The Power of Silence in “The Yattering and Jack”

As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read The Yattering and Jack, by Clive Barker, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

In The Yattering and Jack, the Yattering is a demon who is tasked with driving Jack crazy. From the Yattering’s perspective, the task proves difficult because Jack is so dull that he doesn’t know when he’s being tormented. He accepts all the strange phenomenon in his house without question.

This is my favorite story we’ve read so far.

I see this as a story about the power of quiet strength. The word yatter means to talk incessantly. With this in mind, the demon is aptly named. While the Yattering doesn’t talk incessantly, he manages to give that impression nonetheless. Like someone who yatters, the Yattering is almost constantly in motion, constantly trying to draw attention. Because the story is told mostly from the Yattering’s point of view, the effect is a constant chatter about his lack of success in his task and what he’ll do next to turn it all around. In contrast, Jack, the eventual victor, keeps quiet about his intentions throughout the story.

Keep calm and don't talk too much.

One thing I enjoyed here is the author’s skill in manipulating my sympathies. For most of the story, I hated Jack almost as much as the Yattering does. Jack appears ignorant to the Yattering’s efforts. When the demon moves things around in the house, Jack mutters about the house settling. When the Yattering kills Jack’s three cats, Jack merely accepts their deaths and buries them. While we’re in the demon’s point of view, we feel his frustrations and hate the dull Jack for causing them. I couldn’t help sympathizing with this demon who is stuck in an impossible job.

Soon after the halfway point, however, the point of view changes, so we see what Jack’s been thinking all along. It turns out Jack isn’t dimwitted at all. He’s well aware that he’s being tormented, and he’s running a long con. This revelation worked especially well because of what we know of Jack’s family history. His mother promised her own soul and Jack’s to hell, yet she managed to avoid hell upon her death. This backstory suggests that knowledge of demons exists in Jack’s family. Thus, when we discover Jack’s been playing a game with the demon all along, it’s as if all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

In the end, Jack takes down the Yattering as a direct result of the demon’s frustrations at his inability to affect Jack in any way. With his silence, Jack wins his freedom. In a way, this is a cautionary tale about underestimating others. Jack’s patience, silence, and lack of ego allow him to win a battle that he might have lost had he confronted the demon with his knowledge. The Yattering was too busy flapping his jaws without thinking things through, while Jack was winning the battle all along.

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2 Responses to The Power of Silence in “The Yattering and Jack”

  1. Jack did come off as a dolt, but the Yattering’s question, “Why this guy?” foreshadowed Jack’s real nature.

    I wondered if maybe this couldn’t be the start of a series of stories, but it doesn’t seem such. It’d be a nice collection.

  2. Sara Tantlinger says:

    I love your focus on silence versus the “yattering.” Great points! We get drawn into Jack’s mask of silence at the beginning and wonder what is wrong with this man who had no emotional reaction to the incidents concerning his wife, but once we are inside Jack’s head we are informed of the bigger picture. The Yattering drives itself mad more than he does so with Jack. Silence is definitely highlighted as an important attribute in this story. Sometimes quiet determination will just get the job done better than angry yattering :)

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