An Analysis of
Beasts of the Southern Wild
by Maria Beane
This is the story of Hushpuppy, an abandoned little girl. In the Bathtub of Louisiana
she lives alone in a house near her father’s, and her mother is long gone.
She looks for her mother in the heartbeat of nature, listening to its life force asthough she might find the mother that she doesn't know in the heartbeat of an owl or akitten or a leaf. All she has to go on is the visceral memory of the heartbeat that shelost when she came
into the world. She never knew her, but Hushpuppy’s life is a questto find her. “I’m going to find my momma” she says. Her momma disappeared anddidn’t die. She’s somewhere to be found.
Her neglectful, abusive and angry father Wink throws out scraps to Hushpuppy,
giving her enough to survive on and enough to keep her wanting more. She can’t
survive alone, and forgives him all. She needs him, she loves him and she hates him.Her father means security but he also means danger. He can nurture and protect her,but he can also rage at her and abandon her. His occasional moments of lovingfathering are precious to Hushpuppy, like the peaceful feeling of belonging that she has
as they glide through the Bathtub on Wink’s barge, but the contrast to his abu
sive angerand rejection must have been traumatically confusing to her.Forced to survive on her own, Hushpuppy lives in a world of magical thinking, whereshe grandiosely controls nature and believes in her special powers. Life is mysteriousand terrifying. She fills the gaps of her knowledge in with her own folklore, piecingtogether snippets of what she hears from others. She fears her powers, like the abilityto kill her father, when she punches him in the heart and he falls to the ground in astupor. She fantasizes that the force inside her can bring on storms and melt icebergs,causing calamity. She is brave and daring, and unaware of the dangers around her. Inone of his more rational moments, Wink manages to save her from a raging fire set byHushpuppy in a rage against him.
Her father calls her man, tells her she’s the King of the Bathtub, lets her win at arm
wrestling and wants to teach her to fish with her hands. It is unclear at one pointwhether she is a girl or a boy. She introduces herself as Emma at the beginning of themovie, or did I imagine that? I was confused about her gender for some of thefilm.Trying to fish with her bare hands leaves Hushpuppy in pain, and I had a sense that
she wanted to cry but didn’t want to disappoin
t her father, by being herself, a vulnerablelittle child, and a girl at that. He wants he to be a boy, I sense, not because he wouldvalue a boy more, but because he sees a girl as more vulnerable, more delicate, softer,and more unlikely to survive in th
e harsh world. What does this do to Hushpuppy’s
femininity? Someone puts a little white shift dress on her after the storm, and thiscontrasts with the t shirt and shorts she wore before the storm. Her little girlness isevidenced but she remains the same.Her love for him, her need of him and her fear of him forbid her from stamping herfeet to demand what is rightfully hers; his love, attention, care, dedication, tenderness.His instability as a father puts her in a constantly vigilant place, a place where she has
to watch out for herself, and be tough. But it’s also a place where she can’t risk