By Jennyfer Laurencia
THE BIRD AND THE CAGE is a brief short story originates from Eleven Minutes, one of the many novels written by Paulo Coelho. Presented in less than four hundred words, the story reflects catastrophic relationships between possessive lovers and their beloved. Furthermore, it is recounted as one of the entries from Maria’s diary, which has been composed by the protagonist throughout the novel.
PAULO COELHO was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. He published his first novel, The Pilgrimage, after having a spiritual awakening during his journey to Santiago de Compostela.On the following year, The Alchemist, his second novel, was published. However, not until the publication of the third novel, Brida, did both of the previous ones received critical acclaims. Including the collections of essays and newspaper columns, Coelho has published a little more than thirty books.
Presenting heavy themes with simplicity is one of Paulo Coelho’s fortes, and through THE BIRD AND THE CAGE, his verbal dexterity is being articulated to great extent.As plain as it appears, the story has been composed in such a way that even the most trivial occurrence can be interpreted both literally and figuratively. The intention of selecting this exceptional piece is, therefore, rested not only upon its intricacy but also on its compelling emotional appeals.
I. Structural Interpretation
Defined as the aesthetic composition of systematic occurrences in a fictional account(Kennedy & Gioia, 2012) PLOT is crafted in such a way to be both pleasing to the eyes as well as deathly in expressing concealed moral values. Below is the plot sequence of THE BIRD AND THE CAGE.
– Exposition (p.1-2), introduction of the protagonists: the woman and the bird, depiction of their first encounter, as well as advancement of the romantic relationship between them
– Rising Action (p.2-3), the emergence of surging anxiety which induces the protagonist to confine her beloved for fear of abandonment.- Conflict (p.4-6), drastic progression from love to obsession which, in turn, degrades the bird into a mere ‘object of passion’, also features the first appearance of the woman’s fellow friend, who utters a brief comment prior witnessing the bird on display.
Further elaboration of the conflict is as follows:
– INTERNAL CONFLICT – the infatuation subsides soon after the bird comes into her possession (the woman)
– EXTERNAL CONFLICT–being denied from the nature of his existence, he begins to ‘waste away’ (the bird), yet the woman simply turns a blind eye towards the outcome of her misdeed
– Climax (p.7),only after the passing of her once beloved bird that the woman truly feels a profound sense of loss; upon remembering the past, however, not even in her slightest memory has the time of his confinement resurfaced
– Falling Action (p.8), an insight into the true nature of the woman’s love beneath her fallacious possessive disposition
– Resolution (p.9-10), no longer having any reason to live, the woman, too, has fallen ill; eventually,Death comes ‘knocking at her door’, and insists that the only way for her to reunite with the bird is by following him to the grave
B. Character & Characterization
According to Kennedy & Gioia (2012), CHARACTER is a fabricated entity, be it in the form of human, animal, plant or inanimate object, which dwells in a fictional account. The following is the list of characters from THE BIRD AND THE CAGE.
– Major Character
Both of the characters below are classified under this section for their GREATER contributions towards the advancement of the plot.
Described as an epitome of beauty, THE BIRD is not only ‘adorned with two perfect wings’ but also in possession of ‘glossy, colourful, marvellous feathers’. Apart from his fondness for the woman, however, not much of his feelings are revealed. Although, after being captured and publicly displayed, his infatuation towards her might subside. He would even feel betrayed, to an extent of detesting her presence.
As the tale unfolds, THE BIRD becomes ill and unsightly, for not only has he been deprived of his liberty, but being ‘unable to fly’, he is also no longer capable of expressing ‘the true meaning of his life’. Even until the time of his death, he still remains in the cage, never once return to the vast, blue sky or breathe the fresh air of freedom.
Lack of expressions does not necessarily mean lack of feelings, thus THE BIRD might still be considered as a round character. Not with standingt he insufficient explanation regarding to his inner-self (psyche),such judgement is constructed according to the fact that he dies inside the cage, being denied from the nature of his existence, which is none other than to fly without restriction. His untimely death, therefore, not only accentuates the intensity of his sorrow, but also indicates great dependence upon his aspiration in life.
The verdict which regards THE BIRD as a dynamic character is established upon the conjecture that he has lost his feelings of love towards the woman, with a profound prediction indicating the development of other related emotions, such as feelings of betrayal and detestation, the sentiments whose complexity contributes to further growth of his character. Another notion involves a supposition that not until he is confined in the cage does he truly comprehend the value of his liberty and begin yearning for it even more.
Having no physical description, only little could be inferred fromTHE WOMAN. She has fallen in love with the bird at first sight, ‘admired and venerated and celebrated’ him thoroughly. Initially, the feelings of love areof mutual respect; henceforth, the relationship escalates into ‘perfect harmony’. Yet like how fleeting dreams never last, there comes a time when her insecurity intensifies, so much that she becomes irrational.
As the tale unfolds, THE WOMAN unintentionally resorts to hamartia, an error of judgement which further leads to the confinement of her beloved, the bird. Having him under her possession, the infatuation slowly evolves into mere obsession. She begins to see him as an ‘object of passion’, even goes so far as displaying him publicly in order to satisfy her thirst for recognition.
Little by little, THE WOMAN becomes apathetic. Even as the ill-stricken bird approaches the end of his life, she cannot empathise with him in the slightest. By the time he loses his beautiful self, she has no longer found delight in his presence. Upon his passing, however, she is overcome with profound grief. Constantly remembering the past, she returns to ‘the day when she had seen him for the first time’, never once reminisces about his confined state.
Despite being unable to comprehend her complicated self, THE WOMAN is still regarded as a round character. The nature of her love, moreover, the fact that she cannot draw a fine line to distinguish between love and obsession, further indicates her mental immaturity. She is also considered as a dynamic character for her unstable response to any sort of occurrences which might stimulate her emotions.
Both of the characters below are classified under this section for their SLIGHTER contributions towards the advancement of the plot.
THE WOMAN’S FELLOW FRIEND
Without a beginning, there will be no ending, thus appearing out of nowhere with as little information as it is, there would not be possible to perform a thorough analysis of THE WOMAN’S FELLOW FRIEND. Almost nothing is known about this person. Despite not having any physical description, it is unclear whether the gender of this character is male or female. This person’s utterance, however, might signify a far greater meaning behind the façade of its simplicity.
Through a brief conversation with the woman, DEATH declares its coming as the only means for her to reunite with the bird. In addition, its last utterance, which also provides a sense of closure, further indicates the extent of wisdom that it, as a death-bringer, might have been bestowed upon.
C. Point of View
As a method in which the author unfolds his fictional account (Kennedy & Gioia, 2012), POINT OF VIEW are generally divided into two types: the participantnarrator [first person point of view]and the non-participant narrator [third person point of view]. THE BIRD AND THE CAGEutilises the latter, for the narrator is not only addressing characters in third person, but also revealing their deepest emotions without the slightest attempt of concealment (omniscience).
According to Kennedy & Gioia(2012), SETTING is either the location or the time frame in which fictional account occurs. In THE BIRD AND THE CAGE,there are two settings: physical setting and metaphorical setting. The physical setting is the sky upon which the woman soars together with the bird. Particularly for the bird, however, the cage where he is confined also serves as another physical setting. The metaphorical setting, on the other hand, is slightly subtle. Beginning with a bright, joyous atmosphere of first love, a darker tone emerges from the sense of betrayal. From then on, the ambience becoming more and more dreadful, as all the negative emotions accumulateinto a huge unsettled feeling, culminated when the bird died. In the end, the sense of relief approaches as Death comes, presenting a piece offering in return for a soul.
Provides general insights of a fictional account(Kennedy & Gioia 2012), themes are generally varied in nature.THE BIRD AND THE CAGE offers various themes such as possessive love will eventually end in the most tragic way or there is a new beginning at every end of relationship.
II. Textual Interpretation
According to Kennedy & Gioia(2012), SYMBOLISM is an entity of the fictional account that might convey other meanings beyond its literal sense. In THE BIRD AND THE CAGE, the sky represents liberty, the cage portrays confinement and to some extent, denial of the nature of one’s existence. Despite everything that has been stated, however, each character of this fictional account upholds a significant resemblance towards other entities beyond themselves.
THE BIRD resembles a person who yearns for liberty. This person might not always be restricted by the chains of relationships, for his surroundings would also inflict great influence upon him, be it for better or worse. THE WOMAN, on the other hand, portrays an individual who is chained by her own feelings. Not knowing herself well enough, she is always captivated by the beauty of others: the people who already find the meaning of their life. Therefore, she tries to entrap them and claim their lights, in order to shine as bright as they are. Little did she know that her candle would never shine any brighter even after she extinguished those belong to others.
THE WOMAN’S FELLOW FRIEND poses as conscience of a certain individual, for in uttering ‘now you have everything you could possibly want’. This person imposes explicit sarcasm intended to accentuate the woman’s obsession toward the bird, which is not only perceived as irrational and selfish, but also possessed no redeeming moral value. DEATH, in contrast, represents a new beginning, further emphasizes that in order to receive something of better quality, one must first let go of certain possessions, no matter how valuable they might appear.
Defined as a literary instrument upon which contrasting meanings are concealed beneath the surface of language (Kennedy & Gioia, 2012), IRONY is divided into several categories: situational irony, dramatic irony, and cosmic irony. THE BIRD AND THE CAGE contains all of those ironies, however, further elaboration shall be asserted below.
The situational irony is found in an occasion where the woman commits an error of judgement and decides to confine the bird. As he solely becomes her possession, she begins to lose interest in him. Even after his passing, she is grief-stricken not because of losing him in his caged state, but rather, for the loss of sight upon witnessing ‘the energy of his wings in motion’.
The dramatic irony is related to the fact that both the narrator and the readers are well aware of another possible outcome; a different ending upon which the protagonist herself remains oblivious. The cosmic irony is occurred when Death urges the woman to die, which is to end life, in order to find the bird–an entity that constitutes the meaning of her life–and emerge in a new beginning.
According to Kennedy & Gioia(2012), ALLEGORY is a fictional account whose series of occurrences might indicates parallel sequences of figurative notions. In THE BIRD AND THE CAGE, the storyline of the fiction itself signifies that love has various forms, all of which may hurt either the beloved or the lover. The presence of Death, moreover, also indicates that there is a new beginning at every end.
D. Tone & Style
TONE communicates the content of a fictional account according to the author’s viewpoint, whereas STYLE portrays the way in which an author conveys the whole story (Kennedy & Gioia(2012). As a dedicated Catholic author, Paulo Coelho inclines to deliver his insights towards life through his writing. By utilizing simple words, he unfolds dense subject matters, frequently of philosophical or spiritual content. He crafted his writing in such a way that it become elusively layered, strikingly bold, and still easy to be comprehended by almost anyone.
In life, there will always be happiness and sadness. Some tragedies, however, are bound to happen. In times of great miseries, one should never give up on hope, for by continue pursuing life, one will definitely become stronger in characters, and in turns achieve happiness, whatever that might be.
X.J. Kennedy & Dana Gioia. 2012. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, Compact Edition (7th Edition) and Drama. Longman. New York.