The Humpty Dumpty metaphor continues to intrigue me. In all the cartoons I’ve collected there is a wall. Either Humpty is sitting on top of it or he has fallen off and lies in pieces at its base.
In my research I find that Humpty Dumpty is the perennial favorite rhyme among pre-schoolers and older. Perhaps it is the rhythm of the rhyme or the rhyme itself—with its too-long last line. Perhaps it is the absurdity of an egg sitting on a wall—and the obvious understanding that eventually it will roll off. Perhaps it is the fact that the egg is always pictured as if it had human characteristics and could carry on a conversation. Whatever the appeal, we can ask any random child if he knows the rhyme and he’ll probably recite it.
In psychological terms, I argue that the wall represents the inevitable precipice that our psyche is forming all the time that we are establishing ourselves as competent humans in a world where competence is required
Competence and protection are our watchwords. We work to be able to function in the world and also harden our shell to protect ourselves. This shell-hardening begins early in childhood, at the moment we feel wounded by someone or something and subconsciously resolve to try to keep that from happening again.
Mine was the incident where I cried to keep my mother from leaving me when she took me to my Sunday School class right after my younger sister was born. I was three and a half. She stayed but was embarrassed, later told my father, and I was humiliated by the punishment. Something in my little psyche resolved at that moment not to cry, and for 40 years the hard shell I manufactured honored that resolve.
But the wall grows taller under us and the danger of falling increases. We’re so busy hardening our shell that we do not notice. Then one day perhaps we look down and are amazed. And the wall continues to grow taller.
This wall and the falling off it represents the crisis whereby the new being is hatched out.