Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin” and Robert Olen Butler’s “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”

Please address one the following questions in your response.  Remember to keep these brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

Do you these stories transcend their jokey premises?  If so, what strategies do the writers employ to make that happen?  If not, where do you think the writers missed opportunities to do so?

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12 responses to “Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin” and Robert Olen Butler’s “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”

  1. I do believe these stories transcend their jokey premises. While both characters are absurd (a man reborn into parrot and half of a fairy tale character) they are very human. Butler and Brockmeier create lonely, honest and self-reflective characters with an awful lot of insight into themselves as well as other characters. The parrot–a man invisible to his wife, to whom he was afraid to speak up–longs to speak out and be seen. But as a parrot he is limited–physically as well as verbally–and finds himself once again incapable of communicating with his wife. Half of Rumpelstiltskin is incomplete and unfulfilled; he is “hollow.” At the end of the story Brockmeier writes: “he knows that sometimes what’s missing isn’t somebody else.” In spite of the ridiculous circumstances of each story we are able to see that these characters are physical manifestations of their emotional selves.

  2. I absolutely agree with what Julia said. I think both of these stories transcend their jokey premise. Both of the main characters in the story are not realistic: Half of Rumpelstiltskin and the parrot telling us his thoughts and feelings. It is almost completely absurd to picture a half of a Rumpelstiltskin and a parrot who is in love with a human. This is where the author is able to use a joking manner. However, the author also and most importantly uses these characters to portray very meaningful and realistic emotions and lessons to the reader. I thought that the use of a parrot was an extremely good choice by Butler because it represented the difficulty and struggles of communication that is present in everyday life, not just with animals. It represented how big of a difference it is sometimes between the thoughts in your head compared to the words that actually come out of your mouth for the rest of the world to hear.

  3. I agree with both Elyze and Julia. Butler and Brockmeier’s stories transcends their jokey premises. Both characters are physically absurd, they are lonely, and wanting to belong. The parrot is wanting attention from his wife who is not returning that attention. Instead she is sleeping around with all of these random guys. Unfortunately, the parrot cannot verbally communicate with her due to his circumstances. Despite his lack of verbal skills, the parrot is capable of producing these complex emotions that cannot be expressed verbally. This is where Butler’s sense of humor came into play.
    Brockmeier story possesses a very similar theme. Due to his physical circumstances, half of rumplestiltskin will not be able to live a complete life either. As physically ironic as the character is, half of rumplestiltskin is also capable of producing some very complex emotions of loneliness and a desire to belong.

  4. Frankie Zelnick

    I will jump on the bandwagon of agreement that these stories certainly transcend their jokey premises. I agree with Julia that, although both characters are absurd in their embodiment, both are so genuinely and vulnerably human. I like Elyse’s point about Butler’s choice of a Parrot, who of course can only speak a few words, and the way that conveys the difficulty of communication between him and his wife, even when he was still human. I felt too, that it partially embodied not only their (and our) inability to communicate exactly what they want to say, but also the difficulty in articulating exactly how they feel. “And what we I say if I could?” Sometimes even with all of the words we have, they still aren’t enough. “Except even in that moment (still human)…there was this other creature inside me who knew a lot more about it and couldn’t quite put all the evidence together to speak.” I thought it was really poignant, specifically at the end of the story, when it switched between the single-word phrases he was speaking and the inner monologue of what he was trying to say. Along those same lines, I also really enjoyed the connection to flying, escaping, letting go, and freedom. I think that’s another really human characteristic, to want to let go, to want to fly away.

    Brockmeier also plays with this “humanness” of a fantastical character. I thought it was smart to have Half of Rumpelstilskin have a job, watch children’s shows, sit on a park bench and observe the world around him, and gives speeches, and buys things, and various other somewhat mundane and human attributes. I loved that he “has enough trouble comprehending the nature of individuality without throwing inter-subjectivity into the pot” and other such philosophical ideas, as if fairy-tale characters can be said to consider such things. That he is only half, and referred to throughout as “Half of Rumpelstiltskin” is also a smart choice, and it really comes through in the second to last paragraph about watching The Dating Game. Because every time he is referred to as “Half of R.” I couldn’t help but think of it in human terms, as in half of me feels like this, but half of me doesn’t. I liked the commentary “that it happens in this world that you can change in such a way as to never again be complete.” Because what is that, if not something extremely human?

  5. I think both these stories taught a lesson even with their jokey premises. The man as the parrot was very funny. I agree with Elyse in that by making the main character a parrot, it created communication problems. His thoughts and what he could actually say was entertaining and taught a lesson. In real life he cold not communicate with his wife and now, he still can’t. As a bird, he left and was free, he couldn’t do that in life because he was too consumed with jealously. It was entertaining to read a story about a parrot, but the lesson was still very clear. Half of Rumpelstiltskin also taught a lesson of loneliness and belonging. He wanted to fit in with society. And many people struggle with fitting in or belonging somewhere. Even though both these characters weren’t physically relatable, the message of their stories are relevant to many people.

  6. In Robert Olen Butler’s “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”, I would have to agree with my classmates in that the jokey premises were transcended throughout the story. Butler has created a character who has come back in the form of a parrot, watching his wife sleep with other men. As ridiculous as this may sound, there is certainly a sense of sorrow and hurt that the author sets bypassing the jokey premises. He does this by narrating the parrot’s most inner-deep thoughts that he was never able to express as a husband. It is ironic that the husband wants to tell his ex-wife how he feels, but is unable to do so because of his current state.

    In Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin”, the story also transcends the jokey premises. It was humorous to have a character who was “Half of himself” especially because it plays off of the original story of Rumpelstiltskin, who ripped himself in half after finding out he was not getting the Queen’s first born child. Throughout the story, Brokmeier gives hints of Rumpelstiltskin living a bland unfulfilling life. He takes us through his job as a manikin, to his lunch break in the park, and even Rumpelstiltskin’s life at home. The humor in the story is broken particularly at the end of the story when Rumpelstiltskin explains that “you can change in such a way as to never again be complete, that you can lose a part of who you once were—and sometimes you’ll get better, but sometimes you’ll never be anything more than fractional.”

  7. In the story “Jealous husband returns in the form of a parrot”, the author displays sorrow through humor. The husband is so jealous of his wife that he lives his life miserably searching for ways to bust her for her infidelity. I think him returning as a parrot and ending up in his old home was torture. Having to watch his wife sleep with other men and unable to communicate with her. I think Rumpelstiltskin lives an infilling life so the author displays him as half a man. As Frankie commented “as in half of me feels like this and half of me doesn’t” In a sense I think both stories display karma. The husband lived his life obsessed with his wife instead of living it happily. He was then forced to live with her as a parrot and watch her sleep with other men. Rumpelstiltskin live an unsatisfied life so was forced to live as half a man.

  8. I think that both of these stories “transcend their jokey premises”.

    Yes, it’s insane that we are talking about “half” of a fairy tale character and it’s also strange that this story views this character in a sympathetic way, I always hated Rumpelstiltskin. It’s also comical that his job is to be a manikin because Rumpelstiltskin is a dwarf in the original fairytale. Yet, even with these strange comical things, this story is so heart breaking. For me personally, I wasn’t too focused on Rumpelstiltskin and what he was missing physically. I was thinking more about his loneliness at first and then the inner struggles that we as humans face (half of us wants this, the other half wants that, etc) and that Brockmeier just used physicality to convey the message of being alone and “half.” Also, I really enjoyed the letters that he received form his other half and they showed that his other half was also “half” and incomplete without him because of all the blanks in the letters. (Is it just me or does this story remind you of the myth that Zeus cut humans in half?…”no” says half of Rumpelstiltskin, “those are just myths”)

    “Jealous Husband returns in form of Parrot” was about a husband who returned to the house of his wife as a parrot and you’d think from reading the title that it really has the potential to be truly comical, but although it does have a sense of comedy, it’s really sad. I think Butler did an amazing job. It was so sad that so much had changed (transformation from man to parrot), yet nothing had changed at all. It was interesting because it was almost saying, because he never expressed himself to his wife that “if you’re not going to behave like a man, you might as well be a parrot!”
    “I want to pluck some of my own feathers, the feathers from my chest, and give them to her.” That line was really intense.

    I loved both of these stories, probably my favorite so far.

  9. Ryan MacGillivray

    Along with everyone else I would say these stories definitely transcend their jokey premises. Butler’s story was by far my favorite of all the ones we have read so far. I think the authors did a really good job making the characters believable while they are clearly ridiculous. They were sympathetic, likable, and interesting which transcends any reality. On the surface they seem bizarre but beneath you see things in the characters that are very real and relatable.

  10. I think that both Brockmeires and Butler are using the absurd to describe the absurdities of personal life. That absurdity is borrowed from, in one case, a fairy tale. Another, a cartoonish tale created by the author. Both are giving us the same result: the things that are upsetting our protagonists are absurd and surreal. Real life is not real at all in either story. That is something to think about, something to make us question what is and is not real and what makes it either.

    “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumplestiltskin” is very interesting because it combines myth with current-day reality. “7:45 a.m He showers and dresses,” lets us know that the author is combining what we know of reality of everyday life with Rumpelstiltskin, a character that I’m not quite sure that everyone is familiar with anymore. A fairy tale mixed with a sad story is really intense and I like the idea very much. I just worry that it is too intense. Is it accessible to use the concept of “Mad Libs”? I’m not sure.

    “The Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” is really twisted. The pain of seeing someone you love with someone else is softened by making the witness come back as an animal – a parrot, no less. That he comes back as a parrot rather than another animal is obviously carefully chosen by Butler. (Julia’s comment is really good regarding this.) The opening line of “I can never quite say as much as I know.” is poignant and sets the tone of what the “real” character wants to say. Parrots just repeat what they’ve heard.

  11. These stories absolutely transcended their jokey premises. Both stories might seem absurd from a glance at the title, and even the opening parts are slightly jovial, but the sense of loss and despair present in both make it easy to forget that these things are being felt by half a fictional character and a husband returned as a parrot.

    It’s very easy to feel for these characters too. The husband was obsessively suspicious that his wife was sleeping with other men and, even if it wasn’t true before, he had to spend the majority of his second life watching his worst fears come true and knowing that there was nothing wrong with her desires now that he was “gone”. It’s especially rough because he has most of his human mind in him (i.e.: he can form very complex thoughts and remember his past life), but he can’t say the words he wants to say to his wife. He can only repeat words he’s learned from her talking to him and all he can do is string a handful of words together to try and express his complex thoughts, but they are entirely lost on her.

    Half of Rumpelstiltskin is a little more lighthearted in its overall tone, but he lost his entire identity (or half his identity, as it where) for a single mistake and must deal with his new unfulfilling life working menial jobs and doing the same routine day in and day out. The story ties itself to reality and yet distances itself slightly by using a fictional character and placing him in normal, everyday life. I am a little curious as to why he chose to use that ending of the story (there are three distinct endings to the Rumpelstiltskin tale, one of which is mentioned by the ladies he gives a lecture to) instead of any of the other two to continue off of.

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