So, every October I read Ray Bradbury's "The October Country", or at least some portion of it. Probably my favorite story in it is "The Jar", which I just finished reading for the umpteenth time.
It fascinates me a great deal, in large part because, at least to me, it never reveals exactly what it is about, what the jar is or whether the things that happen are mundane or not or both.
So I am curious as to the opinions and interpretations of others who've read the story. What do you think the theme is? What is in the jar, both before and after the disappearance of Thedy?
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The story is yet another example of Bradbury's wonderful mastery of prose, and of the technique of implying a story that underlies the narrative action and is where the true story lies. [I am still envious and amazed by his genius as a writer; his skill with words, evocative and emotional imagery.]
However, it is a tale that occurs in summer, not the autumn; although I can appreciate why the dark tenor of the story would evoke autumn emotions.
Contrarily, My favorite Bradbury October read is Something Wicked This Way Comes.
My daughter's is The Halloween Tree.
SPOILER ALERT (Skip if you haven't read the story): The Jar is the story of a simple farmer desiring simple pleasures: the companionship of his neighbors and a tittle of respect. Neither which he receives from his wife who is sleeping with a man whom he despises for always making fun of him and who constantly seeks to have his neighbors do so as well.
No one who sees the object in the jar can agree what it is or looks like. The jar with its strange unidentifiable fleshy object floating in oil is a soul-mirror for all who gather together to gaze at it: a woman's child lost in the marsh, a kitten a man's mother forced him to drown, the primordial creature from which all humanity arose per the black man Jahdoo (and he comes closer to the truth metaphorically), but it is Granny who I believe strikes the mark, at least as Farmer Charlie knows it : "Why couldn't it be sort of--all things? Lots of things. What they call a...Symbol. Symbol of all the nights and days....Why's it have to be one thing? Maybe it's lots?"
Thredy, the farmer's wife, and her illicit lover drive to the carnival where Charlie bought the jar. The carny-boss made the thing from "liquid, rubber, paper mache, silk, cotton, chemicals...metal-framework", and they all have a good laugh at Charlie's expense. She is near delirious with pleasure when, over his objections, she tells Charlie, to hurt him, to take even this one thing from him.
And, though it is not shown or said explicitly, he kills her for it.
And, similarly, though not said explicitly, when the neighbors come around to sit, talk, and stare at the jar, for the first time they now agree that the thing in the jar has brown hair, and its eye is blue. And is his wife Thredy gone yet again for a long visit to her relatives in Tennessee? [One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out]
I've thought that myself a few times about how its funny that it's technically a summer story...but still fits so well in the October Country.
Your interpretation of the story matches up pretty well with mine. However, my big question is this: If we're to assume that he killed Thedy and basically put her head in the Jar (as actually shown in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode version) why didn't anyone recognize it?
I tend to favor supernatural explanations over mundane ones so, part of my thinks there is something...odd about that jar.
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I don't overthink it. Much like I don't try to figure out how a skilled magician performs his tricks.
Much like Farmer Charlie, I don't want "reality" to murder the wonder of the fantasy.
To explain he cut off her head, crushed it, added "liquid, rubber, paper mache, silk, cotton, chemicals..." and made an approximation of the object in the jar...well, that dispels the magic and undermines the horror.
As I suggest, implication without coarse explanation is one of the touches of short story mastery in which Mr. Bradbury excels. He understands the power of the reader's imagination to fill in (better than written words) what is not said, what is more horrifying...much like observing the thing in the jar.
This is a story that demonstrates many wonderful layers.
The jar contains what in carny lingo is known as a "bouncer," a fake sculpture intended to resemble a human fetus, which though illegal to possess for being human remains, is called a "pickled punk."
The carny boss's sales strategy is called a "buildup," a showman's method of determining how much a "rube" has "in his denims" to spend and getting all of it, so long as the rube has the means to get away from the carnival lot.
A textualism interpretation of "The Jar" might look at the motifs of carny life, those of the "Hollow's" folk, their superstitions, the lives of Charlie and Thedy, and the changes in fortune (companionship, prestige, and comeupance to his wife's sassy disposition) the jar brings Charlie. In a large sweep, the jar is a reflection of the Hollows, that it's a static life enlivened by the bouncer's mysteries. Also, not contradictorily, the jar reflects how story interpretations are open to various inferences.
Whether Charlie murders Thedy or not is open to inference, for example. Carmody's spooked attitude at the end could be interpreted to mean he's worried Thedy is gone for good and with her Carmody's power over Charlie as Carmody's means to hold social standing. The Hitchcock interpretation leaves no doubt that Thedy's dead and her head is in the jar is the meaning of the story and I think weakens the story's mystery powers.
The mystery remains open to inference in the original version. Whether Thedy is gone home for good, or drowned in the jar by Charlie, or just spooked off home by Charlie's "Here kittie," the drowning implication is strong. Which is what Carmody is spooked by? Or that Charley has at last one-upped Carmody's contempt for him, or what, "The Jar" is a bouncer jar readers look into and infer what they may, as carnival goers and readers have for centuries.
Overall, for me, "The Jar" is about human needs for feeling a sense of belonging to a meaningful social group and a participating part of the great mystical tableau of existence. The jar is a conversation piece that the people of the Hollow want to make meaning out of.
And the jar is a most artful MacGuffin, in that the jar could as easily be a crystal ball, an abstract stone sculpture or fine art painting, a potato chip, or a smudge on a plate glass window resembling any of a panoply of religious or celebrity personages. The object itself is less important than its sublime and profound meaning to the story and how the object develops the protagonist's and other characters' personalities for making meaning in the story. That's a MacGuffin in all its artistic glories.