The Babysitter by Robert Coover
A short story The Babysitter written by Robert Coover is one of the best examples of metafictional stories. It bundles multi-layered narratives, but at the same time, it differs from traditional literary effort as it suggests various endings to similar scenes. The author fills his story with multiple precarious scenes, which make the reader tremble and wait for the worst things that might happen. At the same time, the reader wonders whether the author takes a risk and allows the worst things to happen. Thus, awkward scenarios seem to be specific characteristics of the Coover`s works. A scene in the bathroom can be considered an example of the mentioned peculiarities. First, Coover provides different endings as a babysitter sits in the bath or only considers taking a bath. Furthermore, the author describes how Jenifer comes to the bathroom where two men are spying on her and at the same time, he watches as a little Jimmy (the hosts` son) is soaping her back.
Intrigue to the story is added by means of grotesque and bizarre content. Coover creatively suggests a postmodern read. Using multi-layered format of narration and dividing a story into small separate paragraphs, the author confuses his reader. Thus, the reader loses real thread of the beginning, middle part, and the end of the story.
In the short story The Babysitter, Coover acts in accordance with the latest postmodern tendencies, combining impossible and contradictory things into one piece of writing. Postmodernism requires from the author using of unusual mediums and means and creating new genre (Alfonso 123). This essay aims at analyzing techniques used Coover and providing own unique understanding of the short story.
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To start with, Coover`s The Babysitter is a combination of interchanging techniques that were originally found in art and music. They stimulate the fictional masterpiece as well as engage its reader in the process of new meaning discovering similar to those experienced while examining a piece of art or listening to orchestral music. Robert Coover makes use of washes, descants. These devices comprise layers in his work thus multiplying realities and narratives aimed at disrupting ordinary and expected plot progression. For example, the descant is known in the music theory as a high melody that is sung over the existing melody. This technique allows Coover to show the contrast between his narration and new realities. At the same time, these new realities are placed over the existing plot, providing one more surface to the completed picture. Combining these techniques, the author creates a postmodern frame to complement existing ideas and introduce new ones.
Furthermore, Coover`s The Babysitter is full of parceling. Thus, first of all in, order to emphasize children`s personalities, Coover describes “Dishes. Noise. Clutter. And fat” (Coover 2). One more parceling is used “Down forbidden alleys. Into secret passageways. Unlocking the world’s terrible secrets” (Coover 10). Parceling in both cases is used to draw reader`s attention to details.
Moreover, the story is divided into reality, imagination, dreams, etc. Thus, it is possible to say that Coover also uses imagery as one of the primary stylistic devices. For example, we cannot distinguish whether Jenifer is taking the bath or she just considers taking it. However, it is necessary to admit that the author hardly uses metaphors and epithets. The text is read in a reserved manner and does not contain poetical elements. The author, however, uses simulacrum – a replacement of reality with its simulation. In addition, the author uses the metaphor of control which is represented in the text with the help of television programs that babysitter switches on. The metaphors of control are used in this short story to put emphasis on the difference between reality and linguistic representation of this reality.
Finally, the author also uses palimpsestic technique that is supposed to be a rewriting of the old story by putting it in different cultural and linguistic contexts. Moreover, the typical feature of Coover`s metafictional masterpieces is the absence of punctuation that was canceled by commentaries of the author.
The Historical Context
Robert Coover`s The Babysitter is written in the epoch of Postmodernism. Postmodernism appeared as an indispensable part of historical and socio-cultural life and is seen as a unique way of postmodern culture and life depiction. It represents a crisis of human being`s identity (sexual, cultural, social, or ethnic) and the wage for legitimization of hypocritical society. This theme was thrown into sharp relief after the USA Civil Right Movement in 1960. Postmodern literature also aimed at expressing a negative attitude towards commercialization and industrialization of public life that led to ecological consumerism and catastrophe. The authors also demonstrated a negative attitude towards Western civilization and put an emphasis on understanding of the world.
The Babysitter and Other Postmodern Texts
The Babysitter surely ratifies the return to design shaped by postmodern narratives, as reflected in the works of Barth, Sukenick, or Federman (Alfonso 125). It engages numerous possibilities of non-linear and anti-realism narratives along with interplaying between imagination and reality. However, Coover’s story lacks punctuation as the author is constantly interrupting it. This device is more likely to be suitable for Modernism (that inherited this feature from Realism), but not for pure Postmodernism (Alfonso 126).
Critical Essay and Expansion of Understanding
Having read the short story The Babysitter written by Robert Coover, I was deeply impressed by the peculiarities of its plot. It was rather hard to distinguish reality from imagination. This tendency to confuse the reader belongs to Postmodernism epoch. First, I was afraid of such intricate structure. The text is rather difficult to read and more difficult to accept. I could not pick up any theme of the narrative.
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However, critical analysis of the text gave me an opportunity to take the closer vision of the text. Thus, having analyzed it, I could divide the text into five main periods. Each of the periods is connected with a television program. Thus, I divided the text into periods from 7.40 up to 8.00 p.m., then from 8.00 pm till 8.30 pm, from 8.30 till 9.00 pm, from 9.00 till 10.00 pm and finally from 10.00 till 10.30 p.m.
All the periods are closely connected and even guided by television programs. In this particular case, a television program is a metaphor of control. Analyzing the text and searching for information, I got to know about a specific kind metaphor that I had not heard about before.
Moreover, I paid attention to the lack of punctuation and it really surprised me. I used to think that it is a typical feature of Postmodernism. However, then, having read about it, I found that such stylistic device came from Realism to Modernism and was not expected to be used in Postmodernism literature.
Furthermore, critical analysis of the text gave me an opportunity to pay attention to new devices that have never been used in literature until Postmodernism epoch. I also got to know that the author used unusual devices that are allowed to be used only in music and art. By means of such devices (descants and washes), the author formed layers in his narrative and made readers totally confused about the plot. I was looking for critical elements, but I found much interesting information about stylistic peculiarities of postmodern literature. Moreover, now I can make a conclusion and state with certainty that Coover`s The Babysitter is not a veritable and pure postmodern piece of literature. It borrows some devices from other epochs thus making Coover`s work not as brilliant as I used to think.
Any critical essay gives another vision of a piece of literature as it helps to point out all the advantages and disadvantages it contains. Furthermore, critical essay helps to identify whether it belongs to the required epoch and follows all the requirements and standards. Finally, critical essays help to understand whether a particular piece of literature can be named a veritable masterpiece of this epoch or not. Critical essay made me feel disappointment as Coover`s The Babysitter is not written according to existing standards. However, I am still excited by this story as it makes me feel as if I exist in two different worlds – real and imaginary.
The Interpretation of the Text
I consider this text a good opportunity for a reader to live in both imaginary and real worlds. It is rather difficult to define how I interpret this piece of writing, as I do not completely understand it. Moreover, I am sure that any reader can hardly distinguish when the reality is interrupted by the imagination as it is performed in a very soft manner. Thus, from the very beginning up to the end, we can imagine different endings of the same situation and it is hard to depict what ending is true one and what is not. However, such ability to confuse even the most attentive reader characterizes the author as a veritable talent and a great creator.
Summing up I want to say that regardless of any confusion, I consider that this story represents our life in the way pretty close to reality. Very often in our reality, things occur in such a way, that we cannot even believe that it actually happens to us. In this case, we feel distraction and confusion as if we read the Robert Coover`s The Babysitter and we start to understand that real and imaginative stand so close to each other that we can hardly differentiate them.