Victor of Aveyron is believed to have been born sometime around 1788, in Aveyron, Rouergue, France, to alcoholic parents. It was later established that he was born as a completely normal child who was suffering from his parents’ negligence.
Tired of constant ignorance by his parents, Victor decided to fend for himself and moved away from civilization, to live in the nearby woods. His first viewing took place in the woods near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance. It is not known how he came about living in the woods there.
As per reports, he was first seen in 1794. Then three years later, he was spotted by three hunters in the same woods, but climbed on a tree to escape. He was, however, caught and taken to a nearby town. He was handed over to a widow who took care of him for some time before he escaped and ran away into the wild.
For the next few years, he was spotted in the woods many times, but was not brought to civilization. In 1800, he himself walked out of the woods into the civilization. His age was said to be around 12 at that time. It was assumed by his way of eating and drinking and many scars on his body that he had been living in the woods most of his life.
This time he did not run away and was taken in by several scholars from time to time.
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Studies & Findings
He was first studied by a biology professor named Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre, who determined that the boy did not feel cold when exposed to extreme cold without any clothes. This study highlighted that the boy was accustomed to extreme weather conditions.
Many people claimed him to be their son, but when they saw him, they did not find him so. It was later determined that the boy was deaf and mute, but later it became obvious that the boy was not deaf. He became a subject of curiosity, especially among scientists and philosophers who saw him as an ideal subject to study the core difference between human beings and animals.
The enlightenment movement in France was in full swing when Victor was found. He was analyzed by Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard, who tried teaching French to Victor. But in his many attempts, he reached the conclusion that the development of communication abilities and language skills are mostly dependent on one’s environment.
Despite the fact that Victor was adapting to changes quite fast, they were not very encouraging. He was very aggressive and showed disinterest in cooperating with the researchers. He was then left to roam around the premises of the ‘National Institute of the Deaf’ and ended up becoming a source of attraction to the local people.
Jean Marc Gaspard Itard was a medical student who took him in. Itard took him to his own house and named him ‘Victor,’ as he was known only by the name of ‘wolf child’ up to that point.
Over the next few years, Itard carefully studied Victor. His research was mostly based around what separated human beings from other animals. He believed that two things that separated animals and human beings were- language and empathy. He tried his best to make Victor learn the basics of human communication to emote his emotions effectively.
Victor responded positively to a certain extent and then he completely stopped receiving any further instructions. Jean concluded that his ears were not accustomed to the human languages and other signs, but they were means of self-preservation -warning him of wild animals in the woods.
Although Jean failed in educating or teaching Victor, he did manage to make him learn a few simple words. It helped a great deal in developing new systems of ‘pedagogy.’ Thus, education could be characterized and restructured in more effective way.
However, there were instances during the early phases of the research when Victor was treated as a mental patient. He was given shock therapies, which were stopped soon when Itard realized that it was negatively affecting his health.
Victor was also going through puberty at that time and hence, he had frequent mood swings and fits of rage. He refused to listen to anybody and threw things around. However, after the initial resistance, Victor became increasingly cooperative and calmed down a lot. After this came the next phase of research- teaching him how to read.
But after years of getting nowhere, Itard decided to wait until Victor crossed the puberty phase. Itard was severely disheartened by his findings and noted that Victor’s education could never be completed, his intellectual ability will never match an average human of his age and his emotional development will always remain in early stages.
Many scholars rejected Itard’s findings as total waste of time and resources. However, there were many who called it a ‘successful experiment.’ This also sparked the nature-nurtured debate yet again. It stated that how a person will turn out depends on either their genetics or the environment they are raised in. They concluded that Victor was a savage innately and nothing could be done to make him civilized.
However, Itard had seen in Victor a lot of possibilities. He believed that Victor was capable of loving others and receiving love from others. But after six years of failed experiments, the state took hold of Victor and he spent rest of his years like a zoo animal.
Victor of Aveyron passed away around 1828. The cause of his death has still remained unclear. His death did not make any noise and he died in total anonymity.
However, the researches done on him provided the students of idiocy, autism and other mental disorders a lot of new things to study.
Victor has been an inspiration for many artworks, such as the 2003 novel titled ‘The Wild Boy’ and the 1970 film titled ‘L’Enfant sauvage.’