The Babysitter Background

The Babysitter Background

The Babysitter” continues to stand up as one of Robert Coover’s most-often anthologized short stories. The story first showed up as part of Coover’s collection of stories published in 1969 under the title Pricksongs & Descants: Fictions. A simple chronological construction of the events of the narrative would make for a rather pedestrian attempt at realism. Coover is most assuredly not in this case—or any other, for that matter—interested in merely replicating objective reality. “The Babysitter” thus becomes worthy of constant anthologizing as a result of its placement within the burgeoning postmodern movement in literature.

The facts are these: during a relentlessly ordinary and commonplace middle-class milieu two parents charge a young woman with babysitting their kids. What follows from this inauspicious beginning that could accurately describe any given night in any given town a hundred times over is a model example of the postmodern perspective. That perspective inherently denies the existence of any assertive objective truth and instead seeks to find some manner of acceptable truth corresponding to the multiplicity of subjective versions that can be appropriately linked together in a form that—for the sake of simplicity—will be termed evidence.

In other words, Coover provides a series of events related from the subjective perspective of various individuals involved. What he does not do is make clear which, if any, of those events actually take place and which are merely fantasies or reveries. Adding to the fragmented nature of truth and evidence is that Coover also engages the use of pronouns in reference to his characters when actual names would make it terribly easier to figure out who’s who. But “The Babysitter” does not exist for the purpose of making life easy for the person reading it.

And so it is eventually up to each individual reader to decide if the sexual fantasies involving the babysitter—often violently sexual—actually took place and so qualify as potentially criminal behavior or whether, indeed, anything untoward ever occurred during the period in which she took charge of the children of that middle-class couple and the only questionable behavior is the apparent tie binding all the male characters together: a repulsive, organic strain of misogynistic chauvinism.

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