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The Trickster in Prodigal Summer(Final Paper)

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The Trickster in Prodigal Summer
The book “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver seems to be chiefly about choices and how every choice that a character makes simultaneously creates and destroys situations for other characters in the book as well as for themselves. Hence, every character plays the role of a trickster. A trickster always falls into the trap of appetite. Similarly, the characters always fall into the trap of temptation. This is not to say that the characters are tricksters by nature, rather they are forced into being tricksters by circumstances. A trickster always tries to use the natural balance of things in order to meet his own selfish desires. Similarly, the natural balance between want and need is often tipped by human choices. Thus, in a sense, it is the choices that these characters make that mould them into tricksters.
The book begins and ends with the lines:
“But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed” (Kingsolver, 1 and 444).Similarly every “trickster” simultaneously creates and destroys circumstances with every “trick” that he plays. He tries to be secretive about it but never really succeeds.
      One of the characters in the book, Deanna, is a forest ranger and lives alone in the woods. Her marriage fails because despite all their years together, her husband never truly understood nor could tolerate her deep love of nature. After her marriage ended Deanna decided to live alone in the forest and pursue her passion for nature and in particular her fascination for coyotes. Then Eddie Bondo enters her life. A man who wants to destroy her coyotes and unfortunately for Deanna she cannot just turn away this man. She cannot no matter how hard she tries, deny the attraction that exists between them and thus, she embodies the typical dilemma of a trickster.
Deanna has already made a choice, the choice to live alone. However, she also invites a virtual stranger, Eddie Bondo to spend the night in her cabin. Each of these choices has a very significant role to play in the development of both these characters.
        Deanna’s decision to live alone is her way of coping with her past, her way of alienating herself from human contact which has left her feeling judged. She does not even want to look in a mirror, because she is afraid of being judged, even by herself.
        Thus, her choice to live alone simultaneously creates her own solitudes while destroying any chance of human contact. By allowing Eddie to spend time in her cabin and being a part of her life she simultaneously destroys her own solitude and allows her past to resurface through human contact and just like the trickster Loki ( Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, 18), who is the first to create the fishnet but gets entangled in it himself, she too gets entangled in her own emotions and is forced to confront them when she allows Eddie Bondo to be a part of her life. All her secrets are reveled to him and through him.
However, Deanna does want human company but her past never allows her to get emotionally attached to anybody. Thus, in an attempt to drive Eddie Bondo away she says:
“I was just fine here before you showed up. For two years, while you were doing whatever you did all the time, I was right here. Not missing people or all the chitchat about the stuff they think they need to have or wear or make happen. For sure not pining for a boyfriend” (Kingsolver,99) .
      However, her longing for non-judgemental human company leads her to accept him as a part of her life and she soon gets entangled in her own decision.
A trickster is “at once culture hero and fool, clever predator and stupid prey.”(Hyde,19) Deanna fulfills the role of all four. She is a hero for being strong enough to live on her own in the wilderness, a fool for believing that she could spend the rest of her life without missing human contact, a clever predator for being able to overcome situations and a stupid prey for allowing herself to get entangled with Eddie Bondo. Thus, she gets trapped in the game of temptation just like the trickster Cayote when he took the place of Rabbit on the sticky stick figure in his greed for chicken. It was Cayote’s greed and not his need that landed him the situation.(19)
“The trickster walks the path between high and low. On this path of high and low we often find sacrifice.” (Hyde,37) Eventually it seems as though Deanna must make a sacrifice. She must either go her own way or Eddie Bondo’s. There is no possible compromise. This conflict only begins when she feels that the magic of the chestnut tree had disappeared after Eddie Bondo had lived there, for that was the placed she viewed as hers and hers alone. Now that he was there the charm of the place was lost.
Thus, Deanna is always confused, part of her wants Eddie to stay and the other for him to leave and never come back to this forest she views as her own. When Eddie says “I guess we might seem like a weird pair to anybody who was looking. But, if nobody’s looking, there’s no weirdness. I thought it was pretty simple.”(Kingsolver, 256) , he is just mirroring his opinion of their relationship. To Deanna however, there is always an underlying sense of “weirdness” to their relationship and hence, just like a trickster who chooses want over need, her need for physical intimacy and human contact wins over her need for solitude, her time of healing away from the prying eyes of the world in the woods she loves so much. In a way thus, Deanna subconsciously has already made a decision, a decision that her conscious mind is yet to come to terms with.
Deanna, thinks to herself “When a body wanted one thing wholly and a mind wanted the opposite, which of the two was she, Deanna?”(Kingsolver,363) and is doing so she is unknowingly slipping the trap of temptation. By acknowledging that she is being greedy just like the trickster Hermes who slipped the trap of temptation by not eating the sacrificial offerings(Hude,32), she manages to step in the right direction.
`           She continues to slip the trap of temptation by going a step further. She thinks to herself “It didn’t matter what she chose. The world was what it was, a place with its own rules of hunger and satisfaction .Creatures lived and mated and died, they came and went, as surely as summer did.”(Kingsolver,365)
She is thus acknowledging that there is a bigger picture, unlike a typical trickster who only sees the smaller picture in which he is the centre of the universe, his own universe.
It is also surprising to note that she has already made peace with herself about Eddie’s leaving long before she realizes it and it happens, in the same line of thought as acknowledging the bigger picture. It is as though the moment she sees the bigger picture she actually understands that it must happen. Eddie and she would go their own ways. She thinks to herself “It didn’t matter what she chose…. They would go their own way”(365) and in just thinking these words, she slips the trap of temptation.
In the end Deanna comes to a conclusion about her prodigal summer and thinks to herself “This would be the day, would always be the day, when she first knew. She would step somehow from the realm of ghosts that she’d inhabited all her life to commit herself irrevocably to the living. On the trail up to the overlook today she had paid little mind to the sadness of lost things moving through the leaves at the edges of her vision….These dispossessed creatures were beside her and always would be, but just for today she noticed instead a single bright-red berry among all the clusters of green ones covering the spicebushes. This sign seemed meaningful and wondrous, standing as a divide between one epoch of her life and the next. If the summer had to end somewhere, why couldn’t it be in that one red spicebush berry beside the path?”(386) and just like that she decided that her baby, would be the most significant and hopeful thing in her life. She could choose to hate Eddie and her ex-husband for the rest of her life, or she could choose to live her life with the regrets, without trying to ignore them, but not letting them bother her. She realized that the ghosts of her past would always haunt her but they could be left in the periphery of her vision and instead on focusing on them she could focus on her baby just like the red berry amidst all the green ones.
In the end, Deanna slips the trap of temptation, but just like a trickster, her baby remains a mark of her period of folly, and thus, she does in a sense create a new beginning, a beginning which could potentially lead to many endings, but since she does manage to slip the trap eventually, somehow one gets the sense that the ending for her folly will be good too.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde