Horacio Quiroga: The Feather Pillow. Summary and analysis

Bibliographic data

Horacio Quiroga
  • Author: Horacio Quiroga
  • Title: The Feather Pillow
  • Original Title: El almohadón de plumas
  • Published in: Caras y Caretas (julio 13 de 1907)
  • Appears in: Tales of Love of Madness and Death ( 1917)

Introduction

“The Feather Pillow” is a story by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga, published for the first time in the magazine “Caras y Caretas” on July 13, 1907, and later included in the book “Tales of Love of Madness and Death” ( 1917). This short story is a masterpiece of the psychological and naturalistic horror genre and has become one of Quiroga’s most emblematic stories. The story delves into the married life of Alicia and Jordán, exploring themes such as love, illness, and the horror that can arise in the most unexpected places.

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Summary of “The Feather Pillow”

“The Feather Pillow” tells the story of Alicia and Jordán, a newly married couple who settle into a large, silent house. Jordán is a man with a tough and reserved character, while Alicia is a young, blonde, and angelic woman. Despite their mutual love, the relationship is marked by Jordan’s severity, which affects Alicia emotionally.

The house they live in contributes to the tense atmosphere. It has a silent courtyard, friezes, marble columns and statues, and high walls without the slightest scratch. The house’s cold and unpleasant atmosphere influences Alicia’s emotional state. She spends the entire fall in this house, increasingly affected by her surroundings and her husband’s lack of emotional warmth.

Alicia falls ill with a form of anemia that doctors cannot diagnose. Her health deteriorates rapidly, and although she receives medical attention, doctors cannot determine the cause of her weakness. During this period, Alice begins to experience hallucinations and night terrors. She sees figures and monsters that seem to approach her bed, increasing her distress and physical deterioration.

Jordan, although concerned about his wife’s health, remains emotionally distant. He spends most of his time in the living room, pacing back and forth in anxiety. He occasionally enters Alicia’s bedroom to observe her but does not show a deep emotional connection with her during her illness.

Alicia’s condition reaches a critical point. She goes into a state of delirium and eventually dies. After her death, the housemaid discovers stains on Alicia’s bed cushion that look like bites. Jordan and the maid investigate and find a monstrous animal, a swollen parasite that lives inside the feather pillow.

It is revealed that this parasite has been sucking Alicia’s blood during the night, causing her anemia and her eventual death. The narrator explains that the parasite is a species of insect generally found in birds and, eventually, can also be found in feather pillows, where if they feed on human blood, they can grow to enormous proportions.

Analysis of “The Feather Pillow” by Horacio Quiroga

In the story “The Feather Pillow,” Horacio Quiroga creates an oppressive and tense atmosphere as the backdrop for a psychological and supernatural horror story. The characters’ house becomes a crucial element in establishing this atmosphere. Its cold and unpleasant architecture reflects and amplifies Jordán’s emotional rigidity and Alicia’s vulnerability, contributing to the climate of restlessness that permeates the narrative.

Quiroga’s writing style is spare and direct, which adds a layer of complexity to the story. Through this style, the author effectively outlines the dynamics between the main characters, gradually building tension until reaching the final horror. Although a man of few words, Jordan exerts a dominant presence in Alicia’s life, whose vulnerability is exacerbated by her environment’s lack of emotional warmth.

The lack of emotional connection between Jordan and Alice is not only a reflection of the traditional marital relationship of the early 20th century, where the woman’s emotions and needs were often secondary to those of the man, but it also serves as a metaphor for the power dynamics that exist in relationships dominated by a patriarchal structure. Although showing concern for Alicia’s physical health, Jordan seems unable or unwilling to understand and connect with her emotional needs. This disconnection not only further isolates her in an already unpleasant home but also intensifies her vulnerability. In a context in which Alicia, as a woman, was already in a disadvantaged position, her husband’s lack of emotional support may have exacerbated her feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Alicia’s illness is not only physical but also the result of a toxic emotional and social environment where her voice and needs are constantly minimized.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the story is the mixture of realistic and fantastic. Quiroga takes an element of nature, a parasite typically found in birds and transforms it into a monster of terrifying proportions. This ingenious use of realistic features to create a fantastical narrative is one of the author’s trademarks and adds dimension to the story’s horror.

Likewise, another interesting aspect to consider is how “The Feather Pillow” relates to traditional vampire narratives. In this case, the parasite that feeds on Alice during the night evokes the image of the classic vampire who drains the lives of her victims in the dark. This progressive weakening, accompanied by paleness and anemia, is reminiscent of the typical consequences of vampire bites. Furthermore, the doctors’ inability to diagnose and treat Alice’s mysterious illness mirrors stories in which vampire bites confound traditional medicine.

However, unlike vampire stories that often focus on the struggle between good and evil, Quiroga takes a more naturalistic approach. Although the story shares characteristics with the vampire genre, such as hidden horror and silent death, “The Feather Pillow” distinguishes itself by using a natural element, the parasite, to construct its horror narrative. This leads to a reflection on nature, its ability to amaze and terrify, and how even everyday objects can hide unsuspected horrors.

Ultimately, “The Feather Pillow” reminds us that true terror does not always come from supernatural forces but can often be hidden in the most mundane, everyday details of our daily lives.

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