Monday, November 22, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

Robert Coover's "Gingerbread House" caught my eye because its title seemed so festive (I'm thoroughly embracing the commercialistic urges to celebrate the holiday season as much as possible). However, this poem is far from a happy holiday tale of sugarplums and Santa's elves. In this work, a young girl and boy follow an unhappy old man into the forest, knowing that he leads them to a fabled house where many children journey, but from which none return. Along the way, the boy surreptitiously drops breadcrumbs on the path, hoping to outsmart the aged guide and be the first to see the wondrous house and live to tell about it. During the journey, the children sing, perhaps to calm themselves down, perhaps because youth is simply that carefree. I know that I was not that easy-going in my youth, but then again, I am a rather uptight person.
A shift in the poem occurs when a witch, dressed in black rags appears. She attacks a dove and rips its heart from its chest, holding the beating, bloody organ in her hands. Somehow, this gore is attractive to both the old man and the young boy. The rest of the poem ricochets between the old man's care and protective instincts over the children and his wishes for their good dreams and his lust for the red heart, also symbolized by the ruby heart-shaped door of the witch's delectable abode.
I was rather confused by this text, but I did manage to draw a few possible connections from it. The journey into the woods, complete with the happy-go-lucky attitude of the girl, the seemingly kind, yet grim guide, and the boy's attempts to outwit fate, represent each person's trek through this perilous world. The witch is all that is evil in our lives-lies, lust, envy, greed, all our sins. Her unbelievably delicious house is the ultimate temptation. This take on the Hansel and Gretel story is also the story of the human plight. To resist or give into temptation and accept the consequences.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh Brother!

Robert Coover's "The Brother" is a poignantly harsh reimagination of the Biblical Noah's Ark story as seen through the eyes of Noah's brother. When read through the lens of the tale in Genesis, the unorthodox point of view, harsh tone, and shrewd poetic devices of Coover's piece conjure an entirely more humanized rendition of the situation.
The point of view in this story is atypical. Coover chose to write in first person, but the narrator is a bit unreliable. The speaker rants about his brother's strange actions and attitude and tells of his begrudging efforts to help Noah, and all the ways it affects his own prosperity and happiness. Such a temperamental account is most likely a bit off the mark in its judgements.
The tone of "The Brother" is markedly different from that of the original story. In the Bible's account, the tone is serious and instructive, and Noah is portrayed as the ever-obedient, reverent servant of Almighty God. The narrator in Coover's work commences with a snide, mocking voice, then, after realizing that perhaps Noah did have it right and facing drowning destruction, he slips into a tone of harsh desperation and distress, and even hopelessness.
Poetic devices in the story help humanize the historically unrelatable scene. The format of this work is that of a stream of consciousness-no capitalization, paragraphing, or punctuation. The author's diction is carefully constructed and filled with slang, contemporary language, including expletives, that enhance the idea that this event happened to a real family. The details straight from the Biblical text tie the retelling into the traditional tale and provide a sense of legitimacy.
"The Brother" sheds a new light on an old story.