The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

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José’s Drawings Symbol Analysis

José’s Drawings Symbol Icon

Throughout The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks discusses the ways that patients with serious neurological conditions adapt to their unusual circumstances by creating a new identity for themselves, or by finding a way of connecting to the external world. The drawings that José, an autistic hospital patient, creates in the final chapter of the book could be said to symbolize all the attempts to connect with the external world that Sacks’s patients have made.

José’s Drawings Quotes in The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

The The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat quotes below all refer to the symbol of José’s Drawings. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Neurology Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat published in 1998.
Part 4, Chapter 24 Quotes

Could he, with his fine eye, and great love of plants, make illustrations for botanical works or herbals? Be an illustrator for zoology or anatomy texts? (See the drawing overleaf he made for me when I showed him a textbook illustration of the layered tissue called ‘ciliated epithelium’.) Could he accompany scientific expeditions, and make drawings (he paints and makes models with equal facility) of rare species? […] He could do all of these—but, alas, he will do none, unless someone very understanding, and with opportunities and means, can guide and employ him. For, as the stars stand, he will probably do nothing, and spend a useless, fruitless life, as so many other autistic people do, overlooked, unconsidered, in the back ward of a state hospital.

Related Characters: Oliver Sacks (speaker), José
Related Symbols: José’s Drawings
Page Number: 231-232
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of the book, Sacks discusses an autistic patient named José. For most of his life, José has been treated like a waste of space—he’s regularly called “hopelessly retarded.” And yet, Sacks discovers, he’s a very gifted artist. In short, because of society’s ignorance of neurological disorders, José, a great artist with a lot of talent to offer the world, has been placed in a hospital and forced to live a “useless, fruitless life.” As with the previous passage, you can almost feel Sacks’s quiet fury.

In the thirty years since Sacks’s book was published, Western society has indeed become more understanding of autism. Autistic people have achieved success in many walks of life, rather than living out their lives in hospitals. However, people continue to have many misconceptions about autism and mental illness in general. In the end, Sacks seems to be making a plea for understanding: if people would only take the time to recognize the talent and ingenuity of people like José, he seems to be saying, people with neurological disorders could live more fulfilling, productive lives, and the world would be a happier place for everyone.


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