‘The Chicken’ by Clarice Lispector

The Chicken by Clarice Lispector, 1952

The magic trick:

Flirting with predictable clichés but slyly twisting the knife in surprising ways

Even though the story might seem cliché, Lisepctor takes it to a surprising place. “The Chicken” places us in the point of view of a chicken, waiting to be slaughtered. The story moves along these lines about as you’d expect. There’s a specific moment that stands out for me, though. A little girl notices the chicken laying an egg and runs off to tell her family.

She’s saving the chicken! Now the chicken won’t be slaughtered after all!

You probably think that. And you’re mostly right. Except it’s not quite the narrative you expect. “Mama, Mama,” the girl shouts, “don’t kill the chicken anymore, she laid an egg! She cares about us!”

That is such a brilliant bit of dialogue. Just when you think the story is predictable, maybe even trite, we get this perfect indictment of the family. It’s not from the chicken’s perspective; it’s the words of a child. Perfect. This is such a damning attack on the patriarchy. And that’s quite a trick on Lispector’s part. 

The selection:

It was then that it happened. Completely overwhelmed, the hen laid an egg. Surprised, exhausted. Perhaps it was premature. But immediately afterward, as if she had been born for maternity, she looked like an old, habitual mother. She sat down on the egg and remained that way, breathing, buttoning and unbuttoning her eyes. Her heart, so small on a plate, made the feathers rise and fall, and filled that which would never be more than an egg with warmth. Only the little girl was near-by and witnessed everything, terrified. As soon as she could tear herself away, she got up off the floor and shrieked: “Mama! Mama! Don’t kill the hen any more! She laid an egg! She likes us!”

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