When I first started this monthly blog, I made a resolution to myself to keep it up for twelve posts. Twenty-four posts later, I’m feeling pretty darn good about achieving that goal. Unfortunately, between work and family and friends, life is getting increasingly hectic, and finding time to read and summarize one classic per month is strangely harder than it sounds. I would rather not leave you hanging, but I must admit that a nice, round two-dozen summaries may be a good place for an ending. I won’t say goodbye, just in case a snarky mood strikes me in the future and I come crawling back to this blog. For the time being, however, I will say goodnight.
In honor of this finale/hiatus, I’d like to do something a little different. For the reading pleasure of my fellow English Lit nerds, I present to you a summary wrapped up in a brief (albeit ridiculous) overanalysis of Margaret Wise Brown’s famous children’s picture book, Goodnight Moon, as inspired by this discussion of the death metaphor, this Marxist interpretation, and an analysis of its lunar accuracy, among others.
While the obvious interpretation of this picture book is that it presents a soothing bedtime ritual meant to instill a sense of peace and sleepiness into its juvenile reader, one can also extract a darker meaning – an interpretation in which the peace is permanent and the slumber is eternal. We begin our tale with a little rabbit child, lying in bed in a great green room. This green room, far too large for an average child’s bedroom, may be a metaphorical representation of the earth. Little is known about the protagonist. While the rabbit wears blue-striped pajamas, often coded as masculine, the brush by the bedside bears the name “Bunny,” which is often a feminine nickname. The blankets on the bed are both green and pink, providing no hints as to its gender. This androgynous Bunny thus becomes our Everyman, an avatar for every child. As the book progresses, however, Bunny also becomes our victim and our ferryman, guiding us through the ritual of dying.
This descent into death is accompanied by the scenery and objects in the room: the clock on the bedside table progresses from 7:00 to 8:10, the fire dwindles down, and the room grows steadily darker. In the room are various objects that also lend a hand in creating this metaphor, including a red balloon, a number of pictures on the walls, and an old woman. In our death metaphor, the red balloon floating above the child’s head may represent the child’s soul escaping, as balloons are often filled with the life-giving breath. The pictures on the walls convey scenes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. In the first, a cow jumps over a moon at night. Unlike the full moon outside Bunny’s window, this moon is a waning crescent; at the end of its cycle, it is about to wither, die, and be reborn again. Although the three bears in the next picture are doing nothing, they have the same picture on their wall of the cow jumping over the moon. In many cultures, both the cow and the moon are feminine entities, and this repetition perhaps gives a clue as to the identities of the bears. Are these bears, in fact, the Three Fates, debating whether to begin the creation of a new life thread? Or are they already spinning, measuring, and cutting threads, invisible to the mortal eye? Regardless of the answer, visible threads soon appear in Bunny’s room on an empty rocking chair. On the very next page, this chair is suddenly occupied by a quiet old lady rabbit. This sequence of events suggests that she may very well be an embodiment of the third Fate, Atropos, who has found the end of the child’s allotted time on earth and prepares to cut the string, despite the fact that the form she is knitting has only begun to take shape. Does she whisper “hush” to soothe the little rabbit’s fears about the inevitable fate yet to come, or as a gesture to end Bunny’s life?
Bunny, perhaps now aware of its impending mortality, begins to bid farewell to its worldly possessions. It bids goodnight to the room and, by extension, the earth, along with the moon, that feminine entity which dictates the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. It says farewell to the light and the balloon – vision and breath –and to the picture of bears and chairs, which may be a representative of a child’s fears and comforts. Bunny says farewell to the kittens, who may be the old woman’s familiars, or perhaps a representation of one’s playful childhood. It says goodnight to clothing and clocks, an allusion to life’s responsibilities and time itself. It bids farewell to the little house, representing one’s home and domicile on earth, and the little mouse, whose movement around the room reflects a progression through life and through geography. Bunny next addresses the comb and brush, along with all other aspects of earthly cares and rituals. It bids farewell to nobody, which may perhaps be a cynical commentary on the reliance of deities within religion, and to mush, a representative of the mortal coil and the state to which it returns. Finally, the child says goodnight to death itself, personified in the old woman who still has a finger to her lips. The spirit of our departed soul is then free to bid farewell to the stars and air as it ascends to the celestial heavens.
On the final page, Death has gone, taking her yarn with her. Her familiars have taken her place on the chair. The fire in the room – and by extension, in the world – continues to burn, but the lamp is off and though the lights remain on in the little house, there is a feeling of emptiness about it. The mush in the bowl has dwindled, eaten by the mouse, just as our own mortal coils dwindle and decay after we have vacated them. Bunny’s eyes droop, but remain open, as no one has come to close them. There is a final goodnight to “noises everywhere,” which may be a direct reference to Hamlet’s dying words, wherein “the rest is silence.” Time of death: 8:10 PM. The final page of this tale is blank, as our Author does not divulge where Bunny’s journey shall lead after The End.
On that note, dear readers, I, too, will leave you with a bit of Silence to contemplate your own End. It has been my honor to provide a bit of snark in your life, and I hope I have entertained you, however briefly.