Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot Analysis

Robert Olen Butler

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The reincarnation of the human narrator’s consciousness into the animal body is established as the opening premise with the very title and is never explained. However, once Butler makes this stipulation, the story proceeds in a rigorously realistic mode. Although many writers have told stories from the point of view of animals, few have made more than a token effort to reproduce that animal’s consciousness in any species-specific way. The obstacles to such representation are evident: The true target of such fictions is almost always the tale’s relevance for understanding human rather than animal behavior, and the necessity of communicating the story in a written human language automatically implies a human “interpreter” or “translator” between the reader and the animal’s mind and expression, especially in first-person narratives. Butler’s construction of his parrot narrator ameliorates these difficulties in novel ways.

The convention of reincarnation motivates the otherwise anomalous presence of human concerns on the part of the animal, while at the same time the location of that consciousness in a parrot results in shifts in perspective and distance characteristic of those explored in more traditional animal narratives. Rather than simply imagine a person in a parrot suit, Butler imagines the physical limitations of the parrot’s brain and nervous system as constraining the narrator’s behavior and thought. When his wife says “Hello,” he can say it back, but when she then says “Pretty...

(The entire section is 626 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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