Summary and Analysis: The October Country Jack-in-the-Box


Edwin has been taught that the house that he and his mother-teacher live in is the Universe. His father, whom he regards as God, constructed this house for them years ago and was later killed by a Beast in the garden. Since then, Edwin has been carefully supervised by his mother, who tells him that if he ever leaves their Universe, he, like his father, will die. However, Edwin does not understand death and is curious about what may be beyond the trees and the garden wall of his Universe. No matter which of the rooms of the Universe he visits, Edwin uses their windows as vantage points from which to try to catch a glimpse of the world beyond. He is unsuccessful until he discovers the door open to one of the rooms forbidden to him. He enters, climbs the spiral stair to the tower, and looks out of the windows. In an experience not unlike that of the biblical Saul, Edwin views the world beyond his Universe. He even fears blindness because of the wonder of what he sees. Later, after an especially happy birthday celebration, Edwin discovers his mother lying motionless on the living room floor. When he cannot awaken her, Edwin experiences freedom for the first time in his life. He frantically races through the town, announcing his death.

"Jack-in-the-Box" is unique to The October Country because of its sheer fantasy element. Here Bradbury creates an entire fantasy world, a Universe so unique and separate from the real world that Edwin can adapt to it yet is totally unable to function normally when he faces reality.

Throughout the story, the Jack-in-the-Box is an obvious symbol for Edwin and his plight. At first, the toy doll is shut away within its box and unable to be free. Likewise, Edwin is trapped within the Universe that his father-God created for him, and all the while, he longs for freedom. Only when the Jack-in-the-Box has been cast from the Universe window is the doll capable of being rid of its prison box and of stretching its arms in a gesture of freedom. Edwin, too, never experiences freedom until he casts himself out of the Universe that was created for him.

Bradbury is a staunch believer in the innate goodness that exists within us. His use of sun imagery demonstrates this belief since he often uses these images to depict the life source and wholeness of humanity. When Bradbury describes father-God's creation of the Universe and his placing of Edwin's mother as the center of that Universe, he establishes the sun as the central image in the story. Edwin's mother is indeed his sun. She is his teacher, his friend, and his life. But Edwin's world is destroyed when he discovers his mother lying cold and quiet on the floor. The center does not hold. Edwin's sun is dead and his life source no longer exists. Ironically, in what he believes to be sure suicide, he runs into reality, crying "I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm glad I'm dead." Bradbury speaks to his readers from his pulpit of fantasy here. All people are dead unless they give meaning and order to their lives.