All That Grows in a Garden

Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers on her album Punisher tells a story of reflection and growth through retellings of her experiences and her dreams. Throughout the song, she tells stories from different stages in her life, transitioning from her childhood, to her adolescence, and eventually to adulthood, in which she is finally able to forgive herself for her past. The entire song centers around the idea of growth, and in finding the beauty in destruction.

The song begins by describing her dreams as a child:

And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing

I’ll plant a garden in the yard, then

They’re gluing roses on a flatbed

This start of the first verse uses imagery to set the scene of her killing a Nazi, and planting a garden over his dead body. This creates an unnerving contrast between the beautiful and peaceful garden filled with roses, and the dead Nazi it covers up. This juxtaposition forces the listener to consider what the origins of growth mean for its outcome – is growth still beautiful if it comes from something scary and devastating?

She then continues on to discuss the loss of her childhood as she moves on into adolescence:

I grew up here, ’til it all went up in flames

Except the notches in the door frame

When Bridgers was about 19 years old, her family home caught on fire, literally going “up in flames.” However, this was at the same time that she was witnessing her parents go through divorce, symbolizing her childhood going “up in flames.” The second line then alludes to the notches families often keep on their walls to indicate how tall a child has grown to be, continuing the theme of growth. Since these notches aren’t actual objects, they can’t technically be destroyed by the fire, symbolizing the idea that this catastrophic event in her life didn’t erase her growth.

After discussing the loss of her childhood, Bridgers moves on to reflecting on her transition between adolescence to adulthood:

Then it’s a dorm room, like a hedge maze

And when I find you

You touch my leg, and I insist

But I wake up before we do it

Dorm rooms are often associated with entering young adulthood, and the changes that come with. The mentioning of a hedge maze as a simile in the same line alludes to the image of navigating a complicated maze, indicating the struggle to find your way in life, especially when entering adulthood. This image of a dorm room hedge maze appears to be a dream, but before she can find her way out of the maze and figure herself out, she wakes up abruptly.

The final chorus goes back to the ideas from the beginning of the song:

Everything’s growing in our garden

You don’t have to know that it’s haunted

Bridgers revisits the garden that was planted over the dead Nazi from the beginning of the song. This garden seems to be thriving, and so she leads to listener to wonder if the garden’s history truly matters, or if it’s ok for the death that haunts the garden to remain unknown, since it doesn’t take away from how much the garden has grown. The garden is still beautiful, despite the fact that it’s fertilized by the corpse of a Nazi.

Finally, after revisiting the garden of her childhood, Bridgers discusses recent experiences from her adult life:

The doctor put her hands over my liver

She told me my resentment’s getting smaller

In traditional Chinese medicine, liver health is closely linked to emotional health, meaning that if her liver is in good health, her emotions are too. As her emotions grow healthier, her resentment shrinks away, and she is able to forgive herself for her past, and accept her growth.

“Garden Song” leads listeners to reflect on their life and the idea of growth, and how some of the most beautiful things can bloom from trauma and pain.

Why Does It Matter That Nothing Matters?

Mr. Heidkamp’s discussion on the meaning of life was very upsetting for me at first. Relationships, love, and helping others are all incredibly important to me, and so hearing that all of those ideas were just “illusions” was really discouraging. However, as we continued to talk about these ideas through a pessimistic perspective, I started to wonder if I agreed with everything being said. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t sure, but even if I did agree, did I even care?

Even if my values were all illusions, what did that really mean? These concepts and feelings are real to me, and in my life, that’s all that really matters. Life doesn’t have to have “meaning” for you to enjoy it, and these concepts don’t have to be “real” for them to be important for you. Since nothing matters, why does the concept that “nothing matters” even matter?

Eventually the class came to a similar conclusion, and we all discussed how life gives the meaning to life, and that that can mean something different for everyone. As long as you’re content with your life, that should be enough. We are the ones who give our lives meaning, so we are also the only ones who can take away that meaning by saying “nothing matters” (so don’t say that!).

I think that these beliefs are why I don’t really like the main character in The Stranger by Albert Camus. Many view him as smart for realizing that life has no meaning and being above it all, but I don’t know if I agree. Sure he’s figured out the “secret to life,” but what does that even do for him? He’s completely disconnected from the rest of society and apathetic towards every thing that happens in his life.

Maybe this is what makes him content, and in that case, he has found his meaning in life and I think that’s great. However, from my perspective, his life seems sad. I want everything in my life to have meaning for me personally, even if it doesn’t for the rest of the world. Since nothing matters, anything can matter.

Contrasting Ideas Within “Good Country People”

In Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People”, O’Connor uses many contrasting ideas, such as beauty, joy, faith, and their opposites. These contrasts cause the main conflicts throughout the story.

One of the main characters is named Joy Hopewell, however she is ironically characterized as neither joyful nor hopeful. Her “remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum” (2) and she would generally treat her mother and Mrs. Freeman with disrespect and contempt. This attitude most likely resulted from her losing her leg at ten years old, leading to a disconnect with the name “Joy.” This inner conflict was then shown through Joy changing her name to “Hulga.”

Through the name Hulga, O’Connor also shows a contrast between beauty and ugliness. Ms. Hopewell thought her daughter’s new name was ugly, and was mad that “she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy, changed” (2). Ms. Hopewell puts a lot of emphasis on beauty, despite seeing it in a less conventional way. She believed that “people who looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not” (3). Ms. Hopewell values beauty and positivity, whereas Hulga values the opposite. This contrast motivates their actions throughout the story, and is the root of their differences. Similar to Hulga’s internal conflict, this contrast caused conflict between her and her mom.

Finally, O’Connor shows the contrast between those who don’t think they believe in anything, and those who actually don’t. Hulga says she’s “one of those people who sees through to nothing” (8). She thinks this makes her different from Pointer because he supposedly believes in god. However, she ultimately shows that she isn’t actually indifferent towards everything when she gets incredibly protective over her wooden leg. When Pointer notices that this means she does have beliefs and values, he gets angry, revealing that he’s been lying to her. He says that he doesn’t actually “believe in that crap!” (9) when she asks him about his supposed Christianity. Despite what both of them said, they were only putting on a front. Once they exposed their true selves, their contrasting values and beliefs caused conflict between them.

The Binary in “Escape From Spiderhead”

Within the Spiderhead, there’s an established binary between the criminals and the “humane.” Absenti makes sure to enforce this by reminding the criminals that they are lesser than. He’s “always reminding [Jeff] about [his] fateful night” (58) because he wants to remind Jeff that he’s a murderer. He does a similar thing later in the story by telling Jeff about all the crimes that Rachel has committed, painting her in an extremely negative light. By establishing this binary, he makes it seem like they deserve the torture they’re going through.

Then, in contrast to the criminals, he establishes himself as being a good person. He’s constantly trying to prove this to Jeff, saying things like “Am I a monster?” (68) and “I’m a person. I have feelings” (72). However, despite his attempt to categorize himself as the better of the two options in the binary he’s created, his actions prove that he’s just as bad as the other murderers in the Spiderhead. He’s fine with killing Rachel and Heather, whereas Jeff “had not killed, and never would” (81).