Wagner, Analysis 2,

Like a few others, I have read Bartleby more than once in my school career. Not once had anyone ever taught it looking at Bartleby as a possible example of a character with autism. Reading it through this lens, a third/fourth time, the language used around Bartleby become indicators of what other people think of him.

I notice in literature that it is common to make characters eccentric or “weird” and very frequently those descriptions are not eccentricities, but rather the neurodiversity of one character against another. In the case of Bartleby, the characters around him make it know. Ginger Nut calls him “luny”. The Lawyer is perplexed by his behavior, so much so that he doesn’t treat him like he does other people if they were to give a similar response.

The story made me think of Flowers for Algernon. It’s been a while since I read it, but the character reactions and the representation of neurotypicality and neurodiversity is similar. Charlie (Flowers for Algernon), unlike Bartleby, is bullied and teased by the people surrounding him. While Bartleby isn’t necessarily bullied, he is still regarded as different and an outcast. Both say a lot about how neurotypical people view individuals with some form of autism. Both are treated by being distanced. Both are looked at as “eccentric” unequivocally different individuals. Bartleby is treated like a specimen, examined from afar, while Charlie is entertainment.

This made me think of the other reading — CH. 3 about Melville. The ways in which Melville’s own family talked about him, using words with negative connotations like “obsessive” and “lunatic”. His behaviors become open to discussion.

I too was perplexed by misogyny being a “common” symptom of Asbergers syndrome. Browsing the web, I was amazed by the amount of blogs and case studies that covered this topic. One blog suggested that (http://skepchick.org/2012/08/aspie/) it is easier to blame certain social behaviors on autism rather than looking at the root. “Autism does not preclude empathy.” There is a misconception that apathy, misogony, and the like, are directly correlated with autism rather than simply a “misunderstanding based on social cues” or a blatant understanding that is not a result of autism either.

I think this is important to remember. Misogyny was more than likely something learned and observed put into practice. Mellville’s views on women have no fool proof link to his Asbergers. I think this stems from a misunderstanding in what autism can and can’t do, as well as people looking for an excuse to “cure” autism and dismiss people with autism as incapable of learning social issues.


One thought on “Wagner, Analysis 2,

  1. frickeh8

    It is interesting that you mentioned Flowers for Algernon, as I, too, was reminded of that. When I started thinking about Charlie from “Flowers” I was curious about the fact that Charlie started on one end of the spectrum and ended up on the complete opposite end. When in his “low-functioning” state he was portrayed very much like what we have discussed in class: childlike, innocent, and a precipitate of ‘goodness’ and change in others for having been around him. However, after his treatment he was cold, distant, and so intellectually superior he had trouble empathizing with others. This second version is what I feel gets most associated with Asperger’s (which, interestingly, is no longer a real diagnosis) and is what Melville’s family probably was familiar with.

    It seems to me that there are two prevailing stereotypes of those on the spectrum (though Asperger’s was formerly not a part of the spectrum, it is now, and so I’m proceeding under that assumption); the Charlie’s and the Melville’s. How then, is it sensible to assign misogyny as a nearly unavoidable aspect of autism, as some have? I agree with you that it is too simple a thing to decide that misogyny is just a part of autism. Societal prejudices, privileges, and gender discourse based on time periods all play a part in Melville’s supposed autism-driven misogyny. I took a look at the blogs you cited, and those with ASD themselves commented on the absurdity of blaming misogynistic views/tendencies on an inbuilt mechanism somehow present in autism.

    On that note, though, it is important to stress that human beings are complex creatures. It’s not ASD OR misogyny, and it’s not always ASD AND misogyny.



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