Tabitha Robinson’s Final Exam Essay

Abundance of Right: Literary Analysis of “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay

Tabitha Robinson

Dr. Foss

ENGL 384: Disability and Literature

7 December 2021

Word count: 1,046

Abundance of Right: Literary Analysis of “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay

              The wind blowing, birds fluttering, the stars turning with the earth—these are all aspects of nature that are universally beautiful. In poems, their awe is rarely compared to anything except the poetic speaker’s love interest, or the sublime feelings raised by romance. The lived experience of disability is not a typical comparison for a beautiful sunrise. However, in “Misfit” by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, he compares his life with autism to nature’s beauty. This poem questions what is “natural” by comparing the autistic experience to aspects of the organic world.

              “Misfit” uses the villanelle, a strict poetic form. The villanelle traditionally deals with pastoral or rustic themes, which is fitting for the subject of the poem. A step further than “natural,” “pastoral” refers to an idyllic life in nature full of beauty, peace and romance. The elements of nature described in “Misfit” have an idyllic quality and blissful tone; there is no speech, but at the end, the speaker references his “laughing lips” and finds right in everything. While the villanelle form has no set meter, it has a strict pattern of refrains and stanza lengths that give it rhythm.

              A villanelle consists of five tercets (or three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four-line stanza). “Misfit” follows this pattern exactly. There are five stanzas of three unrhymed lines each. The last stanza contains four unrhymed lines. The refrains of a villanelle are two lines which are repeated alternately in each stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated, alternatively, in the next five stanzas. The two-line refrain comes together in the quatrain and serves as the final two lines of the poem. In “Misfit,” the refrain lines are “turning and turning” and finding/found “no wrong with anything.” This structure is hard to find at first in the poem, but the repetition of these lines gives the poem a circling feeling, much like the turning of the earth in the first line. It may seem strange to discuss something as wild and free as nature in such a strict poetic form, but the pattern allows for great syntactical creativity while structuring the speaker’s thoughts.

              There are many areas of comparison in the poem. The speaker with autism flaps his hands like the birds, turns like the earth, and in what he calls an unseen “trick,” becomes the wind blowing. This sets up the idea that the disabled body, long seen as unnatural, may be closer to nature than the nondisabled body. Similarly to how the speaker breaks down the natural/unnatural binary and becomes the wind, the refrain comes together in a new way in the quatrain. Suddenly the line is blurred between the earth and the speaker. “Why stop turning and turning / When right can be found with everything?” it asks. It is unclear whether this refers to the earth’s turning or his own. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, “since right can be found with everything,” whether natural or unnatural.

              The speaker’s perspective does not even enter the poem until the third stanza; the first two stanzas instead emphasize the natural rhythm of the earth. The speaker slips in like one halfway through a dance. In the first stanza, the earth is “turning and turning”; the stars recede in dawn, “finding no wrong with anything.” In the second stanza, there is an early morning feeling. Birds fly “all morning.” The sky lights up “from the earth’s turning and turning” (emphasis mine). The repetitious movement of the earth is necessary for life, for light, for the sun to rise. Does that make the speaker’s repetitious movements unnatural? On the contrary, as the speaker enters in the third stanza, flapping his hands, “The birds knew I was Autistic; / They found no wrong with anything.” The birds, flying/flapping all morning as the earth turns and the sky lightens, see no wrong in the speaker’s autism.

              “Men and women” enter in the fourth stanza, seeming very out of place after the descriptions of the natural world. The speaker fits more into the natural world than they do. They never move or say anything. Their only action is to label the speaker “a misfit.” While the speaker flows along with the rhythms of the natural world, the (presumably non-autistic) men and women feel stiff and unnatural with their naturally nondisabled bodies and staring at the speaker’s movement.

              The speaker engages in several types of movement with several different responses. In the first stanza, the impersonal stars find “no wrong with anything”; In the third stanza, the birds find “no wrong” with the flapping of his hands. In the fifth stanza, the speaker himself finds “no wrong” with his blowing as the wind. It is only in the men and women in the fourth stanza who “stared at my nodding; / They labeled me a Misfit.” Still, as if to remind the reader that this is the action of the earth, approved by stars and birds, he adds, “(A Misfit turning and turning).” The sixth and last stanza poses the indirect question: Which is more natural, my movement or the labeling gaze of the men and women?

              “Why stop turning and turning / When right can be found with anything?” rings the final refrain. This final line comes closest to breaking the villanelle format. While the idea is the same, the word “right” has not yet been used in the poem. The refrain thus far was finding “no wrong with anything” (emphasis mine). Using “right” instead is a crucial word choice. The world goes from finding no wrong with these movements to finding an abundance of right. There is no reason to stop the natural rhythms of the earth. There is nothing but right in these movements, the speaker concludes with “laughing lips.”

              Like the blowing wind, fluttering birds, and rotating stars, the speaker’s autistic movements are a natural part of earth. Far from being a far-fetched comparison, this poem shows that our idea of what is natural may be the most unnatural way to think. “Misfit” compares aspects of nature to the speaker’s experience of autism, questioning what is “natural.” In the end, the reader is left to conclude that turning and hand flapping are just as natural, beautiful and even crucial as the spinning of the earth.

I hereby pledge upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. –Tabitha Robinson

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