Upside-Down as an Eccentric Character


Upside-Down is the central character in the poem by Alexander Kushner who was considered as one of the best lyrical poets in twentieth century Russia. This character is anomalous from the point of view of the society. Is he truly a ‘dunder-head?’ or he is a mentally handicapped person who require sympathy rather than humiliation? Or else, he must be a rebellious character who acts against the prevalent social norms. This post is to evaluate these eccentric characteristics of the central character in the poem.

Seemingly the actions of Upside-Down is suitable for his name. His name is apparently not his real name but a nick name given to him because of his anomalous behaviour. He does almost everything in the un-usual way. However, if one takes a close look at the character, he or she can see some of his actions are not intentional and some are seemingly intentional.

He demonstrates certain behaviors that are typical symptoms of certain psychological disorders. For examples he has certain learning difficulties in reading and understanding of directions:

He read his letters backside-fore

And write his letters backside-fore/

If he was told to turn right

He turned to left out of spite.

In the field of education this is identified as a learning disorder. These kinds of students have the difficulty to understand the direction whether it is left or right, back to fore or fore to back. Therefore, they should be given extra attention and different methods to teach. So, the poet seems to be critical about the society that judges about the people in the wrong way; Or else, he may be critical about the way that the differently-abled people are treated by the society. There are other things which clearly show that Upside-Down suffers from many other psychological disorders. He is afraid of high places which is also a common phobia among people:

All his life he was afraid

To cross a bridge. He’d always wade.

As well as he seems to be suffering from a neural disease which makes him unable to communicate properly. People who lost certain neural departments in the brain cannot express using correct words that because they do not know the right words to express what they want:

He went into a restaurant;

The waiter said, “What do you want?”

He said, “I’d like a pair of socks

With clocks on them, and in a box.”

Further, those people cannot choose what is fit for the occasions; they do not feel in the proper way. Just like they cannot identify heat or cold separately:

Wearing flannels when it’s hot

Going naked when it’s not!

So, it is evidently clear the intention of the poet is that the characters like Upside-Down need sympathy from the society just because they need extra care and attention. They behave against social norms not that they do not obey them, but they actually cannot or they do not know how to. The poet critically questions the society making such people laughingstocks.

There is a possibility for such people to behave against the society mainly because they are not given due recognition. Because of that, they may feel inferior and hateful about themselves as well as the society. Sometimes they may do things to get the attention from the society. When Upside-Down acts in an eccentric way, people start taking about him which might be a boost for him to behave so:

Once there lived an Upside-Down

Who was the talk of all the town.

This is further visible when he became the center of attraction beating all the circus clowns. It is possible that he behaves funny to get the social attraction. Sometime children do the same thing. It is vital for such people to be given care and affection or else they would become stubborn individuals. Similarly, Upside down does not adhere to the commands given to him:

If he was told to turn to right

He turned to left out of spite.

The main drawback in the society that the majority cannot explain things clear enough to such people. The poet points out that the society is not aware about the way such people to be taught. It is a criticism about the system of education too:

If he went sailing in a boat

No one could make him understand

Why he seemed to be afloat

And what happened to the land.

As a result of being neglected, they sometimes can be rebellious against the social norms. They may do certain things to annoy people. He might do things to confuse people. As seen him ordering things that are not available in the restaurant may be one such occasion. When he is required to read a letter, he puts it into the hat may be another such occasion. Upside-Down refusing to behave according to the social norms may be his reaction to the society who consider him as a lunatic person:

His auntie wrote, “Dearest boy,

All you do is to annoy:

/ You must behave as others do

If they’re to have respect for you!”


The last two lines of the poem is written ironically to criticize the expectations of the society who do not behave in the right way. Had they given due recognition to the people who are a part of the society, they could have ethically expected something, but they expect things that cannot be received from a kind of people who have no idea of behaving according to social conducts. It is the duty of the society to take care of such eccentric people.


You may read the analysis of Upside down here.


What is your idea of that? Please, do leave a comment below to enrich this post. Share the post if you find this useful to others. Let’s take this as an opportunity to change our mind set about the differently-abled people in the society.   

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