Monday, April 13, 2009

Reader's Diary #479- Saki: The Easter Egg

At GottaBook last Friday, Gregory K posted a new Bruce Lansky poem entitled "Rules For Spot." Lansky, for those who may not know him, writes humorous poems for children. "Rules For Dogs," a list of "don't do's" for his dog, is also, for the most part, funny. However, I found one particular line a little distracting, "Don't bite bible salesmen;/ they might cuss you out."

I got a little hung up on his decision not to capitalize bible. I'm not offended; it just got me to thinking that it's almost impossible to write that word (or god/God) and not make a political statement by the choice of capitalization. I guess any religious topic is so laden with connotation, opinion and controversy that a casual reference would be a challenge, to say the least.

Which brings me to Saki's "The Easter Egg." Trying not to give too much away, by the end of the story, the popular Easter symbol takes on a different and... less than joyous meaning. To say it takes on a less than holy meeting would only apply if you believe the eggs held any religious significance to begin with. It may have been a clever choice to pick one of the symbols that has a pagan history and an often secular role. Had he reinvented the cross, for example, it may have been too sacrilegious or disrespectful to have been published. By choosing the egg, Saki's story could be interpreted by either side of the religious/atheist divide as supporting their cause.

Lester, the coward of the story, redeems himself, and in his doing so, could be seen as a sort of rebirth. This, and Saki's treatment of the "pagan" egg, could be used in a Christian interpretation.

However, there is also a trace of mockery regarding ceremony. This, combined with Saki's treatment of the "Christian" egg, could be seen as anti-religion (if not outright atheism).

Of course a third option also exists: Saki wasn't taking a religious or atheist stance. Maybe it's just a story about an Easter Egg that just happened to be used for immoral purposes. Perhaps he could have chosen, say, a birthday present instead. The Easter Egg, however, is inextricably tied-- for better or worse-- to Easter. And, even more so than Lanksy's poem, there's a lot of distraction in Saki's choice.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link below!)


gautami tripathy said...

In India, if anyone from the Hindu mythology is depicted in a bad light in movies or books, that is reason enough for riots.

I think we take symbolism too seriously.

JoAnn said...

Religion is such a highly-charged topic and so much can be read into even the most casual statement...I try to keep quiet on the subject.
The Saki story sounds like a good one though.

Stacy said...

This sounds like an interesting piece. I have always kept the religious/church side separate from the bunny and eggs side. Having been a regular church goer and attending Christian schools, I do not remember any pastor or bible teacher linking those two sides together which is probably why I keep them separate. Weird. I also never capitalize bible even though it holds the highest of places among books for me. I never thought I was making a political statement and I would hope no one would assume that I was since I guess they would be concluding something wrong. I guess this is one of those areas where context is everything. I haven't heard of Lansky but will be looking out for 'Rules for Dogs'.

John Mutford said...

Gautami: In my corner of the globe, there seems to be a scale of which religions can be safely mocked, satirized, etc. For now Christianity seems to be the most frequently targeted in public, while a lot of the others face their share of prejudice, it's buried a little more beneath the surface.

JoAnn: I try to talk about it without giving away my own thoughts, but I don't know how successful I am at it or if it even makes sense to try.

Book Psmith: Maybe I've been to hyper-aware (not really hypersensitive since neither choice offends me), to the capitalization thing.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Known for being somewhat sacrilegious myself, I will have to read this to see what I make of it.

Eva said...

I read Saki too this week! What a fun coincidence. :) (I picked the story before wandering over here.) This one sounds more serious than what I read, though.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Do come back and report!

Eva: That's really cool! I hadn't heard of him until this one. I had just gone in search of an Easter story.

Greg Pincus said...

I went through my emails to see if there was a draft of the poem with bible capitalized or not. Didn't see one, so I don't know if it was Bruce's choice or if I bollixed things. But in either case, I don't think there was intent to be political or controversial. It is a fascinating word in that regard, though!

John Mutford said...

Gregory: When I wrote the line, "it's almost impossible to write that word (or god/God) and not make a political statement by the choice of capitalization" I threw in the "almost" as an afterthought because it occured to me that there might be some people who just don't think about it all and just write it. Maybe this group is larger than I considered. As a poet though, I'd like to think each word was a choice for Bruce. It's not like he could "win" either way with that particular word, so I wish he just avoided it altogether.