Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508
Not a conventional story in any sense of the word, “Mr. and Mrs. Baby” is a work of fiction with little setting, plot, action, or characterization. These elements of writing do surface but are held at all times in a position of minimal importance: Mark Strand is concerned entirely with...
(The entire section contains 508 words.)
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Not a conventional story in any sense of the word, “Mr. and Mrs. Baby” is a work of fiction with little setting, plot, action, or characterization. These elements of writing do surface but are held at all times in a position of minimal importance: Mark Strand is concerned entirely with his theme—the blandness, circularity, and empty rituals of modern life.
What conflict there is in the story, and thus the matter that is of interest to the reader, is contained in the tension worked on the reader as he or she identifies with, or at least empathizes with, these two subreductive caricatures of life as we know it today. Strand does not create a story in which there is conflict within or among the characters; his characterizations cause internal conflict in the reader who must come to terms with just how close and accurate Strand is in his depiction of human experience.
Although Strand does not begin his story with “Once upon a time,” he does leave it with the same atmosphere such stories exhibit. The work is a parody of modern life, in which adults never grow up and those who have reached physical maturity remain, in the vein of parody, only babies. This is no fairy tale, though, for Strand’s message is too haunting, biting, satirical, and pessimistic to be rendered as such.
The story has a rather noteworthy absence of symbols and imagery. Once the reader realizes that Mr. and Mrs. Baby are the embodiments of contemporary man and woman, these are not necessary. Strand does tell his story with a great deal of attention to language. First, his style is purely in the shadow of Ernest Hemingway here; he writes terse, short, clipped sentences of simple vocabulary for a punchy, journalistic effect. Even sectional divisions of the story adhere to requirements of this device.
More important is Strand’s use of poetry and its elements that are embedded within the prose. It is not that he waxes poetic, but that he consciously includes words, phrases, and ideas worthy of the form of poetry. This is most true, perhaps, at the end of the story. Consider this sentence:Among the celestial acts in the theatre of night, in the superdome of the firmament, where distance is a monotonous allegory of diminishment, a shifting of solar dust, a waltzing of matter to the tune of darkness, a grave passage of this and that, what does it mean that you are asleep, adrift in the spectral silt of the unknown?
The acceptable swelling of language and the very tuning of the wording here can both worthily be compared to the poetry of Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg.
Strand’s satiric tone also pervades his word choice. These are people babies who have never grown up; hence there is a way in which they are deserving of the contempt of readers as well as of their sympathy. The story ends with Strand tucking the Babys into bed: “Sleep tight; another Baby day is on its way.”