In this episode, Marge lands the part of Blanche Du’Bois in “Oh Streetcar”, a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Marge does not begin to fully understand her character’s hatred for Stanley until she begin to notice how Homer treats her.  She uses her feelings of anger towards Homer to fuel the rage needed for her character to be successful.

For a little added irony, the last musical number is  an upbeat song called “Kindness of Stangers” – based on Blanche’s last line – “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

No reference is too small . . . enter Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.  While this episode is not a parody, the allusion is worth noting.  The town of Springfield contracts gambling fever when the jackpot for the lottery sky rockets.  Sales for Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery are also at an all-time high because people think that it holds the secret to winning.  After Kent Brockman states that “Of course, the book does not contain any hints on how to win the lottery. It is, rather, a chilling tale of conformity gone mad”, Homer, and presumably everyone else, throws his copy into the fire.

Bernice Murphy, Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy, believes that the scene where Homer throws the book in the fire is a representation of Jackson’s famous work.  “The fact that Springfield’s citizenry also miss the point of Jackson’s story completely (after all, no one in their right mind would want to win her lottery) can perhaps be seen as an indication of a more general misrepresentation of Jackson and her work.”

No story, small or large, is safe from an adaptation Simpsons style!  While in Morocco, Homer buys a monkey’s paw that will grant him wishes.  However, the old man warns him that the paw will bring him “grave misfortune”.

Maggie makes the first wish for a new pacifier.  Bart makes the second wish that the family become rich and famous, but soon the rest of the town becomes annoyed with them.  Lisa wishes for world peace, resulting the in entire world destroying all weapons.  This act allows the aliens, Kang and Kodos, to take over the human race.  Even Homer’s last wish results in a dry, turkey sandwich.

Eventually, the monkey’s paw is passed to Flanders who saved the day with his wish, to get rid of the aliens.

In this episode, one of the three horror stories is a “re-telling” of Poe’s The Raven.  I use re-telling in quotations because while the poem is read in its original form, the writers have added humorous animation that only confirm the writers’ genius.  In this version, Bart is the Raven and Homer is the tormented man.  Marge briefly appears as Lenore in a painting.

Because the poem is actually read (by James Earl Jones in fact), the writers incorporated humor in a more visual way.  At the beginning, Homer is seen nodding off, while reading “Forgotten Lore Vol. II”.  Bart and Lisa’s voices cut in and Lisa tells Bart the narrator is creating mood, while Bart complains that it’s boring.

Please enjoy The Raven.

Watch The Simpsons Version of Poe’s “The Raven” on Fanpop

While some of the episodes are a direct parody of a literary work,others merely contain allusions to literature, television, movies, etc.

In this episode, Bart tries to impress the local bullies by stealing the head off the statue of Springfield founder, Jebediah Springfield.  After stealing the head, Bart thinks he will finally be accepted; however, the bullies are just as upset as the rest of the town and Bart feels shame for his actions.  Bart returns the head and the townspeople forgive him.

This episode is an example of mere allusion.  While elements of the plot are reminiscent of Poe’s The Telltale Heart, much of the story is missing.  The common connection is the guilt Bart feels for removing the head of the statue.  While the episode is not a direct parody, the connection still provides an aesthetic pleasure.  In The Simpsons and Allusion: Worst Essay Ever”, the authors discuss the aesthetic value of allusion.  “As audience members, we enjoy recognizing, understanding, and appreciating allusions in a rather special way.  The comprehension of an allusion combines the pleasure we feel when we recognize something familiar, like a favorite childhood toy, with the pleasure we feel when we know the right answer to the big question on Jeopardy.”  The writers of the show are creating intimate connections with the audience every time an allusion is recognized.

The Simpsons is not your run-of-the-mill cartoon.  Throughout the show’s 20 years (and growing) history, the writers have subtly and not subtly referenced literature and pop culture to enhance the show’s ingenious humor.  In The Simpsons and Philosophy, Matt Groening, creator, says: “The Simpsons is a show that rewards you for paying attention”.  The show’s creator is right!  Many of the episodes have allusions to other works, pop-culture references, parodies of movies, books, television shows and allusions to previous episodes.  The Simpsons is not just a cartoon for kids, but an intelligent satire that draws on intellectual and pop-culture connections. Groening knows that not all of the connections will be made by every person, every time; however, he does believe that “if you have read a few books, you’ll get more of the jokes”.

Relax and enjoy the ride as we explore the nuances that have made the show last for over two decades!

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