Saturday, May 27, 2006
The dePaola Code: Strega
Strega Nona, upon first glance, seems like a typical tale about greed. But this is The dePaola Code...where nothing is as it seems. Strega owns a cooking pot that can make pasta appear out of thin air. She warns Big Anthony never to touch her pot, but does he listen? Noooooooo. And once Mr. Big gets the noodles going, he can’t figure out how to stop them. The town is soon engulfed by noodles (which might not sound that bad, but everyone in this town is watching their carbs).
So what metaphor has Mr. dePaola hidden within his most cherished picturebook? We call it: Strega Nona’s Overpopulation Prophecy.
Three animals play key roles in this story. A rabbit, a peacock, and a goat. And there’s only one scene where all three animals meet with Strega, Anthony, and the pot. Which means this scene overflows with Code material.
As Strega warns Anthony about touching her pot, standing behind Tony are the rabbit and the peacock--common symbols of fertility. Throughout the rest of the book, as the pot continues to produce pasta, the rabbit and peacock appear.
Sitting between Strega and Anthony, as a sort of buffer between the two, is a goat--a popular symbol for the devil. The devil, of course, is the source of Anthony’s disobedience and greed (for a list of six additional deadly sins, look them up yourself…we’re too lazy). But unlike the fertile peacock and the fuzzy widdle wabbit, once Anthony disobeys, the goat is never seen again. Why? Because his job is done.
Okay, so we have two symbols of fertility (because you might overlook just one) and a symbol for the devil. Stop! We know what you’re thinking. The overpopulation metaphor only works if the pot producing the pasta is a symbol for the human race. Good! You’re catching on. Strega refers to her cooking container as a “pot of clay.” And what does the Bible use as a metaphor for humans? Right. Jars of clay! So a big jar (the pot) represents all of us. And Strega’s chant which stops the overproduction of noodles can likewise be seen as instructions to control our own overpopulation. “So simmer down my pot of clay.”
In the end, what advice does Tomie appear to offer to help us stabilize the world’s population? It’s rather simple. “Keep your noodles under control!”