Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Clarice Lispector’s short story “The Chicken” is exceptional, not only for the fact that its protagonist is a common garden-variety member of the poultry family, but for the fact that the story almost has a happy ending—which, if it actually came to pass, would have been a rare feature in Lispector’s fiction.
In this story, the chicken in question sits in the kitchen placidly, unobtrusively, until she suddenly has a premonition that she is going to be the family’s lunch (which in fact, is true). Dispelling the myth that chickens cannot fly, she spreads her wings and flaps madly toward the backyard wall. From here she makes her way to the neighbor’s terrace, then to the roof, to the chimney, and then to another roof—on and on she goes, struggling across the entire neighborhood. The master of the house, outraged at the escape of his lunch, clambers after her in hot pursuit. Because he has caught birds before, and the chicken has never escaped before, his skill triumphs over her lack of experience, and he eventually catches her and drags her back to the kitchen.
Exhausted, she lays an egg in the middle of the kitchen floor. The family looks upon this as some kind of a sign: the chicken is a mother! How can she be slaughtered? As a result, Lispector says, “The chicken became the queen of the household.” We are, right up to the very end, convinced that the chicken’s fortuitous entrance into the world of motherhood has saved her life. As readers, we are naturally conditioned to read a message into this: perhaps that life triumphs over death, that benevolence triumphs over evil. But then, in the last sentence, Lispector says “...One day they killed her and ate her, and the years rolled on.” We are defeated in our myth-making efforts; Lispector suggests that there is, after all, no meaning to this chicken’s life, and hence no meaning to our own.
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