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The Feather Pillow

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Carmen Rein Starr

on 24 September 2013

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Transcript of The Feather Pillow

The Feather Pillow
Author Background
Literary Analysis
Plot Summary
Later Life
Influence on Literary Works
Life and Death
"The Feather Pillow" by Horacio Quiroga illustrates the balance between life and death by suggesting that one cannot exist in the presence of the other. Quiroga presents this theme through the wedded Alicia, whose spiritual and mental curiosity is gradually destroyed as a result of her marriage. The parasite portrays the physical manifestation of her mental and spiritual dissolution, thus annihilating the remnants of physical life in the bride and balancing her internal death.
The Number Five
The number five is often seen as symbol of balance given its position in relation to other numbers. In "The Feather Pillow", Alicia's life is drained from her "in five days [and] five nights", implying that the process of her death served to balance her. In this sense, the use of the number five as a symbol for balance reveals the instability between the bride's internal emptiness and her external appearance; the parasite, then, only destroyed Alicia in the physical sense, balancing her already-dead spirit.
Feather Pillow
The feather pillow metaphorically portrays Jordan's secretive nature in his marriage with Alicia. Just as the pillow never revealed the parasite until Alicia's death, Jordan "loved her profoundly but never let it be seen" until he realized his lover was dying. In both cases, Alicia was drained -- drained of her love by Jordan and drained of her blood by the parasite in the feather pillow. It is also interesting to note that the feather represents union in many cultures; thus, the parasite's infestation in the feather pillow can be seen to symbolically represent the poisoning of the marriage.
Human-like Hallucinations
If the monster in Alicia's pillow was indeed a form of parasite, it is strange to think that Alicia's "most persistent hallucinations was that of an anthropoid poised on his fingertips". Although it is true that the apparent cause of Alicia's death was the parasite, her hallucinations reveal the underlying factor that weakened her initially: her restrictive love with Jordan. The young woman's desire was to have human affections with her husband, which Jordan was clearly unable to or unwilling to show; thus, these desires returned to haunt her in her time of illness in the form of a human-like figure. The anthropoid presents the image of Jordan as seen from Alicia's delirious mind -- one of which appears human but does not display human action or emotion.
Alicia's symptoms do not subside, instead growing increasingly worse as the days pass. Too weak to get up, she stays in bed with Jordan at her side as doctors examine potential causes of her illness. Unable to determine the cause of her condition, the doctors simply prescribe rest, but Alicia's mentality deteriorates to a greater degree as human-like hallucinations begin plaguing her. Helpless in the face of his wife's strange illness, Jordan can only pace the room, begging incoming doctors to save Alicia's life.
With no cure for Alicia's illness, the young bride dies after five days of suffering. A servant preparing to wash her bedsheets notices two small, dark bloodstains on her pillow where her temples would be, and upon lifting the pillow, the servant realizes its heaviness is too great for a feather pillow. Jordan is called over to investigate; he cuts open the pillow to reveal a large parasite hidden amongst the feathers, which had been feasting on Alicia's blood, causing her death.
Written by Horacio Quiroga


Theme of
Symbolism of
Horacio Quiroga was born in Salto, Uruguay on December 31st, 1878, as the sixth child and second son of Prudencio Quiroga and Pastora Forteza. His father accidentally killed himself with a misfiring gun when Horacio was two months old, and his stepfather committed suicide shortly after Horacio completed college in Montevideo, Uruguay. As a young man, he spent much of his time traveling in Europe before finally settling down in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Acting as a journalist for the major part of his life, he took inspiration from the jungles of the Misiones province, as well as other writers, most notably Edgar Allan Poe.

Early Life
He fell in love with one of his teenage students, Ana Maria Cires, who bore him two children in 1911 and 1912, respectively. Given his extreme fondness of the jungle-filled province of Misiones, Quiroga settled his new family on a farm in the jungle region; however, this arrangement did not last long, as disputes between the couple quickly escalated, inciting Ana Maria's suicide. His misfortune with love would resurface twice more: once when his second wife's parents disproved of and subsequently ended their marriage and again when his third wife abandoned him at the news of his prostate cancer in 1935. Unable to bear the pain of his illness, Quiroga released himself from his suffering by drinking a glass of cyanide on Feburary 19th, 1937.
Horacio Quiroga's life impacted his literary works in several respects. His experience with death in his family coupled with his fondness for Edgar Allan Poe's dark style of writing compelled him to center his stories around the themes of life and death, as explored in "The Feather Pillow" and "Beyond". Quiroga's misfortune with love also surfaces in his literature; interestingly, the relationship between the main characters in "The Feather Pillow" closely resembles Quiroga's own relationship with his first wife, in which the marriage is poisonous both lovers to the extent of death. He often uses his wives as inspiration for his stories, such as in "Past Love" and "History of a Troubled Love".
"The Feather Pillow" begins with a young woman, Alicia, who has recently been married to Jordan, an impassive man who rarely displays affection in the face of his wife's boundless love. After the couple moves into a nearly empty house, Alicia occupies her time by waiting for her husband to return home each evening. Her inactivity soon weakens her health, and as the season changes to autumn, she becomes ill with influenza.
Symbolism of the
Symbolism of
Sleeping Beauty Syndrome
Foreshadowing and Irony of
The Kleine-Levin syndrome, informally called the "sleeping beauty syndrome", is a disorder in which patients suffer long periods of drowsiness, confusion, disorientation and a lack of energy. Thus, Alicia's determination to "live like a sleeping beauty" waiting for her husband each evening foreshadows the illness that will befall her later in the story. Additionally, it is ironic that Alicia alludes to the story of Sleeping Beauty in which the princess is saved by her prince, contrasting her own love with her husband in which Jordan is unable to save his sleeping beauty.
Motif of
In "The Feather Pillow", the reoccurring motif of duality is evident through objects that are portrayed in more than one light. For instance, the pillow is normally seen as a source of warmth and comfort and serves this purpose to Alicia when she is ill. However, Quiroga reveals a second, darker nature of the pillow when it is revealed to have hidden the cause of her death. In a similar manner, the house is described to have "produced the wintery impression of an enchanted place" but with a distinct, "unpleasant coldness". In both cases, Quiroga attempts to imply that perception can twist the reality of a situation.
Motif of
The essential cause of Alicia's death can be traced to the oppressive household that restricted the couple's love for each other and sucked the life out of Alicia in a spiritual and mental manner. Romantically empty from Jordan's lack of display of emotion and physically drained from the parasite's blood-sucking habits, Alicia's character portrayed the idea of emptiness in a metaphorical sense and in a physical sense. Quiroga stresses that internal emptiness will be balanced with external emptiness; the presence of one will bring about the presence of the other.
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