Study Guide

Pella Affenlight in The Art of Fielding

By Chad Harbach

Pella Affenlight

Natural Disaster

Pella was an ancient Greek city destroyed by an earthquake. When we meet Pella Affenlight, she has ditched her disaster of a marriage and is attempting to rebuild the ruins of her life. It's a challenge, seeing how she dropped out of high school (which she was still attending at age nineteen for some reason) to marry David, a 31-year-old architect. That didn't work out. She was "helplessly depressed she depended on him" (10.10) and tired of "enduring the sheer excruciating boredom of being alive" (10.11).

David is a Grade-A creeper whose "sense of humor was awkward and mechanical, as if he'd learned it from a book" (42.11). He's the opposite of Pella, we guess, who finds lines like "You're only Jung once" (10.5) to be the peak of comedy. He's insanely jealous, although we only have her word for it because we only see them interact in the book once. At the end of this interaction, Pella swallows a sapphire earring to make a statement, so maybe she is the crazy one.

It's difficult to talk about Pella without also talking about her relationship to the men in her life. She's defined by her relationships with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, with her dad (whom she finds out is gay, but is completely fine with that in about two pages), and with Mike Schwartz. She's attracted to Mike Schwartz probably because, like him, she has a tendency to ignore people until she needs them. (She dumped her own dad from her life when she replaced him with David, yet ran back to her dad four years later when she got tired of being married.)

Also, she has this extreme dislike of beards because her ex-husband had one, and she hates that Mike has one. (Other things Mike Schwartz and Pella's ex- have in common: they both have a penis, they both eat food, they both breathe…) When Pella's dad dies, one of her first thoughts is that she's glad Mike shaved his beard. "Let it never be bearded again" (81.2), she thinks, looking at Mike's face, while her dad's corpse is in the boat nearby. That's what's disturbing to her in this situation—a beard.

Dishpan Hands

"[Pella] hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights" (14.54). Got it. So let's talk about Pella's own insights.

Pella's biggest crisis in the book is whether or not to do it on the first date, and by "it" we mean, "the dishes." Within the span of a few paragraphs, we're told "She was feeling a strong desire to wash the dishes" (20.7) and "She really, really wanted to wash dishes" (20.10). She's just had her first date with Mike Schwartz, and she can't wait to get her hands in his… sink.

Yes, Pella ends up doing the dishes. And then she goes to the school cafeteria and gets a job doing—what else?—the dishes. It's a way of her putting her life in order as she tries to figure out what she wants to do. She often wonders what's so magical about Henry, asking him, "So what's it like to be the best?" (29.50). Pella should know, because she's the best dishwasher in the Central Time Zone.

Pella grows a bit, deciding she'd love to learn to cook and open a restaurant. She even makes a breakfast and a soup. Mostly, though, the men around her dictate her life—whether it's cheating on Mike with Henry (and developing absolutely no emotional attachment to Henry in the process) or her dad's death.

It's Pella's baffling decision to exhume her father's body and dump it in a lake that closes her book. She thinks digging up her father's corpse is a perfect idea because of his e-mail password, "landlessness" (78.47)—which is a bad password because it lacks a capital, a number, and a symbol (L4nd!355n355 would be so much more secure). None of this seems to faze her, though. Perhaps Pella should quit her culinary training and go to mortuary school.

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