The grotesque in In the House

   It seems like there are endless examples of bodily mutilation and incredibly gross descriptions in In the House. During the scene in which the narrator dives in the lake, and later when he goes down into the deep house with the bear, I realized that disgusting actions (the narrator eating the fetus, for example) are not the only element of the story that are disturbing. We already talked about how the text might be a horror story in that it acknowledges violent and brutal elements we’d rather keep repressed, but I think the descriptions of the narrator’s aging, the bear’s broken body, and dead animals are an important element (ha) of the novel.

   The first word I thought of to describe these phrases was grotesque. Some quick research revealed that this term means many things in the literary sense, including mutilation, ugliness, and twisted or somehow deviant appearances. 

   Interestingly, Wikipedia provides several other definitions of grotesque. It can apparently also refer to “doubleness”, “hybridity”, or “metamorphosis”. These elements tie in nicely with the narrator’s shifting from human to bear and back, and the mother bear’s initial life as a woman. Although I did not find these revelations to be grotesque, they do fit the definition. Wikipedia also notes that the origin of “grotesque” is derived from the latin root “krypte”, which refers to “a hidden place”, namely a cave. Was this intentional on Bell’s part?

    So how is grotesque language working in the novel? My initial theory was that it added to the fantasy of the story; the narrator cannot really be just skin wagging on bones, like a flag on a flagpole. It also added to the feeling of suffering and general misery in the text. Now, it seems like these “gross” phrases may be tied to the ways that the characters cross boundaries and switch forms, and potentially to the cave of the bear, and the deep “hidden place” of the deep house. Perhaps grotesque-ness is simply the aesthetic of the novel, and Bell is using many of its tropes to create an environment where doubles and hybrids are taken as par for the course and ugliness and suffering is part of the atmosphere.


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