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"Catherine, Called Birdy"
Transcript of "Catherine, Called Birdy"
By Karen Cushman
Prezi by Wendy Palamarchuk
Catherine owns a number of caged birds in her bedroom chamber, and they entertain her and keep her company. These birds are a symbol of restricted freedom and are compared to Catherine herself, thus obtaining her nickname, "Birdy." The birds are trapped in their cages, which is similar to Catherine being trapped in her status as a noble woman who is to be married off. Also they both scream or chirp their cries of self expression and protest in order to escape their condemned fate.
As requested by Catherine's older brother, Edward, Catherine is required to keep a journal to mature and keep her mind sharp. Catherine's daily journal symbolizes her self expression of her thoughts, feelings, and opinions as she documents her eventful life. She is expected to act like a true "lady," and not speak of rude ideas or words like "Corpus Bones" or "God's knees," so she frequently mentions them her writing.
Sewing, embroidery, or hemming in general are symbols of being feminine or a proper lady in many time periods, like in Catherine's era. She absolutely resents the idea of stitching, even though her mother and nursemaid, Morwenna force her to do it in order to become a stereotypical dumb and obedient female. Catherine feels trapped and would rather enjoy some pleasant outdoor activities, which displays how this symbol of sewing is against her wish of not becoming lady-like.
The historical setting of "Catherine, Called Birdy" is in thirteenth century Medieval England, and it truly affects the story, events, and main character of the book. In the village of Stonebridge, a manor with a greedy, Feudal lord and his noble family stood over the peasants. Catherine recorded many eventful accounts in her journal of the village, its people, other local towns, and Medieval activities like executions, fairs, commoner companions, holy days, pilgrimages, feasts, weddings, and more. Catherine is the daughter of a lord named Rollo, and although her documented life consists of many daily events, her true story is told when her father decides to marry her off to a rich suitor. It was quite common for a girl like Catherine to be married at a young age in medieval times, especially for the negotiation of her dowry. Eventually the worst of Catherine's suitors, known as Shaggy Beard, obtains her for a price of gold and livestock. Although she lived a very noble life, she was forced to do lady-like chores and was treated like a piece of fruit by her father, as he checked to see if she was "ripe" for marriage.
Historical Setting Impact
Paradox and Resolution
Catherine's paradox throughout the story is Dreams vs. Reality, or her expectations of life vs. the inescapable truth of what real life is like for any female in the Middle ages. Catherine just wants to be herself and be free anywhere she goes instead of being forced into the role of an accepted woman in society. She wants to act improper, go on adventures, and dream of happiness and handsome knights, but now she must face the reality of her father's decision to marry her. Catherine constantly argues with her father about this topic of marrying a repulsive man, but the fight usually results in physical violence. Catherine has no choice but to marry the highest-bidding suitor, known as Shaggy Beard, but he suddenly dies in the end in a fight. Catherine is relieved to hear this news and feels more optimistic to marry Shaggy Beard's son, Stephen. Before Shaggy Beard's death, Catherine had overcome her paradox by accepting her fate in reality, but she will always be herself in her aspirations and personality.
Catherine is very amusing as she explores and describes the medieval world around her. The author, Karen Cushman displays Catherine's outgoing and hilarious characteristics in her journal or the storyline of the book by using bizarre interjections. For example, at the end of Catherine's remarks about a subject that is odd, unpleasant, or surprising, she swears by saying "God's thumb" or "God's face." Also the author displays Catherine's wisdom through true similes and analogies to compare real objects to emotions. For example, "I think sometimes that people are like onions. On the outside, smooth and whole and simple but on the inside ring upon ring, complex and deep." Her intellect at a young age truly makes you wonder about the truths of her words.
Recommendations and Critique
I would recommend this book to anyone who is enthusiastic about medieval history, since the book is chock-full of information about the everyday lives, events, and culture of the people of the Middle Ages. There are facts about medical treatments, religion, theater, festivals, homes, saints, and more that will truly surprise you. Primarily, I would also recommend "Catherine, Called Birdy" to any female or feminist, since the protagonist, Catherine, desires and identifies the true rights of women. She explains her unusual feminist spirit during that time period in such a entertaining way, and she is a character who any general person could relate to. The storyline is strengthened due to the journal-like format of the book, thus allowing the reader to experience the character's life daily in her perspective. Before every journal entry, Catherine would write the name and description of a saint who was dedicated to a certain day. With the exception of festival days that celebrated the saints, the descriptions were a bit tedious and had very little effect on the plot. The little pieces of information about the saints scattered throughout the book did, however, strengthen the idea of the Middle Ages being the "age of faith."