“Fitcher’s [Queer] Bird”: A Fairy-Tale Heroine and Her Avatars
The heroine of “Fitcher’s Bird” is a perverse self-creation, smart, a dandy, and a trickster with three avatars—sisters, skull, and bird. Her self-rescuing transvestism, ending evil and patriarchy, involves disguise as a fantastic, possibly androgynous bird. In a reading indebted to Luce Irigaray’s critique of patriarchal psychoanalysis, I reflect on the tale’s implicit criticism of the notion of the mirror stage, and on its transgressive representation of women. I undermine the Freudian and Lacanian reliance upon the visual—and, indeed, upon the presumptively male gaze—in a turn with Irigaray and Monique Wittig to feeling, the tactile.
I was not raised to think that someday my prince would come. I did not even see the Disney Snow White until I was working on my BA. I didn’t identify with princesses. I was two and a half when my grandmother gave me my first folk-tale book, Fairy Tales from Many Lands (Herda). Frankly, I found some of the illustrations quite frightening. I loved it, though, perhaps because it was almost princess-free. I did identify with the younger sisters, being one myself. And like the younger sisters in the fairy tales, I watched my older sister make all the mistakes and then I learned from them. What I discovered, as in the stories, was the importance of being secretive, not disclosing to authority figures what you knew or what you did. Like the parents in the fairy tales, mine always seemed to be trying to shield me from knowledge and experience—what I most desperately wanted.
My favorite stories, whose main characters I wanted to be, were “The Boy Thirteen” and “Clever Brother Hare.” The title character in “The Boy Thirteen,” the youngest (of course) in his family, starts out as a cowherd, becomes the king’s singer, outwits a jealous courtier by performing three impossible tasks, and gets the king’s crown and the princess in the end. Let me be clear; I didn’t want to have a man like that, I wanted to be a man like that.
But the best fairy-tale character was Clever Brother Hare. He’s a bit of a dandy. Preparing for a meeting with Brother Lion, who plans to eat him for dinner, Clever Brother Hare “washed himself very carefully, put on his best suit, chose his prettiest tie, twirled the ends of his moustache, put his walking stick [End Page 143]
under his arm and left the house” (Herda 199–200). The central color illustration for this story—which, I must say, was my very favorite visual image in the book—has no textual reference (fig. 1). This depiction of Clever Brother Hare’s self-scrutiny evokes the Lacanian mirror phase, when “the child imagines itself to be a whole and powerful individual by identifying with its own more perfect mirror image” (Thornham 54). In this scene, clearly about Clever Brother Hare’s imagining, appreciating, and enjoying his power, his wife and children in the [End Page 144] background are so busy prematurely mourning his death that they fail to see how swell he looks. Clever Brother Hare, on the other hand, seems totally engrossed in the mirror stage; he watches only his own reflection, unaware of his effect on his family. Yet his contemplation of himself—of his self-creation—is also mirrored later, when the reader learns that his autospectatorship is not mere vanity, but profound self-knowledge. Clever Brother Hare uses the mirror; it is his tool to construct himself in such a way as to manipulate Brother Lion.
The mirror stage is supposed to occur “at a time when children’s physical ambitions outstrip their motor capacity, with the result that their recognition of themselves is joyous in that they imagine their mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than they experience in their own body” (Mulvey 61). In fact, Clever Brother Hare’s image, fabricated and confirmed in the mirror, is simply the vehicle by which he uses his brilliant mind to manipulate and outwit Brother Lion, tricking the feline adversary into thinking that his reflection in the water at the bottom of a deep hole is a rival lion (fig. 2). Brother Lion jumps in to devour his enemy, and instead drowns. The mirror is again central, this time both in the text and in the illustration, where it’s absent from depiction but crucial to understanding the image. Brother Lion, unclothed, mistakes himself for another lion. Clever Brother Hare gestures toward the mirrored lion down the water-filled hole, but looks at the actual one; he’s the only character who sees clearly and correctly, who knows that the figure in the mirror is the self. Clever Brother Hare saves himself, his family, and the other animals from becoming Brother Lion’s dinner by transcending the patriarchal moment of self-recognition via cognition.
My childhood love of Clever Brother Hare has been supplanted by a firm identification in adulthood with Fitcher’s Bird. As I will suggest, despite their gender differences, these two characters have remarkable similarities. The female protagonist’s multiple self-replications in “Fitcher’s Bird,” like Clever Brother Hare’s reflective schemings, dismantle traditional psychological notions of the mirror stage. But Fitcher’s Bird takes the figuratively multiplying trope of reflection to the literally multiplying trope of replication, and thus by implication revisions the constitution of women beyond the patriarchal gaze. Specifically, women can reproduce themselves by themselves. They don’t want the men who want them, and they certainly don’t need these murderous patriarchs.
I met “Fitcher’s Bird” only as an adult. In childhood, perhaps all too engrossed in my own mirror stage to appreciate their evocative qualities, I found the Grimm tales boring and rejected them in favor of all those Andrew Lang colors: The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book. The heroine of “Fitcher’s Bird,” like Clever Brother Hare, is a perverse self-creation, and, like him, she is smart, a dandy, and a trickster. The transvestism that finally saves her, and results in the demise of evil and patriarchy, is her disguise as a bird—a fantastic bird, a possibly androgynous bird. [End Page 145] I begin uncovering the story’s meaning with a close reading of the text. In a reading very much indebted to Luce Irigaray’s critique of patriarchal psychoanalysis, I then move to reflect further on its implicit criticism of the notion of the mirror stage, and on its transgressive representation of women. Here I undermine the Freudian and Lacanian reliance upon the visual—and, indeed, upon the presumptively male gaze—in a turn with Irigaray and Monique Wittig to another sense—feeling, the tactile.
Three Tales: Murderous Men and Wily Women
I must also admit to considerable initial difficulty in approaching “Fitcher’s Bird,” despite my personal fascination with it. I seemed to instantiate Irigaray’s concern about women and language: “The feminine can try to speak to itself through a new language, but cannot describe itself from outside or in formal terms, except by identifying with the masculine, thus by losing itself (This Sex 74). The story seemed almost too obvious, manifest, evident. While I reveled in its incidents, lost inarticulately in the symbolic, I could not get beyond them.
A beginning for me was to employ a comparison of “Fitcher’s Bird” (Zipes 155–58) with two other tales that appear in Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm tales: “The Robber Bridegroom” (141–45) and the “omitted tale” (xiv) “Blue-beard” (610–12).1 My lack of reading knowledge of German means I have been [End Page 146] unable to examine the texts in their original redactions. The Zipes translation—my only textual source—seems an excellent solution, the work of a scholar who is not only a Grimm expert but also one who understands the subtleties of feminist analysis. In my defense, even the Grimm versions, multiply edited revisions in themselves, are by no means authentic original tales transcribed directly from the lips of the unspoiled folk, if such an entity ever actually existed outside the imaginations of romantic nationalist writers. The Grimm tales’ iconic status in Euro–North American culture and the basis of my analysis in images and themes that go beyond a simple textual reference, as well as its extension beyond the tales themselves, I hope, allows this work to contribute even given its admitted limitations.
Stephen Benson’s gender-sensitive folktale and feminist theory analysis addresses the identical “knot of folktales” (198). His work helpfully traces diachronic and synchronic links and disjunctures based not only on European versions of the folktales, but also on literary revisionings. Those who are interested in more nuanced, feminist-informed readings of different versions of these and similar tales should consult his work and that of Cristina Bacchilega, Maria Tatar, and Marina Warner, among others. Following on their work, I suggest that despite significant structural commonalities between the three narratives (see table 1),2 “Fitcher’s Bird” is ultimately the least directed by heterosexual imperatives, and the least committed, in the end, to patriarchal systems. Though it presents what could be seen as a realistic, if somewhat stark, view of patriarchal relations in terms of serial violence and fetishism,3 “Fitcher’s Bird” queers patriarchy by its representation of the central female figure. My use of “queer” as a verb takes advantage both of its older meaning as a type of destabilizing redirection, and its more recent sense as a reference to sexualities beyond the hetero, both of which are implicated in my reading.4 Unnamed, except as Fitcher’s Bird, the main protagonist is an everywoman who undermines actual and symbolic patriarchy by a series of actions that also expose the Freudian and Lacanian creation myths about women.5 The story subverts patriarchy, heterosexuality, femininity, and masculinity alike.
Of the three tales, “Fitcher’s Bird” is also the most women-centered. Its title character is the heroine (the other two characters are named after the primary males). It’s the only tale of the three in which the protagonist textually has a mother, not only a father. She also has two female helpers—her sisters. Contra-patriarchally, connections with female characters in all of these tales give or demonstrate the heroine’s power; connections with male characters remove her autonomy and may even threaten her life. Equally contra-patriarchally, the story requires readers/hearers to identify with a woman in order to survive at the end.6 It thus disrupts conventional representations in which “pleasures operate for the male spectator, whilst the figure of ‘woman’ functions as a fetishised object [End Page 147]
|TITLE||“Fitcher’s Bird”||“Bluebeard”||“Robber Bridegroom”|
|MAIN MALE||sorcerer (beggar, Fitcher)||King (Bluebeard)||rich suitor|
|OTHERS||two sisters; Fitcher’s cronies||old woman; other robbers|
|HEROINE||youngest sister; kidnappee||miller’s daughter; wife||beautiful daughter; bride|
|HOUSE||small key; egg||golden key||invitation to visit|
|INTERDICTION||keep egg safe; don’t open door;||don’t open door|
|WARNING||first & second sister open door; revelation; result bloody egg; death||from bird; from old woman|
|SECRETIVE ACTION||secures egg; opens door||opens door||hides|
|REVELATION||bloody basin; ax; dismembered people||stream of blood; dead women||groom & fellows are murderers, cannibals|
|RESULT||reassembles sisters; proposal from & power over Fitcher||bloody key; death threat||gets finger with ring|
|ACTION (HEROINE)||covers sisters with gold; sends back to parents; “send help”||calls brothers||old woman & heroine escape|
|SELF-HELP||skull decorated; heroine covers self with honey & feathers; story/song||storytelling; produces finger with ring|
|RESULT (RELATIVES)||brother & relatives set fire to house; burn Fitcher & cronies||brothers kill Bluebeard||guests turn all over to magistrate; they are executed|
[End Page 148]
of desire or object of narrative punishment” (Thornham 2). While these processes of male looking and the objectification of and violence against women do take place in the tale, once again they are narratively disrupted, overturned, reversed, and/or turned against male figures by female figures.
In both “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Bluebeard,” the groom explicitly seeks the main character as a bride from her father, instantiating the exchange of women by men that has been so helpfully critiqued by both Irigaray and Gayle Rubin. Unaware that these prospective husbands are fairy-tale Ted Bundys (serial killers) and/or Jeffrey Dahmers (with cannibalistic proclivities), and apparently blinded by their riches, the fathers comply, but the women remain unconvinced. In “The Robber Bridegroom,” “Whenever she looked at him or thought about him, her heart shuddered with dread” (Zipes 141); in “Bluebeard,” “There was nothing objectionable about the suitor except for his beard, which was all blue and made one shudder somewhat whenever one looked at it” (610).
In “Fitcher’s Bird,” in contrast, the main male character is termed a sorcerer, who wants to “catch beautiful girls” and kidnaps them: “He had only to touch her, and that compelled her to jump into his basket. Then he rushed away with great strides and carried her to his house in the middle of a dark forest” (155). Though he fits into conventional patriarchy’s notion that women can or must be taken by men, even against their will, the sorcerer Fitcher does not participate in its most conventional heterocentric construction, what feminist scholars Nadya Aisenberg and Mona Harrington call “the marriage plot” (6–19), also reflected in Vladimir Propp’s structural analysis of fairy tales, which makes marriage the result, the ultimate function, the happily-ever-after ending that the story can be directed toward.7
In “Fitcher’s Bird” the heroine has very close kin associations with two of her predecessors, who are her sisters. Similarly, the bride of “The Robber Bridegroom” forges a link with the old woman she finds in the cellar of the groom’s house:
“Could you tell me whether my bridegroom lives here?” asked the bride.
“Oh, you poor child,” the old woman answered. “Do you realize where you are? This is a murderers’ den.”(Zipes 143)
Bluebeard’s wife has no links to the “dead women” in the forbidden room in his castle (610). Unlike the other heroines, she lacks female helpers.
Early folklorists’ readings of these tales focus on the interdiction by Bluebeard to his wife, as if it were perfectly reasonable. “Here are the keys to the entire castle. You can open all the rooms and look at everything. But I forbid you to open one particular room, which this little golden key can unlock. If you open it, you will pay for it with your life” (610). Such orders become logical in the context of [End Page 149] patriarchy, where men may figuratively or even literally own their wives’ bodies and services, and, ultimately, their lives. The moral often taken from “Bluebeard” by its prefeminist readers, explicit in the Perrault version, that women should—indeed must—unquestioningly obey men’s orders, particularly those of their husbands, takes the wife’s curiosity as what nearly kills her. Blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator persists as a familiar patriarchal gambit.
Such an interpretation becomes more difficult to support in “Fitcher’s Bird.”
“Here are the keys to the house. You may go wherever you want and look at everything except one room, which this small key here opens. If you disobey me, you shall be punished by death. . . .”
“I’m giving you this egg for safekeeping. You’re to carry it wherever you go. If you lose it, then something awful will happen.”(155)
The egg interdiction foregrounds the weirdness of the whole interaction. Why the whole house but one room? Clearly, there’s a secret there. But keeping an egg safe? For what reason? To what purpose? No rational male logic for such an order can be found. Further, obedience cannot be an authentic choice for the sisters, any more than it is their own option to go with Fitcher. Both are compelled actions. The kidnap victim mustn’t forget that she is in Fitcher’s house not of her own free will, nor opt to obey her kidnapper as if he were a friend and not an enemy. Unlike the explicitly moralist Perrault “Bluebeard” or its patriarchal Grimm version counterpart, “Fitcher’s Bird” is difficult to convert into a tale about the dangers of female curiosity; it’s about the need for hiding objects and actions from, and deceiving, patriarchal male figures. Significantly, the heroine disobeys the interdiction but tricks Fitcher into thinking she’s compliant because she has wisely protected the egg. So it’s not disobedience or excessive curiosity that’s the problem in these stories; it’s getting caught—which is, I have already suggested, the younger sister’s lesson in fairy tales. Women’s duplicity, feminine duplicity, is not only powerful; it is also a primary survival strategy.
“Bluebeard” and “The Robber Bridegroom” queer kinship by exposing the sine qua non of heterosexual relationships—between bride and groom, husband and wife—as explicitly adversarial, dangerous, even murderous. They locate the primary peril to women in men. Women who threaten men do so via their families. No woman actually kills any man in these stories, but men most definitely kill women. Families and/or other women are women’s sources of help. “Fitcher’s Bird” is the queerest of the three, however, in showing male-female relationships as clearly fraught with danger and evil from their onset, and in presenting only close female-female relationships as positive and supportive. It makes explicit the false payoff for women that lies in marriage; leaving their father’s patriarchal household for their husband’s, they do not gain autonomy or control. Explicitly, they give up not only a certain level of self-sufficiency but also sometimes their [End Page 150] lives. Thus, the youngest sister’s impending marriage is not a reward for her in “Fitcher’s Bird,” but instead another problem that requires a solution, like the key and egg puzzle.
Readers/hearers of “Fitcher’s Bird” know about the sorcerer’s true nature because we have seen what happened to the first and second sisters. The bride in “The Robber Bridegroom” gets unambiguous warnings from both a bird and the old woman. The bird twice cries:
“Turn back, turn back, young bride, The den belongs to murderers, Who’ll soon be at your side!”(142)
The old woman is much more explicit:
You think you’re a bride soon to be celebrating your wedding, but the only marriage you’ll celebrate will be with death. Just look! They ordered me to put this big kettle of water on the fire to boil. When they have you in their power, they’ll chop you to pieces without mercy. Then they’ll cook you and eat you, because they’re cannibals.(143)
There is no clear warning to the wife or reader in “Bluebeard,” except for the shuddering apprehension the heroine shares with the bride in “The Robber Bridegroom.”
The women in all of these three stories are absolutely correct in surmising that something they need to know about their grooms is available for discovery, and that in detecting they must be covert. The heroines of all three tales perform secretive actions that disclose the main male character’s true nature. These risky behaviors expose threats to the heroines’ lives, but the women’s ultimate survival as autonomous beings depends on secrets being uncovered. The youngest sister in “Fitcher’s Bird” puts her egg in safekeeping and then opens the door; the wife in “Bluebeard” simply opens the door; and the bride in “The Robber Bridegroom” hides herself.
All of these furtive actions are ultimately beneficial, since they produce the revelation—crucial information for the heroines—that the main male characters are serial killers.8 From “The Robber Bridegroom”:
No sooner was the maiden hidden than the godless crew came home dragging another maiden with them. They were drunk and paid no attention to her screams and pleas. They gave her wine to drink, three full glasses, one white, one red, and one yellow, and soon her heart burst in two. Then they tore off her fine clothes, put her on a table, chopped her beautiful body to pieces, and sprinkled the pieces with salt.(Zipes 143) [End Page 151]
In “Fitcher’s Bird,” “she explored the house and eventually came to the forbidden chamber. But, oh, what did she see? Her two dear sisters lay there in the basin cruelly murdered and chopped to pieces” (157). And in “Bluebeard,” “she unlocked the room, and when the door opened, a stream of blood flowed toward her, and she saw dead women hanging along all the walls, some only skeletons” (610).
The Robber Bridegroom’s consumption of his brides is quite literal; he is a cannibal; the salt he covers her with is not sperm, but seasoning. As Tatar succinctly puts it, the Grimm tales glorify “murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and incest” (Hard Facts 3). “Fitcher’s Bird” certainly incorporates murder and mutilation: “He threw her down, dragged her along by her hair, cut her head off on the block, and chopped her into pieces, so that her blood flowed on the floor” (Zipes 156). Though literal cannibalism is absent in “Fitcher’s Bird,” there certainly is a serial killing/consumption of women, voraciously and cruelly. The first sister is so horrified by the sight of the bloody basin, block of wood and ax “that she dropped the egg she had been holding in her hand, and it plopped into the basin. She took it out and wiped the blood off, but to no avail: the blood reappeared instantly. She wiped and scraped, but she could not get rid of the spot” (155).
The results of the revelations that come to all three characters also vary. In “Bluebeard,” the wife tries to hide the bloody key, but the husband figures it out:
“You haven’t lost it,” Bluebeard said angrily. “You stuck it [in some hay] so the hay would absorb the bloodstains. It’s clear that you’ve disobeyed my command and entered the room. Now, you will enter the room whether you want to or not. . . . You shall die today.”(611)
But “The Robber Bridegroom’”s bride obtains evidence of the horrors she has seen. Hidden behind a barrel,
The poor bride shook and trembled, for she now realized what kind of fate the robbers had been planning for her. One of them noticed a ring on the murdered maiden’s little finger, and since he could not slip it off easily, he took a hatchet and chopped the finger off. But the finger sprang into the air and over the barrel and fell right into the bride’s lap.(143)
But the most complex response comes from the youngest sister in “Fitcher’s Bird.” First she reassembles her sisters:
She set to work right away, gathered the pieces together, and arranged them in their proper order: head, body, arms, and legs. When nothing more was missing, the pieces began to move and join together. Both the maidens opened their eyes and were alive again. Then they all rejoiced, kissed, and hugged each other.(157) [End Page 152]
Fitcher returns, and being unable to discern that the youngest sister entered the forbidden room, announces: “You have passed the test, and you shall be my bride” (157).
This reading is clearly indebted to feminist revisions of traditional tales, which have turned the tables on patriarchal academic analysis as surely as the heroines of the three tales turn the tables on their would-be murderers. Bacchilega wonders at the “explicit condemnation of the heroine’s curiosity, but total silence on the ethics of the husband’s serial murders” (106). She and other feminist analysts have helpfully deconstructed the notion that these three tales, and other versions like them, are about the need for women to obey men without question. Rather, they explain these tales in readings that might seem to a contemporary audience much more grounded in the actual texts. The female protagonist is a wily and resourceful investigator who successfully uncovers the male protagonist’s horrible secret. Rather than ignoring the husband/groom’s serial homicidal tendencies, feminist analysts have subjected him to scrutiny as the patriarchal foil he is.
In Benson’s reading, the three stories implicate masculinity, sexual politics in general, and “patriarchal authority in the form of a prohibitive law” (183):
All three tales revolve around gender and the control of female characters, which is why the tactics of subversion resorted to by the women are necessarily devious, subverting simultaneously from the outside, in the unorthodox mixture of reality and seeming illusion . . . and the inside: the tale told as entertainment at the wedding feast, the apparent adherence to the law or the tactical manipulation of cultural signs of femininity. . . . These multifarious tactics are wittily subversive in the face of adversity, using invention to halt the chain of deaths that lie in the prehistory of the narrative.(197)
For Bacchilega, focusing on the forbidden chamber rather than on the bloody key reminds readers that the narrative is about “a process of initiation which requires entering the forbidden chamber” (107). She argues persuasively that “the protagonist successfully confronts death because she is bold and clever or because she has strong community ties. Bravery, not simply curiosity, lead her to unlock the forbidden chamber, especially when her husband tells her that her sisters are dead, and that she will be too if she disobeys. She must be clever to see him not as the Law but as the enemy” (110).
To Warner, Bluebeard and his ilk are demon lovers. Further, male collectors and reinterpreters’ investment in the patriarchy implicates them for locating female disobedience and curiosity as the tale’s moral. She also suggests a historically sensitive reading that recognizes that death literally did follow marriage for the many brides who would die in childbirth. Tatar’s book-length study suggests [End Page 153] the Bluebeard tale is about “the seductive power of border-crossing,” but in which movement is from “the outside—in the realm of the familiar, common, and quotidian— . . . to the inside—the exotic, dangerous, passionate, and barbaric” (Secrets 2). The main character is now “something of a heroine, a woman whose problem-solving skills and psychological finesse make her a shrewd detective, capable of rescuing herself” (3–4). The woman-as-detective concept relies, like Bacchilega’s focus on the forbidden room, on the need for the female protagonist to make the discovery. Tatar absolutely correctly locates its fulcrum in “the gender trouble in the story” (172), helpfully addressing not only the female protagonist’s concerns, but also showing “how Bluebeard has come to be celebrated as a cultural hero, either as the master criminal who kills in order to create a higher moral order or as the artist who must shield himself against intimacy in order to foster his creative energies” (172).
Centering on women, the reading that follows is not intended to reject or replace any of these interpretations. I see it instead as a complementary addition to their analytical repertoire.
Women Identify (with) Women: Avatars and Multiplicity
The sisters’ return from the dead implicates the woman-identified woman (Radicalesbians), re-created because of another woman’s recognition of her literal parts. Women’s knowledge, and particularly their knowledge of other women in the face of male sorcery, allows the protagonist to survive her trials. Connection between women, central to “Fitcher’s Bird” but most particularly sexual connection, is literally beyond much psychological analysis. As Irigaray suggests, “female homosexuality” cannot be imagined within the Freudian/Lacanian models:
The dominant sociocultural economy leaves female homosexuals only a choice between a sort of animality . . . and the imitation of male models. In this economy, any interplay of desire among women’s bodies, women’s organs, women’s language is inconceivable. . . . It is out of the question for women to go to “market” on their own, enjoy their own worth among themselves, speak to each other, desire each other, free from the control of seller-buyer-consumer subjects.(This Sex 196; emphasis in original)
And yet this impossible proposition is exactly what happens in “Fitcher’s Bird.” Women in the tale identify socially and culturally with other women as sisters, as helpers, and as friends, not as with men as their daughters, and most definitely not as their wives. It shows, as I will argue, just exactly what Irigaray’s utopia imagines: “Exchanges without identifiable terms, without accounts, without [End Page 154] end. . . . Without additions and accumulations, one plus one, woman after woman. . . . Without sequence or number. Without standard or yardstick” (197).
The youngest sister instructs the sorcerer to carry a basket of gold to her father and mother, hides her sisters inside, telling them to send help, and orders Fitcher: “Now take the basket away. But don’t you dare stop and rest along the way! I’ll be keeping an eye on you from my window” (Zipes 157). Bluebeard’s wife’s responds to the threat to her life by asking for time to pray, and uses it to call for family aid: “‘Brothers, my dear brothers! Come help me!’” (611). The robber’s bride takes the amputated finger and ring, and “with the help of God” (143) she escapes with the old woman: “the two of them scampered out of the murderers’ den as fast as they could” (143–44).
There is no self-help in “Bluebeard”; the only aid for the wife comes from her brothers. However, in the other two tales, the heroine herself (or, in the case of “Fitcher’s Bird,” the heroine along with her avatars) acts to influence the outcome to her own benefit. In “Fitcher’s Bird,” each time the sorcerer tries to stop and put down the heavy basket of gold and sisters, one sister, speaking in the place of the youngest, and at her instruction, calls, “I can see through my window that you’re resting. Get a move on at once!” (157). The youngest sister also prepares a wedding feast to which she invites the sorcerer’s friends:
Then she took a skull with grinning teeth, decorated it with jewels and a wreath of flowers, carried it up to the attic window, and set it down so it faced outward. When everything was ready, she dipped herself into a barrel of honey, cut open a bed, and rolled around in the feathers so she looked like a strange bird, and it was impossible to recognize her.(157)
Escaping the house, she meets first the guests coming to her wedding, and then her sorcerer bridegroom. No one recognizes the bird as the youngest sister; all misrecognize her as the skull:9 “‘And what may the young bride be doing?’” they ask. “‘She’s swept the whole house from top to bottom. / Just now she’s looking out the attic window’” (158) responds the youngest sister/bird.
Female characters in “Fitcher’s Bird” and “The Robber Bridegroom” tell stories—lies—to ensure their escape. The old woman discourages one of the robbers from searching for the finger and ring, saying, “‘Come and eat! You can look for it tomorrow. The finger’s not going to run away from you’” (143). The bride in “The Robber Bridegroom” is also a storyteller, although she tells the truth, disguised as a dream narration, making the groom the literal author of his own destruction. During a storytelling session with the bride’s family, he says, “‘Well, my dear, can’t you think of anything? Tell us a good story’” (144). When she recounts, at his insistence, what has actually happened to her, as “a dream,” he tries to undermine its truth, three times saying, “‘My dear, it was only a dream,’” [End Page 155] but she has proof of its reality: “She produced the finger and showed it to all those present” (144).
Hanged in his own bloody chamber, Bluebeard, the individual perpetrator, assumes sole responsibility. The robber bridegroom is taken to the magistrate, and “he and his whole band were executed for their shameful crimes” (145). But “Fitcher’s Bird” smashes patriarchy outside its formal system. The bride “sent invitations to all the sorcerer’s friends” (157), and “once he and his guests were all gathered inside the house, the bride’s brother and relatives arrived. . . . They locked all the doors of the house to prevent anyone from escaping. Then they set fire to the house, and the sorcerer and all his cronies were burned to death” (158).
In addition to the queer structure of “Fitcher’s Bird,” it engages a series of queer actions, eroticized, tabooed, perverse, and women-centered, involving avatars of the heroine. I use the term “avatar” because these incarnations or visible manifestations take the place of the heroine herself. They are speaking or silent objects or persons who directly represent the heroine, but who are both herself and not herself, rather than symbolizing her. They are not just metonymy, names or associated objects of the heroine, or synecdoche, a part that stands for her, as does the telltale finger for the murdered woman in “The Robber Bridegroom.” Though “Fitcher’s Bird” employs metonymy (jewels and flowers standing for women) and synecdoche (a skull, blood, and body parts standing for women), it also moves to avatar, the literal construction of both animate and inanimate symbolic female figures who express and ultimately save the woman.
“We haven’t been taught, nor allowed, to express multiplicity. To do that is to speak improperly” (Irigaray, This Sex 210). The youngest sister violates the social interdiction, doubling herself not once but three times; first as her sisters, taking her place when they tell Fitcher, “I can see through my window that you’re resting. Get a move on at once!”(Zipes 158); second as the skull-jewel woman, “‘She’s swept the whole house from top to bottom. / Just now she’s looking out the attic window,’” (158); and third as the honeyed and feathered figure, “She looked like a strange bird, and it was impossible to recognize her” (157). Nor are they mirror images; the selves this heroine creates are complex, evocative, and ultimately partial.
The tale may symbolically reference same-sex eroticism, but the sex it more directly implies is necrophiliac or even bestial. The youngest sister, in her Fitcher’s Bird avatar form, exposes the sorcerer’s perverse love interests. Fitcher fails to distinguish between his bride and a decorated skull, indicating his literal attraction to the dead. The only relationships between female and male characters are based on cannibalism, murder, domestic service, or some combination of them. Yet in “Fitcher’s Bird” and “The Robber Bridegroom,” the main female characters get together, conspire, and overthrow their oppressors. [End Page 156]
“Fitcher’s Bird” also perversely plays with the notion of the castrated woman. Sigmund Freud’s origin myth about the creation of the patriarchal order has males (mis)recognizing the woman’s vulva as having been castrated—or more accurately, as lacking the penis—due to mutilation. Thus, as glossed by Laura Mulvey: “The function of women in forming the patriarchal unconscious is twofold: she firstly symbolises the castration threat by her real lack of a penis and secondly thereby raises her child into the symbolic. . . . Woman’s desire is subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound; she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it” (59). In “Fitcher’s Bird” the heroine more than overcomes her association with the bleeding wound, the Freudian fiction of menstruation as the result of women’s castration. Not only does she avoid becoming a bleeding wound herself, by a combination of duplicity, stealth, and the creation of her avatars, she actually heals the bleeding wounds of her sisters when she puts them back together again. She uses Fitcher’s belief that she is castrated—that she is no more than a cluster of parts—to create avatars he will believe in because he sees women in such limited terms. The most complete avatar, Fitcher’s Bird herself, who actually is the youngest sister, he fails entirely to recognize.
In contrast, Fitcher himself overdoes the terrified male response. As in horror films, “Woman’s body is slashed and mutilated, not only to signify her castrated state, but also the possibility of castration for the male” (Creed 256). Not content to simply notice what he sees as the incompleteness and castration of women when they won’t obey his orders and thus reveal the blood, he further dismembers each woman when he discovers his truth about their self-will. However, examining the story more closely, it’s the woman’s discovery about Fitcher that is dangerous to her, as much as vice versa. And further, the heroine’s remembering of her sisters, her literal reconstitution of their bodies, replaces Freud’s creation myth with one even more terrifying to patriarchy—the recognition that only women can reproduce. Indeed, it introduces the even more appalling possibility of “maternity outside the signification of the phallus, the vagina” (Mulvey 59)—reproduction by women, without the need for men.
“Fitcher’s Bird” contains multiples of the female image: three sisters whose qualities are parallel but different, as well as the three avatars of the youngest. Further, the heroine is resourceful, imaginative, supports and maintains her family, and rescues herself, yet is by no means compliant or passive. In some ways she is even more frightening than Fitcher himself, because she knows her world better and is more perceptive about it. She is thus able to trick Fitcher on at least three occasions: when he thinks she hasn’t entered the forbidden room; when she makes him take the gold and her sisters back to her father and mother; and when she passes him on the road as Fitcher’s Bird.
A queer reading of these avatars highlights how women save themselves, and often also their sisters—the women they identify with and love—by creating an [End Page 157] object that represents what the heterosexual gaze loves in women: a beautiful appearance. But true love and self-love are also mirrored in the avatars, who are both less and more than their model/creator. The avatars speak for the heroine, and can allow her to be in two places at once, giving her alibis for her true actions. Yet each knows more about Fitcher than he does about her—or about himself.
The avatars all concern the position of the spectator; while Fitcher thinks he is the one who keeps his eye on the youngest sister, often and at times unbeknownst to him, the opposite is happening. In fact, when Fitcher thinks the bride is watching him, she isn’t—it’s her sisters who actually observe and the skull that is seen to observe. When the youngest sister does watch him, as Fitcher’s Bird, he doesn’t recognize the fact. This reverses and subverts the patriarchal gaze, which is supposed to be directed by and from the male toward and against the female, not vice versa.
Fitcher cannot recognize his bride-to-be, because he is so concerned with outward appearances. Fitcher sees women as no more than a collection of parts. He goes from house to house “to catch beautiful girls” (Zipes 155). He apprehends them as objects to be controlled, and ultimately murders and dismembers them. The youngest sister remembers her sisters by arranging all the pieces together in order. “When nothing more was missing, the pieces began to move and join together” (157). Fitcher may literally make the sisters no more than the sum of their parts, but the heroine literally reconstructs them otherwise. He thinks women should be content with a jeweled cage and a serial killer companion; he is wrong. The youngest sister’s intimate knowledge of where everything in a woman fits together is sufficient to revive them. Again, queerly, her primary relationships are with her sisters, not with the groom. She, not Fitcher, covers them with gold.
The two sisters are primarily metonymic avatars. Associated with her, but not herself, their voices take the place of hers. Unknown to Fitcher, her avatars are physically located in the basket, covered in gold, but they imaginatively locate the youngest at a window of his house, supernaturally seeing Fitcher all the way to her family’s house. They allow the youngest sister to be in two places at once: in Fitcher’s house, where she actually is—but fictively looking out the window rather than plotting the deaths of Fitcher and his friends—and in the basket, keeping him under surveillance.
The youngest sister’s avatar of the skull, decorated with jewels and flowers (fig. 3), combines metonymy with synecdoche. The traditional good woman, she is beautiful because she is literally covered with the trappings of conventional femininity—flowers and jewels. But both Fitcher and his guests are convinced that the skull is the youngest sister because “‘She’s swept the whole house from top to bottom’” (158), a particularly good ploy since it mimics the actions of a bride anticipating the guests she’s invited. Because they so radically misread the woman, the men are easily fooled by the skull and the housecleaning alibi. [End Page 158]
The youngest sister’s success at dressing the skull as herself shows her strong fashion sense. (In this quality, Clever Brother Hare has good company.) The heroine of “Fitcher’s Bird” as stylist dresses her sisters (with gold), the skull, as well as herself. Her choice of clothing for herself, honey and feathers, initially seems inapposite for the occasion but turns out to be just right, as is Clever Brother Hare’s choice of dude-wear to go to be eaten. Both make themselves look as if they are willing participants in the fate the patriarchy has chosen for them, whether it is getting eaten or getting married; both have quite another scenario in mind, which they successfully stage.
Fitcher’s Bird herself is a particularly compelling and obviously central avatar. As transvestite, woman masquerading as androgynous animal, she is the only one of the three who incorporates the youngest sister herself.10 The youngest sister is a metonymy of Fitcher’s Bird, with synecdochic honey and feathers. In fact, she is the youngest sister plus a costume or disguise that makes her someone else, a more-than-the-self avatar formed of the heroine dipped in honey and rolled in feathers. This bird’s gender is unidentified, and it combines characteristics of male and female. Birds in these tales express themselves clearly (male speech), but use some rhetorical embellishment (female speech).
In all three tales, men’s language is sparse and plain; women’s talk is decorative and voluble. Compare in “The Robber Bridegroom,” for example, the groom’s speech: “Next Sunday I want you to come out and visit me. I’ve already invited the guests, and I shall spread ashes on the ground so you can find the [End Page 159] way” (Zipes 142). No embellishment or rhetoric here; just the facts. The old woman’s speech style is quite different: “Oh, you poor child. . . . Do you realize where you are? This is a murderers’ den. You think you’re a bride soon to be celebrating your wedding, but the only marriage you’ll celebrate will be with death. Just look! They ordered me to put this big kettle of water on the fire to boil. When they have you in their power, they’ll chop you to pieces without mercy. Then they’ll cook you and eat you, because they’re cannibals” (143).
“Oh you poor child” foreshadows the bad news to come, but certainly does not convey literal information. The question “Do you realize where you are?” is obviously rhetorical, since it answers the bride’s question, “Could you tell me whether my bridegroom lives here,” one she presumably would not have asked if she did realize where she was. “You think you’re a bride soon to be celebrating your wedding” is visible and thus unnecessary information, and “but the only marriage you’ll celebrate will be with death” is metaphorical. “Just look!” allows the bride to confirm with her eyes what the woman is saying, but is accordingly repetitive of the information that follows about the boiling kettle of water. “They’ll chop you to pieces without mercy” begs the question of how merciful dismemberment might be accomplished, and “they’ll cook you and eat you because they’re cannibals” is again redundant (emphasis added).
In the same story, a man might convey the same answer to the bride’s question thus: “Yes (this is your bridegroom’s house), and he and his cronies intend to murder and eat you.” The birds’ speech in both “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Fitcher’s Bird” is less sparse than the male, but also less rhetorical than the female. The birds also speak in verse rather than in prose. In “The Robber Bridegroom,” the bird cautions:
“Turn back, turn back, young bride. The den belongs to murderers, Who’ll soon be at your side!”(143)
The incremental repetition of “turn back” serves to underline the urgency and danger; the rhetorical flourishes here are the descriptor of the bride as “young” and the substitution of “at your side” for “here.” Fitcher’s Bird also employs both male (clear) and female (rhetorical) speech, with the embellishments “haven’t you heard?” when replying that she has come from Fitcher’s house, and “from top to bottom” added to the information that the bride has swept the whole house. Like Clever Brother Hare, then, the bird uses female-associated traits like fashion sense and speech facility,11 yet also male-associated traits of ingenuity and powerful action.
The avatars who purport to be the heroine—the sisters and the skull—both also locate the sister in the house, looking out of a window. They suggest that the youngest sister is appropriately domesticated, staying inside her feminine [End Page 160] context, concerning herself with quintessentially feminine tasks like house-cleaning. Her contact with the outside, her link with public space, is always mediated through the window of the house; she sees it, but does not participate. In fact, of course, the youngest sister is preparing to make the domestic context the literal death of the patriarch and his supporters, and she actually does engage the public space, though in disguise as her Fitcher’s Bird avatar. Like the women in the “cross-dressing” ballads I studied more than ten years ago (Greenhill), she makes her way into public space as a transvestite, but unlike them, she doesn’t take the robes of the patriarchy, but those of the animal world.12
Cross-dressing is of course much more common historically than many might have suspected, and in the last twenty or so years there has been huge development of scholarship about the historical and contemporary manifestations of transgender.13 Much less work has addressed human-to-animal transvestism. Before scholars began to discuss the queer historicity of transvestism, there was a tendency to see it as a result of simple necessity, giving an alibi of normality (usually heterosexual) to those who did it, as if need were a sufficient explanation. For example, early scholarship on Joan of Arc suggested that she dressed in men’s clothing to avoid rape, a questionable presumption when the male soldiers and, later, jailers who surrounded her knew perfectly well she was female and would hardly have been deterred by a pair of trousers if sexual assault was what they had in mind. Further, her own testimony indicates that her dress was an element of the divine instructions she received, and not a consequence of convenience or fear. Though the youngest sister’s disguise could be similarly dismissed as a mere escape ploy, one must ask why she disguises herself as a bird. Why not as a man? Why not as an animal (as in the Grimm tale “All Fur”)?
Though birds fly, and flight from danger is what Fitcher’s Bird has in mind, the answer to my question may be less literal. It may lie in the qualities of this particular avatar. Contrast the dressed skull, a particularly potent image for illustrators. It’s an obvious one, not only for its visual impact, but because it is itself artful. The skull is, in a sense, an aesthetic rendering of the bride, a self-portrait, not a disguise. Its intent is visual; it is there to be looked at.
Getting Into a Sticky Situation to Get Out of a Sticky Situation
The visual, and the act of looking, are central to Freud’s fantasy of the primal scene discussed in his analysis of the Wolf Man.14 Originally, Freud imagined the child actually seeing his parents having intercourse, later his view moved to the idea that the child observed animal sex and then imagined his parents doing the same.15 And Fitcher is clearly stuck in a similarly imaginative scopophilia/voyeurism. That’s why he doesn’t recognize the avatars for what they are—mere representations. He can’t tell the difference between what looks like a woman [End Page 161] and what actually is a woman. The youngest sister doesn’t dress as a man, for example, because in the heterosexual visual economy, “female transvestism [is] only another occasion for desire” (Doane, “Film” 138). But the skull is the avatar created for Fitcher; it has jewels and flowers, so it must be a woman, not a dead object—a fetish. So beyond narcissism—the expected position of women in response to male scopophilia—is the heroine that she can reconstruct as Fitcher’s Bird, who isn’t about what she looks like, but about what she feels like. For women, looks, the visual, are literally deceiving, where feelings, the tactile, may be more reliable.
Irigaray underlines the importance for women’s sexuality of the sense of constant contact with one’s sexual organs. But what she calls “two lips speaking together” is also a metaphor for women’s self-expression. As Mary Ann Doane contends, for Irigaray, “the woman always has a problematic relation to the visible, to form, to structures of seeing. She is much more comfortable with, closer to, the sense of touch” (137).16 Helene Cixous similarly links women’s expressiveness to their bodies. The most notable qualities of the honey and the feathers are also tactile: stickiness and being-stuck-ness. Fitcher’s Bird is about physical sensation, about our two lips speaking together. She, like Irigaray herself, exemplifies the anti-Lacanian woman.17
Monique Wittig suggests that concerns with the avatar can address notions of self, love, and self-love. She quotes Blaise Pascal’s comment “One never loves anyone, but only their qualities,” and Pierre Beaumarchais’s “Who is this me I’m concerned with, but a shapeless assemblage of unknown parts” (109; my translations). These themes resonate in “Fitcher’s Bird.” The protagonist creates avatars, and they successfully stand for her, because she is unknown and unknowable. She uses the recognition that she is known only for her qualities (or even for her supposed qualities of traditional feminine domesticity and appearance); she develops her own assemblage, with parts that are (again) both her own and not her own. The story suggests that patriarchy is implicated in the lack of knowledge of the self and/or the love object, but this deficit may be more fundamental even than can be located in social systems.
Avatars, Wittig’s work indicates, are “at the boundary where the ‘I,’ without borders, beyond the world, indeed beyond the galaxy, can stand, augmented by what can’t be said, ‘This can never be grasped by mere words’” (115; my translation). The Grimm tales in general, and “Fitcher’s Bird” in particular, constantly flirt with the inexpressible. What they seem to tell us about our relationships with ourselves and with others is that they are infinitely variable, and infinitely queer.
Scholars as diverse as Mary Douglas and Julia Kristeva point out the significance of the abject, as breaking boundaries, and most literally messing with culture. Sticky substances aren’t good with borders and boundaries; when pulled apart, they don’t fully detach, but tend to adhere to both sides. Barbara [End Page 162] Creed notes some of abjection’s forms: “sexual immorality and perversion; corporeal alteration, decay, and death; human sacrifice; murder; the corpse; bodily wastes; the feminine body and incest” (252), a nearly perfect inventory of processes in “Fitcher’s Bird.” The tactile image of Fitcher’s Bird, the sticky honey, the clinging feathers, evokes the same kinds of abjection we see in horror films, which similarly focus on what is culturally defined as disgusting. But crucially, what makes these substances abject is that they are out of place; when bodily waste crosses the boundary of the anus, it becomes shit, disgusting and dirty; when blood crosses the boundary of the skin, it becomes disgusting and dirty. The honey and feathers are similarly matter out of place, disengaged from their associations with food and creature.
The borders between the natural and the cultural, indeed between the human and the inhuman, are undefended in “Fitcher’s Bird.” Its avatars evoke what Marjorie Garber calls a “category crisis,” which she argues is “not the exception but rather the ground of culture itself” (16). This notion relates well to Wittig’s, referring to “a failure of definitional distinction, a borderline that become permeable, that permits of border crossings from one (apparently distinct) category to another” (16). Indeed, in “Fitcher’s Bird” the apparent monster is the unnatural chimera, a human-sized and -shaped creature covered with feathers. Though by no means in fact a conventional woman, she is certainly an admirable one in saving herself and her sisters, and laying the groundwork for the execution of the killer. But she is taken by those who encounter her as a most normal sight; they hail her, in friendly fashion: “‘Where are you coming from, oh, Fitcher’s Bird?’” (Zipes 158). The true monster in the story (and also in “Blue-beard” and “The Robber Bridegroom”) is the apparently normal man; though he’s a sorcerer with magical powers in “Fitcher’s Bird,” his form is that of an ordinary man (though without doubt an ethnically marked one; see, for example, 156). Yet Fitcher is also a serial killer. Ontological liminality reigns, binary thinking is refused, “revealing that difference is arbitrary and potentially free-floating, mutable, rather than essential” (Cohen 12).18
The home, statistically the most unsafe location for women in Euro–North American culture, is also the place where Fitcher, the serial killer, commits his murders. His targets are specific; he preys on beautiful, young, unmarried “maidens.” His grotesque overkill predates current obsessions with serial killers (see, for example, Brydon and Greenhill). Though the dead women’s bodies become spectacular, both in the sense of the grotesque and in the sense of their presentation for the purpose of being seen to the horror of those who succeed them, these images of the monstrous feminine are a male creation. Fitcher’s own body is unremarked and apparently unremarkable. The other spectacular bodies, created for viewing—the skull and Fitcher’s Bird—are equally fantastical and sight-worthy. Those who appear to inhabit the grotesque and the marvelous [End Page 163] (the women) actually embody the non-monstrous, while those who appear ordinary (the men) are authentically fiendish.
There is no happily-ever-after in “Fitcher’s Bird;” the tale ends with the deaths of Fitcher and his cronies. In this crisis of masculinity, male homosociality is destroyed, and female homosociality affirmed. Fitcher’s Bird is last seen on the path from Fitcher’s house, speaking to the sorcerer, again a truly liminal location. Similarly, no matter how much I wanted to be The Boy Thirteen or Clever Brother Hare, I am now coming to terms with the fact that despite the stunning sense of style I share with them, I’m neither brave enough nor clever enough to expect the resolutions they got. “Fitcher’s Bird” lets me say the things I want to express about women and my relationships to them. And my adult imagination also finds Fitcher’s Bird a better avatar for my own self—still always on the road, future still uncertain. Up ahead, no prince, no sorcerer, but a lot of women friends. Feminist and queer theory have taught me to be skeptical of claims of universal truth. Multiple experiences make for multiple knowledges. Similarly, the multiple reflections and reproductions in fairy tales implicate multiple truths.
Pauline Greenhill is professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She has published in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Journal of American Folklore, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, and Ethnologies. Her current research is on Canadian charivari traditions.
I’m indebted to my colleague Sidney Matrix for her comments. Her suggestion that I look to the psychological readings of feminist film theory was, I think, a fruitful one. Leah Claire Allen clarified several issues. I also thank Kay Turner, my coconspirator in transgressive tale-spinning. Two anonymous readers for Marvels & Tales were ideal interlocutors and assisted me immensely in improving this work.
1. These stories are not included in the final Grimm redactions but are “excavated from letters, annotations, and posthumous papers for this edition” by Zipes (xxii).
2. Folklorists may note similarities of some of these elements to Vladimir Propp’s folktale functions.
3. As Mark Selzer comments, “The description of repetitive sexual murder as ‘serial killing’ and of serial killing as ‘motiveless’ has, of course, the effect of making invisible the nearly-consistent gendering of serial violence: a male violence that is anti-female and anti-homosexual, or more exactly, a male violence that is directed at the anti-male or ‘unmale’” (96). The gendering and cultural renderings of lesbian killers like Aileen Wuornos (Ristock) and killers with ambiguous sexuality like Karla Homolka (McGillivray) are exceptions that prove the rule.
4. Annamarie Jagose helpfully deconstructs the term “queer,” noting, “Some claim that it radically erodes the last traces of an oppressive gender coherence, whereas others criticise its pan-sexuality as reactionary, even unfeminist” (2–3). It is best understood here in terms of “those gestures or analytical models which dramatise incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire. Resisting that model of stability—which claims heterosexuality as its origin when it is more properly its effect—queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender, and desire” (3).
5. These notions are helpfully deconstructed by Irigaray (This Sex 35–67).
6. Note, in contrast, how so many other folktale representations require the converse—that women identify with men—as discussed extensively in feminist film [End Page 164] theory (e.g., Mulvey; Doane, “Caught”). Carol Clover’s work on “slasher films” asserts resistant qualities in the requirement that viewers of all genders in that genre identify with the crucially androgynously embodied and named “final girl” as an alternative to the horror film’s usual construction of abject females. By extension, the need to identify with a clearly feminine character in “Fitcher’s Bird” is yet more insubordinate.
7. Specifically, Propp’s sequence concludes with function 31, “the hero is married and ascends the throne” (63–64).
8. Their similarities with serial killers represented in literature and film are worth noting but cannot be pursued in detail here (see, for example, discussions in Cassuto; Clover; and Seltzer).
9. “The Revenger’s Tragedy” (Middleton) offers another example of a skull being mistaken for a woman. In this play the skull also contributes to the punishment of sexual harasser/murderer. I thank Leah Claire Allen for this literary analogue.
10. The original text is gender-indeterminate in this case. “Bird” is grammatically male in German, so the wedding guests and Fitcher address the bird with the male pronoun, while the knowing narrative voice continues to use the female pronoun. I thank my German-fluent colleague Linwood DeLong for helping me to parse this puzzle.
11. I recognize that in the original African context of “Clever Brother Hare” neither self-adornment nor clever speech may be gendered female as they are in Euro–North America.
12. I could locate very little work on transformations of women into animals. An excellent exception is Terrie Waddell’s look at historical and current representations of women as cats. She considers both glorified and debased cat-women, noting how more recent—from the Middle Ages on—representations of women as cats echo and reinforce misogynist ideas of women, as well as hatred of cats themselves. The woman-bird transformation in “Fitcher’s Bird” is, of course, not so explicitly negative as most of the catmorphings that Waddell considers.
13. See also examinations of cultural cross-dressing (e.g., Boer).
14. This concept is discussed with respect to both psychoanalysis and folktale by Garber (375–42).
15. Rosalind Coward usefully discusses the representational obsession with showing animals having sex on nature shows. Even more than in James Bond flicks, these programs must include at least one gratuitous and unmotivated sex scene.
16. “The predominance of the visual, and of the discrimination and the individualization of form, is particularly foreign to female eroticism. . . . Her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies . . . her consignment to passivity: she is to be the beautiful object of contemplation” (Irigaray, This Sex 26).
17. Irigaray critiques: “There is lacking in Lacan a theory of enunciation which would be sufficiently complex, and which would allow him to account for the effect of sexual difference on the production of language” (“Women’s Exile” 69). But patriarchs don’t take kindly to criticism:
When J. Lacan bemoans: “I beg [women] on my knees to tell me what they want and they tell me nothing,” why does he not hear what is at issue here? It is because he situates himself in the functioning of language and of desire in which women cannot say anything, and in which he cannot hear them, even if they were to begin to speak to him. Lacan . . . has done some very important theoretical work. But what [End Page 165] limits him is his phallocentric power: he cannot bear that someone else speaks anything but his truth as he describes it. And it is up to him to describe what is the pleasure of the woman, not a woman! If a woman tries to express her pleasure—which, obviously, challenges his male point of view—he excludes her, because she upsets his system. Thus, soon after [The Speculum of the Other Woman] was published, I was sacked from the University where I was teaching. I was teaching a course in the Department of Psycho-analysis [sic] of Vincennes University, and J. Lacan and the Paris Freudian School expelled me. The meaning of this expulsion is clear: only men may say what female pleasure consists of. Women are not allowed to speak, otherwise they challenge the monopoly of discourse and of theory exerted by men (71).
18. Cohen’s third and fourth theses of “monster culture” apply here: “The monster is the harbinger of category crisis,” and “The monster dwells at the gates of difference” (6–7). His discussion of the culture of monsters includes peoples historically constructed as monsters, as well as fictional and fantasy forms.