The Metaphor in Gilbert Grape’s House: Building or Body?


“While my House was burning” By Rob Nye.Oil, ink, pastel and acrylics. San Rafael, California.
 
Metaphors are processes where abstracts are transformed into material or visual image. They are important in interdisciplinary works, they communicate the ideas in an overall sense and promote discussion.
Sometimes authors make use of metaphors to explain feelings and emotions.
In architecture, we find three types of metaphors. The tangible or analogy of form; the intangible, that includes a hidden message; and a combination between tangible and intangible; Architecture and metaphors could be interpreted in the multi dimensions of the interdiscipline, always noting the significance of its users.
I have selected the novel of “What’s eating Gilbert Grape”, by Peter Hedges, to show a symbolic condition that invites us to make the connection between the obese mother and her house. Most essays on this novel have as a central point the relationship between Gilbert and his retarded brother, and set aside the underlying association between the mother and the house, that I take as an unconscious assumption of life and death.
 
The awareness of our bodies can be related to the place where we live. Gaston Bachelard’s house is a personification in its own negation. The inhabited space is the non-I that protects the I. (Bachelard, Ch. 1, p.5). The house comforts us with the illusion of protection. So does Momma.
“…I was saying that nobody has broken in here because I stand watch. They will have to get by me before they can get to you. I dare someone to try and get by me.”
She is right. No way is any criminal or killer even going to think about coming into our house as long as she sits in her chair. Momma is our sentinel.”. (p. 201)
In Bachelor’s description, the house has an attic, -a place for night dreams and memories-, a ground floor where the life occurs, a basement, where subterranean sufferings and secrets dwell. Based on this idea, the house has a certain human condition, and is embedded with the personality of its inhabitants; the house represents the human body and the human body is the metaphor of the house.
The mother’s obesity is one of the many conflicts in the novel that could have been unnoticed –just another oversized body- but we can feel it by means of the metaphor, and it may be read in its interaction with the house.
When I say “oversized” my reference is Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s drawing based on the correlations of ideal human body proportions with geometry, described in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. Subject that was also developed by Leonardo Da Vinci, Leone Battista Alberti and in modern times, by Le Corbusier and his proposal of Modulor. But no woman’s body was ever considered in these studies and we can also see here that there is no such an universal set of proportions for the human body.
Leonardo da Vinci’s interpretation of the Vitruvian Man. Juniperimages.
Le Corbusier’s Modulor.
Momma is always sitting in her chair, and the floor below her is about to collapse into the cellar; she is literally falling through the floor, directly to a hidden obscure situation, the husband’s suicide that originated her desperation. The house is claiming for help too, when Momma stomps both feet on the floor, the dining table jiggles, and a picture falls. The floor “begs” to the family:
“What Tucker, what?”
“Gilbert. It’s a grim”.
“What is?”
“The floor.”
I don’t know what to say.
“It’s all changing.” Tucker says. “Your mother is like twice the size of when I last saw her.”
“I know.” (Excerpt from p. 57)
In his comment, Tucker implicitly notices that both Momma and the house are changing. At the end of the novel, Momma tries a final effort and goes upstairs, to her own bedroom, in which she has not been for long years. The huge effort has the prize of reaching the dreams again, or I should say the last dream. Her death make her sons and daughters realize that her body, far behind the Vitruvian proportions, have converted the house in its own prison. Now, the body cannot be separated from the house, unless part of the building is opened and a crane is hired to take the body out. They suddenly decide she does not deserve it.
The metaphor is leading us to the truth. The ruin of the body, is the ruin of the house. When the body dies, the house is burnt down, the body has become part of the ashes, and only memories are kept.

REFERENCES

Metaphors: A Creative Design Approach or Theory by ChristineWonoseputro

http://www.worldarchitecture.org/links/?waurl=http://transmaterialasia.wordpress.com/2006/11/01/hadids-metaphors-reading-her-biography-from-the-way-of-thinking/&thissueno=2151&thissuetipi=6&thissueup=385

Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret). The Modulor and Modulor 2. 2 volumes. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2000. Reviewed by Michael J. Ostwald

http://www.springerlink.com/content/1qr207l820065874/fulltext.pdf

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. The classic look at how we experience intimate spaces. USA. 1994

Hedges, Peter. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. New York, 1994

Safe Creative #0910274774364

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