The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is the happy fantasy of a wild child raised by beasts and somehow not merely surviving but thriving. Of course the story was merely that: a fairytale with little basis in reality. Rudyard experience a troubled childhood that influenced the development of the heart-warming story. Born in Bombay he and his sister Alice were taken to live with a couple who boarded children of British nationals serving in India. For the next six years, the two children lived with the couple, Captain Pryse Agar Holloway and Mrs Sarah Holloway.
Kipling recalled this period of his life with horror, and wondered if the combination of cruelty and neglect might have hastened the onset of his literary life: “If you cross–examine a child of seven or eight on his day’s doings he will contradict himself. If each contradiction is considered a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture.” watch the jungle book final performance
Alice was treated much better by Mrs. Holloway who hoped she would marry the Holloway son.The two Kipling children had relatives in England with whom they spent a month each Christmas. Kipling was to call these visits “a paradise which I verily believe saved me. Often afterwards, my Aunt would ask me why I never told any one how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it”. watch if – rudyard kipling
The comparison between poorly treated children and neglected animals formed a key connection in Rudyard’s mind. Not surprisingly The Jungle Book detailed an abandoned boy in a dark jungle, surrounded by dangerous enemies with 2 inept animal friends to protect him. The reality of a wild, or feral, child is considerably different than that of Mowgli and his gaggle of friends and adventures. For centuries, cases have been documented about feral children.
A feral child is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care and of human language. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); in some cases this child abandonment is due to the parents’ rejection of a child’s severe intellectual or physical impairment. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Others are alleged to have been brought up by animals; some may have lived in the wild. Over one hundred cases of supposedly feral children are known. watch feral children part 1
Feral children lack social skills that are learned in the process of enculturation. They may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright and display a lack of interest in the human activity around them. They seem mentally impaired and have insurmountable trouble learning a human language. The impaired ability to learn language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning. watch feral children part 2
Genie is the pseudonym for the most extreme case of Susan Wiley, a feral child kept in an abusive home. She spent the first thirteen years of her life locked inside a bedroom strapped to a potty chair; a victim of one the most severe cases of social isolation ever documented. Genie’s elderly parents lived in Arcadia, California. Genie was their fourth (and second surviving) child. She had an older brother who also lived in the home. During the day, she was tied to a child’s toilet in diapers; some nights, she was bound in a sleeping bag and placed in an enclosed crib with a cover made of metal screening. She was often bound in a homemade strait jacket her mother sewed. Genie’s father, Clark Wiley, beat her with a large stick if she vocalized, and he barked and growled at her like a dog to keep her quiet. He rarely allowed his wife and son to leave the house or even to speak, and he forbade them to speak to Genie. Genie was almost mute, having a vocabulary of 20 words and a few short phrases, that sadly included “stop it” and “no more”, to protest her father’s abuse. Not only was Susan abused; Wiley often punished Irene and John. watch genie the girl
Clark Wiley, Genie’s father, was raised in a dysfunctional home. He was teased by bullies for having his mother and not his father’s surname. His mother, Pearl, ran a brothel out of her home and Wiley often saw her with clients. His father died when he was struck by lightning.
The Wiley Children
In 1944 Wiley married Dorothy “Irene” Oglesby. Wiley was 20 years her senior and he didn’t want children yet Dorothy became pregnant and had four children. Wiley was mentally unstable and Irene was legally blind. The family experienced extreme marital abuse which often put Irene in the hospital. Wiley murdered their first child, a girl named after her mother. When she was 10 weeks old he wrapped the crying infant in a blanket and placed her in a drawer in the garage, where she asphyxiated.
Robert Clark Wiley was born one year after his sister’s death. At 2 weeks old he choked on his own mucous although it was suspected that Wiley also killed this infant. The third child, John Gray Wiley, was born in 1952. At four years old he went to live with his grandmother Pearl after Irene was institutionalized. When John was six years old Pearl was struck in a hit and run accident and died. John was forced to return home where his father blamed him for Pearl’s death. The family moved into Pearl’s house at 6722 North Golden West Avenue, Temple City, Los Angeles. Wiley left his mother’s bedroom untouched as a shrine to her memory.
When Susan was 20 months old a doctor stated that she was mildly “retarded” and should be protected from the world. Wiley took this to an extreme. He locked Susan in a bedroom in the house. For years Wiley slept on a couch in the living room holding a loaded gun. He forced Irene to sleep at the dining table and his son John to sleep on the floor. Wiley rarely permitted his family to leave and kept the curtains drawn. Susan was fed a diet of pablum and soft words. She never learned to eat solid foods. As a result, Susan suffered from malnutrition.
Wiley often tormented Irene and John with his gun collection. John was permitted to go to school but he avoided gym class so his peers wouldn’t see his bruises and his swollen genitalia, the result of being beaten with a wooden plank. Neighbours claimed the Wiley’s ‘ were “strange people” who kept to themselves. Some erroneously claimed they saw Susan sitting alone on the front porch but most claimed they didn’t know Susan existed. John ran away at 18. Irene finally left Wiley as well, taking Susan with her. Susan had been held captive for 12 years.
Genie was discovered by Los Angeles authorities on November 4, 1970, when Irene took Genie to a welfare office to seek benefits for Genie’s mother. A social worker met them and guessed that Genie was 6 or 7 years old and possibly autistic. When it was revealed that she was actually 13, the social worker notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Her parents were arrested for the felony crime of willful cruelty towards a child. Irene was soon released because it was proven that she was also an abused woman who was unable to protect herself. Doctors discovered that Susan had the mental capacity of an infant.
Wiley stated he was “burning to tell the story” but his lawyer stated he was not to communicate with the press until his case reached court. John waited at the courthouse the day of Wiley’s arraignment until Wiley left and drove home. John heard a gunshot. He went inside the house and found Wiley, 70 years old, had committed suicide at 8:45 a.m. by gunshot, most likely to avoid legal prosecution, although family friends (surprising that they had any) claimed it was the media that drove him to kill himself. It was rumoured that Wiley left a suicide note. Words to the effect of “John will understand,” and “My son John is in charge,” were supposedly written in the alleged note.
A Nation in Shock
At the time of Genie’s discovery, the nation displayed extreme concern for Susan. Walter Conkrite documented her case and the beginning of her progress on national television. Hundreds of cars drove slowly down Golden West Avenue to get a glimpse of Susan’s home. A made-for-tv movie about Genie, entitled Mockingbird Don’t Sing, was released in 2001.
Susan had a “bunny walk“, in which she held her hands up in front, like claws. She probably developed this posture from the decade she spent tied to the potty chair. She was almost entirely silent, but she constantly sniffed, spat, and clawed. Many of the hospital items she coveted were objects with which she could play. One documented behavior of Susan’s was her practice of hoarding, a behavior typical of children who have been moved from abusive homes. In spite of her condition, hospital staff hoped they could nurture her to normality. Psychologists and linguists exhibited interest in the case because of its ability to reveal insights into the development of language and linguistic critical periods. watch genie: an extreme case of socio-emotional deprivation
In 1975, Susan was returned to the custody of her mother, who wished to care for her daughter. Irene found that taking care of Susan was too difficult, and Susan was transferred to a succession of six more foster homes. In some of the homes she was physically abused and harassed, and her development regressed severely. She returned to her coping mechanism of silence and gained a new fear of opening her mouth after she was severely punished for vomiting in one of her foster homes. Consequently, Susan became the subject of debate over where and with whom she should live and finally was transferred to a sheltered home for adults with disabilities in California. watch sean young in mockingbird don’t sing
However, on her twenty-seventh birthday party an acquaintance who maintained interest in Susa’s case, visited her at the home and stated: “I was there, and then I saw her again when she was twenty-nine, and she still looked miserable. She looked to me like a chronically institutionalized person. It was heartbreaking… She looks demented”. Susan was moved yet again to a board-and-care home, this time under happier circumstances. Another friend of Susan’s commented, “My wife and I were invited to visit her in the company of her mother. Although we had not seen her for more than 15 years, we all of us cried as she greeted us by name“.
Now 57 years old, Susan has out-lived both her mother and her brother. She lives in an adult care facility that has a lot of activities and events to prevent boredom. However her language and sign language skills deteriorate as she ages. Susan visits her mother regularly. She has never seen the original team that treated her after she was removed from her abusive father’s care. Her mother would not allow it. Irene Wiley died in 2003. watch secret of the wild child John Wiley died in 2011 at the age of 58. He never told even his closest friends about his early abuse at the hands of Clark Wiley.