Talking Pineapples and Obvious AnswersCulture, Education, Featured — By J.F. Arnold on April 23, 2012 at 8:00 am
Recently, a discussion about a relatively absurd question on a standardized test came up. You can find the story here. I found it quite fascinating, and thought it to be most ridiculous. So, I thought to myself, what are the correct answers? Since I didn’t think any of the choices were obviously correct, I decided to write out an argument myself. What follows is my take on the question, if it had happened to be a text with a rich academic and literal history. I hope you all find it amusing; I certainly enjoyed writing it.
In that great text of the western canon, The Pineapple and the Hare, there are but two profound questions that have been traditionally debated: the first questions the motivation of the sudden and brutal murder of the first titular character; the second forces the reader to make a judgment concerning the relative wisdom of the characters within the text. This post will enter into the debate and provide what I believe is a clear answer to both questions.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the text itself, allow me to briefly summarize. Our protagonist (allegedly, I might add), the Hare (who is curiously listed second in the title, though some scholars have suggested that the title was added at a later date, and may reflect later interpretative schools of thought), greets a pineapple, as was customary for animals to do with fruit. The pineapple acts outside of custom, and challenges the hare to a race. The hare accepts the challenge, and also accepts the terms; the winner would receive a ninja and a lifetime supply of toothpaste (adjusting for inflation and currency exchange rates, this was approximately three years wages). The animals begin to gather together–it should be noted that the pineapple required assistance from the coyote–and, before the hare can arrive, the crow suggests that the pineapple has to have a trick up its sleeve, or else it would not have suggested such a foolish race. The moose (representative of the realist) objects, but is silenced by the crow. The animals agree to throw their verbal support behind the pineapple, due to this alleged trickery. The hare shows up, and the race begins. The moose remains unsurprised, as the hare takes off, leaving the pineapple in its dust. The animals cheer, but their desperate pleas have no effect. The hare wins the race. In an unexpected, climactic, and unprecedented literary twist, the animals resort to being animal, and mindlessly murder and consume the pineapple.
There are some textual variants that have an owl providing the realist commentary here delivered by the moose, but they are apocryphal, and have been convincingly overturned by archaeologists nearly sixty years ago. This only needs to be mentioned because there still remains a strand of readers who insist upon the 1954 translation of the text. I shall leave those debates to another time, however.
In answer to the first question, which is perhaps the most difficult to answer, various suggestions have been put forth, including: societal frustration; near pleasure, resulting in ‘continuing the joke,’ through consumption; nutrient attribution; and, finally, base desire.
On a first reading, the narrative seems to suggest that societal frustration. This is the oldest interpretation, and one that many hold to today. I don’t find this particular answer compelling, however, because there is little evidence of societal upset between the pineapple and the animals prior to the end. In fact, the only social animosity present in the story, prior to the murder, exists between the moose and the crow, who argue about the phrase suggesting that pineapples have sleeves. The suggestion that societal frustration exists between the pineapple and the animals seems primarily to be a backwards reading–an eisegesis, to borrow from the original Greek–of our own issues with race onto a tale that simply did not have this in mind.
The second possibility requires some explanation. The theory here is a bit convoluted, and strikes me as nearly impossible, but it has gained enough ground lately that it deserves a moment. The idea is this: the pineapple was performing some sort of societal joke or prank, and the animals had discovered this. There is some sort of alleged code in the exchange about sleeves, perhaps signaling to the animals exactly what the pineapple was up to. In the end, the animals affirm the pineapple’s prank in action, but continuing the joke further. This continuation leads to the death of the pineapple, but such was the fate of even the best cultural comedians of their era. The joke itself is rarely explained by those who hold this theory, though the only interpretation that I can make sense of is that the “joke” in the sleeves was pointing out that the pineapple was fundamentally non-cognitive; of course the pineapple doesn’t have sleeves, because it isn’t the sort of thing that even could have sleeves. He is food, remember. Apparently the pineapple was reminding them of this, and this is where his humor is found (since he was pointing out his functionally non-cognitive state, while also challenging the hare to a race), and the animals simply continued his point to its logical conclusion.
The third answer strikes me as far too straight-forward for a text written on this level. Of course the animals were hungry; they had just spent a full day watching a pineapple do nothing. But the text doesn’t care to draw this to our attention, and the hunger in the tale is merely situation; it does not function as the catalyst for murder.
This leaves, then, the conclusion that the motivation for murder in cold juice sprang up out of the basest of desires in these animals. This includes the previous answer, hunger, but also speaks to lust for power and destruction of those who make us feel inferior in any way. In this tale, it is clear that the pineapple causes feelings of insecurity and confusion in the animals; the pineapple manages to get the animals arguing with one another about sleeves, after all. The animals lash out at the pineapple for tricking them into rooting for the loser of the race. This is clearer than the other positions, and is straightforward enough that it has been accepted by nearly all of the leading scholars on the subject today.
The second question, however, is much simpler. The owl is obviously the wisest of the bunch, since the owl did not appear in the story. It is most wise to not appear in this story.
Image via Flickr.