The short story, “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”, was written by Robert Olen Butler. Tom Petitjean and William Nelles state in their article, “As the title promises, the story revolves around a compulsively jealous husband.” This story is about a zany husband that is reincarnated as a parrot. Butler gives the parrot a voice in his short story and lets this character explain his emotions by saying, “I am sitting on a perch in a pet store in Houston and what I’m really thinking is . . . It’s you. And what’s happened is I’m looking at my wife” (715). Even though the husband has been reincarnated as a parrot, he still has strong feelings for his former wife and becomes very defensive about everything she does. He has a hard time excepting the fact that his former wife has found another lover. The parrot and the former wife struggle with jealousy and lack of communication; therefore, they are drawn in separate directions. As William Nelles writes, “Eventually he comes to love his wife more than he had when alive, to regret his own failures in their relationship, and even to feel pity for her latest love.” In the short story “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” the theme, that relationships are tough with jealousy and a lack of communication, is shown through the story’s character, tone and symbolism.
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Butler uses the characters in his story to assert the theme that maintaining jealousy and lacking communication can both lead to a bad relationship. The parrot/husband described in the story has a great deal of hatred for his previous wife’s new lover and uses specific details to exhibit his jealousy. One example as Butler stated from the story is, ” A guy that looked like a meat packer, big in the chest and thick with the hair, the kind of guy that I always sensed her eyes moving to when I was alive” (715). This shows the extensive amount of jealousy that consumes the character, not only as a parrot now but also when he used to be her husband. The parrot acts protective and suspicious, which leads to the destruction of his relationship with his new owner and former wife. As Dottie Enrico clarified, “Butler peels back the sleazy veneer of the sensational to expose characters who long for love and the healing comfort of human compassion.” This asserts Butler’s thought and underlying theme that love and compassion are virtual necessities for humans. The character of the husband acts jealous even when he returns as a parrot. He is jealous of the new lover introduced to him and has no way as a parrot to converse with anyone about his newfound dilemma. With the characters expressing their emotions in the story the theme better described and is made easier to understand.
Butler also uses tone to convey the theme that relationships are difficult to maintain with jealousy and no communication. The tone of the story is understood to be bitter and negative. Enrico states that, “With vivid language and unforgettable scenarios”, the tone leaves an impact on the theme. The parrot in Butler’s story states, ” This guy with cowboy belt buckle and rattlesnake boots and his pasty face and his twang words of love trailed after my wife through the den, past the cage, and I said “cracker”‘ (718). This statement shows his disdain for another character. His jealousy is expressed through the tone and attitude he has towards the “cracker”, who has done nothing particularly harmful to him. Most comments that come from the parrot are undesirable, which can lead the reader to think negatively about his former wife and their relationship. For example, as Petitjean and Nelles said in their article, “He realized that his consciousness had always been divided that he has always had another creature inside who might have felt love while he had only felt jealousy and anger.” This quote is an accurate example of the tone in the story, “Jealous Husband.” It relates to the theme because it shows the how jealousy was a problem for the main character and how he struggled with it. The tone of the story plays a major role in representing the theme, and the character’s jealousy is shown through each one of his negative statements.
Finally, Butler uses symbolism to help describe his theme that remaining jealous and not communicating can cause a relationship to decay. The parrot and the cage are the main symbols that Butler uses to relate the story to its main theme. As Enrico explains, “In one pitiful passage form ‘Husband’, the man/bird is reduced to using [parrot-terms] to communicate with his wife and her new lover.” This sheds light on the difficulty that their relationship now faced. There was no longer a way for them to communicate with one another. The parrot is a good symbol of the story’s theme because there is no clear way for communication to occur. The characters are not able to understand each other, which can cause a great deal of confusion within their relationship. The cage in this story symbolizes being locked away and not being able to change the condition. This imprisonment eventually promotes jealousy to arise in a character, which can, in turn, affect a relationship. As Petitjean and Nelles stated in their article, “When his former wife, who enters the store and is drawn to him says, ‘Hello’, he can say it back, but when she then says “Pretty bird,” he can only repeat ‘Hello.’ This can be realistic for communication between a bird and owner but it compares to how they were in human life” (Nelles). As Nelles also stated, “The cage can represent being sheltered, or limited.” Being locked away in a cage and reincarnated as a parrot caused many problems. Among these problems was a growing jealousy for his former position that another had taken and the loss of the ability to truly communicate. The husband’s jealousy and communication problems were only enhanced by the new circumstances that he inherited by becoming a parrot.
There are many opinions of this short story. The theme of “Jealous Husband” is that relationships are hard with jealousy and no communication among the characters. Some people may think that the characters in this story play no role in the theme because there is no dialogue to explain what they are actually thinking. However, characters can help a reader to come to a complete understanding of the theme. The husband/parrot has true feelings and emotions, and he expressed them throughout the story. One example of this occurs when his former wife walks into the pet store he says, “Her touch makes my tail flare. I feel the stretch and rustle of me back there” (715). With phrases like this, the husband/parrot’s true emotions of still being in love with her come out. It is this expression of emotion that leads him to be extremely jealous for the rest of the story. Readers may think that the tone does not resemble the theme because the tone that is expressed is often considered to be mad. However, this tone resembles the attitude of the character and his annoyance with both jealousy and not being able to communicate properly. Readers may also think that the symbolism of a parrot and a cage does not contribute to the theme. They may think that a bird and a cage can symbolize many different things entirely besides jealousy and the inability to converse in a relationship. However, Butler’s use of symbolism for this purpose can be seen in the phrase, “I flap my wings and I squawk and I fluff up and I slick down and I throw seed and I attack that dangly toy as if it was the guy’s balls, but it does no good” (717). This is a perfect example of how the symbols relate to the theme. The husband/parrot is locked up with hostility and jealousy and no way to interconnect. The characters, tone and symbolism of this story help the reader better understand the overall theme.
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Throughout the short story, “Jealous Husband”, there is an ambitious amount of examples that relate to the theme that it is hard to make a relationship work with jealousy and no communication. By using appropriate characters, tone and symbols, the story helps connect the reader with the understood theme. Through the character of the husband/parrot the theme is pronounced through his expressions and comments. Nelles writes in his article, “he realizes that his consciousness has always been divided, that he had always had another creature inside who might have felt love while he had only felt jealousy and anger.” The tone that Butler uses throughout the story explains the theme. Due to the main character’s destructive attitude and the amount of negativity, the reader is aware of his intense jealousy. In this story, Butler uses the phrase, “bad bird” (719). This is one example of the tone being used to give a negative feeling toward the husband/parrot. These words damage the attitude of the character and make the tone of the story one of criticism. Often with jealousy and a lack of communication, relationships can fail and unpleasant situations can arise. The parrot eventually learns his lesson about being excessively jealousy and suspicious. He also understands that it takes communication to have a healthy relationship. As Butler explains, “I will fly now. Even though I know there is something between me and that place where I can be free of all these feelings, I will fly” (719). The parrot demonstrates that he accepts the lessons he has learned about jealousy and the importance of communication when it comes to relationships.
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