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Postmodernism in Robert Coover’s The Babysitter Essay

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Updated: Jan 4th, 2022

The Babysitter is a wonderful short story by Robert Coover written in 1969 that helps readers understand the complexity of the post-war period and the people’s readiness to comprehend and adopt new streams of literature and other aspects of art. The book is a skillful embodiment of postmodernism streams in literature of 1960’s.

Postmodernism is a school of social theory that emerged on the basis of modernism. In order to understand what postmodernism was it is to be defined what modernism represented. Modernism theory was based upon the new vision of social, political, and all other spheres of life. The church’s oppression was finally objected. Modernism made it possible for art and literature to flourish within Enlightenment. However, Modernism was limited in its own way – it represented the idea of everything being measured to only one possible truth that could be observed. Therefore, there appeared a necessity for another tendency afterwards – postmodernism, that did not limit everything to only one possible idea, single definition for things. It was somewhat entirely-encompassing; it offered many explanations of phenomena. Therefore it is to be noticed that people of post-war period were thirsty for innovations in arts, literature, and social life in general. The Modernism can now be observed as years of stagnation for the Americans’ minds, whereas Postmodernism and its features in literature aroused new controversial feelings and renewed image about the world overall.

The Babysitter should be a nice representation of the Americans’ views changing through time and postmodernist culture. The foremost feature of postmodernism – challenging Enlightenment – that arouses in the text is the attempt of the author to show the subconscious behavior of the characters. Of course, now we know and understand clearly that a person has conscious and subconscious ideas, however, during the period of post-war art development it was a newly discovered feature founded in literature. Moreover, I have to admit it was somewhat audacious of Coover to unveil this trait of human nature in the book, besides so boldly, as modernist culture did not dare to do so. Also, subsequently, we can observe how the versatile approach to different life and art aspects was implemented, unlike modernistic tendencies, as was explained above.

Also, one of the postmodernist features is somewhat parodying the quests of the meaning of this world. This is why the narrations are often fiction-based because it was the authors’ purpose to avoid talking about one particular idea about our being and surprising the reader through the unlinked plot; undoubtedly, this is a characteristic feature of Postmodernism in The Babysitter. Namely, Coover presented the plot in several storyline fragments that end differently. Due to such incoherent narration, a reader has a hard time dealing with the plot. This is a plot that goes well beyond the storyline and gives a great opportunity to the reader to fantasize and give a new meaning to the reading.

The Babysitter is a professionally written story about people’s hidden desires. What is very compelling about the plot of the book is that the author touched upon the feelings different people have. Among depicted ones were fear and raw lust. Talking about Postmodernism techniques, the book here represents the simple desires people have every day throughout their entire life. Unlike Enlightenment postmodernistic features included here are unearthing the hunger for sexual relations of every character of the book except in different ways.

Of course, it was somewhat shocking how Coover decided to describe the temptation of husband, babysitter herself, and babysitter’s boyfriend and his friend: Mark is kissing her. Jack is under the blanket, easing her panties down over her squirming hips. Still, disregarding a somewhat obsessive sexual approach the storyline’s curves amaze with their unexpectedness. The scene with a babysitter, taking a bath is described in three different variations, which makes the book exciting, though a little confusing in terms of repetition of actions and their variability. The babysitter, while taking a bath, is caught by Jimmy, Mr. Tucker, and Jack with his friend Mark in three different scenes; though, it is definite that within the three separate scenes she takes one single bath. This makes a story very interesting to read because you watch the plot forking in three directions, having an opportunity to imagine the plot development differently and, also, to see how different people’s subconsciousness works.

There is another scene that is shown in differently developed ways. When Jack comes over to play is the scene where Robert Coover depicts the possibility of Jack to come alone, or with Mark, to come with permission or without it, to get caught by Mr. Tucker or not. It seems like Coover simply provided a reader with a bunch of stories that could have happened to the characters and let the readers decide what the actual meanings of those were.

One of the amazing traits of the story is the author’s ability to make the story vague by mixing the truth and fantasy, ultimately bringing the reader to the point where it is impossible to tell one from another. Of course, this, by all means, can be claimed as a characteristic feature of Postmodernism that truly challenged the Modernism way of representation. The book tells us about true aspects of human nature, whereas Modernism simply focused on family traditions and another decent life basis. Needless to say, the post-war period was a nice field for authors to sow the seeds of such literature because this way the readers could develop imagination due to the incoherent and conclusion-demanding plot.

The Babysitter is definitely worth reading because it is a book that could offer the American society of those years a new perspective of the world’s meaning, so can it do the same nowadays since readers have various views and perceptions of the same readings. Moreover, it has to be said that the book’s various possible plots progress are the author’s view on this life. We get to learn how the same exact situations that take place anywhere daily could have developed in different ways because different people do not act the same way. The story explicitly tells us about the variants of our lives being changed under unexpected circumstances. Moreover, it is hard to deny that people do think in completely different ways since we are the personalities raised in various families, which enables us to force the situations to develop differently.

This is what The Babysitter is about influenced by Postmodernism. The author talked about the babysitter’s evening spent at her employers’ house watching after kids. And what a surprise should a reader experience when getting acquainted with the story’s several elaborations that took place between 7:40 and 10:30 p.m. In other words, Robert Coover expressed his point of view on the same exact situation from the perspective of his protagonists whose inner world influenced reality. The question that the Postmodernism features of the short story pose are what could have possibly happened with the world if the fantasies of every character came true? Subsequently, this proves the aim of Postmodernism evolution theory – the right of versatile explanations to exist. To be more exact, the literature did not focus on one-sided explanations of the objective reality anymore. People had a wonderful chance to read something new, something completely different that aroused controversial feelings and made people think about the reality and its different sides seen through many characters’ eyes.

One more aspect that has to be touched upon besides the sexual nature of the short story The Babysitter is the image of a woman depicted within the narration, one of which: …that sweet odour that girls have. The softness of her blouse. He catches a glimpse of the gentle shadows amid her thighs, as she curls her legs up under her. He stares hard at her. Of course, it is well-known that the period of Modernism is characterized by modest beliefs that could not be trespassed. The main objects of the Enlightenment literature were decent topics, such as family values, that were observed as only possible and the only proper ones, unlike the woman depicture within the Postmodernistic Babysitter. If we take the family values for consideration within Modernism literature it has to be said there was no place for lust, adultery, or other seducements, indeed; and even if there was – the focus was clear enough to only condemn all of the above.

Therefore, for the sake of justice, it needs to be stressed that Postmodernism is not a period of dissipation. It just unveils humans’ nature and stands on the grounds that every person has a right to self-expression and also that every situation can be regarded differently depending on the way we view it. Namely, depending upon the way a specific person wants a specific situation to be developed according to own desire, breeding, and morality. Hence, Robert Coover dared to describe the woman as a nubile young babysitter who unconsciously and instinctively seduced male characters.

So, in order to conclude, it has to be said that The Babysitter really challenged the Enlightenment era with its restrained literature. The writing style affected the meaning greatly. Being colorful and vivid the descriptions take you to the point where the author brings you closer to the conclusion though makes it possible to think up what is missing. Though the interrupted plot confuses a bit, it only happens at first. Once you understand that the situation is all the same viewed from the sight of different protagonists, everything becomes clearer and even more thrilling. A reader gets a chance to understand how various people imagine reality and how exciting it is to see this reality changing through fiction.

So, whether it is decent or not, the story is certainly worth reading for it is a perfect implementation of the ideas of Postmodernism: incoherent plot, irony, and pastiche way of representation. The author made his way to challenge the Modernism culture for the sake of people’s evolution in terms of literary tastes. No wonder Robert Coover gained such popularity among sophisticated readers. The Babysitter is a breakthrough in the world of literature because it teaches the reader of the post-war period to think and fantasize beyond the limited plot.

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IvyPanda. "Postmodernism in Robert Coover's The Babysitter." January 4, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postmodernism-in-robert-coovers-the-babysitter/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Postmodernism in Robert Coover's The Babysitter." January 4, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postmodernism-in-robert-coovers-the-babysitter/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'Postmodernism in Robert Coover's The Babysitter'. 4 January.

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