Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel Imagery


In the first two books, the reader is made very aware of how Gargantua and Pantagruel’s gigantic size affects the imagery of the narrative. Practically everything used to feed and clothe these two characters is visually described in immense detail. Readers are informed that thousands upon thousands of cows produce milk to feed baby Gargantua and baby Pantagruel. Likewise, it takes hundreds of thousands of yards of fabric and scores of decorative jewels to clothe these characters in the aristocratic garb of nobles. As they move through cities, Gargantua and Pantagruel’s size seems humorous, particularly with how easily these characters can remove or replace gigantic bells from churches, or how the sheer volume their urine drowns hundreds of thousands of people. Although their size creates amazing visuals throughout the narrative, their size also seems to change frequently throughout the books. Gargantua and Pantagruel are somehow able to go into libraries, sit on ships, walk-through castles, and travel through cities without many obstacles impeding their movements, even though they shouldn’t fit in these settings. As a contrast, in the second book, Pantagruel’s mouth is described as so large that a microcosm environment exists within, including all manner of people living inside of the different portions of his mouth. In the last three books, nothing really implies the gigantic size of Pantagruel or his father. Although they are metaphorical giants, being that they are well-known members of royalty, there are no visual scenes showing how their giant size results in various shenanigans or consequences.

Low-brow Humor

The scatological visuals in the first two books are among the most prevalent visuals in the series. One can easily imagine the disgusting sight of Gargantua relieving himself and drowning the people of Paris in his urine. Likewise, when his enormous horse relieves itself before battle and drowns some of the enemy, one cannot help but imagine the oncoming flood of the frothing yellow river overcoming the soldiers. In the second book, Pantagruel uses his urine deliberately to drown his enemies while they sleep. The idea of a battle full of gunfire and explosions taking place while a giant stands over the enemy’s tents urinating on the masses creates the epitome of vulgar bathroom humor.

Grotesque Imagery

In a strange juxtaposition next to the humorous imagery, Rabelais includes many grotesque images, particularly of the human body. For instance, at the start of the first book, Gargantua’s father is joking about the joys of drinking alcohol, and then his wife rips her sphincter open as a result of over eating slowly rotting food. The she-doctor has to bind up Gargantua’s mother’s rectum and vaginal opening, so baby Gargantua cannot be borne the usual way. Instead of a vaginal birth, Gargantua crawls through his mother’s body from the inside and is born out of her ear. Somehow, although it is not explained, she manages to survive such a nightmare-inducing labor. Pantagruel’s mother, on the other hand, does not survive her horrific labor. Prior to Pantagruel being born, food vendors and all other manner of people magically appear walking or crawling out of Pantagruel’s mother’s vagina. Pantagruel is the last thing to come out of her before she dies. Other examples of grotesque imagery include the description of how Friar John viciously brutalizes the armies attacking the abbey. In fact, most of the battle scenes contain visceral imagery, and nearly all of these scenes are depicted in between more joyful scenes.