Although Louise Glück leads a vastly different life from the speaker she portrays in “Gretel in Darkness,” she transmits to the reader her characteristic poetic style and sense of life through this speaker. It is a sense of life that portrays the individual as a pawn of her internal conflicts, impervious to logic and the evidence of the external world — a sense of life I absolutely do not share, but one that is interesting to analyze nonetheless.
The fairy tale character Gretel presents her thoughts to an imaginary audience of her brother Hansel, whose life she had once saved by killing a wicked witch. Both of them currently live a life of peace and safety, evidenced by Gretel’s statement that her “father bars the door, bars harm from this house…”
Nevertheless, Gretel is psychologically haunted by memories of the witch’s death, and throughout the poem, she dwells on this subject, using repetition to emphasize the extent of her obsession with the past. She writes of her memory of the forest where the burning took place that “it is real, real.”
This repetition is Glück’s poetic device used to convey Gretel’s persistent mental return to the event. Moreover, by using such descriptions as the witch’s tongue shriveling into gas, “the spires of that gleaming kiln,” and the fire in the black forest, and by interspersing them throughout the poem, Glück conveys her speaker’s repetitive recollections of the same incident, each time describing a different facet of a chronologically simultaneous occurrence, the burning of the witch.
Through this method, Glück established a contrast between the one-time nature of the actual event, which others, including Hansel, have long since moved beyond, and the recurring nature of memory. By focusing stylistically on the structure of the memory, Glück displays her characteristic stream of consciousness style, and manages to do so through the voice of a speaker vastly different from a professor at Yale University. Additionally, in this poem, Glück conveys her frequent focus on dark material by putting forth a speaker who cannot reconcile herself with an action that had been necessary to preserve her own life and that of her brother. Rather than concentrate on the glaringly evident positive aspects of the witch’s death, Glück portrays Gretel as persistently tormenting herself with the horror, fear, and uncertainty that do not exist except in her mind. Thus, through Gretel’s address to Hansel, Glück presents to the actual reader audience a dreary vision of the individual as ruled by internal delusions that cloud out the facts of the reality around her.