Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot

by Robert Olen Butler
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481

"Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot" is a short story by Robert Olen Butler. The titular husband returns to earth as a bird and, now that he cannot have her, he sees his wife in a new light.

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'Hello,' she says, and she comes over to me and I can't believe how beautiful she is.

Unlike many fables, the husband is not a parrot that thinks and acts just like a person. Instead, his narration is filtered through the perspective of a bird:

She said it again, "Pretty bird," and this brain that works like it does now could feel that tiny little voice of mine ready to shape itself around these sounds.

The husband plays in his cage and admires his lost love through bars. He watches as a variety of men enter his former house. Being a bird seems to have changed his outlook, yet his struggle remains the same.

I get this restlessness back in my tail, a burning thrashing feeling, and it's like all the times when I was sure there was a man naked with my wife. Then I go to this thing that feels so familiar and I bite and bite and it's very good.

The husband feels a deep insecurity. While married, he constantly suspected his wife of infidelity. His doubt eventually lead to a fatal accident and, by extension, the death of their relationship. While stalking a man with whom the husband believes his wife is cheating, he climbs a tree to see through a window and slipped, falling to his death.

I was holding on to a limb with arms and legs wrapped around it like it was her in those times when I could forget the others for a little while. But the crack in the shade was just out of view and I crawled on along till there was no limb left and I fell on my head.

The husband let jealousy drive him off the edge. In a cage, the husband is forced to reflect on their marriage. There is hope that with his new understanding, the husband can finally articulate to his wife his struggle and what she means to him.

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.

The husband realizes that he cannot communicate and that his wife is lost to other men. He falls into the bird part of his persona and knowingly flies into the glass with the hope that he can "be free of all these feelings, I will fly. I will throw myself there again and again. Pretty bird. Bad bird. Good night."

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