dutifully back, having learnt”. Dick realises they have accepted him into society however they treat him differently, “they dont sit beside me” because they are afraid of Dick, they are unsure of his physical attributes how he looks different, they are all on edge for a sudden behavioural change. Through Kidmans impersonation of how Dick feels, the reader can obtain an understanding of a disabled persons awareness of discrimination. The reader will easily take away from this short story that all Dick wanted was friendship and the feeling of acceptance however he has hardly felt this during his time on the train, he mentions a lady smiling at him and “feeling on top of the world”. This proves how desperate Dick really is for these feelings, potentially too desperate to the point he scares the other passengers because they dont understand Dicks awareness of the situation. The passengers dont realise how intelligent Dick really is, instead they judge him by his condition and his appearance whereas they should be putting themself in Dicks position sitting all alone at the back of the train smiling at everyone in hope of some sort of attention back. It is common for down syndrome conditions to have heightened social sensitivity, they are able to read social cues, picking up the feelings and emotions of others in their environment. I can personally understand this as I had a family friend who was down syndrome, she was very good at socially connecting with people in her environment and I sometimes wonder if this was because she could read us. This allows the reader to connect this background knowledge to Dick, he reads the passengers feelings and emotions which makes him more sensitive to the fact they refuse to engage him in society.
The author wants the reader to understand discrimination is unfair, it fails to be compassionate. As the Dalai Lama said “Compassion is the radicalism of our time” I take away from this quote that when you encounter someone suffering go beyond your feeling of empathy and step forward to help alleviate the suffering. The reader can compare this idea to Dick because inside he is suffering with the withdrawal of friendship and acceptance on behalf of the small part of society on the train. One of those passengers needed to go beyond their empathy for his condition, they needed to step forward and sit with him or have a small chat on the way to their seat. We as society dont realise the smallest acts of kindness towards others can bring them the greatest pleasure and initially make their day. Just imagine how Dick may have felt if someone had done this for him, rose higher than just empathetic and became hugely compassionate towards him. The author shows the reader in the story the many ways people can be discriminated, the reader is forced to rethink their opinions or how they must hold back on instantly judging one based on their condition in general. The reader can rethink their actions like I mentioned before putting themself in Dicks shoes making them think what they could of done better. The author includes the young women who doesn’t judge Dick to emphasise to the reader to aspire to be like her, to not judge and to treat someone slightly different in society just like anyone else. As dick mentioned ‘In that tiny moment which is between her and me alone, I own the world.”, this clearly proves the affect this has on Dick and how the slightest actions can make the biggest impacts.
I think this short story is beneficial for a year 12/13 student to read as it really emphasises the importance of acceptance, love and compassion. Three major traits a year 12/13 student should aspire to carry throughout their lives towards other people and most importantly themselves. These students learn the value of treating people with unfortunate conditions just as you treat anyone because the students get an insight into how Dick feels and any decent year 12/13 student should acknowledge that no one should ever feel that pain and if the smallest acts of kindness can help eliminate this then they can be aware of how this impacts people and to use these acts more and more throughout their day.