May 20, 2013

The Ambiguous Ending

Happy Monday everyone!

I read the most fascinating book today. I accidentally bought a book I already owned at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge so I hastily returned it and grabbed the first awesomely-illustrated book I saw, Bluebird, written and illustrated by Bob Staake, and left the store without reading it. And I’m so happy I did.

Bluebird tells the story of a lonely, bullied boy who ends up befriending and spending the day with a symptahetic bluebird. The two engage in a multitude of activities, including eating a cookie together, watching the clouds pass by, and playing with mini sail boats together. When the school bullies show up and injure the bluebird, though, the story takes a turn I didn’t see coming, which brings me to the topic of this post…

How do you interpret an ambiguous ending?

With I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat, these past two years feel like they have been rife with ambiguous endings. Who’s to say what happens to the rabbit at the end of I Want My Hat Back,

or the little fish in This Is Not My Hat?

Maybe the rabbit manages to hop away, and the little fish just barely manages to swim out of reach. The ending of Bluebird is just as ambiguous:

If I’m being honest, I interpret it as the bluebird dying, just as I interpret the bear eating the rabbit and the big fish eating the little fish. I can think of one more example, a slightly lesser known but just as intriguing Little Wolf, written and illustrated by Nadia Shireen. The reader has to remember that the first spread features Little Red Riding Hood, a baby wolf, a small boy, and a few pigs sitting in a circle listening to a story being told by an unseen narrator in order to understand the implications of the final spread:

So is there a reason that these deaths--murders--are presented as ambiguous, like there is consistently a missing spread in between these moments in time? It’s certainly a wonderful tool for creating an open dialogue between the book and the reader, if nothing else. The reader has no choice but to engage in the story from the very beginning in order to get the most meaning out of the ending.  


Never ambiguously yours,