William Hay Deformity an Essay | Summary, Analysis, Themes

William Hay Deformity an Essay | Summary, Analysis, Themes

The English author, William Hay lived in the 17th century and is best known for his essay “Deformity”. The writer highlights some prominent issues that people with physical disabilities face in this essay. In fact, the essay is more about the perception of society towards those people who have physical disabilities, rather than their problems. William Hay writes that society should treat people with deformities with compassion and understanding. He realises that mostly those people are ostracized or pitied. In addition, the writer observes that people see disability as a moral failing or a punishment from God. Thus, he advises people to take a lenient view. 

William Hay Deformity an Essay | Summary, Analysis, Themes

Historical Background

Mostly, a writer addresses a society at the time when he realises that there is a need to speak on the matter. The essay “Deformity” is a reaction to people’s behaviour in the 17th century when attitudes towards physical disability were markedly different than they are today. The majority of the people were of the opinion that physical disability is a punishment of God and that physically disabled people must have committed a sin. In this way, people used to consider them sinful.

People with disabilities continued to face significant discrimination until the 19th and 20th centuries when disability rights movements were started. However, before the movements, the writer considered his responsibility to highlight this social problem. There is no denying the fact that the disability rights movements were a result of the work of writers like William Hay.

This was particularly true in England where the Protestant Reformation had led to a heightened emphasis on personal responsibility and moral purity. People used to accuse disabled people without any strong evidence. In fact, their accusation was based on perception even though they did not leave a chance to criticise disabled people. The writer William Hay found this false belief of people embarrassing, hence, he decided to write an essay “Deformity” in which he protects the rights of physically disabled people. 

William Hay “Deformity” Summary

William argues that people should understand the problems of people with deformities. Society should treat them with compassion and understanding. They must not be ostracised or pitied for their sufferings. He denies that it is the punishment of God for being sinful. He declares these physical differences as a natural part of human diversity. He mentions that our business is not to find fault with the works of God but to discover and admire his goodness.

The writer quotes many examples from literature and history. He also mentions his own experiences in respect of those people who face challenges because of their disabilities. One of the main changes that the writer demands from society is making false opinions on the basis of perception. 

The writer William Hay also condemned criticising people with deformity, without having knowledge of true facts.  He emphasizes the importance of empathy and compassion while arguing that society must play an active role in understanding the experiences of individuals with physical differences. Consequently, together we will be able to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for everyone.

William Hay “Deformity” An Analysis

William Hay starts his essay while describing its central theme. The powerful introduction that the writers give at the start immediately sets the tone. The writer starts his essay with an introduction to deformity. The term was used commonly at his time to refer to people with physical disabilities. He mentions that deformity is the subject of a melancholy essay. In short, the writer clears his subject of discussion at the beginning. 

Hay goes on to describe the societal treatment of individuals with physical differences. He is of the view that the attitude of society is unbearable. He demands justice for those whose rights he protects in this essay. He writes that there are already many sufferings in the lives of people with deformities, hence, they must not be more sensationalised and exploited. The word “objects” that the writer uses for people with disabilities promotes the theme of dehumanisation. No doubt, he criticises people while using this word and highlights this issue as people consider disabled people mere objects.

In the last part of the essay, he has some suggestions for people. He defines roles that people can play in making society unrestricted for everyone. He encourages everyone to boost their emotions of compassion while understanding people with deformities. He restrains them from ostracising or pitying disabled people. The writer concludes and the central argument of the essay signals to the reader that Hay challenges the prevailing attitudes of his time.


The writer William Hay demonstrates a number of important themes related to disability and human difference in his most prominent essay “Deformity”. He also quotes real-life examples from history as well as his own experiences. 

Social Discrimination

The writer realises that society stigmatises people with physical differences. In clear words, he declares it unjust and simultaneously harmful. He advises people to adopt a more compassionate and understanding approach.


The writer emphasises the importance of understanding the experiences of individuals with physical differences. He asks them to put their feet in the shoes of people with deformities and imagine what it would be like to live with a deformity. The writer challenges society to be more empathetic while interacting with others throughout the essay.


William Hay encourages readers to accept diversity. He appreciates the efforts and contributions that individuals with physical differences can make to society if they are treated with compassion. The writer denies that deformities are a punishment from God or a sign of moral failing. In fact, he considers it a natural diversity.

Social Justice

He calls for social justice for people with disabilities as they are part of society. Society must create an environment so that everyone can live without discrimination. Thus, society must not make biased assumptions about physical differences.

Main Points from the Essay

  1. Human diversity is a natural variation and not the punishment of God or any moral failing. It should be accepted and appreciated as such. 
  2. There should be rights for people with deformities. Society has no right to criticise them. Social justice must prevail in this regard. 
  3. Empathy is key to dealing with individuals who have physical differences.
  4. As the essay was written in the 17th century; therefore, the writer demands that attitude of people in 17th century England must be changed towards people with deformities. 
  5. Society should work to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for everyone. People should change their opinions in respect of deformities. 

“The great end of society is to protect the weak, to succour the distressed, to relieve the miserable.”

Deformity – William Hay