Discussion of Robert Owen Butler's "Jealous Husband Returns In Form of Parrot"

 Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-11, B-12, C-13, D-1, E-2, F-3, G-4, H-5, I-6, J-7, K-8, L-9, M-10

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 7. Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

    A: This is an interesting question to have to respond to for this particular story, because the 'action' is largely grounded in the inability of the main character to act. At first I wasn't sure about this story's premise, but as I read I started to see what a clever way this is to portray the agonizing mental decay jealousy sows. What better way to show a man driven to madness by the unfaithful woman he loves than to put him in a cage, take away his ability to effectively communicate and force him to watch his wife carry on living her human life without him? Not only that, but by putting us into the protagonist's perspective we feel the protagonist's agony eating away at him in real time.

    Alec

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  2. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    This story is quite different from the ones we've read in the past. It is told from the perspective of an animal, which is something we haven't seen in the ones we have read so far. However, it is written to be very human so it doesn't feel too much different in term of perspective. Yet, it still separates itself from the other stories we have read. It feels much more modern in prose and the experimentation is in the topic rather than the prose. If anything, it is the most similar to "The Enormous Radio" because, while it is still character driven, there is something unique and almost fanciful that initiates the story.

    -Bailey

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  3. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?
    I think this story is considered one of the best because it shows a very human emotion through the eyes of a jealous husband that was turned into a bird. Which at the time (as far as I know) was a unique premise for a short story. Normally, this kind of story ( of a man turning into some kind of animal) is used for "wacky family comedies" but this story uses this premise as a way to show how jealousy can trap us both literally and figurately. I think this story has endured since 1996 because it's one of the most relatable things a married person can go through and this story shows that we can feel trapped in a cage with no ability to speak your true feelings to the one you love.
    -Michael

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  4. 11. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

    When looking towards the author’s background, and what he has written so far, it is intriguing to see that this story isn’t his most prolific work. The work that he is most know for would be A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain which ended up winning a Pulitzer prize. However I think there is something to this because of how raw the emotion is here. He gets angry and sad, taking it out on things and himself, because he can’t tell his wife how he feels. This is something that many in relationships can feel, which maybe why it’s not one of his well-known works. As it is a topic that many authors have covered.

    I think there is something interesting about this story as well, especially considering that he has been married several times. When looking at his marriages, it seems that this story was written after his marriage to Maureen Donlan based on when they were divorced in 1995. Looking at this, it gives the themes of communication a bit more of a personal degree. As one could read this as Robert trying to tell Maureen why he did what he did in their relationship. Even if nothing bad happened, there are very commonplace things which could ruin a close relationship like this.

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  5. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    “My goal was to hold my tongue about half the time.”
    I think this is such a simple line, but it holds such simple, powerful intention. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that there is progress he can make, but it’s a simple step. It’s a goal to reach. There’s also like a deeply seated sense of inadequacy. The speaker’s jealousy and paranoia is driven from this same inadequacy that convinces him that he can only hold his tongue half of the time. That inadequacy is really the core of the story, but here is where we see it manifest more reflectively, rather than him projecting it onto his ex-wife.

    “And it wasn't long before she nuzzled up to a cockatoo named Gordo and I knew she’d break my heart.”
    This is such an interesting line, and demonstrates this blur between the human and the bird. But even as a bird, the speaker is unable to get over his fear of being rejected by someone he cares about, and shuts out vulnerability with cynicism in the hopes of not getting hurt. He “knew” this bird would break his heart, which he only knows after she does something that confirms his hunch.

    “I love her more in that moment, seeing her terrible nakedness, than I ever have before.
    There’s such an interesting reversal here. More than just the bird instinct, there’s a sense of the speaker being alienated from his wife, in this context where she is naked in the presence of another man, where she has crossed the boundary from bedroom to the main room in her nakedness. He loves her here Despite nakedness, and seems overwhelmed by it.

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  6. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    I feel that the author chose the story to be told by the husband's perspective because if it was in the wife's perspective we would miss out on a lot of the husband's emotions. I also feel like the point of view was specific to give us only the husband's perspective, we never get to see the wife's side of the story. Probably done so we can focus more on the husband and his emotions, and it not get distracted by things that the author didn't find as important. As well having our perspective of the husband being a bird also gives the story a more helpless feeling than if he was human. Since if he was still human he might have been able to talk to his wife. Overall it was a very deliberate choice to have our perspective limited to that of an animal possibly as a metaphor to feeling trapped in a relationship and lacking the conflict management tools to resolve the problem.

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  7. 3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    When I discovered this story was originally released in 1995, it made a lot of sense to me because it reminded me of something out of my childhood. I watched a lot of silly Disney movies like Dr. Doolittle where men turn into animals and the different perspective helps them appreciate their families and become better people for it. This story taps into the same fear those movies were at the time. Divorce rates peaked during the 80s and 90s, I know that's when my parents did it, and there was a fear about the traditional role of the family breaking down. Both stories use the popular trope of of using an animals different perspective to change human behavior. But Butler doesn't take the low hanging fruit of the person changing for the better and living happily with their family. The husband learns his past behavior was wrong, but instead of being able to change, he discovers his past actions have caused his fears to become reality. He doesn't not to sit there an endure it, but to break free, whatever that might entail.

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  8. 5. Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    Throughout most of the story, the parrot husband holds on to his past of being married to his wife. He fights to communicate what he is feeling--right up until his moment of ultimate realization on page 67. "For a moment I still think I've been eloquent. What I've said only needs repeating for it to have its transforming effect. 'Hello,' I say. 'Hello. Pretty bird. Pretty. Bad bird. Bad. Open. Up. Poor baby. Bad bird.' And I am beginning to hear myself as I really sound to her. 'Peanut.' I can never say what is in my heart to her. Never." I think that this moment is the climax, because all of the tension around the husband's frustration of not being understood builds up to this point. It is in this moment that everything is changed forever because he has seemingly and irrevocably resigned himself to living the life of a parrot.

    - Elizabeth S.

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  9. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    The conflict of the story revolves around the parrot husband and his feelings towards his wife. When he was human he always thought she was cheating on him and as a result it killed him after he fell from a tree he was using to spy on her. As a parrot he cannot communicate to her what he wants to say and is feeling because he can only formulate certain words back. When he was alive it was the same because he could never say the write thing to her or what he wanted to say. His wife, who is now a widow, starts bringing a few guys home and it starts to drive the parrot husband mad and he flies into a window repeatedly trying to escape. All of these things add up to complicate the ground situation and eventually the husband tries to escape again and throws himself against the window until we he dies we assume.

    -Taylor

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  10. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

    This piece is a successful exception to the literary fiction genre. The use of another living creature in replacement for the introspective analysis of a character focus is a supplement to the norm. Though there are examples of stories like this with unorthodox characters, it is against the grain for this format to not only be stay within the genre but to be "successful" within the genre's criterion. What can be extracted here is what elements makes this perspective both unique and effective; how does the framework succeed against the general conventions that other veterans in the field would normally argue against?

    Tomio

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