Subject Material

My Left Foot - Novel, Film and Art

Published: 19.06.2013, Updated: 05.03.2017
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My Left Foot

The Irish author and artist Christy Brown (1932 - 1981) was born with cerebral palsy. Contrary to professional advice, his working-class parents insisted on raising Christy at home, together with his 21 siblings. In the 1950s and 60s education for disabled children was not an option. When Christy grew up, people in general associated his crippled body with a crippled mind, and had no idea of his potential. To their great surprise, he became an acknowledged writer and painter.

Read an excerpt from his autobiography My Left Foot and watch a trailer from the movie (1989) with Daniel Day Lewis portraying Christy Brown. Lewis was awarded an Oscar for his efforts.

Fra filmen min venstre fot. Foto.   Christy Brown's cerebral palsy caused a paralysis that affected almost all his limbs, apart from the left leg. As a young boy Christy developed a profound passion for books and painting. He made wide use of his left leg - he wrote and painted with the toes. His autobiographical account, My Left Foot (1954) depicts his struggle, not only to come to terms with his physical handicaps, but also the social stigma he encountered.

Before you start reading, you should try to write your name with the toes on your left foot.

Read My Left Foot Excerpt 

Tasks and Activities

About Cerebral Palsy

  1. Why does Christy's mother soon after his birth suspect that there is something wrong with him?
  2. Find information about cerebral palsy. What kind of disorder is it? What are the common symptoms? How many of these symptoms does Christy seem to have according to his own account? Do you think Christy's disorder is a severe case?
  3. Why do you think that there is so much prejudice against this disorder? Why do you think that people that met Christy presumed he was mentally retarded?

About Christy's Mother

In a poem released after his mother's death Christy proclaimed: "From the gutter of my defeated dreams you  pulled me to heights almost your own."

  1. Judging from the excerpt from My Left Foot, why do you think Christy credits his mother for his accomplishments?
  2. As a bricklayer Chisty's father builds walls, while  "Mother was slowly, patiently pulling down the wall, brick by brick, that seemed to thrust itself between me and the other children...." What does Christy refer to by this metaphor?
  3. What do you think makes his mother believe in him and not lose faith?

About Christy

  1. In which way was the drawing of the letter A a defining moment in Christy's life?
  2. What do you think makes Christy grab the chalk with his left toes on this particular day?
  3. Is there anything in the excerpt that reveals Christy's artistic qualities?
  4. Make a picture search. Type: "Christy Brown paintings" or "Christy Brown artwork". Consider that these paintings were made by means of his toes. If you had to illustrate the excerpt with his paintings, which pictures would you choose? What do you think they express?
  5. After portraying Christy in the film version of My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis made this statement:

    "I saw it as more than a rather grim story of a man in a wheelchair. Christy represented for me a real kind of heroism and I really wanted to try to capture the rage and frustration that led him to paint and write. To show, I suppose, that the trap is not the wheelchair or the afflictions, but our attitude to disabled people."
    (Daniel Day-Lewis to Arena Magazine, Summer/Autumn 1989)

    What do you think Daniel Day-Lewis refers to when he calls Christy a hero?

Watch the Trailer

My Left Foot Trailer 

  1. Make an exhibition. On the basis of the trailer and information you find on the web, write one paragraph about the artist that should be handed out to visitors to the exhibition.
    Which authentic pictures and paintings of the artist and by the artist would you like to display? Make a photo coverage.
  2. Discuss.  Why do stories like Christy Brown's tend to fascinate. What could we learn from stories like these?

Watch the Film

If you watch the entire film, you might:

  1. Compare how the excerpt from My Left Foot is integrated into the movie. How did the director choose to portray the event when Christy managed to draw the A?
  2. The Irish Film Institute provides a good study guide and analysis regarding the film, My Left Foot - Study Guide.