Gretel in Darkness: An Elegy or a Quest?
A grown-up Gretel meets the witch in the forest and gropes in more darkness thereafter! Who is that witch, is she her future tense? Is her cry is the precursor of her own? A reality strikes the inner chord and the mind sways away, and it forces Gretel to introspect; to delve deep in the journey of the civilization and asserts the agony that is associated with the hapless roles of women, the supposedly half contributor to the march of civilization along with men.
When I’m in the Shoes of Luise Gluck
All have been done as you wished, brother – now we are in a world that you had chosen and which I seconded, because I saw the world through your eyes. Don’t you remember that I leaned onto you when I was petrified by the eeriness of that unknown forest? And, you assured me of security, right? Assured it to someone, who was then capable of serving you, who would free you from the clutch of the witch.
Now I know, that men are men and they will be men. Like our father who remarried for pleasure and passed on the onus of being wicked on the shoulder of our stepmother. An empty home is better than a wicked stepmother, So she was vanished in the thin air. I know, all stepmothers would vanish like that. The vanish before returning as a witch. Perhaps, all the women in the world, with their youth gone, would become a witch.. Like that lone witch in the forest, making it blacker than ever. It suits the men’s world, and thereby the father, oh the hapless father, would continue to be in the mainframe, will remain epitome of love and affection – This is the world you wanted and I seconded.
The Chemistry Within
The spurt of realization takes time to grow and mature itself, much like a cake that burns long to be perfect, or the goblet that goes through the same process before holding the best of wines in it; human mind also gather the information, like the oven, and that turns into knowledge, and then distills down to the wisdom; Gluck, perhaps gone through that same process, and it is her wisdom that serves as an eye-opener – women are still the second-grade citizen in this world, and that’s a tradition which men have been preserving all along under one pretext or the other.
The Black forest, the events took place there, all foiled in the fear, now come back to Gretel in an enlarged form to break her sheet of sugar, the make-believe world she is in! She finds the concept of living “happily ever after” is only a distant utopia for women, a dangling carrot before her driving force.
Instead, “The armed firs” and the “gleaming kiln” are the realities for her, waiting to receive her someday as the proverbial witch!
The Thought and Its Train
This realization, this spark was waiting to be a carrier, and Hansel and Gretel, a folk tale suddenly served as the perfect foil to Gluck’s outburst. The story contains all the elements that justify her analysis of women’s position in the society, and as if it has been waiting for so long to see her becoming a woman and accept the ordeals scheduled for her! Now she is a woman and thus is liable to be used so long she is usable, and then she would be thrown out under another pretext – finally, she would lurch around all alone, perhaps with a realization of what misdeeds men have done to her. There might be a desire in her to take the revenge and perhaps she might be closer to succeed, but that far and no further, as there would new Gretels with all their simplicity and inherent affection like mother Earth would pack her off to oven to save his brother, for she would also cherish to see the world in his eyes and be happy in keeping the men folk happy.
What else could Gretel do now, except shedding some tears for the witch? Or, for herself? She does that, cursing a sigh for that affection stemming out of a woman’s umbilical connection. By now she realizes, this is the irony that would keep women living in a paradoxical, make-believe world, where hope would be her only companion…
The reality and its starkness makes Gretel quip in desperation, “Nights I turn to you to hold me, but you are not there”, as she finds the truth that men would be by her side so long she has some utility value; after that it would be a lone journey of a witch, they, the men, are not, and simply, will not be there!
There has been relentless campaign since the inception of the society to categorize and segregate women as someone meant to be a tool for men to enjoy the world, that too till the period she can serve – after that she can be discarded, be labeled as the proverbial witch – it matters little whether it is overtly said in a folk tale to stamp the ideas to the subconscious of the budding rulers of the society, or it is covertly placed in the media meant for the adults to avoid any furor.
But then, it was she who killed the witch. For whom? For another male, who will also forget his service. And it’s true, that “No one remembers”, finds she. No one would ever wonder about the intensity of the affection for him that could initiate even a crime like murder. Even more, murdering someone who walked long enough through the path scheduled for women, a path that is waiting for her as well. A folly of a simpleton? A proverbial trap of false affection? All to join that vicious circle of serving and turning witch in the end, engaged in vain search of happiness in between? All at the expense of “Far from women’s arms/ And memory of women”!
When I peep into Gluck’s Mind
This state of affairs haunts Gluck, who, as if involuntarily identifies herself with Gretel, who appears before her as the epitome of a budding woman with the inherent virtues and with the cultivated wisdom of leaning onto men for survival; she realizes that she has also been taught like that, to be subservient to men, which she couldn’t deny, as by the time she became a women, the messages surreptitiously distilled down to her subconscious and became a part of her selective perception; an element, she would not be able to do without. It would always come out of her as natural – the feminine affection for men.
This realization generates a dichotomy in Gretel and she weeps within, an imagined, grown-up Gretel, suddenly discovering her predestined loneliness. A pure awakening within convinces her about the epical standing of women in the society, predestined to be served and then left out in cold!
This poem, in many ways, deviates from the known track of feminism that airs a direct protest against the atrocities of men; instead, it delves deep into the subject to bring out a root cause of the exploitation of women. She went back to the formative years of the children and checked the contents that are served to them; and then she identified those messages that might have taken place there as a conscious ploy to create a derogatory perception about women, as if with two separate morals specified for male and female – for male, it is “women are supposed to serve us”, and for female: “serve, or perish”!
Poets need very few words to rewrite the history, as it’s the condensation of thought packs enough power to engulf another; Gretel in Darkness has all that element foiled with allusion. Through it, Gluck invites the readers to reach a dark tunnel it discovered as existing since the advent of society. Then, she asks them to venture into that and to find and read the oldest manuscript of the civilization, from which stems in this crisis.
A poet’s job should be completed right there and she rightfully stops there only, after invoking the quest in readers. For, knowledge is personal and vision is private, channeled by wisdom.