[Despite Our Mutations / Allison Wallace]

Aimee Bender’s “Hymn” initially caught my attention because of the uniquely described characters. Many strangely constructed children are born to normal human parents: one is made out of glass, another out of paper; one can change shapes into inanimate objects while another (born without eyes) can hear movement; one is so tall she can reach the moon and “breathe” on it to cool down the earth. After the children grow up and have their own offspring, their parents die and no normal humans are left alive. One species becomes extinct while a new one thrives. Every year the mutated children and their mutated children congregate to remember their parents and to praise some certain being for the imperfectly perfect life they live. These mutated people may not resemble each other or the race that lived before them, but they were created equally and love one another as one would love his own “flesh and blood” kin.

The narrator describes these characters through a third person omniscient voice, which caught my attention more than the characters themselves. Biblically speaking, a hymn is defined as “a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God.” Seeing as the story is called “Hymn,” I assumed the narrator could be God looking down upon the new generation of people He created. After all, He is all-knowing and is the only entity that could really watch these characters’ lives. Without the utilization of third person omniscient point of view, the narrator would not have the ability to see everything happening, which would pull me out of the story and leave many of my own questions unanswered. I would not be able to see everything going on, nor could I grasp onto these peoples’ reality.

At the end of the story, however, the point of view shifts to first and second person: “My genes, my love, are rubber bands and rope; make yourself a structure you can live inside.” There are no quotations around this statement, which leads me to believe these are the narrator’s (i.e. God’s) words. He tells the mutated beings that they belong, that they are worthy of love and shelter, and ultimately worthy of His love and His shelter. Bender’s decision to alter points of view from third to first and second makes the story more personal. First, readers merely perceive the peculiar lives of mutants. The last two sentences illustrate a personal declaration from the narrator to the reader, letting us know that, despite our mutations, we are worthy, too. Without the first and second person narration, we could evaluate our own idiosyncrasies that we think are unpleasant, and we could discover we are still endearing, but the message would be less personal for the individual reading it. Bender wants the message to be personal so readers take it seriously and not generally, like God Himself spoke these words to the reader. As an author and spiritual person myself, I feel this technique would positively impact my writing, especially if I wrote something from God’s perspective.

The point of view shift personalizes the narrator as well. He becomes a dynamic character in the story instead of just an onlooker. This resembles God as well because He is understood as an observer and an active figure in religious peoples’ lives. Bender’s choice to use multiple types of narrative point of view works well to establish a sense of who the narrator is and to create a sort of divine choice in acceptance. We are worthy despite our mutations.

Amen.

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