Dé Máirt, Eanáir 25, 2011

Journeying To the Black Realms of the Human Soul With Stuart Little: Part 1

"When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked like a mouse in every way"

Thus begins E.B. White's psychosocialsexual nightmare of a novel, and it's never suggested that little Stuart doesn't arrive 'in the usual way' to paraphrase Harry Chapin. The logical assumption for a reader to make is that Stuart is in fact a sentient mouse physically born to a human mother, and of course there's only one obvious explanation for how this occured. How then does Stuart's 'father', old Fred Little himself, deal with such extreme humiliation? Certainly it's painful enough for a wife to be unfaithful with some virile young pool boy or old flame from college, but a mouse? (Surely EB White could have named this poor cuckold something a bit more settle than 'Mr. Little'.)

As a matter of fact, the way that the senior Little responds to his wife's infidelety is seemingly to not do so at all. He makes an outward show of accepting this mouseman as his own son and raising him as such. Yet just beneath this show of acquiescence we see Fred taking several small passive-aggresive measures of revenge. He subjects the mousechild to aural torture under the pretext of holding up a faulty piano key. (Stuart, perhaps showing signs of self-loathing brought about by his 'father's' barely concealed hatred, is said to 'like all the same') And then there's this seemingly off-hand comment made at the end of chapter 2.

"' After all he does look a good deal like a mouse,' said Mr. Little to his wife. 'And I've never seen a mouse yet that didn't like to go into a hole.'"
'And neither have you you besitial whore' is the obvious implication here.

Most telling of all though is the scene near the very beginning of the story, in which Mrs. Little drops her wedding ring down a bathtub drain. And Frederick, after watching his wife make several futile attempts at fishing the ring out with a bent hairpin, casually sends his supposed son on a dangerous mission to retrieve the ring himself.
Let us elaborate further what is going on here. The bathtub drain is described as 'slimy', and since Mr. Little has just bathed himself, it's reasonible to conclude here that much of this 'slime' is in fact his very own body filth. So here we have the wife, dropping the symbol of wedding vows we know she has violated into what can be accurately described as a corrupted, dirty canal. Yet at the same time much of the foulness of this drain has just been washed off of Frederick's own body. He then ties Stuart to a string and sends him down the drain to retrieve the ring himself, which the eagar-to please mousechild dutifully does. So when Stuart and the ring emerge out of the canal into the light the author makes it clear that both are now covered in 'Fred's slime'. This is clearly an attempt by the senior Little to restore his marraige and rechristian Stuart as his own true son after the fact. But erstatz ritual can never take away his sense of inadequacy and betrayal, and his indirect manner of dealing with these feelings can be nothing but slow poison to both his family and himself.

In summing up the opening chapters of 'Stuart Little' (the origins of Stuart himself and Fred Little's cryptic yet still malevolent reaction), I can not help but notice some very clear parallels to the biblical Nativity story. My own theory is that White intended 'Stuart Little' at least partly as a savage parody of the birth of Christ and an oblique denunciation of Christianity itself. Fred Little is of course Joseph, the bizzarely sanguine accidental stepfather. Yet what does it mean for Jehovah to be paired with a mouse? My guess here is that this is White's way of saying that Fred Little/Joseph is not the only victim of emasculation here, that the birth of marked a sudden change from the harsh warrior-God of the Old Testament to a decidedly softer and more effeminate diety, and I fear that the manner in which the animal/human hybrid Stuart evokes old Greek myths may be intended as a hidden dog-whistle call for some kind of fascist/warrior ethos.

Whatever the case may be, there are many other dark themes appearing in this novel that must be examined, and shall be examined by yours trully in due time.


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