Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Deconstructing Goodnight Moon

Warning: It’s been a long day and a long night before and I am facing another long night followed by two long days and nights so this post may make no sense. Click away now, while you can.

I brought the girls in for their six month appointment for shots and, apparently, fevers. They were fine all day but then Avery developed a high fever (104.5) at night. Maddie had over 102. This, of course, lead to a certain amount of panic, complete with doctor calls and tepid baths and New Sleeptime Rules for the night, which basically meant anything goes. Both fevers came down, but not without a lot of worry and loss of sleep on our part. Then, this morning Nicole left for San Francisco for work. I begged her to take one (ha!). Alas. She is gone till Friday and I am home with both girls alone.

They were better today, as their fevers gradually got lower and lower until they were almost back to normal. But they were both a little tired today, and a little sad. (See above pictures).

They were in bed and asleep by 5:45 tonight, so I got to sit down and relax, happy to have the chance to finish re-reading an article that I found online. It is written by a professor from my journalism school, a profile of Jacques Derrida, that I read way back in the day during college. It is such a great profile, probably assigned during a features writing course. It makes me miss good writing. Anyway, in the article Derrida defends his “diabolically difficult theory” of deconstructionism, which is a literary construct that really fascinates me. Literally can change the way you think about any book you read. Or even movies you see.

I was thinking about the article while going through the nighttime routine with the girls. I am now on my 60th – plus reading of Goodnight Moon, thus beating my reading record of Little House on the Prairie series (maybe 12 times) and the Grapes of Wrath (maybe 6 times) in the category of Books I Have Reread the Most. Goodnight Moon, unlike those other books, gets very redundant after maybe three readings. Not too much to pick apart. Or is there?

I have never really been a fan of this classic that has captured the hearts of apparently millions and millions of readers. I also don’t like parades and a lot of other things that apparently the entire universe likes.

The girls are mercurial about the book. Some nights, Maddie will grab the book and even try to turn the pages, looking at it in that way that babies do, eyes wide and slightly crossed, mouth open, drooling. Other nights she will catch a glimpse of her waiting bottle and will scream until the bottle is in her mouth, refusing to even look at the book. Avery tends to be overwhelmed and astonished at this magical creation, which is new to her night after night. When she sees the book, she kicks her little feet and juts her hands out like Frankenstein, trying to grab the book from Nicole’s hands. It is as if she is thinking “What IS that amazing thing in mommy’s hands??” She’s like a goldfish. Sometimes they both just cry and cry, egged on by each other, and trying to outs-screech the other, prompting us to power read the entire text in under 20 seconds.

This book was written sixty years ago, written in the feminine rhyme, of which I am not a fan (I don’t really enjoy Dr. Suess), with black AND white and color illustrations. I would love to deconstruct it in that poststructuralist/Derrida sort of way, but right now all I can muster are a few observations:

• The book clearly utilizes the third person narrative, in the objective style, but there are not enough words to rule out omniscient or limited. Who is this masked observer? What is he doing in Bunny’s room?
• The bunny in the striped pajamas, the one going to sleep, starts his bedtime routine at 7:00 pm. That’s the time shown in the clock on the mantle in the beginning of the book. He does not go to sleep till after 8:00. He spends an HOUR saying goodnight to shit in his room. He is all over the bed until the last scene, when he is seen tucked under the covers, the ends of the sheets tucked under the mattress. This is clearly done by another person, this tucking. But we don’t know who. The narrator perhaps?
• There is a quiet old lady whispering hush who I can only assume is the bunny’s grandmother, as it would be rude to refer to the bunny’s mother as “old lady.” Grandma Bunny shows up around 7:20 and stays till the bunny is asleep. While the bunny child tosses and turns and talks to inatiminate objects around his room, she sits quietly knitting. She doesn’t address the poor restless bunny at all, except to whisper hush. Strange that a book designed to read to children to help them sleep includes a character who apparently will not read to her grand bunny to help him sleep.
• The Grandma Bunny’s refusal to read to the Bunny is further compounded by the fact that there is a copy of Goodnight Moon on the Bunny’s nightstand. Yes, there is a copy of the book in the book’s illustrations. Boggles the mind.
• There are kittens playing in the room. Illustrations also reveal a menacing mouse ALL over the room. Warming his paws in front of the fire, balancing on the bookshelf, playing within feet of the frolicking clueless kittens. One of the last illustrations shows the mouse hovering over the bowl of mush. Perhaps this is all seem as whimsical and cute, but I live in New York and find it disgusting and horrifying. Also, those cats should be fired because as far as I am concerned, a cat’s job is to keep the mice away.
• The narrator makes it a point to say that there is a telephone in the room, but does not say goodnight to said telephone. And what is the bunny doing to a telephone in his room? What is he, seven? Why does he need a phone on his nightstand? My 11 year old niece just got a cell phone recently, and I was very opposed to this, until today, when she used it to call me for help on her Spanish homework. Now I am a fan of her phone. But I digress…
• The picture of the three little bears sitting on chairs looks like a picture of the three little bears at a support group meeting. They all look somber, with their bear arms crossed and their faces looking down. This is not the best art choice for a little Bunny’s room.
• Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that there is a blank page that says “Goodnight nobody.” Am I the only one that thinks it is weird?? And there are lights on in the doll house (a.k.a. the toy house). That is just creepy.

But what is this book really saying? What does Margaret Wise Brown trying to tell us in her sparse prose? What does it all mean??

Ok, I need to just unwind with some mindless television or something before my head explodes…..

Pictured above are Madeline (almost 17 pounds) and Avery (almost 18 pounds, with messy bed head), both looking a little worn around the edges. Or maybe that is just me. Normally they love the computer camera! They can stare and laugh at themselves for hours! But not today. On the bottom are our four Christmas stockings. Four! I still still still have to pinch myself sometimes!

By the way, am messing with the template because I am bored to tears with my old template. And jealous of all those fancy templates at The Other Blog Site. Is this why people make the switch??


Amy said...

Have to delurk and add my 2 cents -

I that book is wicked scary too. "goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere" sounds like a pre-suicide declaration.

The "sister" books to Good Night Moon are equally strange- The Runaway Bunny about the mother being omnipresent, My World just doesn't even make sense at all...weird stuff indeed.

Kerry Lynn said...

You are too funny. "He spends an HOUR saying goodnight to shit in his room". That cracked me up.

I have never seen the big deal with this book. It always seemed strange to me.

Amy said...

We have been reading this book to our oldest every night for almost 4 years. I must say that tomorrow night the reading will be quite different. Thank you for giving us something else to think about as we recite this story from memory. There was a period of time when one of us would act out the scenes while the other read it. But that was pretwins and who has time now. You and Nicole might try that, I know our oldest giggled quite a bit when we would do that.

I wish you luck reading other classics from our childhood. Wait until you start showing them Disney classic movies...horrifies me at times that any of it was acceptable.

J said...

I love the observations of the book..never quite diessected it that way. You make good points. =)

calliope said...

This is a brilliant post!!!!

&, since I see a window of opportunity...MOVE to the Other Blog Site!!
You can import all of this blog over there- it is sooooo easy!
& you can password protect posts and all kinds of cool shit.


Shelli said...

It was my FAVORITE book as a child, and it's now one of Malka's favorites. She has it in English and Hebrew, but it's funny - the Hebrew book is actually more "normal." It doesn't say good night nobody. It says Good Night WORLD - I think, perhaps, because the word in Hebrew for World rhymed with the phrase above it. Or else the translators were also like, um WTF!?

But now I won't read the book the same way again. Thanks.

Susanica said...

Hi there. I have to tell you I very much enjoy reading your blog, and I agree with you 100% that Goodnight Moon is very odd. I never read it myself as a kid although I do recall hearing of it. Rather positively too I might add.

Anyway, we've got a different bedtime story for our 6 month old son Danny, so when I took GM off the shelf just last week to read it to him for the first time I was shocked. "This is what everyone says children love?"

Thanks for making me laugh and also validating my assumption that GM isn't for everybody! -Monica

ms.bri said...

I REALLY think you should read her biography, written by Leonard Marcus. I had lunch with him when he visited our school last year and he spilled all sorts of good stuff about MWB being a big bisexual and possibly having a secret baby and her mysterious death. All strange stuff. Explains a lot.

The Attorney said...

I loved the book. I had 5 children, but didn't find it until I gave birth to my fourth. We read it every night to her, and then to the boy who came next.

Maybe holes can be poked in it, as can most likely be poked in any story, but it's a charming, simple night time story that has taken its place in our memories even though we don't read it any more, given that the youngest kids are now 10- and 13-years old.