In the first book, Friar John’s abbey in Seville is threatened by Picrochole’s forces. Unwilling to allow outsiders to steal his wine, Friar John decides to defend his abbey and take up arms. As a member of the clergy, though, he really has no weapons, so he grabs the only suitable item he can find and fashions it into a weapon. The item that he grabs is a large wooden cross. As a symbol, Friar John’s wooden cross lance can represent many things. In a satirical sense, a drunken Monk defending his wine by weaponizing a symbol of his faith creates a humorous image. In a more serious interpretation, Friar John’s use of his wooden cross as a lance could represent the immense amount of power that the Church can wield. The power of the Church is more than just influential, though, as Friar John’s actions cover the symbol of the Church in the blood of its enemies.
As Gargantua fights Picrochole’s forces, he is attacked and assaulted by cannonballs. Nevertheless, thanks to his giant size, the cannonballs do no damage. After the battle, when Gargantua goes to speak with his father, Gargantua combs his hair and out fall the remaining cannonballs. His father asks if these items in his hair are lice, implying that his son has stayed in substandard housing. Ponocrates, Gargantua’s tutor, insists that he would never allow Gargantua to stay in any such establishment, and shows that the cannonballs are indeed weapons and not parasites. Therefore, the cannonballs symbolize Gargantua’s invulnerability, because they become like nothing more than pests to be picked out of his hair.
As a common scatological motif in fabliau and satire, urination events happen throughout the first two books. The first act of urination, when Gargantua relieves himself on the masses of Paris, is meant as a joke, but the joke ends up drowning over 200,000 people. On the second instance of urination, when Gargantua’s horse relieves himself before battle, once again people are accidentally drowned by the river of urine. The third act of urination by Gargantua does not lead to death, but it does result in six pilgrims being carried away by the sheer force of Gargantua’s stream of urine. As the urination scenes continue in the second book, unlike his father, Pantagruel does not drown his targets accidentally. Instead, as encouraged by Panurge, Pantagruel uses his urine as a comedic weapon of disgusting destruction. Thus, the scatological motif starts off as darkly humorous, causing hundreds of thousands of accidental deaths, but then the motif moves out of satire and into something far more vengeful and grotesque, as Pantagruel uses the act of relieving his waste to relieve himself of his enemy simultaneously.
Smaller Forces Conquering the Larger Forces
One of the most frequently used motifs in literature is that of the underdog claiming victory. Whether it is David slaying Goliath or, in this case, Gargantua and Pantagruel’s meager forces somehow claiming victory over the oncoming armies of much grander size, audiences will almost always cheer for the underdog. In nearly all stories where smaller forces conquer larger ones, there is a reason as to why the numbers of the larger forces don’t win out. For example, as Gargantua and his companions fight against Picrochole’s forces, the narrator describes Picrochole’s soldiers as unskilled and untrained in the art of war. Therefore, Gargantua, Ponocrates, and Gymnast can apply their vast military knowledge to thwart their enemies with clever use of strategy. Likewise, when Pantagruel and his associates were about to battle the six hundred and threescore horsemen, they knew they could not match the numbers of their enemy, but they were fortunate to have time on their hands. With the time they had before the oncoming battle, they prepared and hid devastatingly lethal traps that would gain them their victory. Underdog stories work well, because they instill the idea that anyone can win a battle.
As Pantagruel and his companions travel to the Oracle of the Holy Bottle, they venture through the land of Satin and the country of Tapestry, where they meet Hearsay. Anthropomorphized, the abstract concept of hearsay has been transformed into a monstrous looking fellow who is covered in ears, has a mouth with seven constantly babbling tongues, and who is completely blind. Hearsay has many followers and students, and the narrator implies that these followers have learned to ignore the truth and instead prefer to listen to the teachings of Hearsay. As an allegory, the episode implies that the so-called great thinkers and philosophers have fallen out of touch with truth and instead base their assumptions on lies and hearsay.
Gargantua and Pantagruel Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Gargantua and Pantagruel is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.