Ava Wrestles the Alligator
Three Dimensions Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain houses an unconventional triptych called The Garden of Earthly Delight painted by Hieronymus Bosch in 1504. A triptych works by combining three different panels and forming one picture, world, or scene. In the case of The Garden of Earthly Delight we are presented with a triptych that, not only has three complete scenes of Eden, Ecclesia’s Paradise, and Hell present when opened but when closed the viewer can see creation as a whole. In “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” the triptych given is Swamplandia!
In this red neck fairytale the dimensions of Swamplandia! are parallel to the famous Bosch work due the ideas of Earth, Heaven, Hell, and Swamplandia! the kingdom. In Swamplandia! the idea of Earth is known as everyday activities; the running of the park, feeding the alligators. Ava and Ossie have pet lizards and giggle at night in the room they share. “We keep giggling, happy and nervous, tickled by an incomplete innocence” (Russell 4). During these simple, earthly times of normality Ossie also begins to experiment with her newly formed womanly body.
In The Garden of Earthly Delight the images of smiling, naked men and women cover the center panel. The figures in the painting are seen experiencing life as naturally as possible. Even the lives of two young girls can be represented in art painted hundreds of years before their time. This gives the reader and the avid art viewer the idea that it is human nature to experience, laugh, and dream about the world above and beyond the shell that is the human body. Ossie yearns to feel alive. With the use of her own body and her imagination she takes her kingdom and makes it her own.
Far above the kingdom of Swamplandia! the spirits of past Swamplandians hover; most importantly the deceased mother of Ava and Ossie. Ava tells the reader “summer rain is still the most comforting sound I know. I like to pretend that it’s our dead mother’s fingers, drumming on the ceiling above us” (Russell 3). In The Garden of Earthly Delight the idea of Heaven is represented by animals, including alligators, relaxing by a pool of water and the lack of humans, comforted only by a single cloaked figure. In the ase of Ava and Ossie the cloaked figure is the thought of their mother’s spirit encasing their house with each drop of rain. One of the most focal points of The Garden of Earthly Delight is shown in the bottom right corner of the right hand panel. The image of a Bird Beast, or Prince of Hell, ruling over the Underworld is most prominent to the scene. The Prince lures in his prey and uses them for his benefit, whether it is food, pleasure, or manual labor. Like Ossie is a slave to her own pleasure and even attempts suicide to become one with her own twisted sense of desire.
The women of The Garden of Earthly Delight are trapped by sex and pleasure, emotions commonly mistaken for love. Though the similarities are obvious between the two “men” of each story; the most striking common feature of “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” and The Garden of Earthly Delight comes from the Prince shown devouring a woman, much like how the Bird Man rapes Ava. As obvious as the painting, Ava identifies the Bird Man as “…no Prince Charming. He’s covered in feathers and bird shit” (Russell 11). With these three dimensions the idea of a kingdom is more apparent than the simple highway passing of Swamplandia!
The reader is presented with a complex and mysterious gateway through the mind of a twelve year old and to the world of diamond lizards, grief, and the realistic notion that magic is above, below, and surrounding each human being that decides to open the doors of their own triptych. With a glance into Ava’s world and a single glance at a classic work of art each person can discover a fairytale. Works Cited Russell, Karen. “Ava Wrestles the Alligator. ” St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. 3-25.