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Lust and Hunger: Escaping Human Limitation in Prodigal Summer

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     Both Deanna and Eddie spend a great deal of their time in Prodigal Summer attempting to escape their need for company and attachment. The two lovers form an interesting commentary on the question Barry Schwartz asks in The Paradox of Choice: can humans become happier by embracing limitation? Schwartz portrays an overabundance of choice as an illusion of freedom that in fact limits humans' capacity to achieve happiness. In sharp contrast, Kingsolver questions the merits of a quest for freedom outside of the limitations of mortality. Eddie, who at the end of the story cannot bear to see his freedom limited, is by Schwartz’s pattern a committed maximizer, doomed to dissatisfaction and regret because he can never quite reach his goal. Deanna, by contrast, becomes a satisficer, choosing a seemingly more limited path that nevertheless appears to be more satisfying for her. By moving in with Nannie, Deanna chooses “freedom within [the] limits” imposed by her humanity, and through her total acceptance invalidates them as restrictions (Schwartz 236).

     Like Schwartz, Kingsolver puts forth the idea of humans failing to reach the ideals they set for themselves, and argues for the need to accept our limitations. Both Deanna and Eddie start out “seeking the best” for themselves (Schwartz 5). Their failure, as humans, to overcome their desires is explained by Schwartz’s demonstration of the impossibility of human brains’ processing all of the choices available in modern life. Humans, Schwartz claims, are too susceptible to their own psychological foibles—their tendency to be “overwhelmed” by too many options—to exist happily in a world of unlimited choice. They are better able to flourish, he argues, in a world with certain boundaries and established patterns (Schwartz 92). There is, however, one important difference between Schwartz’s and Kingsolver’s visions of happiness achieved through limiting choice. Deanna and Eddie pursue the freedom trickster seeks: freedom from hunger, need and connection. Throughout “Predators,” the choices Deanna makes are often described as being not entirely in her control: her body, for example, has “no more choice” in its reaction to Eddie Bondo “than an orchid has” (Kingsolver 24). Deanna does not suffer from an overabundance of choice; however, her quest for complete freedom from mortal restrictions parallels Schwartz’s portrayal of the modern American quest for complete freedom of choice.

     Reading Deanna and Eddie’s story through Lewis Hyde’s analysis of trickster narratives seems to push Schwartz’s theory that we can find happiness in limitation towards a more extreme interpretation. Both lovers try desperately to eat “without [themselves] getting eaten,” to live attached to one another without suffering the human limitations that accompany sex and connection (Hyde 22). By the end of the novel, however, it is clear that Eddie and Deanna are not tricksters. Their efforts to emulate Hermes and the shining prince have produced results unsuited to a traditional trickster narrative: Eddie is not ascending to a higher plane by eschewing human connection; Deanna is not ruining herself nor condemning herself to wander in constant hunger by embracing it. Deanna has chosen to accept her status as a “meat sack,” an unfillable belly, and yet she is not destroyed (Hyde 36).

     Like tricksters, Deanna and Eddie fight the hunger they recognize within themselves, for sex and attachment as well as for food. In the trickster hierarchy that Hyde establishes, Deanna aims for the top: she attempts to replace her earthly desires with hunger for higher things. Instead of “human touch,” she subsists on the wonder of nature; likewise, she suppresses her appetite for food that serves any purpose beyond mere nourishment (Kingsolver 19). Like Hermes, who made himself more godly by resisting the call of hunger, Deanna seeks to elevate herself by turning her appetite towards “the food of the gods,” avoiding altogether the “meat” so beloved by the rest of the mortal world, which cannot be indulged in without bringing down the punishment of mortality—death, loss, change— upon oneself.

     When Eddie Bondo appears, however, Deanna finds that she is less Hermes than Coyote. Given a magic cow that would give him all the meat he needed as long as he only ate its fat, Coyote could not resist the temptation to kill the cow and eat it all. Faced with Eddie’s “thick, glossy” hair, the “glint of his eyes,” and “the shape of the muscles in the seat of his jeans” (all described at a level of detail similar to that present in the drooling descriptions of Hermes’ stolen meat), Deanna is similarly overwhelmed (Kingsolver 7, 4, 15). She tries to limit her appetite, but like Coyote encountering the magic cow, she is helpless to resist the “dry ache” she experiences as a “thirst” for Eddie Bondo (Kingsolver 20). Deanna finds that despite her efforts, she craves attachment, sex, and even the food that Eddie provides.

     Like Deanna, Eddie spends his life avoiding indulgence in human attachment: he travels around the country with a trickster’s lack of “definite itinerary” (Hyde 39). By avoiding “situations”—that is, the state of being stationary and connected—Eddie is aiming at a goal similar to Deanna’s: freedom from attachment. Constantly exploring the forest, using her cabin only as a home base rather than a home, Deanna also avoids “situation,” though not to the same degree as constantly-traveling Eddie. Even living together in the woods, giving in to their human desires for sex and good food, Deanna and Eddie attempt to limit the negative effects of such indulgences. Like Coyote, they want to eat without being eaten: to engage with one another without permanently committing, and, as indicated by the “strings of condoms” Eddie produces from his pack, to have sex without producing children. Like Raven’s father, who burned his dead son’s intestines to free him from appetite, Eddie and Deanna aspire to be “freed from hunger, freed from attachments, freed from sickness and death” while still satisfying their “lust and hunger” (Hyde 26, 31). They wish to “see how far out [they] can get and still feed [their] bell[ies]” (Hyde 23).

     However, Deanna and Edie are not successful in their attempt to emulate “that anorexic shining prince,” freed from appetite and all of the unpleasantness and limitation it entails (Hyde 37). They are unable to refrain from gorging themselves—on sex, on wild turkey, on information about each other. They cannot avoid the tension created between them by their disagreement over how to treat the coyotes that are returning to Zebulon Mountain; both lovers are too invested both in their positions and in each other to let the issue go. When confronted by the reality of their attachment, Eddie and Deanna react differently. Recognizing that in Deanna and her coyotes he has “met his match” in his quest to remain uninvolved, Eddie ends the relationship, refusing to let himself be changed or limited (Kingsolver 432). Deanna, whose growing baby is the manifestation of the type human limitation she spent most of the novel trying to avoid, growing inside her in the form of her and Eddie’s baby, chooses to embrace that limitation and return home to Nannie Rawley, the one major human attachment she has maintained over her years in the woods.

     Why does Deanna conceal from Eddie the fact that she is pregnant with their child? What possible reason can there be to deny a father the right to know his child, or exempt him from caring for it? According to Deanna, “there had never been any question” as to whether Eddie could know about the child—it is absolutely “better for everybody,” and more specifically “better for this child,” that Eddie remain ignorant of his lasting impact on Deanna, of “what he’d left behind” ( Kingsolver 432). But why should Deanna allow—or force—Eddie to leave behind, unawares, something as significant as the child he helped conceive?

     Perhaps Deanna’s choice to keep Eddie ignorant of her pregnancy is based in the difference in the choices the two lovers make when faced with the fact of their attachment. As he indicates by leaving when he feels he has been beaten, Eddie is as unwilling to allow himself attachment at the novel’s end as he was at its beginning; he chooses instead to continue his “prolonged adolescence” in constant transition (Kingsolver 180). In this state, he is unready to assume fatherhood of a child, a fixed position of perhaps even greater magnitude than that of permanent lover. Deanna, who has chosen to accept her need for human contact by choosing to care for her child, may believe that an environment in which all parties are committed to the effort of raising a child will be “better for everybody” (Kingsolver 432).

     Kingsolver’s twist on the trickster narrative in “Predators” seems to support Schwartz’s argument: complete freedom to choose one’s own path is unsustainable. Limitation, Kingsolver suggests, is human; embracing limitation helps Deanna connect more fully with her own humanity and with the humans around her. But I find the idea of embracing one’s human limitations, rather than striving to overcome them, both counterintuitive and troubling. Why should we not attempt to become better than ourselves? How far might we reach?


Works Cited

Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York:
     Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998. Print.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Prodigal Summer. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York:
     HarperCollins, 2005. Print.