May 13, 2013

Fourth Walls and Existentialsm


So I’m super excited about today’s topic because if I ever do a thesis it’s going to be on the ideas of breaking the fourth wall and existentialism in picturebooks.
First, there’s the concept of breaking the fourth wall. This happens a lot in plays, where the actors talk directly to the audience, but there are a lot of great picturebooks that do it too. THERE ARE CATS IN THIS BOOK by Viviane Schwarz is a great book where the characters address the reader and encourage them to turn the page, engaging the reader more full because s/he becomes a part of the experience of furthering the story.YOU’RE FINALLY HERE! by Mélanie Watt is another good example of a book that breaks the fourth wall, featuring a bunny who scolds the reader for having taken so long in reading the story, only to turn around and talk on his cell phone (there are also some examples of existentialism in it but I’ll get to that in a minute). Finally, Mo Willems’ Pigeon books also break the fourth wall, with the Pigeon asking if he can drive the bus, have a puppy, eat a hotdog. All three are examples of how effective engaging the reader can be and makes the book interactive for all audiences.



Now onto my favorite theory…(drool)…Existentialism.
You can Wikipedia the idea later, but basically existentialism is a complicated philosophy that deals with a heavy focus on the human condition, specifically the meaning of life and one’s purpose. I first became interested in it after reading Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedyROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, a spinoff of HAMLET—I remember thinking how cool it was that Stoppard was able to contemplate the concept of existence in such a darkly funny way and I always kept it in the back of my mind.
Within the last few years, much to my delight, I started to notice existentialist themes in picturebooks. They all tackle the questions of, “Who am I within the context of this book?” and “What happens to me once the book is closed?” but, like Stoppard, present it in a funny and endearing way. Like I said before, there’s a little bit of existentialism inYOU’RE FINALLY HERE! in that the bunny acknowledges he is in a picturebook and Mo Willems addresses these life-altering questions in his Piggie and Elephant book WE’RE IN A BOOK wherein Piggie and Elephant slowly come to realize that they, too, are characters in a picturebook. The same happens for Mordicai Gerstein’s little girl in A BOOK who questions not only what happens after the book is closed, but what kind of book she is even in and who she is within the context of her own world. All three have characters who ask the reader and themselves the tough questions of what happens when their world is closed because the reader has hit the last page—do they exist outside of the book? More importantly, what does it mean if they DON’T exist beyond those 32 pages?
I could gush for hours of course but as this is a blog and not a novel, I’m trying to keep it short. Ok, go check Wikipedia now.
Existentially (assuming we exist at all) yours,
Mel