Literary Analysis of the Writings of a Jackalope
Like you, when I first read B.T. Evilpants I was blinded by the sheer, surreal humor prevalent in all his writings, but I slowly became aware of something deeper. Full of hidden symbolism and irony, metaphor and simile, his writings offer a rich banquet that can satisfy the most demanding appetites.
I decided to abandon my writing career and spend my literary life studying his complete body of work. When we read Evilpants, we focus on the obvious humor, but the humor is merely the tough shell of an ostrich egg. Crack the shell and inside it is full of nutrients and tasty goodness...and packed with protein. So are the writings of Evilpants, and with one ostrich egg equaling about 2 dozen chicken eggs, so too we may compare one Evilpants story as equal to 24 of another writer's stories. The first big surprise was his extensive education which belies his easy accessibility and “everyman” quality.
B.T. attended graduate school at Stanford, graduating with honors and seven doctorates in Letters, Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Calculus, Animal Husbandry and Home Economics with a focus on gravies. Subsequently, he received honorary Doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Duke and Wellesley, an all-girls school where he disappeared for 48 hours.
He then attended Cambridge on a Rhodes Scholarship. While there he began publishing his work on such diverse topics as The Folly of Politics and the Fall of Rome (National Review), Toulouse Lautrec: The Short of It (The Paris Review), as well as humor pieces published in Yuk Yuk, Cracked and many other award winning publications. He was awarded the prestigious “Guffaw Fellowship” from iconic Mad Magazine, presented to him by founder and recluse Alfred E. Newman.
His social criticism is delicate—i.e., doesn't beat you over the head—for he is not a provocateur or preacher. No. He is an artiste. By placing his characters in the current society, he explores the values these characters reveal, and in that way there is a biting criticism of society's foibles and misdirection. This then, serves as the overall theme of his body of work. In A Day in the Life of a Michigan Jackalope, he speaks of Clarence, a Werefrog whom he admits is “...probably the most evil friend I have.” He writes:
“Of course I was apprehensive about keeping a Werefrog as a friend, but, as it turns out, he suffers from antler intolerance. He does, on occasion, look at me the way I look at a butter tart.”
We all have friends that are capable of evil, just as every human being has a capacity for evil, and we know that the Werefrog wants to eat him but can't, just as we know the government would like to eat us if they could get away with it.
This is also where he introduces his caustic criticism of environmental destruction, writing “Nobody knows for sure where these fish (the legendary Great Lakes fur bearing Trout) came from. I have heard it said that in the 1940's, a freighter ran aground in Lake Superior, spilling about 70,000 gallons of hair tonic.”
Point of View
The Evilpants stories are written with a limited point of view rather than omniscient one, allowing the reader to imagine what thoughts are actually in the other characters. He reveals to us only what he sees and feels, not what other characters are thinking. Motivations of these characters is up to the reader, which is the perfect choice and helps keep his theme from becoming preachy. Evilpants' account and our judgment of it are all we have.
In his scathing assessment of women's culture and the cult of advertising, Top 10 Hairstyles To Die For...Or From, he opens a salon and gives us pictures of women wearing absurd hairstyles of his own design and sold to a hoodwinked populace, and the reader can't help but wonder what in hell were these women thinking? He lets us decide the answer while bringing home his point that you can sell people anything at all, even ridiculous hairstyles.
Why a Jackalope
Is a jackalope real? Is it simply a myth and legend? We don't know, so the jackalope becomes symbolic of everyone's secret side, capable of both heroics and debauchery, easier to ignore than to pay attention to. It's a sort of "Unclassified Residuum,” a phrase coined in William James' essay, “The Hidden Self,” published in 1890. Evilpants' choice of jackalope allows the character to be a symbol of everybody, frustrated by a world dominated by morons and a symbol of the frustrations and delusions of all peoples.
It is this character that allows the conflicts to develop. Firstly, the inner conflict with the hidden self. Secondly, man's conflict with man. Then...politics, political system, election process, the financial crises bailout, military, secret illegal studies indicative of the governments disdain for the populace, pollution, the rape or imprisonment of nature--ocean pollution, poaching, zoos, the eradication of entire species--drug addiction, the press, psychiatry, and finally, even butter tarts and gravies, not necessarily together.
Metaphors and Symbols
The metaphors employed by Evilpants are rich and varied. In his story, How the Jackalope Got His Evil Pants, two important metaphors are introduced. The first sub-metaphor, if you will, is his use of the family unit as a means for a scornful observation of today's tendency to blame every problem, every illegal act on our parents and upbringing:
“While the grown-ups were getting all fat and happy on butter tarts, us kids were forced to subsist on fruits and vegetables. Oh, the humanity! One night, while my parents slept, I got into their tart cache. I decimated it.”
But the primary metaphor is his need for butter tarts, representing drug addiction. “I started knitting my own fur into toques to sell on the corner. Sales were slow at first, but I made enough to support my habit,” he writes, but it is his gut-wrenching account of trying to kick the habit that really rips out our hearts and brings the message home. He has already written of having to go to Canada to “feed his addiction.” In A Day in the Life of a Michigan Jackalope, he writes that his day typically consists of:
“Watch a little more television, don't eat the butter tarts. Groom my fur, stay away from the bridge to Canada. Chase the cat around the house, don't eat the butter tarts. Shake the bird cage, stay away from the tunnel to Canada.”
It's clear that addiction is difficult to break and a worldwide concern. More importantly, his account of “kicking the habit” rings true. It wasn't long before the military and government became the targets of his pointed barbs. In Where Have All The Jackalopes Gone, he attempts to explain where jackalopes came from when he writes that jackalopes have been removed from the endangered and protected species list because they are “a nuisance species.“ A prominent U.S. senator gave the following explanation:
"The American Jackalope has been classified as a cryptid. Simply put, they do not exist. We cannot continue to enforce laws to protect the non-existent. This government is not in the business of perpetuating myths, or entertaining such fairy-tales as Jackalopes. I will not be taking questions today. Thank you."
We know what we think of the senator's remarks, and Evilpants' thoughts are the same as ours when he says:
“(This is an) attempted cover-up, by our government. Pure doublespeak. How could we be a public nuisance, and nonexistent at the same time? As I continued to nose around, i discovered some truly frightening things. Among them were secret government Jackalope mills, and research surrounding military potential for a breed of superlopes.”
Evilpants continues his mordacious denunciation of the military and government in Never Poke a Sleeping Jackalope: “While no one is certain as to how, or why this cross-breeding occurred, there has been speculation that it was carried out by the American Military. The story I heard, was that the goal was to create a nimble, efficient soldier with an ingrained bad disposition."
Evilpants abhors secret government studies, and this may in fact be a direct reference to the US Military operating a secret chemical weapons program, in which the military is accused by The Sunshine Project of conducting a chemical weapons research and development program in violation of international arms control law. But Evilpants does not just criticize. He sometimes offers solutions, as he does in Killing Them With Words: Relieve Stress, Feel Better, and then again in Bailout! What's a Few Hundred Billion Dollars, Between Friends? His solution to the bailout is actually a sound one, and his plan was soon repeated by almost every economic expert who could get in front of a camera, with their slight changes of course, so the idea would appear to be theirs, not Evilpants'.
The Election Trilogy
Evilpants' epic election trilogy is considered by many to be his greatest work, where all his skills as a writer come deftly into play. The trilogy was referred to as “brilliant” by Philip Roth, arguably America's greatest living writer. It is. In the first installment of the trilogy, B.T. Evilpants For President, the jackalope announces his bid for the office of President of the United States. But that is just the beginning of his crushing denunciation of the political system. Each of us harbor the suspicion that all politicians are crooks. So does Evilpants:
“...this election as a choice between the lesser of two evils. With me in the race, it becomes a simple choice between the evil you know, and the evil you don't know...The sad fact is that they may, and probably do, each have an evil streak that runs deeper than you could possibly imagine.”
He continues when he lists his strongpoints:
“I have never stolen anything from anyone; unless, of course, it was something shiny. But then, that's not really stealing, is it? I mean, when you see something shiny, you have to take it, right? Secondly, I do not accept money from lobbyists, as far as you know.”
This is working on several levels. “Something shiny” is a metaphor for uber-corrupt ancient Rome, where coin was the only form of monetary exchange and bribery was rampant, and the shiny coin is itself a symbol for all money. He uses irony when he writes he does not accept money from lobbyists, when he has in fact just told us he does, if it's shiny.
In the second installment, B.T. Evilpants Goes to the Zoo, he contemplates getting out of the presidential race, chronicling the difficulties politicians face in today's America. He seeks the advice of his imprisoned friends in the zoo, and shows not only his contempt of this prison for animals, but the shortcomings of America's penal system, as well as the difficulties inherent in electing an honest man, or at least an evil one who is honest about being evil and who doesn't fit the mold. The animals agree with us when they convince him to stay in the race because they need him, someone who can implement real and meaningful change.
The arc of the trilogy—and his entire body of work—comes to a heartwarming and hopeful conclusion when he becomes President in Mr. Evilpants Goes to Washington, the third installment. At first it appears he did not win the election, but he calms us:
“The truth of the matter is that I did, in fact, win the election. That's right. Shed no tears for me. Come January I will be firmly in the catbird seat. The head honcho. The big cheese. The most powerful jackalope on earth! I can already hear the objections, forming in your head. "But Obama won.", you're thinking. "Evilpants wasn't even on the ballot.", you may be saying. Well, they don't call me Evilpants, for nothing. I was on the ballot (kinda), and I came out on top!”
We were dejected, forlorn, with no hope, but Evilpants restores our faith, our dreams, our very lives. Change will happen. The world will be a better place and it is he who will make it so.
Assuredly, Evilpants' body of work is timeless. People—or species for that matter—from any background or culture could read Evilpants and find it relevant no matter where or when in history they lived. He would retain his deepness, profundity, allure and accessibility, and that is one of the consummate criteria for judging great writing.
These are not just funny stories about a strange creature. Like all great writings, the collection of Evilpants' stories are not merely tales of a jackalope and the characters he meets, but a record of the human race itself, and more to the point, humankind's fight against the injustices and idiocies prevalent throughout the entire world.
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