28 Nov. 2007
Time and time again, it has been said that “money doesn’t grow on trees,” but in the mordant mind of William Kotzwinkle, it does grow under them—well, New York Times best-selling novels do, anyway. With playful humor and light-hearted criticism, Kotzwinkle’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain introduces Hal Jam, a common brown bear who longs for humanity, and Arthur Bramhall, a professor on hiatus from that very reality (Kotzwinkle 11). The pair quickly becomes an instrument of satire as Kotzwinkle traces their adventures to and from the deep, peaceful woods of Maine and the fast-paced, cacophonous streets of New York City. The Bear Went Over the Mountain utilizes a sardonic pluralism of character in concordance with overt symbolism and an ironic, tongue in cheek plot to convey the ignorance and self-serving nature of mankind.
Throughout the tale, Kotzwinkle establishes a paradoxical balance by leaping between the story lines of the bear-like man and the man-like bear. Arthur Bramhall is a man who has given up on the tedious rigors of academia in exchange for a life of romping around in the hayloft of a barn with a “fur-bearing woman” (Kotzwinkle 111) and hibernating in the “darkness, curled up on a bed of grass and pine boughs” (Kotzwinkle 176). While this behavior seems absurd, especially from a man who once thrived in realm where people actually care about how many times Robert Frost uses ‘likes’ or ‘as ifs’, Kotzwinkle portrays Bramhall in this way to illustrate mankind’s analogous nature to that of a common animal (Kotzwinkle 3). The pluralism of character in this one man epitomizes the human struggle to convince ourselves that we have evolved to such a degree that humans rank leagues above the rest of the animal kingdom in intelligence, ability, and civility. In creating a character that is as much man as he is beast, Kotzwinkle ventures to accuse that we are really no better than our four-legged...