Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This half-page-long story was also published as part of Russell Edson’s collection The Very Thing That Happens: Fables and Drawings (1964). The themes that the story presents are much clearer when taken in the context of the whole collection. As is evident from the above synopsis of his tale, Edson is not a fabulist in the traditional sense. His prose poems, as they are sometimes called (a description that he claims to abhor), do feature animals prominently, and they do attempt to convey some sort of lesson. It would be an exaggeration, however, to call them moral messages, as they define an amoral world that is more threatening, dehumanizing, and misanthropic than the world described in Aesop’s classic fables. Instead, Edson uses the experiences of animals and objects to parallel human events as he performs a sort of ontological probing into the nature of this thing called life. Edson’s primary themes here are the unstable arbitrariness of existence and the inanity of endless human attempts to make sense of it, order it, and control it.

Edson’s universe may be irrational, but it is not without meaning. While poking fun at humankind’s sense of superiority and the need to believe in some semblance of control, Edson also pities this human condition and in fact justifies it. After all, without this sense of arbitrariness, there would be no process of logic. That is to say, if everything were cut and dried, orderly and sensible, there would be no need to figure things out, to draw distinctions and conclusions, or to find a niche for oneself in the universe. Self-exploration would go no further than mindless faith.

It is ironic that the search for meaning in life is what is assumed to set human beings apart from other animals. However, it is through this search that human beings are struck by the loneliness, isolation, and meaninglessness of existence...

(The entire section is 771 words.)