Upside-Down, Humour or Criticism?


This post is consisted of an answer of one of our fine students (Akeshi) on the question: The poem ‘Upside-Down’ leaves an insight for the reader not to take the poem as a humorous poem as it carries a note of social criticism. Comment on this with reference to the poem.  In addition to that we have added our comments regarding the analysis she has done to add more value to the answer.

The poem ‘Upside-Down is written by Alexander Kushner. In this poem the speaker elaborates about a character called Upside-Down who does everything the other way around. When reading through the poem, the readers can feel a sense of humour but it is not what the poet urges to speaks about. The poet brings forward the issue that how the society criticizes the people who acts differently.

At the beginning of the poem, the poet introduces the character evoking humour: ‘If he was told to turn right/ he turned to left out of spite.’  While reading this, it generates a kinaesthetic imagery of how he turns to the left instead of right, which makes the readers laugh at his silly behaviour. But why does he act like that? May be the poet is trying to say something else using the character Upside-Down; the character might also imply the people who are different in the society. May be, he symbolizes a person who acts against social norms or someone who is born with a mental illness. Using the character, Alexander Kushner must be revealing about how the society criticizes or marginalizes people who act differently.

Poet reveals how the character Upside-Down becomes a laughingstock to the society. Once, when a circus comes to the town, the people find Upside-down as ‘funnier than the circus clown.’ A clown is someone who supposed to make people laugh. He has to wear a red nose a wig and funny clothes and make people laugh by his actions and jokes. But when in midst of clowns in the circus, people find him as funnier than actual clowns. This shows the typical reaction of the people in the society when someone behaves absurdly or differently. However, poet suggests that it is not good to make fun of such people in the society who might be actually suffering from a mental disorder.

The letter of the aunt of Upside-Down shows the bottom line of the expectations of the society. At the latter part of the poem, Upside-Down receives a letter from his aunt; he does not have any idea whether to read it or not. So he ends up not reading it. However, the poet reveals the message in the letter. The aunt says: ‘You must behave as others do/ It they’re to have respect for you!’ The aunt knows how Upside-Down acts; may be, she is tired of his drama. So she tells him that if someone wants respect from the society, one has to follow the social norms. Poet seems to be critical about this end message of the poem.

So, according to the poem ‘Upside-Down’ written by Alexander Kushner, it leaves an insight for the reader to think that this poem is not all about humour but is about how the society might act criticizing you if you are against its norms.


Our Comments:

Her attempt on the social criticism found in the poem is a fair attempt. In her answer she attempts to unveil the social criticism behind the description of the character Upside-Down. The poet reveals how the society functions. (stereo type, conventional, engulfed in die hard measures, stagnant values, stench of social backwater?) As it is obvious, the position upside-down (though absurd according to the society and that is what we believe, right?) can be a different view point where things are not visible in the way others see. The poet might look at the person as a genius, because the world moves forward with new perspectives, otherwise it might have been dwelling at the same stone age.

Further, when reading through the answer of Akeshi, we feel that the society should feel sorry about the character Upside-Down as he has limitation in his schema. By examining his reactions and behaviours, we feel that he is suffering from conditions of psychological disorders like dyslexia (called a reading disability, dyslexia is a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language.); certain phobias like fear of high places; as well as the inability to express clearly. Sadly, these kind of people become suppressed by the society as they are treated and considered as laughingstocks. The reaction of the people at the circus is a typical example of that. If we cross-refer to the film Joker by Todd Phillips about a mentally troubled stand-up comedian embarks on a downward spiral that leads to the creation of an iconic villain due to the ill-treatments received by the society is a fine example of the predicament of such treatments.

As Akeshi reveals at the final phase of the answer, the aunt’s comment might suggest that Upside-Down behaves against the social norms purposefully. It might be the criticism against the stereotype society by the character himself. The society does not allow a person to be unique or to be himself. The fixed rules of social norms have drawn a thick line dividing what is socially acceptable and not acceptable. If one violates those rules, the society does not give respect to such characters. The poet might be critiquing the nature of the society.       

What are your views about the response of Akeshi? What are your ideas about the poem to add more value to this post? Please leave a comment below with your generous ideas. Share the post if you find this useful to others. The student corner is open for your answers too, if you want to publish your posts with our comments please feel free to send your answer to either type-setted or hand written. Share your knowledge to the world and with our wider readership.  

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  1. I see aunt's letter is used by the poet to make our eyes open to the absurd way the close relations, including parents sometimes, behave when they have such abnormal people in the families. Knowing well the boy is unable to read she sends a letter and tries to "correct" him which most probably could be beyond his understanding. The poem, as Akeshi quite rightly analyses is more an eye opener than a humorous poem. It criticizes the way the society behaves towards abnormal people, specially with ones with mental disorders. And it questions the inability of the society to accept the uniqueness of those with such disorders. The aunt's letter is used to ridicule the family members who try to make the "abnormal" "normal" rejecting to accept them as they are.