Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel Metaphors and Similes

“Out comes Pantagruel all hairy like a bear” (Book 2, Chapter 2, par. 3)

Upon Pantagruel’s birth, his body is covered in hair, so one of the midwives uses a simile to describe his hairy state. She also considers her words prophetic. After she uses the simile to comment how he looks like a bear, she then translates that simile into a metaphorical prophecy that Pantagruel will be a “terrible fellow” (Book 2, Chapter 2, par. 3). The etymology of the word “terrible” implies several meanings, including “to frighten,” “causing terror, awe, or dread,” or “fill with fear,” according to the Online Entomology Dictionary. Pantagruel’s hairy body may frighten those who look on it, not just because of the hair, though, but because of Pantagruel's size. He is, after all, a giant, and a baby giant is probably the size of a bear. The midwife’s prediction, however, does not completely prove true. Granted, Pantagruel is frightening in battle, and his size might fill his opponents with fear, but his manner as an adult is almost always polite and courteous. He’s also revered for his intellect and ability to understand difficult situations. While he may have been aggressive and bear-like during his early childhood, after being educated, he transforms into a sophisticated man with few traces of his bear-like qualities.

“With this they entered into the lower hall, where the company was, and relating to them this new story, they made them laugh like a swarm of flies” (Book 1, Chapter 7, par. 3).

The context of this quote comes after young Gargantua has led the steward and harbinger of Lord Breadinbag around the castle and upstairs into Gargantua’s imaginary stable. The steward and the harbinger realize that the boy has been playing make-believe, and that his leading them on a wild goose chase was not done maliciously, so they take great joy in telling others about the adventures they took with young Gargantua. The simile in this sentence about laughing like a swarm of flies provides interesting and slightly perplexing imagery. A swarm of flies obviously cannot laugh, and the sound that a swarm of flies makes is more akin to loud buzzing, not laughter. Clearly, the sound of buzzing is not that of an open-mouth chuckle, but it could be related to the sounds of snickering laughter. Thus, the simile implies that the steward and the harbinger made their friends snicker through their noses, making buzzing noises of laughter.

“The gnawings of my stomach in this rage of hunger are so tearing, that they make it bark like a mastiff” (Book 3, Chapter 15, par. 2)

Panurge says this quote shortly after he has offered his dream up for interpretation to Pantagruel and the others. Sometime before this quote, Pantagruel and Panurge had discussed how dream visions could be achieved, provided that the dreamer eat very specific foods prior to sleeping to avoid hunger pains or food-induced nightmares. At this point, Panurge has awoken from his dream and gone directly to Pantagruel and their friends to relay the events of his dream. Thus, he hasn’t had breakfast yet, so the simile here is used to emphasize the loud sounds of Panurge’s stomach. The gurgling sounds of the stomach are compared to the barking sounds of a fairly large dog, a mastiff, implying that Panurge has a great hunger that must be satiated. Of course, he may be exaggerating about his stomach pains, since he is unsatisfied with the dream interpretations. Therefore, he might have chosen the simile of a barking mastiff to describe his level of hunger as a way to avoid listening to more unfavorable dream interpretations.

The wine presses on the island of the Apedefers

In the fifth book, Pantagruel and his companions come to the island of Apedefers. On the island are many different wine presses, including gigantic ones. The wine presses are used to judge lawsuits. Instead of having trials and lawyers, the masters of the presses squeeze out grapes and all other manner of things to determine guilt or innocence based on how much liquid the presses squeeze out. The different parts of the presses are named after different parts of the legal system, thus creating a satirical metaphor. Panurge and Friar John imply that this system of absolute randomness eliminates any possibility of biases. Thus they argue how it represents a far better legal system than any other that they had ever seen. Of course, the metaphor also mocks all other legal systems, implying that a system run by uneducated people would prove more just as compared to the legal systems of other lands and countries.

The Furred Law-cats and the trial scene

While traveling in the fifth book, Pantagruel and his friends are taken prisoner by Gripe-men-all and the Furred Law-cats. Pantagruel and his companions are put on trial for their alleged crimes, but instead of having a formal trial and being assigned legal representation, Gripe-men-all gives them a riddle that they must solve to prove their innocence. Panurge realizes that the riddle has no answer, and that the only way to prove their innocence is to bribe Gripe-men-all and his compatriots. The bribe works, and Pantagruel and his companions are given leave to depart. As another satirical metaphor on the legal system, the unsolvable riddle represents how legal jargon can be considered akin to a string of rhyming nonsensical words. The rhyming nonsense can be interpreted in many ways, and many possible answers could be considered, yet no answers seem to move the legal system along at a reasonable pace. The only way to get through the nonsense is through sidestepping it completely, which in this case means bribing the officials. After the trial scene, Friar John complains about how such a corrupt system is a mockery of law and order. His complaints represent the complaints of the common man fighting legal systems that have been so horribly corrupted that they benefit no one but those who know how to work these systems, such as Panurge.