This book made me think again about the glorification of characters with autism. It seems that everything we see and read, mostly, is this preconceived notion that people with ASD must be useful to be interesting. As if they have to be treated like capital, or have some useful ability, in order to be a redeeming character. I find it hard to believe that being cast as the hero time and time again is something that is good for the community of people with ASD, and how unrealistically society expects them to behave. So, naturally, I looked into it.
One person wrote:
“In kid lit, autistic characters often exist to affect other characters, for example to show what having an autistic sibling is like, to let characters “earn goodness points” by being kind to us, or to educate the (assumed non-autistic) reader. We are also sometimes used to provide entertainment via amusing social misunderstandings. ”
It seems to me that Dick used mental illness and Autism to try and highlight this idea about mental disability being affected by a fast moving, unforgiving society. I am not sure where I rest my case with this, but I can see where this piece is also a product of its time and also more sympathetic to those with mental illness. I read an interesting piece that talked about whether pr not Dick had done his research before the book was written and it seems that the way he writes would indicate at least some basic research in psychological diagnosing and methods. But I also think we can look at Manfred as someone who is meant to carry plot and teach lessons, which can be both good and bad, as we have seen before.
Someone also said:
“There’s a second way we’re shown as making up for autism: having a mystical disability or special talent to entertain the reader or to serve as a plot device. This sends the message that we can’t just be people, like non-autistic characters can; we have to compensate for disability by providing value.
But in real life, we have no psychic powers.”
I look and Manfred and I think capital. He becomes used. He has this special power and if it wasn’t for that special power, he would not have been necessary to the plot at all. However, his ability also speaks to Dick’s idea that the “time-slip” is that feeling of disconnect from reality, or something. I haven’t quite latched onto that idea either, but I am thinking it through.
Overall though, I guess it boils down into this question of was this piece good for the time period it was presented in? Probably. I think Dick was onto something. Is it perfect? Far from it, as are most things.
Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find a single web page devoted to people with autism talking about the novel at all, and I am not sure what that might mean, or not mean, for this novel and what it represents.