Bailey Merriman’s Take Home Final

Bailey Merriman

Dr Foss

ENGL 384

9 December 2021

Word Count: 1150

Analysis of Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s “Misfit”

Images of nature have been used in poetry and other literary works for as long as they have been written, generally to convey ideas of purity, idealism, and escape. However, while themes of nature are used in Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s poem “Misfit”, they are instead used to establish how he, as an autistic person, fits into the world around him. Using these depictions of natural items along with the structure of the poem, repetition of phrases and images, and the use of motion, Mukhopadhyay examines what is natural and unnatural, how he and others connect to the world, and who are considered the real “misfits”. 

Throughout “Misfit”, the structure of the work helps to convey a message to the reader. Beginning with a stanza set in space with the focus being on “There was the earth, turning and turning” and the way the stars recede, Mukhopadhyay starts the reader off by showing them an expansive perspective that sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The second stanza then zooms in, with images of birds flying and a lit up sky, followed by another line about the earth turning. This narrowing shows further perspectives of the natural world, as well as reminding the reader that everything is connected and that, as the birds are flying and the sky is bright, the earth is still continuing to turn. It’s not until the third stanza with the line “My hands, as usual, were flapping” that Mukhopadhyay’s point of view enters the piece. As the birds look down at him, knowing that he is autistic, Mukhopadhyay is integrated into the cycle of nature around him with the birds, the earth, and the sky. With the fourth stanza, a man and woman are introduced, staring at his nodding and labeling him a misfit. Though this is still focusing on the human perspective, the perspective is still being narrowed, zooming in on those who are not connected to what is around them. The stanza does not reference any of the natural images seen before, instead only concentrating on how they “stared at my nodding; / They labeled me a Misfit”. This effect of reducing the scale of viewpoint emphasizes the way that different parts of the world connect with one another, and how the author fits into both this natural world and the minds of the people around him.

The effect of repetition is seen throughout the entirety of “Misfit” as well. Mukhopadhyay first describes how “The stars receded, as if / Finding no wrong with anything”, emphasizing how nature continues along its path, not paying attention to the potential rightness or wrongness of the world around it. This concept is seen again, when “The birds knew I was Autistic; / They found no wrong with anything”. The description of Mukhopadhyay’s hands in the same stanza with the line “My hands, as usual, were flapping” seem to find no wrong with anything either, with the line implying that the hands were flapping on their own without the author’s input. The hands flapped, as usual, because they, like the stars and the birds, found no wrong in anything. 

This repetition is broken up by the fourth stanza, where, instead of finding no wrong, the men and women staring at Mukhopadhyay label him as a misfit. By removing the repetition from this line, the author reiterates how the men and women are the real misfits, disconnected from both the patterns in the poem and the nature around them. It also makes it all the more powerful when, in the next stanza, Mukhopadhyay becomes the blowing wind, a part of nature who “found no wrong with anything”, free from the constraints and labels that the men and women forced upon him. Though changed slightly, the echoing phrase is last seen in the final line of the poem as the author poses the question of “Why stop turning and turning / When right can be found with everything?”. By changing the wording from “finding no wrong with anything” to “right can be found with everything”, Mukhopadhyay illustrates a change from a negative mindset to a more powerful one. It also asserts that the potential to find right in everything is possible for anyone, serving as almost a call to the reader to try and become the blowing wind and removing themselves from a mindset that labels others as misfits. 

Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay also uses the idea of motion and movement to make his point. Within the first stanza, the earth is noted to be “turning and turning”, while the stars recede in the sky. Birds are described as flying by “all morning”, indicating a perpetual, continuous action. Movement is seen later in the poem as well, with lines like “And then I was the wind, blowing. / Did anyone see my trick?”. There is motion even when “Somewhere, a wish was rising”, and in his “laughing lips”. This perpetual activity is what connects him to the nature around him, and what allows him to understand how “right can be found in everything”. 

The speaker then notes how his “hands, as usual, were flapping”, moving alongside the persistent motion of the nature surrounding him. However, it is the speaker’s flapping hands and nodding that is frowned upon by the men and women watching him. Instead of being able to move alongside the rest of the world in peace, Mukhopadhyay describes how the men and women “labeled me a Misfit”. Despite this, the speaker clarifies that he is “(A Misfit turning and turning)”, demonstrating how, even when being discouraged from the motion the rest of nature engages in, he still continues to turn and turn. Within the whole of the poem, the only elements to never move are the actual men and the women that choose to label him. Unable to understand the speaker’s continuous motion, they are forced into a stand still that prevents them from connecting to what is going on around them. It is this lack of acceptance and movement that prohibits them from being able to see the right in everything, establishing that they are the true misfits, incapable of fitting in with the nature around them and the scene being depicted.

Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s work “Misfit” uses natural imagery like stars, the moon, birds, and the wind to exhibit the way that he, as an autistic person, fits more naturally into the world around him than others expect and assume. By doing this, he points out that the real misfits are those who try to label him as such. Ultimately, the work serves to help the reader wonder how to find no wrong in anything and what is truly natural.

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” – Bailey Merriman

The Effect of Womanhood on Disability

Though the rights and treatment of people with disabilities has been getting better as time has gone on, there are still major problems to be fixed within our society. The same logic can be applied in the case of women, with both facing discrimination and abuse. Regardless of the way society has been progressing, the lives of both women and disabled people are affected in many ways due to oppression, with disabled women being made to deal with being persecuted because of both identities. Women with disabilities are, because of their woman hood, subject to another layer of ill treatment in ways that disabled men are not. The challenges that disabled women face due to their disability and being female are often overlooked, but are clear through examining the de-sexualization of disabled women, the beauty standard forced upon them, and the rampant abuse that many women with disabilities go through.

The experience of being woman and of being disabled are intertwined in many ways, full of different experiences gained from living in a sexist, ableist society. Though there are many different nuances for the two, the similarity is that “disability, like femaleness, is not a natural state of corporeal inferiority, inadequacy, excess, or a stroke of misfortune. Rather, disability is a culturally fabricated narrative of the body, similar to what we understand as the fictions of race and gender” (Garland-Thomson 259).  Womanhood has been compared to disability for centuries, with even Aristotle describing women as “mutilated males” and as “monstrosities” (260).  This comparison still continues now, with a 2001 study on stereotyping showing that housewives, disabled people, and blind people were judged as being similarly incompetent (260). These descriptions serve to show how society views both women and people with disabilities: as helpless, weak, and inadequate beings.

Though able bodied women are objectified, the opposite seems to happen with disabled women. Instead, disabled women are seen as asexual creatures, unable to feel love or lust towards anyone, and unable to receive love or lust from anyone. While “Cultural stereotypes imagine disabled women as asexual, unfit to reproduce, overly dependant, unattractive- as generally removed from the sphere of true womanhood and feminine beauty”, this means that, in order to feel and be a “real” woman, one must be objectified and beautiful at all times (266). 

This removal of femininity can even be seen with different Barbie dolls. The doll with a wheelchair, named Becky, features comfortable clothes, flat feet, and moveable joints, while her sister doll Barbie is stuck in ultra-feminine stereotypes (266). As Rosemarie Garland-Thompson describes, “The paradox of Barbie and Becky, of course, is that the ultra-femized Barbie is a target for sexual appropriation both by men and beauty practices while the disabled Becky escapes such sexual objectification at the potential cost of losing her sense of identity as a feminine sexual being” (266). This sexualization of abled women and de-sexualization of disabled women shows how being a woman and being objectified are equated, and how, in order to be sexual as a woman, one must allow herself to be seen as an object. Disabled women are then forced to hypersexualize themselves in order to be seen as even remotely sexual beings. For instance, parapalegic actress Ellen Stohl asked to appear in the magazine Playboy in order to show how disabled people have sexualities too. Had Stohl not been disabled, there would have been no need or want for her to pose for Playboy, meaning that “the performance of excessive female sexuality was necessary to counter the social interpretation that disability cancels out sexuality” (267).
Within a patriarchal society, feminine beauty standards are set, with all women being expected to follow them regardless of how they feel. The same goes for disabled women, however they have the additional burden of fitting an ableist society’s beauty standards as well. This creates an ideal for disabled women that is twice as hard to fit into, because they are not only expected to look and act within dictated feminine roles, they are also expected to look and act as though they do not have a disability. This is often done through surgeries forced onto disabled people from a young age, ones that, though they might have agreed to as a child, regret somewhat as adults. This phenomenon can be seen in poems like Sheila Black’s “What You Mourn” with lines like “The year they straightened my legs, / The young doctor said, meaning to be kind, / Now you will walk straight on your wedding day, but what he could not / imagine is how even on my wedding day / I would arch my back and wonder / about that body I had before I was changed” (Black, lines 1-7). Though these surgeries are often said to be done to make things easier for the disabled child, ignoring how “these procedures benefit not the affected individuals, but rather they expunge the kinds of corporeal human variations that contradict the ideologies the dominant order depends on to anchor truths it insists are unequivocally embedded into bodies” (264). The same phenomenon occurs with both abled and disabled women and plastic surgery. Advertised as helping women feel less insecure and more confident, it instead creates the beauty standard and reconstructs what it means to be ‘normal’. Cosmetic surgery or surgery to help disabled people fit norms they do not need to fix turns women into nothing more than things to be looked at, positing “female and disabled bodies, particularly, as not only spectacles to be looked at, but as pliable bodies to be shaped infinitely so as to conform to a set of standards called ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’” (263).

The issues that disabled women face are more than skin deep, however. Though ableism pervades and is engrained in our culture in ways that are often unseen, the abuse of disabled people, specifically women, is something that is seen all too often. A study found that one out of ten women with disabilities had “experienced physical, sexual, or disability related violence within the past year” (Nosek and Hughes 229). Another study found that 62% of both disabled and non-disabled women had been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused at some point over their lives, however disabled women “experienced abuse at the hands of a greater number of perpetrators and for longer periods of time” than women without disabilities (229). While women with disabilities face abuse at around the same rate as non-disabled women, “they also experience disability-related vulnerabilities to abuse associated with reliance on others for access to assistive devices and medication and assistance with essential personal needs such as toileting and dressing” (229). The United Nations reports that over half of all women with disabilities have been physically abused at some point (del Río Ferres, Megias, and Expósito 67) and a report from the European Parliament states that “almost eighty percent of women with disabilities are victims of violence, and that they are four times more likely than other women to suffer from sexual violence” (67). 

The exploitation of women with disabilities is prevalent as well, in both industrialized and developing countries. In industrialized countries, data showed that “men with disabilities were almost twice as likely to be employed as women with disabilities, while women with disabilities in full-time jobs earned only 56 percent of what men with disabilities in full time jobs earned” (Emmett and Alant 447). The trend could explain why 33.8 percent of women with a work disability were living in poverty as compared to 24.2 percent of men (450). This lack of funds for women with disability starts from a young age as well, as 63.5 percent of children awarded Supplemental Security Income in the United States were boys while only 36.5 percent were girls (448). In developing countries, while the percentage of disabled girls is smaller than the percentage of disabled boys, researchers suggest that this could be because “girls and women with disabilities receive less care and support, and die earlier” (454). A study of three villages in India also found that the percentage of adult males with disabilities receiving treatment was between 53 and 56 percent, whereas for adult women with disabilities the percentages ranged from 11 percent to 39 percent (456).

The oppression and hardships that women with disabilities face is something that is often ignored but is clearly present. Through the de-sexualization and infantilization of disabled women, the harmful beauty ideals impressed upon every young girl, and even more so upon disabled girls, and the abuse and exploitation that is faced, it becomes clear that disabled women deal with challenges interwoven with both womanhood and disability. Even though the world seems to try to turn a blind eye to the struggles that women with disabilities face, things are still getting better, even if the progress is slow. On a grand scale there might not be much that one individual can do, however simply acknowledging the deep rooted prejudice and biases that fester within our society and working to undo and change things on a small scale is enough. 

“I pledge” – Bailey Merriman

Works Cited

del Río Ferres, Eva, et al. “Gender-Based Violence against Women with Visual and Physical Disabilities.” Psicothema, vol. 25, no. 1, Feb. 2013, pp. 67–72. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7334/psicothema2012.83.

Emmett, Tony, and Erna Alant. “Women and Disability: Exploring the Interface of Multiple Disadvantage.” Development Southern Africa, vol. 23, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 445–460. EBSCOhost,

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA    Journal. 14. 3 (2002): 257-271. Print.

Nosek, Margaret A., and Rosemary B. Hughes. “Psychosocial Issues of Women with Physical Disabilities: The Continuing Gender Debate.” Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, vol. 46, no. 4, July 2003, p. 224. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/003435520304600403.

Bailey Merriman’s Class Summary for 9/23/21

The class began, as it does somewhat frequently, with a reward quiz. Once we had finished with that, Dr Foss went over the readings we would be discussing during the class, which consisted of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s piece “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”, Snyder and Mitchell’s introduction, and Jillian Weise’s “Nondisabled Demands”. Although the class talked about a multitude of different things, a majority of the class discussion was about the intersectionality between disabled communities and other oppressed groups, as well as the tokenization of those with disabilities.

The first reading we discussed was Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”. Dr. Foss had the class split into four small groups, with each group being assigned a section of the article, these being Activism, Representation, the Body, and Identity. While discussing the piece, each group wrote down their thoughts and questions they had before passing their sheet to allow for another group to discuss that section. Many of the conversations were about how many of the things feminism is fighting against are also affecting disabled people in similar ways. For example, throughout history women’s bodies and minds have been “culturally disabled”, and have been seen as incompetent and weak, which was compared to the ways disabled people are often seen by society in similar ways. The ways both women and people with disabilities are often forced by societal expectations to put their appearance over their health was also discussed, with the example of women wearing corsets or binding their feet and disabled people being expected to undergo painful surgeries or therapy, was also a topic that was brought up.

After reforming as a full class, we started our discussion with Snyder and Mitchell’s introduction “Cultural Locations of Disability”. Dr Foss began this dialogue by bringing up their controversial take that the Holocaust was not very shocking, and was instead the logical outcome of a society that needs perfection and hygenics. He brought up their idea that a society’s need for perfection and normalization puts all bodies at risk, but especially disabled ones. The class then began discussing the problems with the medical model and the social model of disability. The class agreed that one of the main problems with the medical model was that it pathologized disabled people, while the biggest problem with the social model was that it identified disability with only it’s negative encounters, and victimized those who are disabled. We then compared these two models with the cultural model that Snyder and Mitchell present. The cultural model seemed to be the best model presented, as it sees disabled people as entire people, instead of just victims of oppression, as well as acknowledging disability as both “human variation encountering environmental obstacles and socially mediated difference that lends group identity and phenomenological perspective” (10).

The final reading the class discussed was Jillian Weise’s poem “Nondisabled Demands”. After the poem was read to the class, the first point raised was about the last stanza “If you refuse to answer then we call/your doctor. Then we get to say/You’re an inspiration”. We discussed how often disabled people are pulled into the public eye and then labeled as inspiring or brave solely because they are living with a disability, and how doing this allows society to ignore the oppression the people they are calling inspirations have to face. The idea that many people view all disabled people as the same, and that if one person is comfortable talking about their disability then everyone else is as well was also discussed. This led into a conversation about tokenization, and how people from oppressed communities are forced to become representatives for everyone else in that group, regardless of whether or not they consented to doing so.

“I pledge”- Bailey Merriman