Saturday, January 9, 2010

Did Humpty Dumpty have Asperger's Syndrome?

It's become a parlor game to "out" various famous personalities as Aspie--Mozart, Einstein, Andy Warhol, for example. But what about fictional characters, I wondered the other night, as I continued through Alice Through the Looking Glass with my daughter and came across Humpty Dumpty. Consider this:

1. He won't get down from his wall:
a rigid, restricted behavior, if there ever was one.

2. His eye contact is minimal:

"And how exactly like an egg he is!" she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.

"It's very provoking," Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, "to be called an egg--very!"

"I said you looked like an egg, Sir," Alice gently explained. "And some eggs are very pretty, you know," she added, hoping to turn her remark into a sort of compliment.

"Some people," said Humpty Dumpty, looking away from her as usual, "have no more sense than a baby!"

Alice didn't know what to say to this: it wasn't at all like conversation, she thought, as he never said anything to her; in fact, his last remark was evidently addressed to a tree...
3. He's very direct:
"Don't stand chattering to yourself like that, Humpty Dumpty said, looking at her for the first time, "but tell me your name and your business."

"My name is Alice, but--"

"It's a stupid name enough!" Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently.
4. He takes everything literally and is quite pedantic:
"How old did you say you were?"

Alice made a short calculation, and said, "Seven years and six month."

"Wrong!" Humpty Dumpty explained triumphantly. "You never said a word like that."

"I thought you meant 'How old are you?'" Alice explained.

"If I'd meant that, I'd have said it," said Humpty Dumpty.

"I mean," she said, "that one ca'n't help growing older."

"One ca'n't, perhaps," said Humpty Dumpty; "but two can. "

"In winter, when the fields are white, I sing this song for your delight--

"only I don't sing it," he added, as an explanation.

"I see you don't," said Alice.

"If you can see whether I'm singing or not you've sharper eyes than most," Humpty Dumpty remarked severely.
5. His words have private rather than public meanings:
"and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents... and only one for birthday presents you know. That's glory for you!"

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory.'" Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't--till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
6. Quite the egghead, he has a large vocabulary and a certain idiosyncratic intelligence and imagination:
"'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy.' 'Lithe' is the same 'active.' You see it's like a portmanteau--there are two meanings packed up into one word."

"'mimsy' is 'flimsy and miserable (there's another portmanteau for you). And a 'borogove' is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round--something like a live mop."

"'outgribing' is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle."
7. He can read things upside down:
e.g., Alice's calculation for how many un-birthdays in a year.

8. He is obtuse about conversational pragmatics
supplying uninformative answers to questions, declining to respond appropriately to compliments, and closing conversations abruptly:
"Why do you sit here all alone?" said Alice, not wishing to begin an argument.

"Why, because there's nobody with me!" cried Humpty Dumpty.

"What a beautiful belt you've got on!" Alice suddenly remarked...

Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he did speak again, it was in a deep growl.

"It is a--most--provoking--thing," he said at last, "when a person doesn't know a cravat from a belt!"

"And when I found the door was shut,
I tried to turn the hand, but---"

There was a long pause.

"Is that all?" Alice timidly asked.

"That's all," said Humpty Dumpty. "Good-bye."
8. He's got prosopagnosia:
This was rather sudden, Alice thought: but, after such a very strong hint that she ought to be going, she felt that it would hardly be civil to stay. So she got up, and held out her hand.

"Good-bye, till we meet again!" she said as cheerfully as she could.

"I shouldn't know again if we did meet," Humpty Dumpty replied in a discontented tone, giving her one of his fingers to shake: "you're so exactly like other people."

"The face is what one goes by, generally," Alice remarked in a thoughtful tone.

"That's just what I complain of," said Humpty Dumpty. "Your face is that same as everybody has--the two eyes, so--- (marking their placed in the air with his thumb) "nose in the middle, mouth under. It's always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance--or the mouth at the top--that would be some help."
9. He may have gross motor difficulties:
"...of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met---" She never finished this sentence, for at this moment a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end.
That's glory for you!


Nancy Bea Miller said...

How clever you are. Excellent literary diagnosis there, Katie!

My own theory is that the author gave Humpty a whole set of antisocial characteristics as a sort of relief valve counterpoint for his own acute hyper-sensitivity.

Ricochet said...