Summary

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Last Updated on July 31, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

It is difficult to provide a true summary of this short story because, instead of presenting one linear narrative, it presents any number of possibilities as well as the various, competing fantasies experienced by the male characters in the story. All of them sexualize the titular babysitter, a young, unnamed...

(The entire section contains 968 words.)

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It is difficult to provide a true summary of this short story because, instead of presenting one linear narrative, it presents any number of possibilities as well as the various, competing fantasies experienced by the male characters in the story. All of them sexualize the titular babysitter, a young, unnamed girl who is probably around sixteen years of age. From the little boy she babysits, to her boyfriend and his friend, to the father of the children she babysits, all of the men objectify her—some even contemplating, in the story's most disturbing passages, what it would be like to rape her.

The story opens at 7:40 p.m., when the babysitter arrives at the home of Harry and Dolly Tucker to take care of their three children: Jimmy, Bitsy, and the baby. Mr. Tucker stares at the babysitter's breasts and thighs, and he imagines that she feels something for him too. She does not. After the Tuckers finally leave for the party, the babysitter feeds the kids, bathes them, puts them to bed, reads books, and watches television. This is all part of her standard routine. However, Mr. Tucker, while at the party with his wife, imagines returning to his home to find the babysitter having sex with her boyfriend, and he fantasizes about sending the boy home without his pants and then raping her.

The babysitter's boyfriend, Jack, hopes that he will have a chance to go over and see her. He wants to have sex with her, but it seems that she's been unwilling to go that far with him. He and his friend, Mark, the oldest son of the couple throwing the party, talk about ganging up on her sexually and raping her. However, Jack also considers defending her against Mark's assault. Even the little boy she watches, Jimmy, fantasizes about soaping her back in the bathtub, being spanked by her, and tickling her while she's naked.

In the end, the Tuckers might return home to find everything in its place, or they might return home to find the baby dead, or Mrs. Tucker might return to find her husband having raped the babysitter while she was still at the party. There are so many different narrative possibilities that it can be a challenge to keep them all straight, or to find the "true" plot. Ultimately, all of the possibilities seem to draw attention to two things: the objectification of the babysitter in the minds of these male characters and the myriad and kaleidoscopic possibilities in life and fiction.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Perhaps Coover’s most anthologized story, “The Babysitter” exemplifies the notion behind the title of the collection: a “pricksong,” or main theme, with “descants,” or variations on that theme. Using a series of one hundred and seven sections, the shortest containing only nineteen words and the longest nearly two-thirds of a page, “The Babysitter” takes the “pricksong” of an extremely ordinary event and transforms it with the descant of infinite possibility.

The main events can be summarized simply: At 7:40 p.m. a babysitter arrives to care for three children (Jimmy, Bitsy, and “the baby”); the parents, Harry and Dolly Tucker, leave for a party; the babysitter bathes the children, puts them to bed, and watches television; at 10:00 p.m. the parents return home. The action of the story occurs simultaneously in four locations: the Tucker household; a drugstore, where the babysitter’s boyfriend Jack plays pinball with his friend Mark, whose anonymous parents are hosting the party; the party itself; and on television.

There is a chronology of sorts in the story. The babysitter arrives at 7:40, ten minutes late. Over the next twenty minutes the parents leave; the sitter feeds, bathes, and wrestles with the children; Jack and Mark play pinball; and the characters on television dance in formal clothes. During the hour from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. the children resist going to bed, Harry Tucker (at the party) imagines having sex with the sitter and imagines her having sex with her boyfriend, Dolly Tucker worries that the sitter is not trustworthy, Jack and Mark rape the sitter, Jack defends the sitter against rape, she willingly has sex with them, she refuses to let them come over, she innocently watches television with them, she takes a bath, she lets Jimmy wash her back, a Western and then a spy movie are on television, and the sitter vacillates between watching television and doing her homework.

The final hour of the story, from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m., reveals more variations on previous events: Harry Tucker is at home, at the party Dolly Tucker cannot get back into her girdle and several guests try to stuff her back into it, at the Tucker home the two boys drown the babysitter and the babysitter suffocates the baby and, through negligence, lets the baby drown.

The final two sections of the narrative provide alternative endings to a text of nearly endless possibility. In the first, the television is on at the party, there has been news of “a babysitter,” but the sports scores claim Harry’s Tucker’s attention. Dolly Tucker gets up off the floor, and Harry says he will drive her home, where she notices that the dishes have been washed. In the last section, ending Two, the hostess apologizes, noting that her husband is gone and the children and the sitter murdered. Her only response is to see what the late-night movie is. The third-person narration of the story switches from one event and locale to another, much as a television viewer changes channels. Most of these events are mutually exclusive; the baby, for example, cannot be killed twice. “The Babysitter” is a dazzling display of metafictional creativity that mixes fantasy and reality and thus reveals the arbitrariness of narrative, which is, after all, only the creation of its author.

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