The Persephone Myth In O’brien’s Wild Decembers

1410 words - 6 pages

In O’Brien’s novel, Wild Decembers, a young and innocent Breege fell in love with an engaged farmer named Bugler who moved from Australia so he could establish a farm on family-owned land in Ireland. While trying to keep their relationship a secret, Bugler takes Breege to a secluded island where they engaged in a sexual act that resulted in Breege’s pregnancy. Breege and Bugler’s night on the island, her pregnancy and Bugler’s untimely death parallels the myth of Persephone and her decent into the Underworld as Hades’ queen.
In Greek Mythology, the young Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was chosen by Zeus to be a companion to Hades in the Underworld. Hades kidnapped Persephone when she was picking flowers, specifically the narcissus, and brought her to the Underworld. Demeter, the goddess of grain searched all over the world to find her beloved daughter. While she was searching for Persephone, she neglected the crops and the winter harvest was ruined. In the Underworld, Persephone was crowned the Queen of the Underworld but she still longed to see her mother. Hades agreed that he would let her return to Earth if she did not eat anything while in the Underworld. Knowing that he wanted to keep her for his Queen, Hades deliberately gave her a pomegranate from which Persephone later admitted to have eaten a few seeds. Hades agreed to let her live on Earth, but she had to visit him four months out of the year because she ate the pomegranate seeds. Demeter was reunited with Persephone and the crops again flourished (Bryant 55).
Much like Persephone, the character of Breege is a young woman who seems to never have had a boyfriend. Since Breege does not have a partner, one can infer that she is still a virgin and has not entered into adulthood by the means of sex. The first time when Breege alluded herself to Persephone is when Breege and Bugler are on the island and Breege tells him that her brother Joe called her Persephone when she was little. He called her that because she “loved picking flowers, primroses and things”(O’Brien 173). The author implies that Breege appreciated the beauty in nature by picking the best flowers in a field. Persephone also roamed the Earth and liked to pick flowers because her mother was Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. The last flower that Persephone picked that drew her into the Underworld was the narcissus. The “narcissus” to Breege was the seclusion of the island. It drew Breege there because she knew no one else would be there and they could have a night together in privacy. The town knew that Bugler was engaged and he could not have been seen in a public relationship with Breege. Breege relating herself to Persephone was a hint from the author to look for other references to the myth.
To get into the Underworld, Persephone had to cross the Stix River. When she arrived, a gigantic three-headed dog named Cerberus was guarding the final inner island where Hades lived (Bryant 58). To parallel the journey that...

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